I was feeling very positive on Friday; Never before has my path seemed so clear, with so many things within my grasp. It was thus with great confidence I predicted a landmark productive weekend. The power I felt on Friday, however, began to resemble more a rolling blackout by Saturday, followed by grid failure as I slipped into total couch potato mode. What happened?
When I am doing a self-diagnostic of this kind, I try to remember other times in my life when similar things had happened. While I don’t entirely trust my memory to recall specific details and sequences of events, I do have a pretty good memory for emotional tone. In other words, I can remember what situations made me feel a certain way. This is sometimes useful when doing graphic design. Anyway, I mentally ticked-off the specific sensations I had felt over the weekend:
- wanting to be distracted
It’s a familiar feeling that I associate with not knowing what to do. I have a pretty clear plan, though, of what it is I can be doing to move things forward with my life. There’s all the cool Printable CEO things: new forms, books, and software! There’s the awesome people who are out there doing cool things that I can partner up with that make me happy. Plus there’s stories to create! New ideas to outline! Principles to share! As I’m typing this, I’m absolutely amazed at the wealth of options I have available to me from a creative perspective. They are all things that I know I would enjoy doing, and I would even be good at doing them.
“Meh”, says some part of my brain, lurking somewhere in the darkness and oozing ambivalence like a leaky nuclear reactor. It’s toxic, and it’s lodged somewhere in my system.
On a whim I looked up depression (mood) and clinical depression in Wikipedia to see if this was what I was going through; I had caught a piece of a show on NPR that was talking about an instrument called the Beck Depression Inventory, which is a self-administered test that determines just how depressed you are in (I guess) medical terms. A lot of the symptoms sounded familiar—I had just listed them above—so I probably should keep this in mind next time I see a doctor. On the other hand, I don’t want to take any drugs to correct any “deficiencies” in my mood. I don’t even know what I should feel like, so maybe it would be worthwhile to define what I think that is.
If I were happy, I would think it would be something like this:
- contented and fulfillment
Hm, that’s interested…these are largely words that are related to being connected to other people. As I read through the list, there is a kind of intimacy that I feel is part of the definition. So my feeling of “meh” might be explained by a feeling that I’m only doing all these interesting things for myself, because I should. I know that they’re all very good things to be doing because they’ll make me stronger, but in examining my happy list I end up asking myself: but for what? It’s like doing it for myself isn’t enough. Interesting…very interesting.
I’d read recently an interesting definition of happiness: happiness is not being bored; it’s being excited by what you’re doing. I’m clearly not excited by all the things that I’m doing, because I’m having some difficulty really feeling that it’s worthwhile.
The reason I started freelancing in the first place was to gain my independence so I could do things that I thought were important and worthwhile to me. What I seem to have discovered is that I apparently don’t have an important tangible goal, and have metaphorically missed my exit off the self-reflection highway. As a result, I’ve ended up in a place named after a dead philosopher’s theory of existence. Or I’m somewhere near Buffalo, New York. Part of my brain is saying, “I told you there was nothing out here, we should have gotten off at Tonawanda”, while another part of my brain insists, “No, there is something good just up ahead. We have to keep driving.”
I used to go to grad school in (you guessed it) upstate New York, and have driven solo from Rochester to Boston a few times. It’s not a particularly long drive, maybe 7-8 hours. The feeling of being on the road by yourself, unsure of what you’re going to be doing with your life, but knowing at least that you’re heading east down the I-90, is a lot how I feel now. I’ve grown used to the solitude of traveling by myself toward a destination, and I think I’m at that point where I’m just really sick of it. I think I really want to be on a road trip with someone else in the passenger seat, maybe taking turns driving, and so on.
I guess I’m saying I’m becoming increasingly aware of being alone. I’ve been alone for great swaths of time during my life, being always out of place or not quite understood by the people around me, and I’ve grown quite used to the solitude. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve deepened new relationships and had a taste of what it’s like to be around people who vastly improve the quality of the day-to-day existence. I’ve enjoyed visits from my sister and her cat on holidays, and Dad came to spend several months with me. I became re-acquainted with the human element. I’ve also met women who made me smile, and gave me something to look forward to beyond myself for a time. As I’ve grown more comfortable with myself, I’ve been able to see the value of close human relationships, and now that I’ve tasted that…I’ve been spoiled. It’s like when I tasted my first really excellent chocolate croissant, or had a really fine piece of aged cheese: I could not go back to the supermarket stuff. In fact, the supermarket stuff makes me kind of angry.
“Why bother? It’s not worth it.” whispers that dark part of my brain.
So I am pretty sure that one of my major bottlenecks right now is due to this feeling of loneliness. There’s not much I can do about it overnight, but at least I know what the challenge is, and can put it out of my mind for a time.
I can also redefine my game plan. It had gone something like this:
- make myself stronger financially…
- so I can fund the things I think are really worthwhile.
The raw assets I have are my ideas, my writing, and my design work. I had thought the challenge was creating a product that I could sell and feel good about in exchange for income, but I can see that this is too narrow a definition: I need to also consider the creation of strong face-to-face human relationships as an integral part of the game plan.
Now, I’ve talked in the past about finding people to collaborate and so forth, but I have probably held myself back because I didn’t want to get burned by the possibility of a bad project relationship. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the right guidelines or set of principles that would ensure a “quality working relationship” based on metrics like similar level of skill, compatible background experiences, shared ethical standards for work, imagination, and so forth. These are all pretty useful metrics, and I still plan to use them, but what it comes down to is this: both parties are equally committed to making the relationship work above everything else. That’s really it. If you don’t have that, all you have is a social contract. I have been using these skill criteria as a shield against forming relationships intimate working relationship, because I was afraid of getting hurt.
Now, I’m not saying one shouldn’t be prudent in choosing their working partners. There are moments when recognizing a discrepancy between intention and action will prevent you from really getting taken advantage of. However, if you want to form a close relationship of any kind, you’re going to have to make yourself vulnerable to the other person. In a way I’ve started to do that on this blog, by writing about things that could be considered rather personal. However, my comfort zone with writing what I think and feel tends to be rather broad. Where I have difficulty is expressing my deepest fears: that I’ll be alone and misunderstood, and everything I’ve tried to do will be for naught.
Practically speaking, I know I’m not alone, and that there are plenty of people who do understand and appreciate what I say. I’m blessed with excellent, excellent friends that I trust deeply and implicitly. I am a lucky, lucky person that happens to be going through another wave of self-doubt and loneliness. The thought that goes through my mind is that I really have not learned to trust my own assessment of the situation, or that I haven’t stopped to appreciate my blessings in quite some time. And I know that everyone’s gone through this misery at one point or another.
And with this insight, I can finally visualize the miniature version of myself exploring the nooks and crannies of my brain, shining a flashlight into the most ancient and darkest corners. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the little boy version of myself, confused and sad and feeling like an outsider, huddled next to a particularly nasty-looking knot of fears and anxieties.
“Yo”, I say.
The little boy version of myself stares back, the hollow look on his face telling me he’s not quite aware of his surroundings, but I can also see that he’s expecting nothing useful to come out of my mouth. I know that there’s nothing I can say that will make any sense at all because the boy has not yet experienced what is to come, and that it will be mostly good. But I can’t say that…it means nothing in the moment. So I offer my hand and say, “C’mon, let’s go up where it’s not so dark” with all the warmth I can muster. It’s not an answer, but it’s a start.
To sum up:
I’ve been feeling down because, I think, I’m feeling lonely and isolated from people. This is despite all the dozens of people who I’ve met or have written to over the past couple of years. There’s an additional element of relationship that I am looking for, and while I believe I’ve been pretty open, I have probably been putting entirely too much emphasis on criteria than commitment.
My “master plan” to date has focused on what I can build to bring in revenue, because revenue will give me both the resources and freedom to effect further positive change. The resources I have now are my abilities to think, write, and create media to convey ideas and processes. However, it never occurred to me that I could use the same skills and opportunities to also build deeper relationships; I’ve tended to see the work more in terms of revenue and/or barter. In the past I’ve taken on projects because I’ve wanted to “help” people out, but this hasn’t always worked out. My revised approach will be to take on project because I want to create stronger personal relationships; this is more mutual in intent.