As a child, my friends and family would often call me “stubborn.” Which, to be fair, was among the least hurtful of the other painfully accurate things they would call me; a list that included Tub-Tub, Lemon Puss, Tommy (“I’m 9, please stop referring to me by such a childish name”), and Fatty-Fatty-Fat-Fat – a name still more dignified and creative than Tommy.
The impetus for those nicknames pertaining to my waistline should be obvious – I liked cheeseburgers far more than active participation in soccer practice.
Lemon Puss was a name my grandfather lovingly gave me in reference to the flaring temper and perpetual scowl that defined my early childhood. From a young age, I understood that losing isn’t an option, tennis racquets were designed to be thrown, and that people appreciate authentic displays of emotion and a competitive spirit.
Underlying both girth and temper was my pervasive stubbornness – what my mother would euphemistically call “marching to the beat of my own drum.” I would instinctively recoil at others telling me what to do. If I made up my mind on a course of action, I would stick to it with cult-like fanaticism. When I desperately wanted something, I pursued it with reckless abandon, ambivalent to the negative consequences that might follow. The journey was ultimately irrelevant in pursuit of the destination.
To illustrate my point: I hated meatloaf as a child. When I was around six or seven years old, my mother prepared it for dinner which, naturally, I refused to eat. Of course, leaving the dinner table in the late 90’s without having at least a bite of what my caretakers so painstakingly prepared for me simply wasn’t an option. “The audacity! To refuse consumption of such a delectable pan-shaped amalgamation of cow-flesh and eggs.” Truly, a proverbial unmovable object, unstoppable force moment.
So my mom made me open my mouth, and a loaf morsel was thus inserted. But instead of simply pinching my nose, taking a single bite, and carrying on with my evening, I sat there, perched on the counter, with a piece of meatloaf on my tongue.
*For three hours*
Clearly, pre-pubescent Tom lacked the scientific acumen to understand tastebuds, their relationship to the tongue, and how keeping food on said tongue would prolong the consequences of his actions. But regardless, this was about the principle.
I bring this story up not simply to saturate myself in the ghostly recollections of traumatic events long dead (Although, to be fair, I cannot tell you whether I now enjoy meatloaf, as I have not consumed it since 1999). I do so because lately I’ve been thinking about how my stubbornness continues to impact me as an adult.
To that end, I have a terribly difficult time learning from my mistakes, particularly in my personal life. I will sustain a pattern of poor decision-making well beyond the point of reason. One person, likely noticing this cycle, once stated that I intentionally seek out pain and discomfort. While a compelling hypothesis, I ultimately disagree, and upon reflection I believe the answer is much more simple:
I sincerely and authentically (i.e., stubbornly) believe that the fifth time won’t be like the other four; that there’s no possible way that if given another opportunity, I won’t be able to succeed this time.
Call it arrogance if you wish; or delusional optimism if that’s more your game. But unlike childhood Tom who didn’t understand the biology of tastebuds, adult Tom is a man of science. And as such, he’d like to propose a different theory. String Theory, to be exact.
String Theory proposes an infinite number of parallel universes, of which our universe is just one. In these multiple parallel universes, there are different versions of myself living out an existence analog to this one. In some of these realities, I might be a billionaire. In others? This blog might have more than 2 dozen followers. But most importantly, there exists a reality in which those first four “mistakes” were actually “successes.”
And I choose to put my faith in this alternate reality. I am not willfully seeking pain. I am not arrogant. I am simply being a man of science. A scientist, as it were.
To take it one step deeper, my therapist would tell me that this is all simply a pursuit of secondary gains – effectively pursuing self-destructive behavior in order to achieve some secondary benefit. In this case, willfully subjecting myself to the same errors (and their inevitable fallout) to maintain the *very real, science-backed hope and possibility* that if given another chance, I could do better next time. Because hell, in some reality that is *exactly* what happened. So why not this one?
So, gifted with a childhood stubbornness that has not subsided with age, motivated by an impulsive quest for secondary gains, and equipped with a metaphorical lab coat and degree in theoretical physics, I must now ask myself where this leaves me. What actions can I take going forward to build a stronger mental foundation upon which my life can flourish and thrive? How can I, a man of science, use string theory and a growth mindset to chart a course towards a better tomorrow?
I think we all know the answer.
Time to text some exes.