For the past two months I have been living in Mexico City, my hometown. I left the city in 2008 to attend university in New York. Since then I’ve mostly lived abroad, changing residence every couple of years. Throughout all of my travels I’ve come to appreciate the supreme importance of caring for the deep relationships in our lives.
One of those relationships is my friendship with D. D and I have been close friends since 2006, when we met in high school in Mexico City. D, along with two other friends, comprised the core of my social circle in high school. The four of us were thick as thieves throughout our 3 years of high school (high school lasts 3 years in Mexico).
I am blessed to have made the friends I did during my teenage years, including D. Our friendship has always been based on full acceptance of each other. We could be our genuine selves whenever we were together. No filters, no masks, no pretending to be someone we weren’t. Just genuine teenage idiocy. There’s nothing more nourishing to the soul than being accepted as it is. The four of us remain friends to this day.
Over the years we have made choices which have put physical distance between us, but throughout it all we have been able to maintain and even evolve our friendship. We’ve kept in contact through video games, instant messages, the occasional phone call and in-person visits when we make the time.
This article tells D’s story, which I believe communicates profound wisdom related to the power we all have to direct the course of our life.
Friendships Change As We Change
As D and I have grown and changed so has our friendship.
While D and I have walked very different paths since we graduated high from school in 2008, we have arrived at a similar understanding of what makes a good life. Doing meaningful work, making time to learn about what we enjoy, a healthy body and mind and contact with nature are priorities for both of us.
Additionally, we understand that relationships are one of the main sources (if not the main source) of comfort and well-being for a human being. We have made choices which put our relationships on a plane as important as professional achievement, if not more so. And we have been rewarded for it, we are both happy and healthy young adults.
But we weren’t always like this. For a while, neither of us knew what made a good life. We both had to live, make mistakes and suffer through the consequences in order to appreciate what makes and keeps us genuinely happy.
Digital Friends First – Real Life Friends Second
D and I first met in high school. It was 2006 and online gaming had already taken the world by storm. So D and I first met in the pregame lobby of multiplayer matchmaking in Halo 2, a first person shooter for the Xbox, Microsoft’s first gaming console. We were both huge gamers.
Eventually, we learned that we attended the same high school, so it wasn’t long after our first digital meeting when we had our first in-person meeting. We became fast friends and formed a little friend group of 4 nerdy video game players. Together we engaged in all manner of teenage shenanigans, from playing pool in dusky pool halls on Friday afternoons, to staying up until the early morning hours playing video games and eating tacos.
It was everything a city kid like me could ask for. High school was a time of carefree friendship, shared with friends who became my brothers.
Then high school ended and our little group of friends broke up. People started going their own ways.
Fast forward 13 years and we arrive at the present day, when we’re all young adults, working to establish ourselves in our hyper-modern civilization while navigating its challenges and opportunities.
What follows is how D has fared in his experience.
D’s Experience – As Told By Me
In high school, D was the best student out of the four of us. He graduated from our all-boys catholic high school with a near-perfect GPA and had his sights set on becoming a great scientist. He wanted to make discoveries that would improve the human condition. In that, D and I had similar aspirations.
In order to make his vision a reality, D applied to a top-level institution in Mexico, Universidad de las Américas Puebla, located in Cholula, a city in the state of Puebla, east of Mexico City. He applied for a generous (and competitive) scholarship to attend and won.
The scholarship paid for 50% of his total university expenses, on the condition that D maintain an excellent academic standing. The other 50% was paid for by his parents.
Unsurprisingly, adhering to the high academic expectations set by the scholarship caused D a great amount of stress. For a while his hair was falling out in clumps. This was both hilarious and concerning.
Nevertheless, D was able to uphold the academic standards of the scholarship for four years and graduated with honors with a degree in nanoscience.
The world of uncommon success was now open to him, all he had to do was walk through the door.
Or so universities would have us believe.
What Does The Schooling System Teach Us?
What actually happens to the average (and above average) student when he/she graduates from university? Does a sprawling vista of creative opportunities to expand our humanity suddenly become manifest?
Or is the follow-up to university a little more… mundane?
As both D and I progressively learned, to our dismay, the soul-crushing, monotonous routine of adult western life only begins after you leave the protective guard rails of university. Graduating from university puts you in the same pile as most everyone else.
You’re not special for graduating from university, you’re standardized.
And you’re perfectly set up to living a standardized life.
University As High-Level Vocational Training
It turns out, university doesn’t do much to prepare us to be a self-actualized human being living our best life. It used to, but no longer. According to UC Berkeley political science professor Wendy Brown, the focus of university has migrated from one of human expansion to one of maximization financial returns.
Driven by the demand of universities to produce high-earning alumni (to maximize donations), as well as by the demands of students and their families, the university experience has transformed from one of intellectual, social and spiritual expansion to one of high level vocational education.
Students and families want to see the best return on their scholastic investment; to receive the best training to get the best jobs and make the most money.
University doesn’t teach us to rock the boat, it teaches us to strap in and pull on the oar as hard as we can in the same direction as everyone else.
Today, university teaches us to conform and be happy with what we get, not to expand our human capacities so we may, in turn, expand our civilization’s capacities.
But that’s just an opinion. What do I know? I’ve only spent 20+ years of my life in school (if you count daycare).
The truth is, if you want to achieve real success you need to know what you truly desire. And to know what you truly desire you need to know yourself.
Do You Know What You Want?
I must be clear, there’s everything right with living a life of conformity, if that’s what your heart desires. If what you truly desire is to live a similar life to everyone else and stay at the level of average in everything; income, impact, health and wisdom, then by all means go ahead. Make the same choices as most other people.
Knowing what you want is priceless. If what you want is to conform, then go at it. More power to you.
But remember, D had a fiery drive to excel, to shine, to stand out. He wanted to serve humanity by contributing great scientific work. He wanted to let loose the infinite creative potential which resided within himself and engage the rocket ship of his life to see where it took him.
But he had no idea how to do that. Because all he had been taught was how to conform. To be average.
The same thing happened to me.
How To Tap Our Infinite Creative Potential?
Like me, when D graduated from university he was ignorant of the system he had been indoctrinated to accept. The system in which we exchange our time for money. Exchanging our time for money is the one formula most of us are taught to follow in order to make money. Adhering to it guarantees we will only be masters of our time once we’re old, tired and REtired.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with accepting the system if that’s what you desire. But what if you want something more? Something better? What if you want to shine?
D had been indoctrinated to passively accept this system, even when his desires resided in becoming a creative master in science. But creative masters follow their own paths. They don’t conform. They create the new fields of inquiry, the new markets and new works which expand our hearts and minds.
Creative masters expand our vision of what is possible.
They are deeply aware of their inner power and wield the resources at their disposal to shape the world to their liking. Schooling does not teach us to be creative masters. It teaches us to conform to the prevailing socioeconomic/political/financial model of civilization. This is by design, of course, as the people who benefit the most from the status quo perpetuate it by controlling the schooling agenda (read “Dumbing Us Down” by John Taylor Gatto).
D aspired to creative greatness. But, like most of us, all he had ever learned was how to follow orders. How can a person ever create something new if all they’ve learned is how to do what others tell them to do?
Additionally, D was, like me, sadly ignorant of what made life worth living. For several years after graduating he dedicated his free time and energy to drinking alcohol in excess and seducing women.
This continued until tragedy struck in D’s life.
It Takes A Tragedy To Wake Us Up…
D’s younger brother, W, a dear friend of mine, passed away in a bus accident caused by the operator’s negligence. The loss shook D and his family to their core.
In the blink of an eye, nothing made sense to D. The life he was living, the choices he had made, the direction he was set upon, all collapsed into roiling chaos.
D sank into “El Duelo”, which is Spanish for The Duel. The Duel is the grief cycle. It’s the roiling ocean of emotions we’re cast into after the loss of something truly valuable, like a romantic relationship, good health or the life of a loved one.
The deeper the relationship with who or what is lost, the longer and tougher The Duel. D and W were the best of siblings. They shared a deep loving bond which was made clear whenever you hung out with both of them.
D’s Duel lasted several years.
I visited D once in his home in Tlaxcala (a state two hours east of Mexico City) while he was managing the grief over the loss of his brother. He told me that sometimes he blamed himself for not being there to save his brother when the accident happened.
Of course, it hadn’t been D’s fault. But during The Duel logic is suspended and emotions run amok. There was nothing I could do but sit with him for the one day I visited, talk and listen to him. We cried together over the loss of his brother, whom we both loved in our own ways.
D’s Post-Traumatic Growth
D sought counselling. His counsellor advised him to write about his experience. So he wrote and wrote. I don’t know what he wrote exactly. But I know that through all his writing he was eventually led to writing a goodbye letter to W. In the letter he made peace with the reality that W was no longer on this plane of existence and that D still had a life to live. D would always love W, nothing would ever change that.
Nevertheless, it was time for D to close his Duel, and move forward with his life.
We can respond to trauma in one of three ways. We can be weakened by the trauma, return to a similar state before we experienced the trauma or we can engage in post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth occurs when people heal from trauma and come back stronger than before. It takes resilience to be able to engage post-traumatic growth (This resilience can be learned).
Both D and I went through our own forms of post-traumatic growth; D when his brother passed away and I when my deepest romantic relationship ended.
In order to grow from trauma it’s necessary to face the emotions which the trauma engenders. Avoiding them only buries them and makes them come out in other, uglier ways. You have to gently ease into them, feel them and release them. Writing can be a way to do this (I link some articles at the end about this).
With his grief cycle closed, D emerged with a renewed appreciation of what really matters in life; not so much drinking and womanizing, but sharing in life with those you love and expanding your human capacities.
It takes the loss of something we truly value for us to wake up to what really makes life meaningful.
Lessons Learned Through The Heart Are For Ever Remembered
Unconsciously, D began making choices which aligned with this updated belief system. This is what post-traumatic growth does to us. It realigns our subconscious beliefs so we make choices which more accurately reflect our nature.
It’s every human being’s nature to be healthy, happy and prosperous. That’s what God (or nature, the universe or whatever higher power you believe in) wants for us. We just need to decondition ourselves from believing otherwise and allow the natural process of growth to unfold.
Ego death is the complete loss of subjective self-identity. It’s the collapse of who you thought you were when life hits you in the face with a sack of rocks; it’s the archetypal “Fall into the Abyss” during the Hero’s Journey. Ego death can happen whether we want it or not when we experience deep trauma. Paradoxically, ego death allows us to get out of our own way. To start doing things differently.
After his ego death and rebirth, D began taking care of his mind and body more diligently. He began reading about the things which truly interest him like social psychology and management theory. He realized that he had been conditioned by his family and by his schooling to make choices which betrayed his deepest desires. He began envisioning a life which resonated with his soul and taking small daily actions to make it happen.
Throughout his grieving process he met a lovely young lady who nurtured and supported him while he worked through his pain. Her name is L and she and Daryl now share a loving romantic relationship. L and D are to be married in the near future.
D has told me that for the first time in his life his romantic relationship brings him peace.
Healthy Relationships Make Our Lives More Peaceful, Not Less
Having known D’s previous romantic relationships, I write from firsthand experience. They were… messy. They were infused much drama and even some deception. He dated women who were unstable, to put it mildly.
We seek to have relationships which complement us, so the instability of the women D dated was at the same time a reflection of his own unstable internal state.
Full disclosure, I’m no exception to this; I’ve experienced my fair share of relationship conflict. That’s why I can write from firsthand experience. When we’re dysfunctional, we unconsciously seek people who can dance with us to the tune of our dysfunction.
Romantic relationships are powerful mirrors, through them we can witness our deepest traumas, if we’re Present enough.
Today, both D and I are in relationships which bring us peace. Our post-traumatic growth taught us what really matters in life; peace, health, relationships, nature and meaningful work. So our choices began to cultivate these qualities within us. And as we changed from within, so our outer world changed. And that is clearly reflected in our romantic relationships.
This points to a universal human law: to change your outer world, start by changing your inner world.
My Recent Visit To D’s Home
A few weeks ago I visited D for a couple of days in his home in Tlaxcala. I’m happy to write he is doing great!
A couple of years ago he and L bought a house which they have turned into a home. Both D and L are working professionals in internationally recognized companies.
D is not convinced about working as an employee for the rest of his life. But instead of complaining, he has instead chosen to empower himself to create the life he desires. He wants to be financially free, healthy, doing engaging and creative work and surrounded by loving relationships and nature.
He is creating this life by accepting his reality and making the choices which will manifest his desires.
He regularly expands his professional capabilities by reading books he is curious about and watching educational videos online. He takes advantage of the opportunities for growth provided by his company in the form of training courses. And he takes the time to support others who, like him, want to improve their lives.
This is an essential point. No matter who or where we are nor what choices we’ve made, we can all take action now to make tomorrow better for ourselves and those we love.
What Are The Qualities Of A Leader?
Because of D’s proactive, growth mindset he was recently promoted to the position of Production Manager in his company. The position is one usually occupied by people with a decade more experience than D. Yet D has consistently demonstrated to his supervisors that he is a man of action, with a clear purpose in his heart and mind, who is eager to learn and to create value wherever he is.
Those are the qualities of a leader. Those are the people who get promoted.
Even though D is not exactly where he wants to be, he has learned that by taking consistent, positive action he will get there. His story is proof that life gives us the exact experiences we need to advance our consciousness. Had D not gone through his struggle, he would have never discovered the creative power which slept within him.
He is learning that he is the active creator of his life. That’s the case for all of us. We are the creators.
And to top it all off he is surrounded by wonderful people who love him. In fact, it’s probably because he is surrounded by loving relationships that he has managed to unlock his power. Our communities make or break us, after all.
D took the photo. I’m the one growing out of his head. The other people are his extended family from L’s side (L is not in the picture).
Take Inspiration In My Friend, D
I sincerely hope that you find value in this article. It’s my imperfect take on my friend D’s story. He might have different things to say about his life, but that’s how I, as one of the people who knows him best, sees it. I’m aware I’m biased because of our close friendship, I’ve done my best to convey his story impartially, warts and all.
D has faced his fair share of hardship which he has leveraged to catapult himself towards his desires. He has used the tools at his disposal to create abundance for himself and others. He has his sights set on ever greater heights. And he is just getting started.
D and I are similar in that we spent our childhoods playing video games and excelling in school believing it would lead us to success. We developed no special creative talents during our infancies, unless you count excelling at playing video games.
We only just realized that to be truly successful we need to know ourselves and courageously follow our hearts. We are only now, in our thirties, discovering where our true power lies.
We All Have Power To Discover Within
This discovery is something anyone can do. We all have latent talents and interests waiting to be discovered. We all have mountains of creative power lying dormant within us. Living a life which denies us the opportunity to discover our gifts leads us to certain regret at the end of our lives. It’s telling that the top regret of old people is not living a life true to themselves.
Allow yourself to take the risk to discover yourself. Make the scary choices to break out of the mold of conditioned conformity. And once you make the choice, make another and another. It’s the only way we discover what we’re truly made of.
We all arrive to this world with an expiration date. There will come a time when it’ll be too late to choose to create the life we truly want to live.
What will you regret at the end of your life?
To our wealth and success.
Other articles you might enjoy
Articles about emotional healing: