I remember the exact moment, one week before I turned 40, in the dining room, when I finally admitted to myself. I am not happy. Then I began asking myself, “When do I plan to start living?” I was alive, sure, but not living. Things were spiraling in the wrong direction at a fast pace. On the verge of turning 40, in a marriage that had us at odds with each other, two good people unhappy with each other would be the best way that I can describe it. Doing the best we could to do right by our children and hold to a promise we made years before we would have the wisdom to understand the gravity of. I knew in this moment that things would have to change.
When would I start living? It would take over a year for me to really do so. I did not know what the steps forward would be and did not even plan to make the drastic changes that would follow over the next year, but once my mind fixated on the fact that life was not right, I became impatient for change. Impatient to experience the world around me in ways I had been driving past for years. Week after week I would be the guy showing up to work who did chores or ‘chilled’ all weekend. A hike, concert, or night out with friends was a ‘once every few months’ experience. Time was running out. I could not be that guy anymore. Then came change.
time for CHANGE
A few months later I heard these words as if from a stranger in my ear, being said to my wife from a man she no longer knew. “I have feelings for men”. It was not, ‘I want to leave you for a man’, simply, if we are going to make this work, you need to know the whole me.
My biggest fear had just been realized.
I was out.
As you can imagine this was not a conversation you have once and put to bed, though there were many days I wanted so desperately to gather the words back up from the air and bottle them back up. This, however, is not possible. Have you ever blown dandelion seeds from the stem and then tried to chase them down and gather them back? You can chase them in every direction, but once you let the air out, they follow the wind wherever it chooses to take them and that direction is no longer your choice.
It would be just a few short weeks before my marriage was ending, before the security of my home was no longer a safe haven for my emotions, before I would not live in the home with the children I had raised and love so much. What did I do?
On top of having my daily life turned upside down, I learned something about coming out: you don’t just do it once, you have to do it over and over again. The next couple months were riddled with conversations explaining to parents, siblings and close friends that my marriage was over, and then came, as my sister called it the ‘level two’ which was the reason why. Some days it would take everything out of me just to make a call to let someone know. The moments, or even days before the call would be filled with anticipation, wondering what will happen. How will they react? Will I lose this sibling or friend forever?
Then came the pain of learning about the ‘seconds’- The ‘seconds’ is that ‘next time’. It is almost more stressful than the first conversation. I learned quickly that people are so surprised by the news that they can’t do much more than a polite reaction when you first tell them. But then they have time to go back and think about what you said and how they feel. They have time to sit alone with their thoughts and this new information about you. Do they want you around their kids? How will they handle you? This is what you worry about when you know you are going to see them the second time.
I was fortunate to be surrounded by a great network of family and friends, no one left me at the curb. Even she who felt so deceived for years, stood by my side in support as we worked together to undo the life we had created together.
a new REALITY
I moved out. Started driving for Uber on the weekends so that I could afford to rent a room from a stranger. I did everything I could to make the budget work so that my kids and wife did not lose their home and have to deal with any more changes than what had already rocked their world.
Even with support, the next several months were hell as I was thrown into a world of dealing with self-acceptance. I found that everyone else was actually more willing to accept me than I was willing to do for myself. I did not know what to do. Life was overwhelming. Work was overwhelming. I was afraid I would lose what little I had left. I had to share my personal struggles with my boss. There were days where it took everything out of me just to function.
My entire focus became my mental health. Why did I do this? How am I living now? Can I make it through the month, the next week or even the next day or hour? Life was better in the denial of the dark closet, or so I thought.
Through it all I started having deeper and more honest conversations with family. I connected on a deeper level with friends and even spent time reconnecting with long lost friends who I picked up with as if we had not spent a day apart. My support system was building around me without me even realizing what was happening.
time to LIVE
Finally I turned a corner 9 months later. Rock bottom was behind me, I began to live. I learned to schedule things to keep me busy. Being an honest me actually helped me be more authentic in my conversations. My relationships became stronger. I was more confident in everything I do. I no longer lived with the fear of ‘being found out’. Everything that held me back my entire life was now out of the way. I would no longer have a feeling of holding back or that people may question the motive of what I am hiding. Gone were the days of driving past those places I wanted to visit. Now I was stopping the car to live.
Do not get me wrong, this does not mean that I walk into every encounter and announce “I’m a gay man!” This fact is really not relevant and does not need to be a topic in the workplace discussion, however, not being afraid of being ‘found out’ removed my fear of how I would act, dress and talk which allowed me to be more comfortable in my own skin. This became a noticeable difference to those around me and at this point, they did not even know the reason why. Many of you reading this now, may have been some of those who saw a change but never knew the source of the why.
So why would I share this now, here? My focus in my writing is to help professionals be the best they can in their careers and in their life. We cannot deny that having a healthy personal life directly impacts your performance in the workplace. In everything that I share and write about, I would feel such a hypocrite to not share my journey about the one thing that held me back the most over the years. Not to mention that there are others out there who may be held back with the same fear, and this may help you become the best you could ever be. What if the one thing holding you back in your career has nothing to do with your career at all?
What is your ‘coming out’ story? Perhaps your ‘coming out’ may not even have to do with your sexuality. What could you be afraid to admit to the world. Are you a person of faith but afraid to let others know? Maybe you are a political conservative surrounded by liberal thinkers, or vice versa. Or maybe you just like to play video games every night? Whatever it is that you do not feel free to share without repercussion, this is your closeted secret. Don’t be afraid to open the door and step out
Do not get me wrong, coming out to improve your career does not mean that you have to make a splash and come out to everyone around. Simply giving yourself permission to accept yourself and ‘be the you’ you were meant to be, can be enough to take you to the next level.
For myself, I never expected to be out or live as a gay man. I felt those would be thoughts that would go to the grave with me in an effort to live up to what everyone wanted me to be. Even what I thought I wanted to be myself. Then one night I heard a stranger telling my wife that he was gay. I thought to myself “Well at least I will not be out at work, my career is safe.” Once I wrestled my demons I got to a point of really just not caring about it. I came to understand that I could not be a fully functional person if I was not honest in every aspect of my life, especially with myself. For me this was not about feeling like everyone needs to know, but more so, who cares who knows. This is when life got good. It is interesting to me that though I try to be a caring person always, it was through adding an element of not caring that I was able to be the best person I could be.
true to YOURSELF
Though it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, being true to myself has been the very best thing I could ever do! The words coming out hint that we have been hiding our entire lives. To me the words alone make the hurdle of getting past them an even bigger struggle. Hiding as if what you are as a person is bad, wrong and that you should keep it hidden in the dark corners of society.
I have replaced ‘coming out’ in my own mindset with ‘being true to yourself’. How much different does that position the challenge ahead for you? Suddenly the idea seems positive and like something that we would want for everyone we love. Suddenly, we become supportive of our loved ones living their dreams, being who they are and finding love and peace in their lives. No longer is it a choice about letting out a deep dark secret, but rather an expectation that we will all be the best we can be starting with an acceptance of who we are.
Much of what coming out did to my career is yet to be seen in it’s entirety. However, it has positioned me to be more grounded, more authentic, and walk with a confidence that I have never carried. These are a recipe for success no matter what forks in the road I follow on the journey still ahead of me. One could argue that a bigger impact on my career has been the years spent not being out, not being myself. The newly welcome change can only bring good opportunities my way.
Thank you for coming out with me for this part of my journey. I look forward to any comments that you are willing to share about your own journey and very much appreciate any likes and shares that you are willing to give throughout your social media networks.
Andy. I was weeks shy of 55 when I came out just five years ago. I’ve never been more fully alive, authentic, grateful and in love. And like you—very proud. Here’s to others who struggle and feel shame. I wish for them the support we felt and feel. And, if a reader needs an ear—you have mine.