Various experiences and consciousness work I have done over the last 20 years has helped me to become aware that connection serves as a primary motivator for me. This awareness allows me to make decisions about my purpose and vision for the world, that drive my thinking about how I should best be using my time, day-after-day in the context of a life’s mission statement. First I’ll describe the experiences that helped me come to this conclusion, and then I’ll look at how this understanding has effected my choices.
Coming to a realization about the importance of connection
Three sequential experiences have made it possible for me to become clear about what motivates me: Landmark Forum, Mankind Project New Warrior Training Adventure, and The Enneagram.
The first experience where I became aware of something important to my mental health, which seemed to effect much of my behavior towards people, was at a Landmark Forum in January 2003. I was invited to attend and supported at the workshop by a man who became someone I would come to call my best friend, Clark Webb. I remember watching a man engaged with the facilitator concerning why he had certain behaviors that seemed quite similar to mine – why he worked so hard to be the best, maybe pursuing degrees as proof; why he always was a follower, doing without question what people, who he thought loved him, asked him to do; or why he avoided expressing his own opinions. That man came to the conclusion, with the facilitator’s help, that he thought he was not loved, and that behaving these ways were his efforts to get people to love him. I drove home with Clark on Sunday evening after the weekend. It was very late, and I spoke to him about how I thought I had many of the same behaviors of that man, but does that mean I didn’t feel loved? And Clark said, ‘Of course you are loved, Tom. Think of all the people in your life, your wife, children, and friends. They all love you, and you should know that. Don’t you?’
Well, it hit me that I was seeking the love of others with my behaviors. I was purposely doing things to have people see that I respected their ideas, supported their needs, and allowed them to feel accepted and seen. I now know that these were connecting behaviors, and yes they were habits I had to gain their approval, even seeking their love. This is something I had been doing since a young child, particularly for both my mother and father. My mother had commented to me and others, that if she ever wanted anything done, she would always ask me, because then she knew it would get done. Many decisions I made and voices in my head are the result of my drive to make my parents, especially my mother happy, which I took as an expression of love. Here are four examples of how my parents effected my decisions:
- I went to college in a premed program, thinking that my parents wanted me to go into medicine.
- I went to graduate school because my parents wanted me to continue my education somehow, even if not in medical school.
- I got married to my first wife to address my parent’s concerns about living with a woman out of wedlock.
- I stayed married to my second and third wives well after I knew the marriages were doomed, because I didn’t want to disappoint my mother after the first big disappointment with my first divorce.
Strangely, this realization that I was loved and that I didn’t need to do anything special to get that love was enough to begin severing the ties with my mother. During a call with her on Sunday during the Landmark Forum, I had a chance to free her as well, indicating that my decisions were my own. Up to that point she had felt blamed for all my troubles. That was the last chance I had to speak with my mother, she died unexpectedly three days later
ManKind Project New Warrior Training Adventure (NWTA).
A little less than a year after the Landmark Forum and my mother’s death, I decided to attend a Mankind Project NWTA, another weekend-long consciousness-raising workshop that allowed me to see new opportunities. I was now feeling released from the strings tied to my mother’s judgments. I also embodied that my life was my own, as it had always been, and my experience was fully the result of my own decisions. The NWTA gave me a chance to give new thought to what made me happy, and who I would not be to others. During that weekend I noted that I was energized by being playful and connected, and I saw a vision of my future world as connected with all my family, friends and acquaintances.
First, I came to the realization that I had a playful nature when I wasn’t experiencing fear or sadness, but when I was happy. I used the playfulness to connect with people, and yes, to pursue their love. I tokenized that playfulness in an animal name, Playful Otter, which I have kept and this token has felt strong in me ever since.
Second, I noted the bliss I felt when meeting new people, and having shared experiences with them. How connection clearly was an experience that energized me. My connection with fellow NWTA participants grew as the result of a commitment that I made to provide food to six people, as a ‘make up’ for not bringing food to the weekend. Bringing food to these men, allowed me to connect with them through our shared experience.
Third, I developed a vision statement about creating a world of connection. This would be a world with mutually shared experience where people feel connected, with all the meaning that connection brings including a feeling of trust, support, non-judgment, and empathy. This could be called my happy place, and I see it now as how I want to exist among my family, friends and acquaintances.
An affirmation of my realization about connection came from working with the Enneagram, a tool that allows analysis of motivations behind personalities. Using a Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) test (see figure on right), I discovered that I was likely a Type 9: The Peacemaker. I have read much about this particular type, as well as about the other types in an assortment of books, watched a full set of Enneagram Panels by Beatrice Chestnut, and engaged a friend who considers himself an expert analyst of the Enneagram types to get his opinion of my type.
To further support my own personality type analysis has been the use of the Enneagram in one of my Mankind Project men’s circles. One man in particular in this circle in which I participated off and on over 10 years was quite conversant in the Enneagram, and he would use his understanding of the Types to assist me and others in the circle, analyze and obtain insights into life issues we brought to the circle. In addition, we did several weekend retreats with this circle, in which we spent a day thinking through our personalities relative to the Enneagram analysis.
This work with the Enneagram confirms my previously held understanding that the importance of connection is a central part of my behavior choices. It also affirms a deep need for order, a characteristic of Type 1s, which I consider to be my ‘wing’ type. I’ve also discovered that I avoid conflict, i.e., move to Type 6 behavior in stress, because I am concerned that conflict will hurt the connection that I have with one or more people involved in the conflict. I also find that taking action and making things happen, i.e., moving to Type 3 behavior, helps me overcome difficult situations. The the Type 1, 6 and 3 behaviors are further confirmation of my Type 9 personality type which considers connection as a primary motivation.
Using knowledge of my need for connection
How has this information about a central motivator in my life effected my decisions? Let’s look at a few examples:
- Most recently I have been volunteering for COVID-19 Vaccine Clinics, and after trying all the roles from greeting to check out, I realized that doing second registrations was the role I most preferred because it allowed me to have the best connections with people getting their vaccinations.
- I worked in my local community here in Massachusetts back in March and April 2021, to build a group of volunteers who could help those in the community find vaccination appointments, and then support them through the process of having those vaccinations, an effort that strengthened my connections locally.
- In my Mankind Project circle I have been working to increase my connections with the other men in the circle outside of our regular meetings, and this not only increases my connection, it also strengthens the circle.
To further explore my future decision making, consider my current mission statement, a combination of vision and action statements:
I create a world of connection by building community
My mission is a simple statement that clarifies a means of creating connection, given some community that I can build through connection. Thus my future opportunities for connection are in these communities:
- Local geographically-defined community, e.g., the Massachusetts community in which I currently live.
- Various levels of the Mankind Project community, e.g., the Mankind Project I-Group Circle, or the men in the Mankind Project interested in Community Leadership.
- Medical service communities, e.g., Medical Reserve Corps of Massachusetts and particularly in Greater Grafton from which I am involved in the COVID-19 vaccine clinics.