Resolutions Review #08: Giving Up Hope, Becoming More Myself

This month’s Groundhog Day Resolutions report took a long time to write, primarily because I had forgotten a lot of details since February. To make it easier to pick-up next month, I put in a ton of hours making a summary of major insights and decisions; this is now located on the expanded GHDR 2017 page and hopefully can be understood as a narrative arc. With luck, the review process will be easier next time.

So how did the month go? I think I’ve clawed my way back from the brink of nihilism and have rebuilt my foundation of optimism on (I hope) sterner stuff. The executive summary of my plans moving forward are (1) make the new website dammit by following a few key steps and (2) practice being unafraid to show more of myself to the world despite a fear of being seen as a weirdo. I’m so fed up with my lack of progress on my long-standing plans to make cool things, though, that I see rejecting people connections as a better way to get there. It’s not as dark as it sounds, though. What I think I’ve discovered is a way to have conviction without being co-dependent on other people. Or I’m crazy. Read on to form an opinion!

Revisiting Progress

If you have looked at the GHDR 2017 Summary I mentioned above, the overall pattern that you may have seen is that I’ve been dealing with quite a lot of frustration over the past six months. Most of the summary is about things I’m mad about, not about things that got done. For reference here are the four starting directives that I set in February; I haven’t been able to apply consistent pressure on any of the main strategic directives except maybe for G2:

Directive Description
G01 Grow my “neat side business”
G02 Cultivate and curate a community that gives and receives
G03 Develop a system for “mindblowing productive synergy”
G04 Commit to and successfully reboot the blog

Leading with the one success on this list, the cultivation of the DS|CAFE Virtual Coworking Chat and the related Dave Seah YouTube channel has actually gone quite well. This virtual hangout has become an essential part of the day not just for me, but also for a handful of people around the world. It goes to show that a community doesn’t have to be large to be worthwhile.

As for my technical and business projects, though, I haven’t made any notable progress. Instead, I have let myself be frustrated by petty inconveniences and distracted by the allure of billable work. To be fair, I did actually bring five new products to market for G1, but they haven’t taken off and are actually losing money (this is a first). I am sure there are things I can do to stave off the bleeding, but this has just compounded my frustration by feeding the sense that I am failing. I don’t talk about it a lot because I know that the work I do manage to do is part of the journey, but you know what? Right now I am totally fed up with the journey. I just want the results, dammit. AUGH.

So from May through October, I have largely been battling frustration and trying to avoid falling into depression. And I fell in, as I have written before, finding myself in a new thought pattern: “Hey, nihilism sounds good. Why give a shit? Nothing matters. It’s all bunk. Death can come take me and probably nothing would change. Bah.” I burned down my empathy and compassion and just tried to fulfill my obligations. I withdrew from local connections and gatherings. Still, I didn’t ENJOY feeling this way (it sucks not having energy). So my brain started to manufacture ideas that helped me see alternatives to being purely a grump or naively optimistic. Over this time period I added 7 more directives:

DIRECTIVE DESCRIPTION
G05 It is entirely acceptable to pursue mastery in billable work (meta goal: reduce frustration).
G06 I can reduce frustration/isolation levels by de-emotionalizing my reactions to triggers (meta goals: reduce frustration, self caring).
G07 It is entirely acceptable to apply effort toward not be bored or isolated even if there is work to be done (meta goal: avoid depression and guilt, because there is ALWAYS work to do).
G08 Start habit of going to gym regularly for cardio (meta goals: increase energy, self-caring, get out of house more for variety).
G09 Dare to be “me” in public by unapologetically showing my inner self to the outside (meta goals: be true to myself, have leadership mentality).
G10 Develop conviction about who I am and what I am doing, because without it expression challenge G9 can not be achieved.
G11 Seek “life chapters” that need to close for good (meta goals: reduce frustration, reassess what is important to improve focus and efficiency).

If I were to allow myself a narcissistic moment, I could say that I let my frustration undermine my genius. By genius, I really just mean the ability to do something that I believe I can do well. I could write a nice blog post, or write a nice chunk of software. I have the knowledge and the skills, after all. I have LACKED something, though, to push forward past the frustrations with surety and conviction. I have let uncertainties and unvocalized expectations keep me from putting in the time. Underlying these feelings is the nagging sense that I could have done more if I were just a little more focused and a little more talented. Maybe I don’t deserve them.

This is of course rubbish talk. I instinctively reject it, but the feelings have a tendency to stick in the back of your head and murmur. People will tell you, quite wisely, to ignore those voices and keep pushing and planning and making until something clicks, and success finds you. I totally believe in this, if only cynically: the perseverance approach works because once you are successful it has proven itself. There are plenty of people who never achieve the success they have envisioned. It is a terrible piece of advice to inflict on someone, and there are important caveats: it only works if you have other resources to see you through the hard times like a loving family, adequate sources of income, a secure place in the social hierarchy, and capable peers/advisors who understand what you’re trying to do. Or if you are an indestructible ego-driven robot, which I am not. I am the type of person who buys “onigiri cat” stuffed animals toys and passes them off as legitimate business expenses related to exploring the reach of my personal global microbrand, but never gets around to it. I don’t apologize for the stuffed toys, but I do feel kinda crappy about not having the personal drive to push myself harder like, uh, a “real entrepreneur”.

So after 10-15 years of frustratingly moderate achievement, I’ve been feeling very fed-up about it. Slathering a watery coat of silver paint onto the dark cloud of my frustration, I can legitimately claim that “I’ve learned a lot and have achieved a modicum of success!” I have also been somewhat brave about writing about it, which does feed my sense of mission. However, I haven’t had the kind of success that is capable of cashing large checks, and also I feel kinda dumb. Sigh.

But…I’m better now! I am feeling more optimistic, somehow. I’m not sure what has changed but looking back on my months of darkness, I find it interesting that in order to claw my way back to optimism I had to kill my desire to connect with people. I think by rebuilding supporting emotional structures that emphasize independence over hopeful connections, I have found a paradoxical middle ground between “people suck and don’t care” and “I like onigiri cats because they are so cute and I want everyone to know”. In other words, I may be saved from self annihilation because I still believe in my original four directives; they are in essence about living a joyous and expressive life. I had originally thought this meant that I should be more open to people and make more connections, be more vulnerable, and so on. Now I am starting to think it’s better is to become an self-anchored source of joy myself and FORGET about relying on other people. It’s both ridiculous and unrealistic to have the expectation that other people are a prerequisite for having your own internal joy. It would be GREAT if you found such a person to be your source of joy, but this seems like wishful thinking. That said, I might still have some residual existentialist angst coloring my emotions, so I am refraining from passing final judgement. Who knows what the universe has in store with me? I just am not in the mood to wait anymore.

The idea of moving directly toward finding and expressing my own brand of joyfulness without regard for what other peope think is new ground for me, and I find it both an exciting and daunting challenge. I have been shaped by a lifetime of wishing I could fit-in and avoiding anything that I thought “looked weird”. Now I am going to try to embrace the discomfort and learn to dance with it.

Looking Forward

Getting down to brass tacks, let me look at the actual work (oh, right! THAT was the point!) to be done. I’ve rephrased my key project directives in a more personal tone:

(1) I want a website that I like using. I want to think and refine my thoughts via the website system. I want a website that is fast and secure.

(2) I want to draw strength from “the audacity of enjoying what I like” in public in front of everyone, and through this act have a net positive effect on the people around me.

For (1), the project seems pretty clear technically. STAGE 1 is just replacing the current website so I can stop worrying about the old system and move on with my life:

  • stage 1A: static website system, nodesign, markdown
  • stage 1B: archived static website system, nodesign
  • stage 1C: minimal sitemap
  • stage 1D: comment system
  • stage 1E: auto deployment from laptop to server

After this, improving the content creation workflow is not as clear, but I think it might look something like this:

  • stage 2A: metadata processing in source docs to build collections
  • stage 2B: auto generating collection pages
  • stage 2C: auto generating project threads

For (2), the matter is even less clear. For starters, I’ve made-up a set of guidelines that I will try to internalize over the coming month:

  • DO express what I like with unfiltered pleasure when someone is receptive to listening.
  • DO be positive even when people don’t like what I like. Redirect by seeing if they want to talk about their own preference, and listen with interest.
  • DON’T take things personally, even when other people do and are trying to make themselves feel “more right”. Ugh.
  • DO affirm to myself that “I like what I like” and that there’s no need to justify it. That said, I am always happy to explain myself, or talk about sensitive issues.
  • DON’T compare my likes/dislikes with other people as a means of judgement. It doesn’t help anything.
  • DO curiously seek to understand other people’s hierarchies of values and understanding.
  • DON’T feel threatened just because someone doesn’t agree. Embrace the differences and be curious instead!
  • DO spread my attitude about people coming together through sharing what we like and also what we think.
  • DO be a person who tries to create a safe space where people can be who they are.

There is also the challenge of just being less shy around strangers, and being confident about being someone who may not fit-in with other people’s expectations. Part of my “physical redesign” challenge regarding appearance is to figure out how I can signal to people what’s on the inside, and try to be an active conduit of my particular brand of joyfulness. Again, this is really new ground for me, but I think it will be instructive as I “come out”; that’s a story for another time.

As for the dozens of other projects on my plate? Those can wait; I need to deal with the website as my primary GHDR goal and close stage 1 of the project. It has lingered far too long! If I focus just on stage 1, I could maybe get this done by the end of the year.

That’s the plan. Let’s get to work!

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A message from Dave:

I believe we all benefit when we respectfully share our perspectives on common experiences. My house rules are "please be respectful of divergent views" and "enjoy the flow of ideas!"

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