I started losing my hair when I was 17. I’ve chronicled this personal horrorshow before, so I won’t go into too much depth about the experience here. However, the other night I thought back to that time of my life.
As you might imagine, as a balding young man, I was desperate for a solution to my problem. In my early 20’s, I found myself sitting in a hair restoration office in search of an answer.
The people selling the hair were no fools. The first thing they did was take a Polaroid of the crown of my head — the place I never see. I sat in the barber-like chair, waving the photo in my hand, waiting for things to come into focus.
When things became clear, I stopped breathing. All I could see was my pink scalp. I held the proof in my hands and thought to myself,
"Am I really THAT bald?”
I knew I was losing my hair, but I had no clue things had gotten this far. Fearing I would never know the soft touch of a woman again, I decided I needed to do something. Like, now.
Minutes later, I signed some contract for thousands of dollars that I did not have and ordered my hair. Of course, that didn’t work out so well, but that’s not my point here.
My point is that the hair restoration company knew the power of that Polaroid. They knew that men wanted to solve their problem, but often without the sense of urgency to BUY now. After all, when these guys looked in the mirror, they were not balder then the week before. Or the month before. And who remembers what they looked like a year ago, anyway?
Most natural hair loss occurs gradually. Each day you look in the mirror and simply think “that’s me.” The 70-100 hairs went down the drain that morning, never to return, are not noticeable among the many thousands still taking root. It’s not until you see an old photo of yourself or someone tells you (“getting a little thin on top, eh Drew?”) that you become conscious of the degree of the problem. (Of course, losing you hair really isn’t a problem. But, it can sure feel that way.)
Last week I began a super-intense workout program. The program insists that you take "before" photos to compare with the ripped beast you’ve become twelve weeks later. So I took some shots of myself in the positions recommended by the program.
Viewing at the photos of my shirtless self, posed in all different positions reminds me of that Polaroid from the hair office so many years ago. Quite simply, I do not look as good as I thought I did. In my mind, I was 30 sit-ups away from a Thelma and Louise-era Brad Pitt. In one instant, I had a new awareness that made it clear to me what I did not want (my body to look like this) as well as what I did want (my body to be strong, lean, and tight).
To evolve, the first thing you need is the ability to see yourself clearly. If you are working on something cosmetic, a Polaroid will do. However, if you are looking to move forward in your life, you’ll need to see how and where you’re getting in your own way. You need to understand your habits, beliefs, and the blind spots that have led you to where you are now.
Some of this work can be done alone with conscious practice, but so often when it comes to important personal issues, we are fish in water. Just as a fish lives in water and has no awareness of life outside of water, without some objective feedback, you remain unaware of all the old patterns that hold you back. Instead, you mistake your conditioned way of being as “you.”
I suppose I am making the case for personal coaching here, though that was not my intent when I started this piece. In my opinion, the role of a great coach is to be that Polaroid – to show you from a more objective perspective as to who you really are, what’s in the way, and also to explore what’s possible.
Of course, not everyone is willing to hire a coach. And that’s fine. But the greater truth is that to truly see all of ourselves, we all need some help from the outside. That’s how we came into this world and that’s what keeps us connected throughout life.
My workouts have been grueling so far. But it’s been easy to get myself out of my nice cozy bed every morning. You know why? Because the first thing I think of it my BEFORE picture.
Meaningful action and change are natural by-products of awareness. Always.
So, know thyself. Get conscious. And reach out.