I grew up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland. My neighborhood had bars on every corner and thrived when the steel mill was booming. I was born into a blue-collar family, and the blue-collar, rough-and-tumble mentality surrounded me at all times. I kept my guard and demonstrated a tough exterior at home, school, and on the playground. I didn’t do a great job of it, and I was bullied everywhere I went.
My brother was one of the tough guys in the neighborhood. No one messed with him. My dad had toughened him up to the point that he could hold his own at all times. My brother tried to pass this on to me, but I wasn’t made like them. I intentionally avoided conflict, so conflict – and bullies – found me.
Bullies mess with the weak, not the strong
When I was in school there was this kid named Tom who would threaten me every day. I swear that we’d be laughing and joking, and out of nowhere he’d just say, “That’s it, Mike. You’re dead after school.” For the rest of the day, I would be extraordinarily nice to him to try to avoid a fight. But Tom never laid a finger on me. He just made a game out of it, and it worked every time. He probably did the same thing 100 times, and I was just as scared every time. I just always expected the worst.
High school was no different. It was there that I encountered Tim, who was cut from the same cloth as Tom. Every day he said he was going to hurt me, and never did until one day when he pushed me. I was forced to fight. I shifted from scared to intense in a split second, and I beat the snot out of Tim. He never said another threatening word to me. I did a pretty good job of staying out of fights for the rest of high school. I still felt weak because I wasn’t like the other kids. I avoided conflict, and it seemed like the rest of the kids in my class ran toward conflict. I wasn’t like them. I felt less than. I was surrounded by tough kids, and I felt weak.
I tried to toughen my exterior
To toughen up, I joined the United States Marine Corps in 1992. It built my resolve, persistence, physical strength, and the willingness to face conflict, but did not build in me the desire to create conflict. However, the Marines all around me brawled without hesitation. I continued to lurk in the shadows. I felt like a weak Marine, but my fitness reports and leadership ratings kept increasing. I was viewed as a stellar Marine, but inside I still felt weak.
In 1999, I met the love of my life, and we married in 2001. From the second I met her I made sure she understood that I was in charge and that the life we built together would mirror the 1950’s “husband wears the pants, daddy is right” environment I grew up in. In my marriage and my parenting style, I used tough words, guilt, and shame to control and manipulate my family to get them to fit into my image. This was forced onto them because secretly I felt that I couldn’t allow the world to see me weak and not in control. My control and manipulation was for my self-satisfaction and ego, not for the happiness of my family.
The facade couldn’t last much longer
Ours was a picture-perfect life complete with a beautiful family, executive titles and income, lots of material things. Yet, inside we were dying. To feel powerful, despite feeling weak, I abused my family. When my wife, and later my children, would disagree with me, I attacked them to make me feel less weak. I felt if I couldn’t get them to fall in line, I was a weak husband and father. I shrank from conflict my whole life, and knew I should at least be able to control my family – but I felt small just by them having and expressing a different perspective or opinion. If I was weak to my family, how could I be strong at all?
In 2016 my entire life collapsed. I was an alcoholic, my health was failing, I had been terminated from my second executive position in 20 months, and my family was on the brink of separation. I controlled others because I felt as weak as I had on the middle school playground. No amount of external control, manipulation, or displays of strength ever fixed my internal weakness and self-doubt.
I decided that I needed to relearn how to live and accept that I didn’t have it all figured out. I learned the concept of personal power – mental confidence, emotional courage, and clarity of purpose. For 43 years I chased power on the outside, and I failed to ever fully understand that power is found inside – not in titles, income, accomplishments, family, external appearance, or anything else outside of your internal identity and acceptance of yourself. I began to see that when someone points to their external world as their source of significance and value, they are lacking something inside. I began to see why I never felt powerful or meaningful, and why I was easily bullied, manipulated, and controlled.
My power increased by daily physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual development. With that, others’ perceptions, words, and judgments became meaningless. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.
It’s all about them, not you
Here is a powerful spiritual concept for you to wrap your head around and embrace that will set you free: what others say about you or how they perceive you is 100 percent about their own life experiences, their own beliefs about themselves, and their filters, and zero percent about you. Their judgment is only about themselves because they can only perceive the world through their lens. Embrace that and you will see that no one can really hurt you unless you hand your power to them. That’s a choice you get to make.
Because I felt that I needed to defend myself against others, I attracted many people who attacked me. It ended when I realized I didn’t need to defend myself. Words and behaviors cannot hurt you unless you let them.
Introducing The Awakened Alpha
The Awakened Alpha is internally powerful, with internal mental confidence, emotional courage, and clarity of purpose. We no longer need to be angry in order to lead. In fact, internally powerful leaders create more intense relationships, and it’s those relationships that create true significance and impact. It’s time to lead. The days of alpha toughness are over. Words can never hurt us unless we allow others’ weaknesses to penetrate our weaknesses. Rise above the chaos. We’re better than that.
To connect with other leaders who desire the most from life, connect with the online membership community of leaders. We’d love to help you embrace your purpose, become intense and strong in living that purpose, and hold you accountable to becoming gentle with every other aspect of life. You deserve more, and so does your family.