0469 – make the decision to grow

In both Mean Girls and in The Office and I think in many other stories that we find compelling, the hero goes through a difficult choice– should she or should she not? To be or not to be? To leave Plato’s Cave, or to stay in it? [1] [2]

Sometimes it feels like I’m spending my whole life in search of a true friend, in the most idealistic sense of friendship. As I get older it becomes clearer that it’s probably not possible. I’m already very lucky to have married someone who loves me, and to work with colleagues who accept and appreciate me, and in both cases I’m trying (perhaps not smartly enough, never smartly enough) to become more worthy of such kinship.

I’ve realized that adulthood is about parenting yourself, and I suppose in life you also have to be your own best friend. I’ve met a couple of good people in recent weeks and it’s been energizing, so from a meatbag management perspective I should keep doing that. But it becomes clearer and clearer that in the end that still won’t be sufficient. Friends can give you validation and support, and really good friends can give you valuable negative feedback. But do we even really need that? If I really sit down with myself and be honest with myself I know what my flaws are and I know what needs to be done to fix it.

So… what then? What’s stopping me from doing the things that I know I need to do? I have a bunch of excuses, but they can all be summarized into a few really simple things– I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m scared, I don’t know how. To which the answers are– rest, get stronger by doing the smallest things first, recognize that there’s nothing to be afraid of and I’m going to die, and be precise about what I don’t know and what exactly I need to do to learn the things that I don’t know how to do. I suppose I could do a whole bunch of vomits just exploring that.

I’ve been walking around and around the same old things, and I suppose I’ve kept myself interested by allowing myself to forget things. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah I’m boring myself.

I want to be my own best friend. I want to be able to confront my own weaknesses and failings and BS and get through it so that life gets progressively more interesting and fun. Because it’s very frustrating to stay stagnant, to be doing the same thing over and over again. 10 years of doing the same thing isn’t 10 years of experience, it’s 10 repeated instances of 1 year of experience and life is just too short for that sort of wastage. Do I really believe that? On some days yes, on some days no, and hopefully over time I can increase the number of yes days, and better cope with the no days.

I once had a conversation with my boss where I told him that I wasn’t very good at insisting that shit gets done. He simply asked, “Do you want to achieve great things in your life?” And I said yes, of course. And he said, “Well, if you want to achieve great things in life then you’re going to have to learn to insist that shit gets done.”

I agree with that argument completely. I suppose what I haven’t fully, completely internalized is the premise. Do I really want to achieve great things in life, or do I just kind of want to? Do I just like the idea of it, and am I just satisfied with some sort of halfway situation where I have a bunch of stated beliefs that aren’t consistent with my actions? I’ve learned from experience that the latter is painful and miserable, and it’s easy to imagine that it’ll only get worse over time. I’ve seen smart men grow old to become bitter, angry and grumpy– maybe because they wanted to achieve great things when they were young, but they didn’t do it, and so they have to construct all these complicated rationalizations to explain to themselves and others why they haven’t achieved greatness. And they’ll typically have to project their frustrations onto everything other than themselves– I couldn’t do it because I was born in the wrong circumstances, raised by the wrong parents, hung out with the wrong friends, read the wrong books, was distracted by the wrong stimuli, wrongfully denied the opportunities that I deserved, and so on. I’ve done this before– “I didn’t do well because I didn’t study because X Y Z”.

At the end of it all, Hamlet was a terrific wanker. A poetic wanker, sure, but a pain in the arse. I don’t want to be Hamlet. I don’t want to spend my life agonizing over the question. The day will come where we cease to Be, so we might as well Be in the meantime.

So do I want to achieve great things, or do I not? Well. What’s the point of achieving great things? To get validation from others in a meaningless universe? That’s hollow. To feel good about myself in a meaningless universe? That’s a little less hollow, but still hollow. Everything we do is to feel good, anyway. Even guilt and shame, it turns out, (i’m a little iffy on the science right now) stimulate parts of the brain that are associated with pleasure. They give us a sense of significance. It’s a form of entertainment. We’re all clowns entertaining ourselves while staring into the abyss. What kind of clown do I want to be? I’d like to be confident and happy. I’d like to be healthy. I’d like to live a long life so I can see more of the interesting things that happen. I’d like to laugh a lot. I’d like to smile and be cheerful.

All of this is ultimately just self-validation. I’m stroking myself, petting myself, trying to make myself feel better so I can better confront the reality in front of me. Maybe I need a little bit of that, as all humans do. But reality doesn’t give a shit about my feelings. So… onwards.

As for kinship… when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. That’s how it always has been. So I just really need to grow up. If I need to talk about growing up a little bit before I do the actual growing up (and it fits within a writing practice/discipline I’m trying to cultivate), then so be it. But I must be very rigorous about not conflating the two. My growth is a function of the actions I take.

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[1] And unfortunately reality isn’t so kind as to give us just one Cave to leave– each time you leave a cave you find that you’re actually in another one. Each time you leave a box you’re in a larger one, and life is an infinite game of this, layers upon layers of reality to make sense of, to painfully navigate and struggle through. The cool thing is that you get stronger and more powerful as you head outwards.

[2] As I wrote more vomits, I get increasingly annoyed by unnecessary verbiage. Which is a nice thing to encounter. My last vomit was something that should be compressed into just a few lines. That will take some editorial effort, which I don’t feel like doing right now, but I now know that I have the source material for if and when I decide to do it.

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