A Midlife Crisis?

This is my first blog article for davechampionshow.com, so I thought I’d make it something personal (as opposed to political), lighthearted, and not very profound.

A few months ago I got a “sleeve” on my right arm. (For those who don’t know, “sleeve” means a tattoo, or tattoos collectively, that cover the majority of one’s arm.)

In a few days I am getting the left arm sleeved as well.

As I am 53 years old, I started to wonder how many of my friends are quietly saying, “Wow. Dave is going through midlife crisis.” I know some folks are saying that because I’ve said it about others at times.

Although I know that in my case it isn’t midlife crisis (and I’ll get into that shortly), it got me wondering about the whole “midlife crisis” story that society tells itself.

My definition of midlife crisis has always been more severe than getting some ink. When I’ve looked at a man’s life and made the judgment that he is going through midlife crisis, his actions normally include drastic changes such as walking away from a well-established successful career, divorcing a woman who has been a good wife to him, disappearing for weeks or months, and in some case walking away from children at home.

By comparison, some tattoos seem trivial.

I have a political TV talk show that is at its beginning and holds great promise for success. That comes after 9 years of doing a successful political talk radio show. This seems to me more like an upgrade than “walking away from a well-established successful career”. I’m not married so I won’t be getting a divorce. While I might go on vacation at some point, I have no plans to “disappear for weeks or months”. And since I have no children at home, I can’t walk out on them.

So…if I am not fulfilling the traditional view of “midlife crisis”, what is going on? I’m glad you asked! (This article would have been real short if you hadn’t.)

Some people are raised by parents who take care to insure their children know the truth about life and the world in which they will be expected to succeed. I didn’t have that. To be blunt about it, my parents essentially told me a bunch of fairytales and sent me down the road. Sort of like being a teenager who still believes in Santa Claus.

My fairytales were things like; the government is good and moral, policemen never break the law, attorneys are to be admired, judges are men of the highest character who would never make decisions on any basis but a correct application of law, etc. I think you get the point.

The day I moved out my parent’s home was the first of a very long process of unwinding all the nonsense I’d been programmed with for 17 years. Unfortunately, in the early years I didn’t even know it was nonsense. I just couldn’t understand why people weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing – at least what they were supposed to be doing according the ridiculous way my parents had programmed me to believe the world worked.

I won’t bore you with a slew of stories about some real moments that shocked the hell out of me. But I will tell you that it took many years for me to completely unwind those ingrained false models of how the world works – or at least most of them. Which brings me to tattoos.

Like most people my age I’d been programmed that anyone with tattoos, visible or not, was a LOSER. I don’t know anyone my age that wasn’t told that story. I was told that if one had tattoos one would always be seen by police as a scumbag; that there was a hard ceiling in business that one could never pass through with tattoos. And in fairness to a whole lot of parents of that era, there was – at that point in time – likely some truth to that. (Whether it was an actual truth, or a self-fulfilling truth, is a whole other question.)

The “tattoos make you a scumbag” story was so deeply ingrained in my psyche that when I was an Army Ranger – and everyone at the battalion was getting Ranger tats – I adamantly refused. I left the Army with the same number of tattoos I went in with, which was zero.

When I got home and entered corporate America, I received further reinforcement of the “tattoo story”. If you’ve been in the corporate world I don’t need to explain this to you. Later, when I was involved in law enforcement, the story was further ingrained by the type of people I encountered with tattoos. I was usually putting handcuffs on them. (Looking back I failed to take stock of the fact that many of the best cops I knew had tattoos. Probably because they were in discreet places where they’d only be seen at pool parties and the like.)

As I continued on my journey through life, I found that not only were most of the “stories” I’d been programmed with by my parents false, but most “stories” circulating in society were false!

Some of you may be aware that the tattoo culture began to change about 10 years ago. Real artists became more prevalent in the industry. We’re talking guys who not only tattoo but also engage in other artistic expressions, such as sculpting and oil painting. There was a revolution beginning in the technology of the inks being used. No more were tats restricted to dark unattractive tones. Vivid colors were now becoming a part of the tattoo landscape. The advent of diseases such as Hepatitis and AIDS drove the industry to become successfully self-regulated in the areas of cleanliness and sanitation. Along with these industry changes came a wave of public popularity with tattoos that had never been seen! One might even apply the word “trendy”. Interestingly, this new public view of tattoos was led by young people, and those in their fifties who had retired and no longer had any professional reason to refrain. There are more than a few grandmas and grandpas with relatively new tats!

What I began to notice was that the people with highly visible tattoos (such as sleeves) were not assholes. They were not losers. In fact, they were some pretty grounded folks. They were the kind of men and women who would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it – without hesitating. And unlike those still maintaining the old “story” about tattoos, these folks were not judgmental about the choices other people made about what was right for them in their lives. Hmmm.

So here we had bright, outgoing, creative, productive, non-judgmental people being judged by others over some ink. And in my opinion, many of the people doing the judging weren’t half the men/women that the tat’d folks were. I had to ask myself; What’s wrong with this picture?

I won’t speak to the dynamics of 40 years ago, but I will speak to the dynamics that exist today.

Are people refused opportunities in business today because of visible tattoos? Unquestionably “yes”. But the reality is the people denying others those opportunities are precisely the judgmental folks I noticed weren’t particularly good people. So, in today’s society the “story” that being tattooed creates problems in the business world IS a self-fulfilling prophecy. The very people who are telling that “story” are also the ones making it come true by denying opportunities to good people – over some ink.

Senator Rand Paul recently declared that government is 10 years behind the public in its thinking. Likewise, American business is at least 10 years behind society on the issue of visible tattoos. The number of customers who actually care if their needs are taken care of by a person with tattoos is pretty close to zero. But business still acts like people care. In reality, they don’t. My personal experience is people are curious about great looking tattoos and want to ask questions about them. It’s an opportunity to create rapport! Other tattooed business people tell me they’ve had the same experience.

But enough philosophizing! How did my former view of tattoos change and how did I become the proud recipient of several tattoos?

It wasn’t hard. Once I realized that people with lots of visible ink, such as sleeves, were some pretty awesome folks (often far nicer people than those judging them), I simply had no choice but to let go of my former bias. It could no longer stand the test of reality, so it had to get jettisoned in consideration of the current truth. This took place over about a 4-year period. Once my former bias was gone, I was then much better able to determine my views about that kind of ink ON ME!

My re-evaluation came in two aspects. First was – I like it and I had some really compelling ideas about what I’d like on my arm. Second was – I just couldn’t bring myself to care what judgmental assholes think of me. Here was my paradigm: If someone is going to judge me over something as superficial as ink on my arms, then he is, in my opinion, an asshole. And why would I care what an asshole thinks of me?

Might there be some possible financial consequence at some point in the future. Who knows? Maybe. But am I to live my life the way that pleases me, or the way that pleases some petty judgmental asshole who might attempt to (financially) penalize me someday? I don’t know about you, but there was only one decision for me.

So…midlife crisis? Nope; just the latest evolution in the on-going process of living a wonderful and happy life.

How about you? Who are you living for?

Copyright 2013 – Dave Champion

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