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A Brave New Year

Here we are again. 2017 is on its last day and we face down a new year. Often, this causes people to reflect on the past year and look ahead to the year approaching. This often leads to New Year’s Resolutions, which many people may know I have historically been incredibly outspoken against.

Let me clarify – I have no problem whatsoever with self-reflection and making goals for growth and self-improvement. That is actually quite wonderful. In fact, it’s such a good thing that I don’t think one should do it only at the new year. It should be a constant process. But at this point, it’s pretty much a cliche – “I want to lose weight”, “I want to get a new job”, “I want to earn a promotion/raise at my current job”, “I want to run a marathon”, and so on it goes. Laudable goals that are far too large in scope and vague in purpose that it’s hardly any wonder that most people fall away from them quickly. Of course if you’re saying “I resolve to lose 50 pounds this year!” you’re asking for trouble – that’s too big and ill-defined a goal.

Also, it feels short-sighted to focus only on the past – or future – one year at a time. Years are a human-determined and human-named arbitrary division of the fourth dimension (time) that only we even now or care about, and are only even relevant from the frame of reference of this one single planet, out of the countless other planets across the multiverse. I prefer to view my growth from the perspective of my life.

Reflecting on my story, I think it’s important to reach back to the transition from 2015 to 2016. At the end of 2015, I was confused. I was wrapping up my first year working as a developer for a company called PerfectServe, and compared to the hellhole of a job I had escaped to PerfectServe away from, it should have been practically a vacation. I had better coworkers, a job more suited to my skills, excellent pay, great benefits, flexible work schedule and the ability to work from home most of the time. It was probably the second-best corporate job I ever had. And yet, I was unhappy. More accurately, I was depressed. Every day was a chore, each morning pulling myself out of bed before dawn was torture.

And it was as 2016 began that I finally realized why. I finally understood that I hated being a developer. I looked back and suddenly, as if someone had lit up a strand of lights running throughout my life, I saw how it had happened. As I neared college age, I was conflicted about what to major in. I loved music, but didn’t want to focus on classical or church music – I wanted to write my own music and be known for it. I didn’t think I could find a way to make college fit that mold, so I compromised. I’d tinkered with really simple computer programming (using old-school, procedural BASIC, for you other computer nerds out there) and had fun with it, and I knew from my dad that the programming career track was becoming more and more lucrative and necessary, so I settled on that.

But it was never what I loved. It was something fascinating, and I was decently good at it, but it wasn’t my passion, and it didn’t give me joy. I coasted for probably about 5 years of my career on the novelty of making money using this skill set, but the corporate environment and lifestyle was always an irritant. And the longer I had to put up with it, and the more jobs I started finding myself miserable in, the less it could fulfill me. And expending all my energy on surviving and none on growing or doing things I loved or that made me happy was draining me. The more it drained, the harder it was to recharge. I’d take a vacation and the first day back, all I could think about was when I could leave again.

Katie Mae and I knew I needed to get out, but we weren’t ready to drastically reduce our income yet. We started making plans. We figured the timeline would be 2-3 more years. But life wouldn’t wait. I have found that there really is something powerful about intention – sometimes, the stronger you need something for your own health and well-being, it comes to you, whether you’re ready or not. And the harder I tried to wait out our plans being ready, my misery got exponentially worse. It’s no wonder my job performance was affected. So midway through last year, I was called in to my manager’s office and told I was not living up to the expectations of my job description, and I could essentially shape up or ship out. I’m sure they expected it to snap me into line and light a fire under me. And to be fair, it did.

I walked in the next morning and turned in my resignation. And I am convinced, with every fiber of my being, that was probably the second-best decision I have ever made in my life. Those last couple of weeks were a flurry of knowledge transfers and nervous anticipation. And then it was over. My last day came and went and I washed my hands clean of the corporate life forever. And what’s funny is that I thought it was a culmination – the end of an era. And I guess it was, but it was also the beginning. Without the misery of a career I hated keeping me stuck in the exact same rut I had lived 9 years in, my stunted personal growth started again.

2016 was a difficult year. It felt like a bully, constantly knocking one down. We lost beloved celebrities, everyone knows that. But in the personal arena, I watched my grandmother die right in front of my eyes. My mother was hospitalized numerous times and when her kidneys failed, she began dialysis. Though I was happy to be rid of the corporate career, with it was the corporate salary, and even once I started working at The Escapery, it was quite literally a quarter of my final corporate salary – we knew we had to sell our house and move somewhere dirt cheap, which was its own set of desperate stresses. I even almost lost my marriage – it came very close more than once in 2016. And despite some big strides in my mental health in 2015, I felt as oppressed and depressed by where I was in 2016 that I had my first ever brush with suicidal thoughts.

I suppose after that, there’s very little other way to go than up. And it was not quick. The early part of 2017 felt much like 2016 had – I still feared for my marriage, my ability to financially support myself and/or my family unit, and my sanity. That sounds drastic, but that’s exactly how down and out I was during the first half of 2017. It felt like there wasn’t much more I could lose.

But I didn’t even realize that I had already set the wheels in motion for one of the biggest, most important things to happen to me in 2017. While in Memphis TN, relaxing after a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, I made a statement and set an intention – I said “I don’t want to hate myself anymore; I want to learn how to love myself.” Self-loathing has been one of my defining characteristics for most of my life. And I’d always just dealt with it (or tried to). I never thought I would change it – didn’t think I COULD change it. It was just…who I was. But early in 2017, I finally had enough.

Things didn’t change overnight. But little by little, slowly I noticed things happening. The liberation of my road trip (nicknamed AndoQuest), my promotion at The Escapery to Supreme Game Master, the smoothing and settling of the strife between me and KM, and a very very slowly-growing kernel of understanding how to take care of myself. It also didn’t hurt that I completely dedicated myself to therapy, especially hypnotherapy. One by one, my therapist and I began identifying the root causes and traumas behind my neuroses. Slowly, I came to actualy know myself, and to hear myself. The voice inside me that had always spewed venom and hatred at myself came into focus and we saw him as just the hurt, scared, younger version of me, trying desperately to keep me from “being weird”, so as to not be subjected to the ridicule I received as a child. Years of ignorance and stifling my own self-care led that part of me to lash out at myself for just about any reason.

As my self-awareness grew, so too grew my confidence, and my sense of self-worth, and little by little, things I hated about myself either fell away or I was able to change my view of them. One by one, we are soothing the pains I endured when younger. I’m even getting so good at tracing things back now that I’ve been able to start tracing some of my issues back even without hypnosis. My therapist said I’m getting really good at it and she’s proud of my progress.

And that brings me to this past week. With fresh eyes, I can see myself, and I find myself able more and more easily to not hate what I do see. My life is nowhere near where it was before, but I am so much happier that I can barely even conceive that I ever allowed myself to stay mired in it. I may be broke but I’m closer yo my wife than ever before, I’m working the best job I’ve ever had, and rather than despising myself, I have been able to start making lists of things about myself that I actually like.

And so right before bed on Christmas Eve, I decided it was time to give myself a gift. I stood in front of the mirror, alone, and looked myself in the eyes – I’ve done that before, but I ususally find myself grimacing and turning away in disgust – and lingered this time. I took a deep breath to steel myself to say some very unfamiliar words. “I love you,” I said to myself. For literally the first time. Ever. In my entire life.

I only said it once – I didn’t want to overstress myself. I haven’t said it since for much the same reason. But I said it. I have finally, *FINALLY* admitted out loud that I love myself. Even if you think you understand how big that is for me, it is somehow even bigger yet. In January of this year, I finally was able to admit that my self-hatred was something I wanted out of my life; in December of this year, I realized that it was finally gone.

And so as I look ahead to 2018, what do I see? My path is unfamiliar to me. I’m far from perfect, and one doesn’t live for 30+ years with self-hatred and expect it to just vanish. I know it’s a habit I will struggle with continually. But I’ve taken an important step and aimed myself in the direction of health. Time to walk the path. And so I STILL am not making “New Year’s Resolutions”; instead, I am setting intentions. I am seeing what I *WILL* do.

In 2018, I will host AndoCon again, and it’s going to be amazing.

In 2018, I will continue to grow myself as a manager and a leader at The Escapery.

In 2018, I will keep writing new songs and stories, and allow my creative spirit to flourish.

In 2018, I will be the best damn husband to Katie Mae as is within my power.

In 2018, I will stand up for myself and not allow ANYONE else to dictate any part of my life – I will live how I know I need to live.

In 2018, I will embrace and love myself, in order to embrace and love other people.

In 2018, I will be Ando – not just the same Ando as always, but *THE* Ando. The best possible version of Ando.

Love and peace to you all.

Happy New Year!