0134 – address your anger and jealousy

This post was written a while ago. Not sure exactly how long ago. 

I’m feeling angry and jealous. Jealousy of course is the reminder that you aren’t doing all you could be doing, a reminder that you are waiting. I’m never jealous of others’ success when I’ve been on the ball, when I’ve been getting stuff done. And of course jealousy doesn’t make sense in the first place- every individual is unique, everybody has their own battle to fight. So I have to let go of that. Okay. Done.

I haven’t written in a while. I have all these vague ideas of all these things I want to do, all these things I want to say, and I inevitably make minimal progress on them. To be fair, while progress never seems fast enough, it is happening. I just need to do more of it. Faster. Focus. I’m just so tired of facing the same pitfalls, making the same screwups. I need to constantly refocus on what I know, blah blah blah.

What’s next, what’s important? I have all these drafts and stuff and I think I should just get rid of them as fast as I can. I have too much baggage and it’s weighing me down. I should just kill stuff that’s in my way.

I’m so tired. But I shouldn’t be. I’m young. I’m healthy. I have a wonderful opportunity to be useful, to contribute. The one thing that I was fairly certain about- which I think is still valid- is that I want to be useful. That’s been a common feature throughout my life. I want to help. When I’m helping, I feel better about myself. I’m tired of going to bed feeling like the day was frittered away somehow. I want my days to matter. I have to think smaller. I can’t keep trying to live this epic dramatic grand vision. That’s premature optimization. I should just focus on going to bed happy each night. If I just do that, life takes care of itself. I should just drop the big ideas and grand narratives. This is who I am, this is my life right now. Now what? What makes me happy?

I want to get better at my job. I want to be useful. I have too much on my plate, and it’s all self-imposed. Lack of focus leads to a weak distributed attack that doesn’t do any real damage. For me to count, I have to focus all my energy tightly, rightly. That means ruthlessly eliminating the non-essential. I think these vomits help even if each single vomit feels like it’s going nowhere.

I’m bothered by the news cycle and the way I participate in it, get caught up in it. It’s so unnecessary. It’s so toxic. In the future I’d like to play a role in correcting it, but that’s not something I can do very much about right now. So I should just get out. Self-interest comes first. I can’t help others if I can’t help myself. I have to fix my personal problems even if they seem relatively trivial or unsexy. If they’re really so trivial why haven’t I resolved them already? Clearly it’s because I’m suffering from a cognitive bias here. I convince myself that it’s a trivial problem ago I avoid dealing with it. I keep driving around aimlessly looking for something else to do. I clearly need to be harsher with myself so that the Saboteur-Bum can’t keep hijacking me for his boring ends.

I have all these incomplete things lying around. I should complete them. I should start with the important things that I’m responsible for instead of the things that I think I’d like to do.

Should I do a book review? No, I should do the work that I’m supposed to do. I keep daydreaming about all these sideshows. That’s my primary function and it’s really not any use to me right now. It’s actively impeding me from making the progress that I want to make.

What is with this obsession with progress? A good friend once kindly told me that I’ll never amount to anything and that I should just accept that I’m destined to be mediocre. He might be right, life might actually be simpler, easier and happier if I lived in pursuit of simple pleasures- beer, pizza, movies. I always did the bare minimum at school- less than that, actually- so why not just spend the rest of my life that way? Why resist? Is it not easier to give up the stupid struggle to be someone who “matters”? Heat death, etc. Nothing actually matters.

I agree that I’m wasting a lot of time and energy writhing against the ropes that hold me back from doing more interesting, exciting things. I agree that the struggle is subnormal and even unnecessary. But I am absolutely certain that the ropes can be cut. That life can be interesting, exciting, fun.

My problem is that I writhe. Writhe against the ropes and you just get more entangled, you get painful abrasions and rope burn. The rope burns become visible scars that you can show off as proof of struggle. And we can all compare scars when we’re drinking beers and bitching about school, work, life. How badly we have all been hurt.
But there is surely a smarter solution. First, we have limited energy. We must use it well, and cleverly. We may find that if we just relax, the ropes actually become limp, and we can just slip out of them. It’s our constant resisting that makes the ropes tighter.

That’s just one of the possible outcomes. We could indeed be bound by ropes that are out to bind us. Such ropes need cutting. The question is- how do you cut them? You have to pick one specific rope, one weak point on that rope, and attack it as ferociously as possible. One strong sharp cut and it can come away. Or it’ll fray. And once you cut one particular rope, the net tension decreases and you can cut the next rope.

So what’s the most important rope that I have to cut? Some will advocate cutting less important ropes first, to build confidence and ability at rope cutting. That’s probably valid. An alternative is to attack the most painful rope. That’s harder to do. I’ve never actually succeeded. I’ve spent years analysing the ropes, giving people advice on their ropes, criticising the way others deal with theirs. Lots of writhing, lots of pontificating. Actual rope cutting? Not that much. No wonder so many people can’t stand me and my nonsense. The world needs people who cut ropes more than it needs people who talk about it.

I think that’s a pretty decent analogy, and one I didn’t have prior to writing this. So this has been a unexpectedly fruitful experience for me. Now I can ask myself, what are the ropes I need to be cutting? Is there a better way to cut them? Which rope first?

I’m waiting for my wife at the train station right now, so I’ll keep writing this until she arrives. Then we will have dinner and go home. Then I will shower and pick a rope to cut, and cut it. Then I will go to bed feeling like today was a good day. That’s all I really want in life. I want today to be a good day. I want to earn my sleep. I don’t want to be restless and stressed, chronic stress is unhealthy and abrasive and unhelpful. It’s cutting ropes that yields relief, not violently struggling against them.
I wonder what other mental models or analogies or intuition pumps I will unearth by writing. Of course, that’s a trap in itself if I’m not careful. The rope analogy is an aid, meant to help cut ropes. The real important thing is that ropes get cut so life becomes pleasurable, interesting, exciting, meaningful.

I was watching Wolf of Wall Street yesterday. It reminded me that there are many different ways of living your life, and whichever lifestyle you choose, you will be able to find people that support and validate you- even if your life is unhealthy and ultimately damaging or hollow or negative in some Cinnabon way. It’s very clear that the Wall St life of excess is damaging. You hurt yourself, you hurt people, the chickens come home to roost eventually. This much is obvious to the viewer.

What is less obvious is that many of us are living such lives ourselves, and we surround ourselves with friends and family who are invested in maintaining the status quo. Even if it’s not what you really want. I don’t mean to turn this into a “follow your passion” bullshit lecture, all I’m saying is that ordinary everyday people validate each other’s narratives the same way the wall street bankers normalise each other’s. The life and reality that you take for granted is just one of an Infinite number of arbitrary configurations that your life actually could be. I’m not saying that your life is somehow bad or wrong, or that you should get out of it, or do anything about it. If you’re happy, great.

I just think it’s scary how anything and everything can get normalised. Suppose 0.1% of Facebook users spend 20 hours on Facebook a day. Facebook has over a billion active monthly users, so 0.1% is still 1,000,000 people. To those people, it’s completely normal to use Facebook all day. Same for any other sort sort of addiction, be it money or bitching about others or coding or voluntourism or heroin or BDSM or sitting on reddit/Tumblr all day. Whatever your kink or fetish, there are millions of people who’ll share it with you, normalise it and encourage it.

This is a little scary for me because it makes me realize that you can’t count on the opinions and perspectives of others to help you decide whether something is right or good for you. When you’re exposed to others, you’ll hear what they want to tell you, or what is good for them, not necessarily what is good for you. And you do the same to others, too.

Constant vigilance.

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