One’s Origins: A Journey From Adoption to Identity – Part Ten

Earlier this summer, I posted a few updates on the progress of this blog because I was becoming self-conscious about the frequency of posts lessening.

I heard from a few people encouraging me to relax and not worry one bit about the timing. They expressed their gratitude to me for sharing this story with them and others. In what might not be verbatim but in my view a little more than a paraphrase, one person commented, “Matt, it is us who are honored to walk this hallowed ground with you. It is your journey and we are only ever on your timetable.”

When I read the words hallowed ground, I got chills…big chills everywhere – and a big tear in both eyes. As much as any creator of artistic work or other form of self-expression (I nearly synonymize the two) may assert that they do what they do for themselves, I cannot fathom any of them remaining emotionally indifferent to praise and criticism. Any and all acknowledgement is cherished. It is validation that output from our labor matters in the world. Isn’t that what all of us want? We all want to matter. This will come up when I share what awaits after graduation. For now, I will tell you that I am evolving from one who refers to those who devote themselves to forms of self-expression in the third person, to one who makes such references in the first person.[1]

I began One’s Origins almost as an extreme release. I spent my entire life repressing a sense of incompleteness because I did not know how to articulate it in a way that would productively guide me to resolution. When I first learned that I have biological half-siblings and cousins from my father, it took my breath away – quite literally as I recall. I talked about my initial doubts in Parts One and Two. But even then, once I heard from Dan for the first time, I was subconsciously preparing myself for the end of the quest for the ‘something missing’. There was sadness down deep of which I was consciously ignorant. The repressed emotions about my incompleteness was an underground sea of molten lava. Once I met Dan and learned more about my father’s family, eruption was imminent. Genetics, we are learning, deserves the credit for my compulsion to grab the (metaphorical?) pen and paper and begin writing to channel this eruption.

In earlier parts, I shared my strong childhood affinities towards something different from the path I have been on for some time. Hitherto, I have refrained from discussing this in much detail and I feel now is a good time to pry a little further. This sense of something different has always been a quiet source of sadness and incompleteness for me. I have been repressing it for over five decades. One of the greatest beauties of living this experience now is recognizing it and leading the charge to bring about its end. Moreover, the inspiration to share the emotions emerging from this resurgence of self is unstoppable. I have always felt something different from the lifepaths I have chosen but lacked either the belief that it was real or, and probably more accurately, I lacked the courage to see it as real. I am now awakening to the consequences of not choosing my life’s paths. I allowed life to choose its path for me. I do not believe that I am alone in this. I believe many of us look back at our childhood dreams and reflect on why we did not pursue them. We come to a fork in the road and see one path follows our dreams (the world inside ourselves) and the other path follows along with norms and expectations of others (the world outside ourselves). Here, ‘others’ can refer to the world at large or simply our families and others close to us. In either case, these wants of others are almost always (I am in inclined to wager that they are always) mere interpretations we hold as to the expectations of others based what pleases them. For people with an internal locus of identity like myself for whom self-value comes from how others value us, taking the second path – the one more travelled – is often the one taken because we see safety in it. It is ‘no risk, no reward’ at its most sublime.

For an adult adopted as an infant, this ‘something different’ can often be outsized and have genetic underpinnings. I accept that many of my contemporaries certainly live their whole lives never experiencing that which I am describing. For these few, I can only hypothesize that for them there is either deeper or prolonged repression, which in and of itself might not be problematic, or there is a greater overlap among their genetic dispositions and the environment in which they are raised.

I feel it is critical that I stop right here and make one thing abundantly clear. I am blessed with the environment in which I was raised. The sense of sadness or incompleteness to which I refer is, in no way whatsoever, a reflection of my upbringing. I cannot speak for all adults who were adopted as infants, but I unwaveringly believe that I am very far from being alone in saying that incompleteness is innate in the psychological wiring of many adopted children. It is begotten post-traumatically by the abrupt and permanent separation of an infant from the being in whom he or she spent the first nine months of existence. With the rare exception of those who are emotionally imbalanced, it is traumatic for the birth mother as well. I challenge anyone to find a woman who has given a child up for adoption who did not experience at least some grief at separation. This not to suggest that adoption is problematic. Adoption is one of humanities greatest gifts to itself for reasons that I don’t have the space to get into here. Like with all things, there are downsides. With adoption, the upsides significantly outweigh the downsides in almost every situation.

My Mom and Dad did exactly what any of us can ask of adopting parents. In addition to providing love, nourishment, shelter and guidance, the marking of a successful adopting parent is the provision of an environment that makes this incompleteness bearable. Making it disappear altogether is simply not in the cards dealt to many adopted children. When I mentioned earlier that I feel I won the adoption lottery with my Mom and Dad, I was not mincing my words. They made tremendous sacrifices for their two sons. In my case, many of their biggest sacrifices were made for no other reason than to help me right wrongs I made as a teenager. My love and gratitude for them is eternal and beyond measure.

Getting back to my concern about the reactions of others pertaining to the timetable of me sharing my journey is, when I think about it, a little irrational. There is no contractual agreement stipulating anything whatsoever regarding One’s Origins. Yet, I find myself owing an explanation when I am running behind. An objective look at this peculiar reaction on my part yields for me two observations. First, it is an alarming piece of evidence that I still, as I always have, feel the need to explain myself because I often had the experience of falling short of meeting the expectations of others. The second observation is suggestive of subtle narcissism on my part. From where would I ever get the idea that the world is waiting with bated breath for me to post another blog? Sure, many have come to look forward to new parts being published. For me to think, however, that the lives of others go the slightest bit askew when I become unpredictable with the timing of my blogs just might be a wee bit narcissistic. Sure enough, some with whom I have been close in my life have, on one or more occasions, opined on narcissistic attributes I supposedly exhibit. I suspect a correlation exists between narcissism and an external locus of identity. Both are indicative of challenges with self-acceptance. There is, of course, no point in me getting defensive. If that is what that quadrant of my Johari Window[2] reveals, I shall see it for what it is and learn from it without challenging it.

In Part Nine, I shared what seemed to be a smorgasbord of opportunity to grow both professionally and academically. A very large part of this was luck and timing. In the mid 1990s and for the next dozen years or so, what came to be known as the information age was a boon for the economy and everyone willing to join the party. It was almost as if knowing how to turn on a computer and commitment to a solid work ethic was all one needed to find good paying employment. Moreover, in the years leading up to the turn of the century, preparing companies’ systems for Y2K was a big deal. (Y2K was the acronym for ‘Year 2000’. It referred to the massive undertaking of getting computer systems across the globe ready for the 1999 to 2000 date change.) It was big business and it became a sub-industry unto itself for a few years. If everything I was going through had happened a decade earlier or later, most of what I shared in Part Nine possibly might never have occurred. That also means much of what I will share in Part Eleven would not have happened either. For now, we are approaching the end of my academic career.

From beginning to end, my undergraduate degree was a nine-year road and consumed just about every waking moment of my entire twenties. I think I can fairly say that I did not have a twenties. Well, not in my twenties I didn’t. I had my twenties in my thirties. For most young adults, the third decade of life is the breakout decade. Regardless of whether or not you went to college or began working right away, our twenties are when most of us begin to make our mark in the world as adults. My peers worked hard, played hard and did what they wanted to do when they wanted to. Except me. I did none of that. I got up each day and I went to school, then I went to work and back to school to either take whatever night classes were offered that would help me finish sooner or work in the labs as necessary. I would get home late and start the whole thing over day after day for nearly a decade. Lest I be caught exaggerating, I will share that I did squeeze in time to join the company softball team and nine-hole evening golf league some summers.

Once I decided to move back with my folks in my mid-twenties to finish my undergraduate work, I set a goal that by lining up the rest of the courses with precision, I would graduate before my 30th birthday which would be April 5, 1997. It was a squeeze, but with an even further diminished social life, I could accomplish this. More than simply taking extra classes, I would sometimes have to maintain the same number of classes per semester while taking on more hours at work as I become more acclimated to my new role on the database technology team.

Throughout this whole decade of my life, I was learning things about the physical world at an alarming pace. And I loved it!! I was stimulated beyond control by the activity of learning. The assignments often included many long and complex mathematical equations that had to be solved in a particular sequence like puzzles. I would put a lot of effort into these exercises because of the challenge and as I have said before, I was hell bent on proving to myself that I was not dumb, and I was not a throw-away of humanity. I never did develop any noteworthy love affair with Chemical Engineering as a profession, but I sure as hell loved the structured and relentless learning about it.

I accomplished my goal. I handed in my final exam a week before the end of the year in 1996, a little over three months before my 30th birthday. A little over a month after I turned 30, I walked with the class of 1997 the following May with whom I had taken most of my classes. My degree, however, says December 1996.

After I handed in my final exam I left the campus ready and excited to return to full time work. My first order of business was to tender my resignation (for the second time at the same company). It was time to go where few, if any, Chemical Engineers have gone before: to a global accounting firm.

And that my dear friends, is where we will pick up in Part Eleven.
Thank you all for the gift of your presence.

[1] In his 2009 book, “The Talent Code”, author Daniel Coyle tells us of a 1997 study lead by Gary McPherson that revealed an undeniable influence of “perception of self”. Young music students who thought of, and referred to, themselves as ‘musicians’ were statistically far more likely to put in the work necessary to excel as musicians. (The Talent Code ©2009 Daniel Coyle pp 102-106)

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