0307 – dealing with plateaus

A: Lately I’ve been thinking about exit decisions, about the potential or opportunity of throwing away everything to start over. I don’t mean that I’m literally fantasizing about doing that with my life– there are all sorts of things that I want to hold on to. I mean metaphorically.

B: Why?

A: I suppose I feel stuck. I feel like I’m doing the same thing over and over again and the reward isn’t… rewarding? I feel like I’m plateauing.

B: Is exiting a plateau the right way to deal with it?

A: I… well, it depends on where you’re going, doesn’t it? Are you heading back down to where you started, or are you charting a different path? Sometimes when you can’t go forward, it makes sense to go left or right– so that you can go forward again.

B: What is forward, in this case?

A: Let me quickly run through the cliches– forward is growth, forward is learning, forward is advancement. Forward is output. Forward is a 10x difference in outcome. I’m either growing or stagnating. So I feel like I’m stagnating.

B: When was the last time you felt like you were growing?

A: Well– today, actually. I woke up early. That’s a new one. I seldom wake up early. I’ve been trying to do it for a long time, but I’ve only now finally been able to actually do it.

B: So why do you feel like you’re plateauing?

A: That’s just one little part of my day, you see? Everythin else feels a little mediocre. I feel like by now I should be a little more excited to work on whatever I’m working. I find these vomits exciting, for example. Why can’t I find my work– which I recognize as a privilege, and as valuable– as exciting as I find these vomits?

B: Oh, a whole bunch of reasons. Things get less exciting when you’re doing it so that you can put food on the table. Things get less exciting when it feels partially like an obligation. Things get less exciting when you don’t get a chance to follow your curiosity. What are you curious about, at work?

A: That’s a very good question. It’s a question I should’ve explored when I was on holiday. Why didn’t I do that? Does that mean I’m simply not interested enough, simply not concerned enough, and that there might be some other mythical thing that I’d be more interested in?

B: What do you think?

A: Well… I know that with things like school, I clearly have systemic problems. Like yeah, school sucks and is boring and lame and doesn’t really amount to anything in the grand scheme of things. But I’ve also found it difficult to focus on things that I want to do. There was a time where I wanted to be a rockstar but I barely practiced the guitar or bass. I wanted to run a half-marathon but I didn’t train for it. I somehow kept putting it off. So clearly there’s a systematic problem here that needs solving, that seems to be altogether independent of the conditions. Yes, good conditions are better and bad conditions are worse, but there’s something consistently messed up about my inability to do things. And I suppose the naked truth about me feeling like making some sort of exit decision is the fact that I feel embarrassed and upset that I’ve had such a “crappy” run so far. I’m shy and ashamed at all my failures, and I’m enticed by the idea of being able to have a fresh start somewhat.

B: Remember that insight you had on your trip?

A: Yeah… when things look ugly, it’s only because I haven’t seen how it can soften and flow– both forwards and backwards, left and right… a weird shape or line is something that’s in transition. We can support it, go around it, augment it, remix it, help it, give it a home. It’s the dissonance that makes it ugly. But dissonance is a function of context– a sound is unpleasant not in the abstract, but in the context that it’s in. You can soften its edges, fit it within something else that makes sense.

B: And how does that apply here?

A: I have nothing to be ashamed of. I’m only ashamed because of dissonance of some kind, and it’s only dissonant because I haven’t sent the reinforcement– I haven’t reached out to help me. I’m ashamed because I’ve abandoned myself. Because I have this expectation of perfection that I hold myself to, and when it’s ugly, and not quite what I expected, I treat it unfavorably. I treat myself unfavorably. What I actually ought to do is… look for the complements. See what could’ve been. See how it can all fit together. See what can come up against my rough and inelegant ages to become part of a richer tapestry.

B: And what is that like in more practical, straightforward terms?

A: Well. The first thing is to favor process over outcome. Everybody says that is what we all ought to do, but nobody ever really does it well, do they? I don’t know. But the thing is to recognize that nothing is ever abject failure. There is always room to dance around. There are always gaps and spaces to play in. They might get smaller, but play isn’t aout the size of the playground.

B: Practical, straightforward terms.

A: So… It’s okay to have ideals to work towards, but I shouldn’t be angry with myself for failing to meet my expectations. I should let go of my attachment to these expectations, and allow things to happen, with wonder and curiosity.

B: Then what?

A: Then the important thing is to respond. To watch and listen, to see how things happen. And then to react, to change. There is no shame in reacting and changing and adapting. It’s okay to make “mistakes”– they’re only mistakes in the present moment, and if I’m here in the present moment to confront the “mistake”, then I can correct it. Which will get us to a point we’d never have reached if we were afraid of making the mistake in the first place.

B: What are you trying to say?

A: That it’s okay. I just need to draw, to play, to explore.

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