I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but at some point when I was a teenager I came to believe that hating myself was the only way I could make myself better. I didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was.
I decided that judging myself harshly was the only way to protect myself from what I perceived to be the harsh judgments of others, and more important – the only way to motivate myself to improve. And shouldn’t I aspire to that? To get better? Always?
I told myself I was being unflinching, when I was really just unforgiving. I forgot those two weren’t the same thing.
I became goal-oriented. I set myself targets and sometimes I reached them and sometimes I didn’t, but even when I did they gave me little joy. Everything I accomplished got assimilated by the Borg that was the baseline. Every achievement was proven insufficient by the sheer fact that I’d done it. The definition of where I needed to be was wherever I hadn’t gotten to yet.
Everything was judged by the same mechanism. How much food I let myself eat, how many miles I made myself run, how much work I made myself do. It infected the way I think about art, and about writing -even something as subjective as that – it makes me crave numbers: sales figures, rights deals, reviews, ways to quantify an unquantifiable question. How good am I? Where am I? Where should I be? Is time running out to get there?
Control. Control. Control
And with twenty years of proof banked up behind me, I’m still trying to process this fact:
It doesn’t work.
I don’t think goal-oriented works for me. I’m not sure the ‘strive-achieve-strive for the next thing’ is a good framework for my life. What to replace it with? I don’t know, but I’m going to try some stuff.
I’m going to start with generosity and interest. Keep it simple: I’m just going to try to learn to be okay with not knowing how ‘good’ I am, because I’ll never know, because there isn’t an answer.
Instead, I’m just going to try to stay as interested and as generous as I can, because everything I’m really proud of happened either doing something I love, or doing things for people I love.
I don’t know if this sounds familiar to you. I do know some people who I think are the same. Maybe this sounds really hippy shit to you, or maybe I’m just working it out for myself, but I’ll leave this unlocked just in case anyone else feels like it’s relevant.
Screw it, Ze Frank puts it way better than me