My journey towards self actualization


I just made a huge breakthrough in my life. It's been a year since I started this job for a Silicon Valley unicorn, going public as we speak. This is the highest point of my career, and it all happened by accident. During the high of the pandemic, I was not receiving calls from headhunters, and I wasn't even able to get to the interview stage anymore. Principal reasons: not having a diploma, and being black skinned with the prejudice that comes with it (you may disagree, but we all know that being a white male is an advantage, as they represent the racial majority in most western software companies).

So I had to do something drastic to get out of this jam. How do you prove to recruiters that you are worth giving a chance ? Luckily, there are competitive programming platforms, and one in particular was tailor-made for my strengths. I reached top 500 worldwide on which is the 0.2% percentile. That was a lucky break, and allowed me to get interviewed at my current company (and also another unicorn). They actually rejected my candidature the first time around, because again, I didn't go to any notable school like Stanford, MIT, (or EPITA in France). Therefore, they didn't have the confidence to even let me do an online screening test.

To be honest, I was also probably lucky that they most likely have a diversity quota, although I can't be sure. The interview process was excellent, and although I was far from the perfect candidate, as I never practiced C++ in my life, my performance was convincing enough to qualify (I also have good intuitions about the ways to solve programming problems, that helped when I didn't know the perfect answer).

Unfortunately, our Paris office was brand new. My manager was overloaded with administrative tasks, without a secretary, taking on too many responsibilities within the company and even looking for a lease for a permanent office by himself. Needless to say, he couldn't fulfill his duties and help me grow. I was abandoned on an impossible task without much support, and our relationship became bad to the point of me not talking to him under any circumstance anymore.

On top of not doing his job, he was talking abusively to me, often publicly during meetings, which I wouldn't tolerate. My personality makes me immune to authority figures, until they prove to me that they are trustworthy. And the bar is pretty high, because my point of reference is military leadership, where being examplary is mandatory. If your men are supposed to put their lives in your hands by following your command, you have to care about them. He ignored me for months until I filled my performance review with criticisms about my situation. Because that became a potential issue for his career, he started to care but it was too late.

I finally got transfered to another team (which luckily enough, I wanted to be a part of since the beginning). Around the same time, I bonded with a colleague who was going through therapy for an eating disorder issue. Talking with her has been a blessing for me, as she is amazingly supportive and positive. So much, that I flipped from a high functioning depression state to something much more optimistic almost overnight. Below are the topics that I explored recently because of my interactions with her. I seems I am finally able to grow into a full man, thanks to her. So I want to record the psychological process that I went through to make this happen, in case I struggle or regress in the future.

Two new key ideas

1. I deserve to have nice things, because I earned it.

The fact that I wasn't fired right away, but instead put on a different team where I may prove more effective demonstrates that they value me enough to give me a chance in a different environment (smaller team, smaller product). Being able to work remotely only (thanks to COVID) and avoid physical proximity with colleagues allows me to avoid many of the social situations that are unmanageable for me.

2. I have the power to change my life, because I am in control.

Early in my life, I was stripped of any agency to alter the course of my life, and pursue the things that I wanted. I learned to be zen and suppress my desires and passions, especially when they involve interacting with people. Now, I don't need to do that to protect myself anymore. So, I can take action to enjoy life, spending money as I see fit, instead of just surviving year after year.

My new friend is the one who influenced me, but the idea didn't fully bloom in my mind until recently. She saw something in me that I couldn't see in myself.

ADHD and autism

She mentioned that she might have ADHD. I am very suspicious of labels, especially since I don't see autism and ADHD as disorders, but just having a different brain. Therefore, I never gave it much thought, but because I cared about her, I did study the topic and I found out a lot of the guilt that I have about being unable to do certain things is totally normal for people on the autism spectrum, or with ADHD. After accepting that this was completely normal, I was able to pay more attention to the things that are likely to cause problems like overanalyzing things, and never starting a boring task until it becomes critical, or not giving up my current task to do something else (with a tendancy towards overworking because of hyperfocus/perfectionism).

The key was acceptance instead of perpetuating thoughts that lead to low self esteem in life areas where I can not use my innate strengths. Accepting those weaknesses also means I can now look for and accept help in those areas. It's a very difficult concept for someone like me, who had to learn to do everything alone, while also forced to become a high achiever to overcome the disadvantages of a bad childhood and racism.

Attachment styles

Psych2Go video:

From the beginning, she was clear that I should avoid having feelings for her, although I think she also needs to learn to accept compliments, because she is just that amazing in my eyes. I don't see anything wrong with showing emotions towards a friend you enjoy spending time with, but being of opposite genders probably creates more complications. That said, being unable to meet her in real life, as we are in different countries, alleviates this anxiety. I have to admit though, that I enjoy those complications, because there isn't much to learn from interacting with male friends (it's often a competitive dynamic, not what I am looking for, I am already perfectionist).

What makes her so amazing do you ask ? It's her ability to connect with me on a deeper level than a superficial relationship. Although, she tends to not reveal much, while I reveal almost everything (because she asks a lot of questions, and remembers almost all discussions in detail), when conflicts of opinions arise, we can talk about it and try to see each other's point of view. There has not been a single person in my life able to care enough about me, to try to talk instead of ignoring me when they disagree about something, and the situation gets a little bit stressful and emotional. At the first instance of trouble, people usually give up, and I don't think that's how true friendship works.

Anyway, as she stopped going to the therapy group, she also became stricter about not answering any of my messages outside working hours. It was and still is difficult for me to accept this boundary. But with that said, it's been a real benefit at the end, because I had to learn to respect her desire to not cross that line. Even if it only meant online gaming, she was never willing to do any activity with me, and it's been six months now. That's clear sign that I am of no value to her, but at the same time she cares and she remembers everything about me, which makes things so confusing. Even more so, when she wants to know how my dating life goes.

My attachment style to her has become secure, I understand that she needs her time away from me (since we used to interact intensely on a daily basis during the week). Also, she doesn't work on Fridays, so it's almost half of the week that I can not communicate with her. It's killing me (my hyperactive brain turns abandonment feelings into obsessions), but the same time, forces me to focus my energy on other things than our relationship and grow my independence from her. Today, although I would still miss her dearly, I can tolerate much more easily the thought of continuing to work at the same company without her support. That seemed impossible a few months ago.

For completeness, note that I experienced all other three attachment styles (anxious, avoidant, fearful) in situations where people were too selfish to actually care about what I was going through while maintaining the relationship. That's what makes her special, she is the only one, who stayed on board despite the difficulties, offering feedback, support, and resolving conflicts.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

This hierarchy of needs isn't fixed, and varies from one person to the other. For me, the pyramid looks more like this:

As you can see, my cognitive and aesthetic needs are more important than being liked or loved by others. After all, my parents taught me that I was not worth their time and resources when they didn't spend a penny to allow me to study after finishing high school at 16 years old (instead of 18). Instead, they were busy fighting over alimony (all the while building their respective houses). That's why my whole focus has been on developing my cognitive abilities to secure a job worth of my mental acuity, before being preoccupied with other aspects of life, such as how others would perceive me, or how to settle down in a relationship. I still got a few experiences here and there, but because I was not involved with the right people, those objectives always stayed secondary to my happiness.

Now, it seems that I reached self actualization, as all my needs, even love (thanks to her support) and belonging (I work with some of the smartest people) have been satisfied. I truly think that I liked her and that she liked me as if we were almost brother and sister. From my point of view, I shared more with her than with anybody else in a long while, which signifies a level of trust that equates to fraternal love. I don't think she completely feels the same way, because I became too attached to her and that conflicted with her self image. Also her range of support is broader than mine, she has access to childhood friends, family, neighbours, etc.

She mentions that she isn't the person she wants to be, that she feels guilt and inadequacy, even though from my point of view, there is nothing wrong. Her other qualities are worth more to me. In that context, maybe it's normal that she wouldn't feel anything special for me, beyond the empathy to help someone who she thinks is struggling. Unknowingly, I relied on her to get back on my feet, but I should give up maintaining a strong emotional bond with her since I don't mean anything to her outside of work. Besides, she has a white privilege problem, where she gets angry anytime I mention other people's ethnicity, which is an indicator that someone in her entourage (or even herself) might be racist, triggering a defensive reaction. Maybe a related issue could be that she is a metalhead, and racist behaviour could be fairly common in her culture.

Regardless, it makes a world of difference to be acknowledged by someone, no matter how weird you appear to the rest of the world. We have a recognition program in the company and she was the first to acknowledge me. This just goes to show that she is very kind. Reminds me, that's pretty much the story of Naruto by the way. I never really understood what all that talk about Naruto being friend with Sasuke, or his connection with Iruka sensei really meant. But now, I know. Because Naruto didn't have parents, he needed to create bonds with others in order to grow.

Introduced as a young orphan boy of 12 years with blond, spiky hair and blue
eyes, Naruto Uzumaki graduates as a ninja from Konohagakure while bonding with
his teacher Iruka Umino. Naruto seeks attention as he was ridiculed
during his childhood. To be accepted and respected, he resolves to become
Konohagakure's Hokage and surpass all previous leaders, no matter the
difficulties. While becoming a ninja, Naruto forms friendships that he
initially lacked, linking some of them to family relationships. Although
Naruto sometimes finds himself unable to accomplish the tasks he proposes to
do, other characters believe that he will be an excellent Hokage because of his
positive impact on their lives.

source: Naruto Uzumaki on Wikipedia