My Life

September 07, 2003

I am a child of the space age. I was born just two days after Scott Sheppard made his 15-minute sub-orbital flight signaling the entry of the United States into the space race. I grew up with rockets and programmable calculators. I grew up a geek without realizing it.

I grew up lonely and isolated, afraid to let people see the real me. I felt that inside I was vastly different than the people around me and I was afraid of being shunned if they were to discover my secret.

My family was typical in many ways, and atypical in others. The defining moment in my young life was the untimely death of my sister to leukemia when she was 11 years old, and I was 12. Whatever emotional or spiritual energy my family had seeming died with her. I retreated into fantasies and books, where I wasn't afraid of my feelings or afraid of getting negative reactions to them.

In high school I was that nerdy kid who didn't belong to any one group, but eventually discovered the few other nerdy kids who also didn't belong. For the first time I felt a sense of belonging, but only intellectually and then only briefly. Sometime in my sophomore year I was introduced to computers and I was hooked. I think the ability to control them completely was attractive to me. For most of my life I had felt out of control in one regard or another, and now I had something I could be totally in control of and totally responsible for. The fact that neither of my parents knew anything about it helped. I needed to get out from under their shadow and I had finally found a way.

By the time I graduated from high school I was prepared to go off to college and study computers. I wasn't sure what kind of life that would give me but I was willing to find out. During the summers I worked at a YMCA camp, which gave me conflicted emotions about my future. At summer camp I discovered my spiritual and emotional self and a safe place to express them. The transition at the end of the summers back to the intellectually safe posture I used at school was painful.

I spent a lot of time agonizing over whether I should stay with computers and a financially secure future or switching to outdoor or recreational education so I could stay on at summer camp year round. In order to graduate from college I had to complete at least one summer of actual work experience in the data processing field. The summer I spent as a programmer was enlightening in many ways. For the first time I had proof that I could do this work and enjoy it. And that working a 9-to-5 job wasn't so bad after all. Plus the pay was better.

So I finished college and set off on a career in data processing. I put my emotional self and spiritual self up on a high shelf and tried to forget they every existed. I tried to approach everything logically and intellectually. I was miserable, lonely and isolated once again. Sometimes, though, the pain we know is better than the pain we don't know. I was too afraid of losing where I was to try and open up to anything new. Outwardly I led a good life, good job, new cars, travel, and toys. Inwardly I was slowly dying and hated my life.

When I was almost 30 I walked into a karate dojo and signed up for classes. Within in a week I was hooked. I spent the next 8 years practicing and working out. I advanced rapidly through the ranks and received my black belt in just over 4 years time. Within another 2 years I was a second-degree black belt. A ranking equivalent to a master's degree. More importantly I had re-discovered my emotional and spiritual self. The philosophy of the martial arts appealed greatly to me, and I felt secure enough in who I was to finally start letting other people see parts of the real me.

I think that I grew from childhood to adult intellectually through my work experience. But I was still immature emotionally and spiritually, that is until my dojo experience. Not that I expressed a tremendous amount of emotion or spirituality in the dojo. Rather the confidence in myself that I gained from that experience allowed me to express my self more openly and honestly than ever before.

About this time I met the woman who is now my wife. We met online via AOL. After just one or two online conversations we started talking on the phone. Within a few weeks we were talking daily for hours. Over the course of the next year we met in person several times and decided that we wanted to be together. She moved to where I was living and we have now been married for over 6 years.

Our marriage has been a time of tremendous growth for me emotionally and spiritually. I feel like I am finally an adult in my emotions and in my spirituality. It has not been easy to overcome the years of self shunning I subjected myself to, but it has been worth the effort.

Today I am more myself in more situations than ever before. And I continue to feel more empowered and in control of myself than ever. I have decided that it is important for me to capture in more detail the story of my life. I need to do this for me, and I need to do it in a way that will allow others to view it. Some day this might become a book or memoir. For now it is enough to post it here and let the unknown readers of this site view it.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.