The Power of Understanding Yourself: The Key to Self-Discovery, Personal Development, and Being the Best You - Dave Mitchell 2019
Extraction: As it relates to making red wine, this is the process of pulling out the true essence of the grape to produce the finest possible wine. While the juice is generally colorless, the skin, seeds, and stems add character, vibrancy, and flavor nuance. With too little extraction, the wine lacks color and complexity — too much extraction and the wine can be self-indulgent, overbearing, and brusque.
My earliest clear memories from my childhood are of me walking in the woods with my dogs. I spent many of my days, when I was as young as six years old, wandering and pondering. Much of this fondness to disappear into the woods had to do with the challenges facing my mother. She was dealing with the mental anguish brought on by a life cocktail of an unplanned second era of parenthood, undiagnosed depression, and menopause. As a result, she developed unhealthy relationships with vodka, barbiturates, diet pills, and my father. And she was not a happy drunk. My coping mechanism was to vacate the premises in hopes that she would pass out by the time I returned.
I have long since forgiven my mom, realizing that I arrived at a bad time for her. This book is not about her — but as it is a book predicated on the notion of fully knowing oneself, her influence on me must be included. I think it is also important to point out that despite her struggles, she exists in me through many of the traits of which I am most proud. Within every cloud there is a silver lining and such, as they say. For one thing, she indirectly and unintentionally but effectively inspired my ability to engage in metacognition, a concept that is discussed at length in this book.
My initial companion on these childhood journeys among the trees was my dog, Long John; or, as my dad called him, Bird Brain, due to his odd habit of chasing birds out of our yard. Soon, we were blessed with the arrival of Red, the most loyal and well-trained canine member of our family. Unlike Long John, whose attention span was commensurate with his nickname, Red never left my side from the time I walked out of the house and into the woods until I would return home many hours later. Perhaps it had to do with Red’s puppyhood.
Red was already an adult when we first met. Judging by his demeanor, training, and appearance, he had been well loved and cared for. He was a passenger in a car accident near my hometown of Greenup, Illinois. My mother was a news stringer for the local television and radio stations and would contact local authorities to get details of any story that the area media might be interested in. A car accident, particularly one in which there was a fatality, was a big story in a small community. When she contacted the Cumberland County sheriff’s department, they informed her that the driver of the car had been killed. The other occupant was unharmed but emotionally shaken. The lucky survivor was Red.
Touched by his plight, my mom sent my dad to collect Red and bring him to our house, where we would keep him pending notification of the family. Red’s next of kin was the brother of his travel companion. Because that brother lived in Hawaii, it would be nearly a week before the family could arrange to pick up Red. Within that week, he had endeared himself to our family in a way that no other dog had previously done.
I remember the incredible sadness I felt the evening that we waited for Red’s “uncle” to pick him up. We lived at the end of Wylde Drive, a dead-end road that stopped at our house. Eventually, a pair of headlights approached our home. The car pulled into the driveway and my mother, father, and I looked at each other and at Red and began to cry. We waited for the knock on the door. And we waited.
After a few minutes, the car backed out of our driveway and drove away. No one ever showed up to claim Red. It was one of the happiest days of my childhood. For the next several years, I had a hiking buddy nonpareil. It is not hyperbole to say there was no other creature, human or otherwise, that I was closer to than Red during this time.
In many ways, this book and my life in general are the products of my mom, my dad, and Red. Without my mom, I would not have taken to the woods, spending countless hours contemplating the world and my place within it. She also contributed to my aptitude for public speaking, a reporter and entertainer in her own right. Without my dad, I would not have my sense of duty; he stayed with my mom for 53 years, allowing only her death to separate them. And without Red, I would not have felt the security to take those walks alone, to turn my attention deep inside myself and start the trek inward to discover my truth.
Many others would aid my odyssey: my lovely bride, my children, my sister, friends, co-workers, clients, and more than a few strangers. We are all shaped by those who cross our path. I am thankful for them all, regardless of the context of our intersection, because each has allowed me to learn more about me, to grow, to become the best me possible.
Still today, 50 years after those childhood experiences with Red, I am drawn to long hikes of solitude when I feel unsettled, out of alignment. Having moved from Illinois to Florida to Colorado and, finally, to Walla Walla, Washington, this habit — my “wander ponders” — have remained a part of my life. After arriving in Washington State’s wine country immersing myself in the wine industry, I have come to realize that I’ve been undertaking the human equivalent of what the wine world calls “extraction.” I am learning how to express my essence as a human being to be the best person possible. It is an expedition that never ends, but never fails to fulfill. Just like a winemaker working with the grape to create the perfect expression in a bottle, we are rewarded when we endeavor to find and display our gift.
And, just like a winemaker, my muse was Red.
Despite my lifelong fascination (obsession?) with metacognition, reflection, and contemplation, writing this book reminded me of the many people who have shaped my life. Many of them are mentioned within this work, but far more are not. As the cliché goes, “there are too many to list here.” But there are a few too important to not list.
My lovely bride, Lori, is my reason for being. You never stop astounding me as a person, a spouse, a mother, and a friend. I love you more than I thought it possible to love.
My daughter Brooke and son Slade have made me a better human being. You make me proud. I love you both and will forever do everything in my power to ensure that your life is good.
My sister provided a pivot point in my life when I needed it most. I love you, Sis!
In addition to those mentioned in the book, my enduring gratitude is extended to Nancy and Russ, Tom and Peggy, Bonnie, Debby, all my teachers — by profession and by chance and my many clients and seminar attendees from whom I have learned more than I have taught.
A special thank you to the best editors in the business, Christine Moore and Vicki Adang, for their encouragement and ability to gently point out my narrative clunkiness. In the words of Hemingway, “write drunk, edit sober.”
For their unwavering canine support over the years, a shout-out to Long John, Heidi, Fannie Mae, Killer, Toots, Goofus, Pilgrim, Sparky, Martini, Rossi, Boone, and Bob — the latter laid on the couch in silence while I muttered the occasional profanity during the writing of this book.
Mom, thank you for what you gave me. It was more than you knew.
Finally, this book is dedicated to my two original mentors: my dad and Red. I cannot think of either of you without the seemingly impossible experience of smiling and crying, simultaneously. I can’t think of a better lingering effect on someone.