More than a couple of friends have asked me if I’m depressed, or if I’m experiencing some sort of existential crisis. I’m not sure. I think I could easily qualify for those things if I sought a diagnosis, but I’m not particularly interested in getting diagnosed. I remember being particularly depressed in 2007, when I was a teenager- I’m not sure how I managed to function back then. Everything was just a blur.
Life now is better in many ways. And yet it also seems bleaker in some ways. Not that it was less bleak then- I’m just more sharply aware of the general bleakness of things. I feel more weighed down by responsibilities and obligations – and these things were always going to happen. They were always on the horizon, I just maybe wasn’t paying enough attention to them. Or maybe you really just never properly realize it until it happens to you.
I just finished watching Season 2 of Bojack Horseman. I enjoyed the show. And I related a lot to a lot of the characters, who are broken, selfish, self-loathing, incompetent and all sorts of negative, lousy things. I see myself in them. But that’s not who I want to be.
After Bojack I caught a bit of President Obama addressing the Canadian Parliament. And he spoke about a bunch of inspiring possibilities – of the progress that humanity can make if we rally together and work hard. And I found myself thinking, I wish I was more like that. I wish I could be someone who contributed.
Now I’m zooming out and trying to be real about who I am and who I want to be. I am not a good person. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I’ve hurt a lot of people, upset and disappointed a lot of people. I’ve caused a lot of pain and suffering to other people. And some of that I simply will never be able to rectify or make amends for.
I’m thinking now of the anime Samurai X, where the protagonist is a former assassin who killed loads of people, and then turned over a new leaf and fought in a non-lethal way for good and justice and stuff like that. And the thing about it is– no matter how much good he does, he’s never able to undo the deaths that he previously inflicted. So it goes. That’s all you can do. The most you can do is do better next time. And that’s how I have to approach my own life. I haven’t killed anybody. At most I’ve annoyed and upset people, but life goes on for them and for me. Wallowing in my self-pity or self-loathing is actually the selfish, egoistic and unproductive thing to do. What I should do is get up, dust myself off and resolve to make a positive difference moving forward. Every day is a new day, every moment is a new moment.
Zooming out. What do I live for? I actually once answered that in an interview – and I think back then I said I lived for good conversations, for moments of inspiration and connection. I think that’s still true, but the problem is that I’m no longer satisfied with the conversations I used to be having. Those conversations were starry-eyed, hopeful conversations about what the future would hold. I’m living in the future of my past-self now. And while some of my circumstances have exceeded my expectations, other parts of it have proved overwhelming and painful. And I’ll just have to deal with that. It’s an inflection point – how I deal with this disappointment is going to determine what my life is, who I am, what I’m worth, what sort of person I become.
I’m 26 years old. More than a quarter of a century old. If I’m really lucky, that’s a quarter of my life. But I might die tomorrow, too. People better than me have died at younger ages. Every day is a gift, an opportunity, and I continue to squander many of them. I can’t confidently say “No More!”, because I’ve done that a few times in the past – I invariably end up disappointing myself and then fall back into old patterns, old routines. So that’s not the way forward. It’s cheesy but true that the way forward always requires radical self-love – even if you did things that nobody will ever forgive. You have to believe in yourself before anybody else can. You have to believe that something different can happen. And then make it happen, bit by bit by bit.
I like to think that I’m an idealistic, optimistic, big-picture person. But my big picture has gotten smaller over the years. The idea of the heat death of the universe forced me to realize that legacy isn’t something worth obsessing over. With each passing year I realize that the list of possible outcomes for me in my life grow smaller. I can no longer become an Olympic athlete. It’s unlikely that I’ll become an astronaut. It’s unlikely that I’ll climb Mount Everest. (Okay, that one is actually still achievable if I decide to devote a decade to it, but it’s not really something I care about so I can comfortably say that it’s never going to happen.) The list of things that are never going to happen just keep increasing. And I need to learn to find some sort of grace and comfort in that. It should strengthen my resolve to achieve the things that I CAN still achieve.
The voice in my head then goes, “But why bother achieving anything? Everything is garbage, you’re going to die anyway, the universe is going to die too, everything is for nothing.” That’s a painfully strong voice. And I don’t want to get rid of it through medication or through some sort of distraction. I want to face that voice head on and live through it, live past it. I don’t really believe in grand ideals like Freedom, Liberty, Justice and things like that. I think we live in a chaotic world that’s cruel and unfair and lots of bad things happen to good people. We’re kind of a disappointment as a species, in some ways.
But the species isn’t homogenous. There are differences in people and in places and cultures and whatnot. There are people who do good, people who are kind and helpful and full of love. I am not such a person but I want to become such a person. I would like to spend my time with such people, and grow old with such people, and die surrounded by such people.
I was reading an interview with Bill Gates back in 1994, and the interviewer asked him about his motivations. He said something like, you can’t be motivated by cheap things like wanting to win, or wanting more money. Part of what excited him was the vision to have a person computer on everybody’s desks, and that took 15 to 30 years and still excited him. And part of what excited him was that his company hired smart people and gave them interesting challenges to work on, and he felt alive in that environment.
We’re simple creatures. We’re capable of grandiose thoughts, but we’re simple creatures. We need sleep. We need to eat. We pee and poop. We’re animals that way. And part of what it means to be a social animal is to be driven by a need for kinship, peers, to be loved, to be admired and respected. And I suppose that’s all I can ever hope to achieve, to strive for. For a good life. What is a good life, how should we live? My answer to me is this – seek out the best possible peers you can, and earn their respect and admiration. Support them. Challenge them. Love them. And be loved.