I’ve spent a lot of time separating myself from the thoughts of others. There is a comfort in immersing yourself in other people’s words, and there is also a need to get cleansed and re-asses who you are apart from anyone else. I find the process to be only slightly helpful, though. It would seem that is soon as I tear down whatever city I’d built last, I am quickly building a new one. The new city is just as imperfect as the last one.
At this point in my life, you would think that I could accept who I am and get on with it. There are plenty of people I see out there who do just that. They are happy not to continually be asking what will happen to their consciousness when they die. They are happy not to wonder if they could be doing more with the gifts that they’ve been given. They like stuff like sports and television, and don’t feel the need to worry about anything more than what costume they will wear for Halloween.
I see those people, and you don’t know how many times I wish I could just say, screw it, I’m ready to cash out and accept that I can’t change much of anything other than what I consume or wear.
But, I also see people who are extremely successful. The ones who are born into money and networks don’t impress me as much. For sure, they could have simply lived the lives of wastrels and socialites and not contributed much of anything to their world. But, this doesn’t escape the fact that they are successful because they came from well-connected families. Some of them really pride themselves on how they made it on their own without their rich or famous pedigrees. You could argue, though, that they nevertheless had a comfort and security of falling back on independent wealth during the years that they struggled to make their marks. You could also argue that no matter how hard they tried to avoid using their famous family as a means to get places, this must have factored in at key moments when an Ivy League was making an acceptance decision or an employer was making an employment decision.
But, there are also people who are extremely successful who came from less affluence than my own. Not that mine was much, but I did have a father who went back to school and found middle-class, white collar employment that enabled him to save enough money to put me through college. I was always kind of uncomfortable around the other kids whose parents paid for everything, because my dad had little else to give other than the college education itself. And, I was always a little out of place around the kids who arrived on tiny scholarships and multiple student loans, because I had the luxury of knowing I could drop a class here and there without it being the end of the world. But, that’s neither here nor there.
The point is that there are people in the world who become successful with no family wealth or connections. There are some who never go to college, or drop out after very little college. I don’t look at the usual examples who dropped out of Harvard, since they seem to belong in the category of having at least some privilege. The ones who make it on next to nothing are scrappier and more persistent. These are traits that I never had to any great degree, and I seem to have them less and less as I get older.
There is something about getting old that makes you not really care as much about going out into the world again and hustling. After so many years of putting yourself out there and getting little in return, you start to hedge your bets more conservatively, and be content to live with less and less in the way of expectations. Which is not to say that I’m ready to fall into that group of people who content themselves endlessly with pop culture distractions, but I am more inclined to not rush into the next job or opportunity with a certain zeal that this one will be my big ticket to getting somewhere.
The one thing that I would still like to do with my life, above anything else, is radically change. I want to radically change my unhealthy patterns of behavior. I want to flip switches on in my mind that enable me to retain more information. I want to create a persona that is happier and more outgoing. I want more friends. I don’t have any desire at all to keep doing and being the same person that I’ve been, because he is someone who scares away almost everyone he meets.
However, I have yet to find an approach that really sticks, and isn’t just the verbal equivalent of taking a drug that eventually wears off. I don’t want to be happy and personable for the first three hours of the week, and watch myself go downhill after the first crisis of Monday morning hits me, and see myself maybe recovering once during the week before hitting Friday with the mind and will of a slug.
First and foremost, I think I need to retain the momentum of the will to move in the right direction. Even if I have yet to find the right tools to remain genuinely positive, I must keep in mind that I really do want to be a positive person. I do not want to throw my lot in with the negative Nancys and Debbie downers and cynical Cindies of the workplace. You know the people who constantly feel that they are oppressed by management and none of their unhappiness is caused by themselves. It’s always some other person in charge who didn’t listen to them or help them solve their problems. It’s a comfy group to get caught up in, especially when you are really hearing a lot of no’s from your managers.
It’s also easy to fall into this trap away from work. Because it is so much easier to proclaim that the universe is out to get you, or at least the people and circumstances in your immediate environment are out to get you, it becomes that much harder each time to extricate yourself from the tendency to simply throw your hands up in despair and curl up on the sofa with a book or TV show to help you escape. It is also extremely easy to pretend that the book is actually part of your overall program of self improvement, if you are reading something of intellectual heft. Then, you can argue that you are actually still hard at work improving your brain, even as you retreat from the very things about yourself that you should be facing head on.