For more than 50 years, I’ve been trying to understand why dealing with powerful people was initially so nerve-wracking and scary. When I told one of my daughters about these fears, she was shocked. “But dad,” she responded, “you’re a very powerful and intelligent guy yourself.” That’s not where I started out. Fact of the matter, in a piece of feedback at my 50th high school anniversary, eight of my classmates said they didn’t really recognize me. When I asked why, they responded in unison that the guy they knew as “Dan” was “shy, quiet and withdrawn.” Not the Dan sitting in front of them in 2002.
What changed it all was that I understood that if I was to be successful in my vocation, I’d have to change my behaviors—drastically. I was very fortunate. With tons of education, mentoring and feedback, I was able to make the changes. Though obvious now, for a long time I failed to understand my shyness and withdrawal. I thought it was just a natural characteristic.
Where fear comes from
I grew up with a highly narcissistic mother. Going through the psychiatric classification of mental disorders, the DSM-5, I noted that she knocked seven of the nine defining narcissistic categories out of the ballpark. As my brother said over her grave, she was a “mean lady.” I learned early on that I’d have to work hard to please her, take care of her, defer to her opinions and agree with how she understood the world. Of course, I also learned that if I disagreed or didn’t do what she expected, she was liable to abuse me emotionally and withdraw any and all rewards.
So, going away to college—far, far away, offered freedom at last...