Monthly Archives: May 2014

Is There A Downside To Too Much Self-Acceptance?

One of the things I’ve been working on lately is trying to feel better about myself. I spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not I’m accomplishing enough or being productive enough or sleeping enough or what have you. And rather than feeling bad about that, I’ve been trying to come to terms that I am what I am, warts and all. However, I can’t seem to silence that last niggling voice that questions whether or not this is a good thing in the long run.

For the longest time, I was taught that the way you became happy was to set goals and achieve them. Which is great, as long as you have a realistic understanding of your abilities and limitations. Because I was something of an overachiever as a kid, and coupled with my propensity for perfectionism, reinforced the whole “You can do ANYTHING!” mindset that Generation Y was so marinated in. I couldn’t just do something, I had to do everything. I couldn’t just do something well, I had to do it better than anyone else anywhere ever. Anything short of perfection and global accomplishment was a failure.

Needless to say this isn’t exactly the most healthy worldview, and I’m working on rejecting it. It’s tough, though; cultural programming runs deep, and often works in ways we’ve become selectively blinded towards. I’m trying to take a step back, re-frame things not in terms of targets I’ve missed or places I “should” be, but in terms of what I have accomplished, where I am now. The former approach hasn’t given me much more than grief and anxiety (perfection is impossible, after all), so maybe this new one will let me be happier?

And yet…

And yet I can’t help but feel that on some level I’m not “living up to my potential.” That I’ve chosen to settle for a less than ideal situation (read: reality) rather than daring to dream. That I’m pissing away opportunities by sitting around playing video games on my days off.

It’s not that I think this voice is rational. It’s just that I can’t seem to shut it up. And it’s got me wondering if there’s some merit to the idea. Is it easier to change one’s physical habits or mental habits? Is trying to change the way you feel about something a valid approach, or is it just another way of avoiding the problem?

Needless to say, I don’t know. I sense that one approach is probably better than the other in the long term, but I’m not sure which one that is. I suppose that I could look at what “setting unrealistic goals” has gotten me so far to help me make my decision: occasional anxiety and low-grade depression. Not a great result, I agree. Maybe self-acceptance will net better results? Do I have to decide whether I want to be productive or happy? Can I even become the latter through pursuit of the former? Am I going slightly mad?

Thus concludes this entry of “thoughts I had while in the shower that I couldn’t quite form correctly once I toweled off.”

Where Do I Begin?

Social media is a funny thing. Facebook feeds and Tumblr dashboards are like an endless supply of channels to surf; there’s always new entertainment, and it’s an easy way to pass huge chunks of time. But this ease of entertainment access can come at a price.

I don’t know about you, but once I start keeping up with something, I feel compelled to keep on keeping up with things. I start to worry about missing some ever-so-slight quantum of information. True, most of it is forgettable filler that won’t be remembered for more than a few seconds, but the compulsion is surprisingly strong. I’ve wasted entire days catching up on my feeds. I’ve gotten annoyed when a browser crash makes me lose my spot in an infinitely-scrolling cornucopia of information. I’ve become, in essence, trapped by my obligation to READ ALL THE THINGS.

But an interesting thing happened to me recently. One that may have made this compulsion work for me rather than against me.

Last week, as I was trying to get several projects finished before the weekend, I found myself spending less and less time at my computer. It so happened that after a while of this I had gone an entire day without checking Facebook or Tumblr. And while this isn’t that notable in and of itself, what happened next was really intriguing: I began to feel guilty about missing out on my feed.

More specifically, I started to feel that so much time had passed that I wouldn’t be able to catch up on my feeds before they overwhelmed me again. As a result, I did what has worked so well for me in the past when it comes to issues like postponed responses: I ignored it. I ended up not checking Facebook or Tumblr for days, just because I was worried about the futility of catching back up.

Luckily I’ve since had something of an epiphany: I don’t necessarily need to be caught up on anything. Just because something is there doesn’t mean I’m obligated to read it. In fact, it’s likely downright impossible (and I don’t like using that word as a general rule) to read/watch/play all the books/movies/games in the world. It just can’t be done. So why should I worry that I missed an infinitesimal part of humanity’s greater cultural output? In other words: if I’m inevitably going to fail in the long run, why worry about it?

With that in mind, I dipped my toes back into Facebook. And I successfully controlled myself, scrolling for a few minutes rather than the hours (days) it would have taken me to “catch back up.” I just created a new starting point for myself. I haven’t been back to Tumblr yet, but hopefully I can achieve similar results. The Skinner Box that is social media can be broken, without throwing it away completely.

Gaming And Me

Video games and I have an interesting relationship.

When I was a kid, my parents limited the amount of time I could play video games to two 30-minute sessions a day. Later I was given the option of playing for one 45 minute period instead of two half hours, but for many years I experienced the worlds of Mario, Link, and others in short spurts. I don’t begrudge my parents this restriction; it made sure I kept up with my other hobbies (like LEGO) and got outside every once in a while (even if it was merely to go read under a tree).

But as I grew older, these restrictions lifted. I think it was some time in high school, although there was never a formal discussion about it. I just gradually began to control my own timing, playing as much (or as little) as I wanted. But my previous restrictions did at least instill in me the importance of limitation, of not binging to the point of excess. I still had responsibilities, after all: homework to do, chores to complete, a part time job to keep up with.

And I think the way I approach video games even to this day is still informed by the habits I learned then. Obviously, I’m now the sole master of my schedule. I’m free of the tyranny of homework that always seemed to threaten my “free” time as a student, and I often spend my days off either on the couch or in front of my computer, chipping away at the fairly enormous backlog I’ve managed to accrue over the years. And while those days are fun, I still feel slightly guilty indulging in them.

Why, I wonder? After all, shouldn’t I be able to freely choose what to do with my free time as long as the necessities are taken care of and accounted for? Isn’t that one of the privileges of being an adult?

Growing up, video games were a treat, a novelty. Something that was purely leisure time, but not some worthy cultural pursuit like reading or going to a museum. But is this view still valid? One need only do a quick Google search to see that the “Are video games art?” discussion is alive and well. Is the time invested consuming one type of creative work (e.g., a novel) inherently better than another type (e.g., video games)? I think that I’ve internalized a sense that video games are “worth less,” somehow or other. And I’m not sure if I still agree with those implications.

I look at my backlog, and realize there’s no way I’m going to work my way through it if I continue to view video games as a way of postponing “real” work (whatever that means), or if I continue to feel guilty about my enjoyment. After all, most of the games in my collection are ones that I was interested in playing for some reason or other. Why shouldn’t I enjoy my time with them?

And that’s the crux of the matter, I think: I’ve been viewing gaming as a way of avoiding doing something else, of procrastinating. When I game it’s often because I don’t want to do the dishes or look for a job (to use completely random examples), not because I want to enjoy the artfully crafted experience of the game itself.

So maybe that’s the solution. Maybe a way I can feel less guilty about playing video games is if I’m more conscious about it. Playing video games because I want to play, not because I don’t want to [something]. It’s an interesting thought, and one I’ll have to investigate further. And what better way to do that than trying to do so on my day off tomorrow!

Inspired Again

So here in our corner of the SCA, we recently crowned our new king and queen. And given that my knight was asked to be captain of the Queen’s Guard, I found myself volunteering as well. I’ve been affectionately referring to it as “being thrown under a bus that my knight is driving,” since I and my squire brothers all ended up on Guard.

Despite what several of my friends seem to think, this is the first time I’ve been on royal retinue. I’ve been on baronial guards, and have been known to tag along with people I know while they were on guard (a practice I refer to as “Rent-A-Guard”). And to be honest, I’m pretty excited.

Their reign just started, but our new king and queen seem like neat people. They’re energetic and clearly passionate about our game. I enjoy being helpful; it seems to be in my nature, and at least this way I can do so somewhat officially. And the fact that being on Guard is a good way to get out and meet people hasn’t been lost on me either.

But what I find really interesting is that I find myself invigorated and excited about the SCA in a way I haven’t been for quite a while. I’m considering going to events that I overlooked previously, hosted by nearby groups or even other kingdoms. Of course, the fact that I have to request time off work for weekends is kind of a buzzkill, but I’m trying to not let that get me down too much. I’m enjoying having motivation to get out and do things.

I’ve been in the SCA for 12(!) years or so now, and I suppose some level of disillusionment is inevitable. But I’m starting to remember that spark, that special something that drew me into this game in the first place. Even the coronation was fun; sure, court was long and boring in places. But when the newly-crowned king took a moment to survey the room, he truly did look for all intents and purposes like a king.

And that’s a Dream I can get behind.

Back In The Saddle

I don’t have much to say today. But I haven’t been posting much recently, so it’s important for me to get back into the swing of things.

Why haven’t I been posting as consistently as I’d like? Well, I do have a few excuses. Wednesday I ended up working on re-edging my shield all afternoon, and time just got away from me. I was even late to fighter practice, but I went anyway (and was of course glad I did). Friday, however, I don’t have as good a reason for. I was scheduled to work a closing shift, which started at the time my usual morning shifts end. Needless to say, it completely messed up my flow. I ended up spending the morning at my computer, catching up on a few days’ worth of Tumblr posts. Then it was time to shower. Then it was time to get dressed. Then it was time to eat lunch. Then it was time to pack a dinner. Then it was time to go to work. Then it was after 10pm, and, well, you get the idea.

So yeah. I skipped two days yesterday; one by accident, and one semi-intentionally. But I don’t feel too bad about it, or at least I’m not beating myself up too much for it. These things happen, and occasionally blogging may have to take a back seat to the rest of life.

Does that sound like I’m rationalizing? I might be. Oh well.

One other thing I realized right before I sat down to write this entry is that my periods of “I don’t have anything to say” become more frequent when I feel more pressure to write for someone else. When my writing isn’t just for me (as much as a publicly-posted journal can be), I feel the need to be profound. To be witty. To be interesting. And that affects what I feel comfortable writing about.

This can be the start of a vicious cycle, in where I do a “nothing to say” post at the last minute, then feel bad for doing so, which leaves me even more creatively blocked for the next day, and so on, and so forth. Which is why I try hard to remember the importance of just writing, even if it’s crap. Probably especially when it’s crap.

If I was smart, I’d set things up such that my crap writing never sees the light of day. But that’s not what I’ve done here, and it would be hard to do so unless I dedicated more time to writing. And maybe I should. But I’m still at the stage where I feel everything should be useful, where I want to avoid work for work’s sake (also known as practice). I know that’s not a sustainable place to be, but it’s where I’m at. And with my other hobbies, and with how tired my job usually leaves me, it’s hard to go any further right now.

So what was the purpose of this post? Nothing, besides making sure I get something written. It’s crap, I’m sure, but I’m already feeling better. More awake. More motivated. More willing to do something for dinner besides microwave a sad burrito.

Mmm, burrito…

Day Shifting

One thing that’s interesting about working early mornings is I have a good portion of my afternoons free. Generally, I’ve used this time to decompress (read: surf the Internet and play video games). But lately, I’ve had a series of projects I’ve been working on that hasn’t let me get the downtime I usually do. I’ve been productive, but it’s left me feeling pretty exhausted. Although that might also be the seven consecutive work days I’ve put in recently.

I was thinking about how tired and drained I’ve been feeling, and actually started to feel a bit guilty. After all, most of my friends have to work until 5pm or so, while I get at least three hours of the afternoon each day to lounge about. Shouldn’t I be celebrating my good fortune? Am I completely off base with my complaints, in a way that’s not going to garner much sympathy?

So there I was, feeling guilty for feeling drained, just because I had had a few days where I wasn’t able to zone out in front of a screen. But I was missing a very important detail during the self-flagellation: when I (or my friends) had to be at work. True, being home by 2pm would be a pretty sweet deal, if it didn’t entail having to get up at 4am. It’s not that I don’t have more downtime, it’s just that my downtime tends to be in the daylight hours.

The more I toyed with this idea, the more I realized it was true. Even my own experience held up the theory. When I wasn’t working ungodly hours, I regularly stayed up past midnight, reading, playing, what have you. I could sleep in more, which meant I could stay up later. I got to mess around after dinner, rather than after lunch.

And a large part of me still thinks about my schedule that way. I’ve only been doing the early morning thing for a little over a year, which isn’t much time in the grand scheme of things. I still think of the afternoon as “work time,” regardless of whether I’m actually working or not. And if I do end up working on something, like a personal project, web design, or teaching myself how to code, I’m effectively extending my work day to over 12 hours. After which I basically have to start winding down for the night. No wonder I feel drained.

So that’s where my exhausted mind has gone lately. From feeling bad about feeling drained, to realizing that I actually do have a legitimate reason to feel that way. It just takes the right frame of reference.

Be Proud Of Your Work

I took some time today to re-paint my shields. I needed to replace the edging anyway, so I decided to touch up some of the scrapes and dings while I was at it. The summer event season is starting up, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt for my kit to be in good repair.

I don’t paint much, and luckily my device is relatively simple and geometric. But as I crouched in the back “yard” (it’s mostly gravel and concrete) I had plenty of time to think. After all, it doesn’t take much brainpower to fill in big sections with a single color, especially when you’ve taped off the borders. And as I worked, my thoughts turned to darker paths.

I started thinking about how I don’t paint much. How my skills are really rudimentary, especially compared to some of my friends. Artist friends. Friends who paint for a living. People that would put me to shame using only their off-hand pinky finger. I mean, I was just slathering paint around on with no finesse, using a cheap brush that never seemed to get fully clean. Was I just wasting my time? Was I going to embarrass myself with the crap I produced?

These thoughts bounced around my head for a few minutes, even as I continued to paint. But then I realized something. I realized that in the end, these were my shields. My equipment. As such, they should be a reflection of my work and my capabilities. Who cares if it isn’t “good?” It’s more important to me that I can look at something and say “See that? I made it myself.” That I can take pride in my craftsmanship. That I have something that is mine, that is wholly unique to me and my own experience.

Sure, you may think I may be putting too much thought into a piece of sports equipment whose sole purpose is to get hit so that I don’t. But I’ve often said that everyone hates their own work, so this epiphany was quite shocking to me. Usually I look at what I’ve done (written, drawn, built, etc.) and can’t help but see all the little mistakes, the places I could have spent a bit more time, the shortcuts and compromises. Assuming I take the time to look back at it at all.

If the only takeaway from this article is “I had a dark thought, but managed to say ‘Screw that noise,’” then I guess that’s enough. But I hope that any of you that might have similar issues of taking pride in your own work can take some solace as well. Whatever you manage to create is unique only to you, in ways you may not be able to see. And that’s awesome.

Oh Look, It’s Monday

Today has been kind of a non-starter since I got home from work. I’m tired, under-motivated, and generally feeling like it’s a Monday. And I had to work the past few days, so I don’t even have the excuse of it being the beginning of my work week. I mean come on, I barely had enough motivation to go grocery shopping this afternoon. And I need to eat to survive! How crazy is that?

I’m hoping that tomorrow will be better. I’m going to end up having to work seven days in a row, but at least I’ve got a short day for the next two days. Maybe that will let me take the time and finish some of the projects that need to be done by the weekend. Because I managed to actually get a weekend off! It was a fight, but my boss seems to like me well enough.

So what have I done this afternoon? Well, I managed to go grocery shopping (which is good, since I was down to frozen leftovers). I almost forgot to put away my food (lunchmeat should still be good the next day, right?). I wrote a report for my volunteer position (the long version: Nothing to report. The short version: Nothing to report). I got caught up on my Tumblr and Facebook feeds (does the scrolling ever end?). And golly, look at the time. You didn’t need to paint a shield or anything, did you? I sure hope not!

If I’m not making sense, it’s probably because I’m tired. But credit where it’s due for small victories: I managed to realize I was tired, and thus wasn’t feeling too great, rather than stewing in an “Oh man what’s wrong with me” malaise. Because far too often I’ll dip into depression before I realize that maybe I just need a bit more downtime, or food, or sleep. Naming one’s problems has a way of containing them: if you can describe it, you can control it. Realizing I’m tired lets me re-route the part of my brain that tells me “You’re a no-good lazy failure at life.”

Anyway, I’m rambling. I have a few things I’d like to write about (Dog sitting! Why Gen Y hates their life! Stuff!), but I’m at a loss right now. So I’ll just leave you with this seemingly apt webcomic I found on Tumblr:

via http://blog.emengel.net/

I know not of which this comic speaks. (via blog.emengel.net)

Stop Hitting Yourself

So I was thinking some more about yesterday’s post and the job posting situation. I’ve come to the decision that I am, unsurprisingly, overthinking things. That even though I don’t think I’m likely to get the position, it wouldn’t hurt anything to just apply anyway. After all, if I don’t apply, I definitely won’t get the promotion. See? I can logic.

But because I can’t leave well enough alone, I continued to think about why I was overthinking applying for a promotion I might not even get. And I think it’s because, on some level, part of me thinks I don’t deserve to be happy.

I’ve touched on this issue before. For some reason, I seem to see my current employment situation as a form of penance, if not punishment. After all, I have so far failed to use either of the expensive degree’s I’ve accrued in a work environment, so shouldn’t there be some sort of consequence for that?

I’m not saying that this thought process is in any way rational; it clearly isn’t. It’s not even conscious reasoning all the time. But I feel that sometimes dragging your dark demons out into the blazing sunlight can help you exorcise them. So that’s what I’m doing. And in this case, the buggy train of thought says that I don’t deserve the opportunity.

I’ve failed to find a job in architecture. I’ve failed to use my French degree. I’ve failed to get out of my temporary retail job into something more interesting. I’ve squandered opportunities and failed to foster any modicum of motivation. So as punishment, I have to accept the bad (or at least less-than-ideal) situation I’ve ended up in. I don’t even deserve to make the best of what I’ve got. After all, if I didn’t deserve to be here, wouldn’t I have figured a way out by now?

When put plainly like that, this toxic mind-virus is revealed for the hideous thing it truly is. But we’re so socialized (it may even be an ingrained predisposition) to conflate achievement with worth. After all, if someone is poor, the dominant narrative says that it’s because they “just haven’t tried hard enough” (read: are lazy), rather than acknowledge the possibility that luck has just as much to do with falling down as it does making it to the top of the societal heap.

And I have trouble remembering that. I’ve bought in to the “bad stuff = your fault” narrative without even realizing it. Maybe now that I’ve noticed it will be a bit easier to deal with. But doing so, especially in one’s own life, is much easier said than done. After all, no one thinks they’ll end up a statistic. But those numbers have to come from somewhere.

Doublethink

So I’m facing a bit of a conundrum. At work, the powers-that-be recently posted a full-time job opening for what is essentially the job I’m doing now: stocking product in the (early) morning and working the sales floor in the afternoon. My question is this: do I apply to it?

This whole “temporary” job position I’m in has been an interesting exercise in doublethink. On the one hand, I definitely don’t want to make working retail my career. On the other hand, I want do do what I can to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation. So what does one do?

I could apply for the full time position. It would mean better benefits, and working a guaranteed 40 hours a week. The hours I’ve gotten used to would become normal; I’d have to continue going to bed and waking up extremely early. The early shift wouldn’t be something I fell into, but something that I deliberately chose for myself. Pros: more money. Cons: early mornings. Besides, I’m not even sure what my chances of getting the job would be; full time positions are somewhat coveted, and I don’t have anything resembling seniority amongst the people who are likely to apply.

And if I don’t apply? Well, it feels like it would be a missed opportunity, even if it’s not a direction I want to take my career. In a way, I’d be committing myself to retail even more. I’d have to work 40 hours a week, which means my occasional half days would be a thing of the past, which means it would be even harder to find (or even look for) a better job. Plus, my boss has been talking about how they want to move me onto the sales floor (where I’m supposed to be) more. Lack of seniority will kick in, which means I’m likely to be relegated to late or closing shifts. Given that I have heavy and fencing practices weekly, that would put a serious crimp in my social and extracurricular activities (in addition to having to work weekends like I already do).

Where does the doublethink come into play? Well, I want to present the appearance of a hard-working, motivated go-getter for the benefit of my supervisors, so that I can get more (and maybe better) hours. But in a way that’s just a role I’m playing, a mask I’m presenting. In reality, I don’t want to stay in retail for any considerable length of time. In fact, I often find myself thinking about my current job (that I’ve had for a little under 2 years) as a transient thing, a bad dream I’m due to wake up from any moment now. As such, I’ve worked to improve my position (hooray for no longer pushing carts!), but I don’t want to get too committed. I guess I’m worried that my admittedly somewhat false pretenses will be found out, or I’ll find myself a few years down the road in a place I don’t want to be.

Who knows. I guess I’m just so used to trying to better my situation I feel kinda weird letting an opportunity that would ostensibly do so slip by. But is it really what I want? Is there a risk to making the “quick fix” too stable? Would I even be happy being at work a full 40 hours a week? Am I even using the time I’m not there currently with any modicum of productivity? Would the monetary gain be worth the philosophical price? Do I just let the listing close, the opportunity slip by, or do I make a conscious decision to not apply? Do I show up to the interview dressed as Deadpool in a tutu and sing “I Feel Pretty” at the top of my lungs?

Who knows.