The Hardest Person to Forgive Is Oneself

As I am writing my book on Values, Vision, and Gratitude, I thought that it might be valuable to bring in stories from my Phoenix Games days, a time when my values were so clear and my vision so vivid that an entire community formed around what I was building.

You might think that this would be an inspiring walk down memory lane. A chance to relive my glory days!

However, you might also observe that I do not, today, own a game store, run a Rocky Horror shadow cast, or lead a scifi convention. Something happened from then to now to change these things.

At the time, I thought it was bad luck and disloyal friends. Since then, I have come to realize it was me. All me. All along.

It was my single minded passion and vision which brought it all together and it was my zealotry and arrogance that tore it all apart. That’s not quite true. All three aspects of it continued successfully for years after I left, so it was my zealotry and arrogance that cost me the community that I had built.

“Single minded passion and vision” and “zealotry and arrogance” are really the same thing looked at from two different perspectives.

At the time, these three organizations and the community that formed among them was the most important thing in my world. It was my entire world. I lacked a concept of important things beyond that community, and that lack of perspective was disastrous.

My vision was single minded to the point of zealotry. I made business decisions that sacrificed profitability because I did not want to do anything to infringe on the community space. Worse, I politicked like a politician in the French Revolution for fear that my enemies were trying to steal my power.

In retrospect, this was ridiculous. I was a game store owner, a cast director, and a con chair, not a South American dictator. The people I was working with were college kids looking for a place to fit in and a fun time, not revolutionaries looking to seize power.

I exaggerated the importance of what we were doing in my mind, and in doing so I exaggerated my own importance.

It all fell apart in 2007, 14 years ago. Three organizations which most people who read this have never heard of except for as part of my own backstory. Nobody died because of my actions. Nobody was seriously financially impacted.

Yet, as I mine these experiences for stories that I can share to help others learn from them, I still find myself filled with regret. A decade and a half later, I find I still have not forgiven myself.

After 2007, I never approached another project with anything near the single minded intensity that I approached Phoenix Games with. I always found it ironic that after the experience, I was so much more qualified to lead than I had been when I was actually leading, but I lacked the confidence.

As I think back, perhaps it wasn’t so much a lack of confidence as a realization that overconfidence had been my downfall. As we often do, I overcorrected. Seeking to avoid the mistakes of the past, I make larger mistakes to compensate.

It is almost surreal to think that the same person who ran Phoenix Games is writing these words today. Here I am, in the house I own with my wife and daughter upstairs, author, motivational speaker, Rotary president, elected official. Can I be the same man who launched a game store?

The fact that the sign from that store is in my office suggests that I am, in fact, that same person. But not the same. I’ve grown and changed a great deal in over a decade. I have learned much and done much.

Forgiving your old self is difficult because then you go back to explore the memories, you inhabit that person that you used to be. You relive the stories knowing how they turn out, like watching a movie that you know ends badly. You can yell at the characters on the screen to turn back, but they still do the same thing.

You can tell your former self not to say that thing or do that thing, but the story ends the same way every time. Maybe that’s the problem: the idea that the story ended.

The story obviously has not ended. I’m still writing it, but it feels like it did because I don’t feel like I’m that same person. Yet, I am. While I cannot change what this character, the one who is me, did 15 years ago, I can change what that same character does today.

The story is not over. What I did then is prologue for what I am doing today. If I’m going to tell anyone to change their course, I should tell it to the man I am today.

This is my story. It’s still going. And it’s going to be a happy one.

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