Self Doubt | Noah Bergland

the flame

Self Doubt.

I don’t know who said it, but once I heard it, I couldn’t shake it.

I must have been 13, I was at the golf course because that is where I spent all my time.  It was the summer of 1999.  One of my golfing buddies said he heard someone say:

Jesse got the brains, Morgan got the looks, and Noah got fucked.

trying to be cool

My brother, Jesse, is intelligent and he studies and works hard. That’s true. My sister, Morgan, is beautiful, amazingly so, and she’s smart and hard-working. True and true. But what about me? What am I?

Jesse got the brains, Morgan got the looks, and Noah got fucked.

When I heard it, I tried to brush it off as trash talk, who cares? But I believed it. And the more I believed it, the more it became true. 

When I was in 9th grade, the cops picked me up for underage drinking. I was at a friend’s cabin just outside of Lancaster, MN, and we decided to head into town to attend a street dance. We missed a stop sign and were pulled over. Everyone in the vehicle was intoxicated. The county cops took us to the nearest cop shop in Hallock, Minnesota, about an hour and 10 minutes from home.

As I waited for my parents, I was terrified that my father would be the one to walk in the door, but it was my mom who’d driven to pick me up in the middle of the night. She had all that time in the car to think about what to say to her drunk kid but all she said was, “Take a shower before you go to bed.” 

The next day, I expected a lecture or at least a scolding. This was the worst thing I’d ever done, but it was the calmest I had ever seen my dad. I was actually disappointed. It was my first big screw up in life, and I thought it deserved at least a raised voice or a couple of curses, but nope. Maybe everybody expected me to fuck up, so there was no point in yelling at me.

Jesse got the brains, Morgan got the looks, and Noah got fucked.

Drug addiction, father son dynamic and death or loss | Noah Bergland | resilience2reform

Next, I quit golf. It was the first thing I was really good at so it hurt — it still hurts — that I gave it up. When I started playing, I got encouragement and praise but I didn’t progress. I hit the wall of where talent meets practice, and I didn’t put in the work. The praise faded away. Eventually, peers and coaches turned critical. (Years later, when I was on the driving range on pre-trial release, the varsity coach told me that I was his biggest disappointment in his many years of coaching.) So I quit golf and high school went on. My self-consciousness and insecurity shifted to uselessness. 

Jesse got the brains, Morgan got the looks, and Noah got fucked.

My first job out of college at Automatic Data Processing was a painful mess of failure. My brother set me up with the opportunity and I was trying to transition from college kid to young adult, but I just wasn’t ready. I was too immature, not willing to take anything seriously. If I wasn’t forced to be in the office, I was at home smoking weed and playing video games — and we rarely had to be in the office. My lack of confidence stopped me from making cold calls. My self-sabotage told me that the job wasn’t important. And besides, Noah got fucked, right? 

The reality is I was looking for any way not to grow up, not to take that next step, get away from any responsibility. I thought I didn’t want to fail, but what I really didn’t want was to succeed, because I didn’t think I deserved it and it didn’t line up with my story about myself.  My solution was drugs, always drugs. Use them and I don’t have to feel. Sell them and I don’t have to work. Perfect.

Jesse got the brains, Morgan got the looks, and Noah got fucked.

nobody wants to sit on uncles lap, mommy save us, prison life, incarcerated life, family time in the visiting room, consequences from not being in their every day lives, uncle Noah is sad | Noah Bergland | resilience2reform

I didn’t just believe the story, I lived it. I let this sentence said by somebody I can’t even remember to define me. Thinking and believing I was fucked and figuring that each failure was inevitable filled me with futility and self-doubt. Hell, that’s just me. And self-doubt and futility would not let me go.

Self-doubt had me questioning any success and reinforcing every failure. It was a constant whisper in my ear that I wasn’t good enough, and I never would be. After years of believing and living “Noah got fucked,” the only two options were death or jail. I guess I got lucky.

In an interview on the stories we tell ourselves on the Tim Ferriss Show, author Michael Lewis said,

If you listen to people, if you just sit and listen, you’ll find that there are patterns in the way they talk about themselves.

There’s the kind of person who is always the victim in any story that they tell. Always on the receiving end of some injustice. There’s the person who’s always kind of the hero of every story they tell. There’s the smart person; they delivered the clever put down there.

There are lots of versions of this, and you’ve got to be very careful about how you tell these stories because it starts to become you. You are—in the way you craft your narrative—kind of crafting your character. 

Jesse got the brains, Morgan got the looks, and Noah got fucked.

That sentence was how I was crafting my narrative and my character. This habit of thinking came up when I was working on Step 2 in my 12 step recovery program. My sponsor and I recognized patterns in how I talked about and to myself.  The image or persona was created by me, and all I needed was one other person to confirm it, and it then became a fact.

“I disappoint everyone.”

“I am a giant piece of shit that deserves everything I have gotten.”

“I don’t deserve anything good.”

“I am trash.”

“I am damaged.”

“Everybody thinks I’m worthless and they’re right.”

As I continued to work on the step, I started to not just notice my narrative but to work to change it.

“Yes, I am worth loving”

“I have hope.”

“I put my family first.”

“Healing is a process.”

“I forgive myself for what I have done.”

“When I focus just on today, it always works.”

“I trust the process.” 

“Effort is the only part I can control.” 

“As long as I stay aligned with the program, my belief in myself will continue to strengthen.”

“I am learning to do it a different way.”

My sponsor, Dennis tells me mood follows action. If you want to feel better, go do something you love. When I remember this, I talk to someone who lifts me up or when I help somebody out, the shift is amazing.

Jesse got the brains, Morgan got the looks, and Noah got fucked.

Releasing from prison, addiction, and prison term | Noah Bergland | Resilience2Reform

This statement didn’t mess up my life but holding onto it, believing it and living it did. I kept telling myself the “Noah got fucked” story and I became it.

That’s not who I want to be. I want to be a hero.  Someone who makes a difference in the lives of others, especially my daughter’s. 

To do that I have to continue to be present and put in the effort.  I want to teach her how to do things: play sports, skateboard, snowboard, and golf. I help her with her homework now and want to keep doing that, even after I start working. 

I want to teach her to be better at whatever she does, and how to treat others with kindness. The only way to do that is to start thinking, believing, and living that. It’s going to take time and effort, but that is all I have to my name right now, so I might as well use it.

I’m ready to reinvent myself and rewrite that statement.

Jesse got the brains, Morgan got the looks, and Noah got lucky.

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[…] connected with his mother when he called out to her because I have felt that connection to my own father since he passed in 2007. I’m following multiple news sources trying to get every perspective. For me, the process of […]'

This post is so good. My oldest daughter was told by a 4th grade teacher she wasn’t smart and she carried that with her forever. I would love to talk to that retired teacher now and say it was her that wasn’t smart. You don’t say things like that to your students. It was life changing.

I am on Team Noah As I know you WILL make a change in your life and many others!


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Ross Thacker

You are a good writer, Noah. Your story flows. It has meaning. It’s light. It’s interesting. It starts and it ends. Good stuff.


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