When Your Hours Get Cut and the Future Looms but You Don't Know How to Weave

"We bombard ourselves with stimuli, input, input, input, and we wonder why we're ... dissatisfied. We wonder why nothings lasts and everything feels a little hopeless. Because we have no idea how to see our lives for what they are instead of what they aren't." {taken from THIS article on thoughtcatalog.com}

Sometimes I feel like my biggest struggle is putting my life in context. Instead of seeing it as a perpetual work-in-progress, I see it as a series of failures to accomplish, brought on partly by an ongoing comparison to a vague checklist that hovers at the back of my mind like the ghost of a seriously legalistic revival preacher.

It's not like there isn't a social precedent for this mindset. As you go through life, certainly in your younger years and I imagine as you get older as well, there is a set of questions that people ask you in their casual "getting to know you" conversations. The questions change, of course. And that change only reinforces the sense of a looming deadline. Oh, you haven't done this yet? The nagging pressure to conform.

What does it actually look like to accept and support someone where they're at? I mean, I've probably experienced this, but I'm so ready to project my own anxieties onto the things that other people say that I am more likely to misinterpret than to be soothed.

I have this friend who can never tell me about something he's accomplished without mentioning his ranking. He has to be one of the best, if not in fact the best, at everything. On the one hand, that demonstrates an admirable drive to succeed, sure. But on the other hand, it strikes me as a little depressing that a large part of his self-conception seems to be one of his relation to others in competition with them. Maybe that's just something we're taught to do with class ranks and employee of the month awards. But it kind of sucks. Why can't we just do for doings sake?

I went to a meet up discussion on envy recently where the subject of the utility of envy came up. Someone mentioned that the artist doesn't create out of the drive of envy, but rather out of the passionate desire to create. It's the drive to succeed as an artist that is energized by envy.

But I observed to the group at one point that sometimes envy has the opposite effect. If we lack the competitive instinct that my friend has, then we may fold up and shut down in the face of what could be. Each person's path is so much the product of both hard work and fortunate chance that it's hard to see how I could even hope to accomplish what they've accomplish.

But that's precisely the point, isn't it? I don't actually want to replicate what someone else has done to the letter. It would be utterly impossible, for one thing, but it's also an abdication of the awesome right to express myself and my life freely and uniquely--without the pressure to do it like everyone else. (Okay, within reason, if you want to eat. But let's just take the soft interpretation here.) So when I'm drooling over the calligraphy being posted on the Philadelphia Calligraphy Society's instagram feed, I don't have to feel second-rate because I can't do what that person does. I can rejoice in their skill, and then go on to do my own thing, however that looks in the end.

Frameworks and checklists can channel our efforts and reduce the demand to make decisions, if they work for us. Maybe you really do want to enter a field where the path is: undergraduate major in a particular degree with internships over the summer, graduate study leading into a residency or similar, enter the field in a specific position and work your way up through the hierarchy for the rest of your life. In that case, it's literally that simple. But for other people, those frameworks end up being a source of anxiety and frustration, because they don't leave room for alternatives, for creativity, for the mental health requirements of being a particular kind of human.

Or maybe I'm just justifying my failures. I dunno. It just feels like in the comparison game, there's always someone ahead of me, and I'm starting to get really tired of losing.

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