It’s been eight years since I wrote I Am an Asshole, a humorous look into some of my many, oh-so-many shortcomings. I naively thought that simply identifying and admitting to those character flaws would be the first step in becoming less of an asshole (un-asshole-ness). Nope, not a lot has changed, I’m still an asshole. Just as big as or maybe even bigger (if you listen to my wife) than I used to be.
Now here’s the scary part. Everybody knows that most, if not all, men become even bigger assholes as they age. The older the man, the bigger the asshole. That’s why they call us codgers, coots, old goats, old farts, old duffers, geezers, limp-dicks, dirty old men, and if you’re into texting: BOOFs (text lingo for Burned Out Old Farts). Well, I’m getting on in years and don’t want to become an even bigger asshole. I’ve got to do something, and fast!
Maybe I tried to do too much in the past? If I only focused on one or two things I might have more success. Okay, here goes. These are the bad habits or undesirable behavior characteristics I need to fix and fix fast. I’m running out of time.
I’m still a drunk, Yeah yeah, less of one than I used to be, but a drunk just the same. Not a slobber-in-my-beer, stumble-and-fall, pick-a-fight, piss-my-pants, goose-the-barmaid, shopping-cart-pushing, or a mad-at-the-world kind of drunk, but more of a dominate-the-conversation-with-slurred-speech kind of drunk. I’ve given up on drinking a whole lot less, but I am committed to being less of an asshole after I’ve had a few drinks.
Like every other geezer I’ve met I don’t really converse with people, I have this need to show the other person how smart and worldly I am by reciting esoteric trivia, or recounting one of my numerous adventures, or bragging about my travels to exotic places. That sort of stuff. It’s somehow important to me that the other person know that he or she is talking (listening is more like it) to an educated man, a man of the world, a hip and cool guy, an author, a retired business executive, a world traveler. If the other person is a talker—and they generally are—I interrupt their endless I, I, me, me centric dialog to interject my own superior knowledge and richer sets of experiences.
We all loathe the self-centered Hollywood types whose only topics of conversation are: I this, I that, I, I, I, me, me, me. Look how wonderful/beautiful/ wealthy/exciting/sexy/blah/blah/blah I am. I. I. I. Me. Me. Me. Well, I hope the hell we’re not all like this, but I fear older folks might have a dose of this I/me malady.
I have a theory on why older, retired people suffer from terminal doses of this I/me disorder. Back when we were working we had all of the symbols of who we were and how successful we’d become. We had the size and cost of our homes, our snooty neighborhoods, the brands and quantity of our cars, our style and manner of dress, where we shopped, where we dined, where we went to school, who we married, where we sent our kids to school, the initials after our names, etc., etc. to show who we were or who we wanted you to think we were. Once we retire, especially in adult, retirement communities, all of those status symbols go away. We all look alike, dress alike, have similar homes, shop and eat at the same places. How do we deal with all of this anonymity, all of this sameness, all of this just-like-everybody elseness? We develop elaborate verbal resumes and inject them into every and all conversations. It’s an older person’s way to telling you who we were. Why we’re different. Why we’re important.
We’ve all learned to deal with this I/me thing, but let me warn you, never … never … never, inquire into an older person’s health or medical status. Ask a geezer how he or she feels and be prepared for an endless rambling down their long list of ailments, afflictions, diseases, pains, injuries, discomforts, and abnormal bowel functions. You’ll get elaborate descriptions of their symptoms, lengthily dissertations on their ineffective treatments, and critiques of their totally incompetent or really great doctors. They all seem to be one or the other. You’ll also learn about all of their medications and the effectiveness of each drug, and what the doctor should have prescribed had he know better. And, are you ready for this: a personal viewing of their afflicted areas. All of this is true unless … unless they’ve recently had surgery. Surgery of any kind is the stimulus for many more hours of additional I/me blather. Oh my god, meet a geezer after his or her _______ (fill in the blank) surgery and be prepared to hear about every real and imagined detail of their ordeal. “The nurse put this mask on me as the anesthesiologist—the same one Martha had when she had her hysterectomy—a doctor somebody, I forget his name. Anyway, he told me count down from ten. I only got to eight when I …”
Is it because older people are so obsessed with their health that they can’t think about or talk about anything else? Maybe so, but I’ve made a pact with myself. I’m not going to talk about my enlarged prostate, all my cardiovascular procedures, my six stents, my arthritic knees, or the skin cancer I recently had removed, nor the long list of meds I take, or the quality of, or lack thereof, of the care I get at the VA. Don’t get me started on my VA dermatologist. He couldn’t cure a …
Years ago I took a course in Strategic Planning with the expert at the time, Arnaldo Hax of MIT’s Sloan School. (There I go, bragging again.) Anyway, Arnaldo taught me that the first step in strategic planning is to perform an objective current-state analysis. My current state is pretty simple, I’m an asshole. I’m an asshole because I interrupt people, boast and brag, and engage in an almost constant I/me dialog, openly discuss my medical conditions and problems, and will gladly show my circumcision scars to total strangers at the drop of a hat. Oh yeah … I almost forgot … and I drink too much. And when I’ve had a bit too much booze I have to be the life of the party and dominate all conversations even if don’t I know a thing about the topic at hand.
Step two, according to Arnaldo, is to define the desired state you want to be in at some time in the future. My desired state is to be less of an asshole. That’s simple enough.
Now, your strategic plan is the detailed plan of how you get from your current state to your desired state. Simple huh? We ought to be able to do this, even at our age.
My plan is to be more interested in others and to listen to them without interrupting. I understand that acting interested in the I/me ramblings of other windbags will take an enormous effort. And, I’ll resist talking about myself and do my best to limit my boasting and bragging. I won’t volunteer information about my glorious days in the Marine Corps, working my way through college, the wonderful girl I married, rising from electronic technician to Executive Vice President in the computer industry, working at NASA Houston on the Apollo program, my three exceptional children, or my even brighter grandchildren, attending the Harvard Business School, traveling the world, running a division for Intel, taking a company public and making millions, living in and traveling throughout Europe, retiring on a golf course in Paradise Valley, or authoring nine books because that’s the sort of stuff assholes brag about. I’ll never discuss my medical conditions with anyone other than my physicians ever again. I’ll try to drink a little less. And, I’ll try really hard to be less of an asshole at cocktail parties. I’ll even listen to what others are saying rather than dominating the conversations.
Somewhere along the line someone told me the key making good impressions is to “be interested not interesting.” I’ve always assumed that this is shorthand for being interested in the other person rather than trying to make yourself seem interesting. Makes sense, huh? This “be interested not interesting” idea just might be the plan for becoming less of an asshole. Simple, huh? We should all try it. I’m up for it, how about you?
Before I go, did I ever tell you about the time I shot a hole-in-one on The Coeur d’Alene’s challenging, elevated tee, 5th hole? I gripped my nine iron lightly with my slightly strong grip as I took a soft, easy backswing turning the club face a classic 90 degrees. I came through the ball with a near perfect hips-leading turn making ideal contact. My picture-perfect swing sent the ball on a high arc straight towards the pin. I watched as my ball bounced on the green two yards past the flag. For a second I thought I might be too long, but my ball bounced once and with perfect backspin rolled directly back into the cup. I was flabbergasted. I had made a perfect shot on a perfect hole on a perfect course on a perfect day. My caddy, down near the green, started yelling and I … I … I … me … me … me …