It’s a cute trope to ask children what they want to be when they grow up, hearing their enthusiastic and typically naive responses based on idealized versions of jobs that seem heroic, fun or lucrative.
If you’d asked me that question when I was a kid, I probably would have said something like musician or, later on, psychologist.
But deep down the reality is, most kids and even many adults don’t really know what they want to be, other than loved, needed and having some sense of control over their life. I feel like it’s often easier to know what you DON’T want to be. Even when you’re not totally sure what you want, it’s usually not hard to think of what you don’t.
I spent many years trying to figure out what and who I’m supposed to be, and the only answer that felt right is the one that many people would be puzzled by: Croc, a representation of myself as a lovable toony gator. The people who think furries are dumb, or losers or problematic or pick some other negative adjective, don’t usually have the desire or ability to really understand how cool it is to have something that is both a tool that you can better learn to appreciate yourself but also a wonderful opportunity to bring positive emotions to others, including random people.
But even though Croc has helped me discover the things I really like about myself, I’ve still always lived in the shadow of what I perceived to be others expectations of me, but mostly were my own confused expectations of myself, based upon being told I had a very high IQ and creativity level.
As kids, we’re usually too busy exploring and discovering everything to spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to others, whether that is being buried in academic work or trying to find ourselves socially or creatively. But when we hit young adulthood, that vicious cycle of comparison hits and for many of us, never leaves. We focus on how we negatively compare to others and unless our talents are met with immediate financial and social gain, we oft tend to minimize and lose sight of the things we are great at. Knowing what we can improve on is a good quality to have if we’re motivated to work on it, but using that as an excuse to avoid risk and downplay our worth is an unfortunately common fault.
All through my life, I have found it difficult to feel a lot of motivation to do things except in specific situations for specific things, like writing, working on music or costume performance. I would see other people my age, with supposedly similar abilities, seemingly working harder, going farther, achieving great things and prospering. Of course, now that I’m older I recognize that successful people tend to hide their struggle, both for practical and personal reasons, and we usually only see the achievement, the “Kodak moments”. Even my own struggles I have minimized because I’m so aware of how many people had it so much harder than me, which also fueled this idea that I should have done better with what I had. Reached these perpetually and conveniently undefined goals that because they were undefined made them impossible to begin with.
A few months ago I took a trip to Boston to visit several good friends, all of them made through social interaction on the internet. It was amazing, spending quality time with quality people. I’ve never needed a lot to feel fulfilled in life beyond good people who are willing to invest in me as I am to invest in them. Spending time together and helping them live their best lives.
When I got back however, I noticed over the coming days and weeks that something inside of me had changed. I’ve been a heavy social media user for about 20 years, starting back with LiveJournal and through Twitter/X and Mastodon, but also a frequent user of AIM, Yahoo Messenger, ICQ and Telegram. I wanted to be part of things, to know what was going on both with my friends (and multitudes of people who were friends in the most casual terms) and the community that I considered myself part of. I wanted to post my cool and cute photos, tell my stories, hear and see the same from others. I wanted people to know who I was and what I was about, and I hoped some of them would remember and care.
And I succeeded - not to the point of 10K followers or being a YouTube streamer or anything like that, but I discovered people who were worth putting a lot of effort and love into. I was able to occasionally say or do things that had a positive effect on strangers, or casual acquaintances, and that felt, and still feels good.
But everything started to change when Trump got elected, not that that was the genesis of trouble, but it was the first major event that felt like it changed the tone of things online. People were rightfully upset and they wanted to vent and vent a lot. Negativity became common, and when the pandemic hit in 2020, that negativity just ramped up and up, then the riots… then the rise of callouts. Being on social media went from mostly fun and informative to absolute misery. And many of us tried to weather that storm, but when Elon took over and ripped the last strands of positivity and security from Twitter, the writing was on the wall. As much as I love Mastodon and what it represents and have tried to rebuild there with minor success, I am realizing the passion I had for social media has mostly died out. The social obligations I have so long struggled under the weight of, the toxic attitudes, the callousness.. it’s all apparently been too much.
When I got back from Boston, I had taken a bunch of fun photos that normally I’d excitedly post to social media. But I just didn’t feel like it. It was like doing something that didn’t matter, mostly for myself except I realized that I didn’t really want to do it for myself. I had wanted people to see how fun I was, that I did fun things, to be memorable. And it had worked, but I never stopped because it had never been enough, I felt I couldn’t stop or people might forget I existed and was fun.
I feel like I woke up and the folly of it all just was right there in my face. I already had some incredible friends who loved me for me. I had even more friends that I wasn’t quite as close to but still close enough to share good times with. I was still chasing those vague ideas of who I thought I needed to be without realizing that I’d already gained the things that had any value and I was mostly just pouring my heart and soul into a sieve instead of the people and things who obviously deserved more of them.
I will never stop wanting to positively influence people and help them, but I was bad at setting boundaries and I would make time for almost anyone that seemed to need it, even when there wasn’t anything I would get out of it beyond feeling like I was proving something by giving my emotional energy away beyond what was healthy to give out. Some kind of ill-advised cosmic penance to prove I was better than the distorted, disappointing version of myself I had in my head. And this new feeling, this sudden loss of desire to keep up socially with everyone was evidence that some part of me was fed up of the BS that I had been telling myself, tired of having my boundaries trespassed because I never bothered to realize how vital they were.
It’s been a struggle to accept that I’ll never have the motivation levels for achievement that I see in others and even some of my close friends. You can’t generate it from nothing, there’s no pill to take or I’d have been on it for a while now. This is me, for better and for worse, but it’s time to realize that mostly it’s probably for better. Of course I have faults and everyone does, and of course I will always try to keep working on them, but some things that I have felt were faults were really just differences that I failed to understand were perfectly okay.
I spend a lot of time playing one or two video games and I would think “why aren’t you doing this other productive thing instead?” until I realized why I played so many easy games of little consequence. I craved success, control, validation. I wanted to win because it was the only way I could feel good enough. I wanted to do easy things and get dopamine and have control over something that wasn’t incredibly complicated. And while I could have done something cool with music instead of that, I didn’t, and I didn’t need to punish myself for what amounted to self-care. I just didn’t realize it was self-care. I have lived for so long under the idea that I have to always keep doing something that is creative and memorable so I wouldn’t fade away into the void before I’m dead that I’ve been oblivious to the reality that everything I was doing was against that idea. Because the part of me I wasn’t listening to didn’t want what I kept telling myself I wanted. It just wanted to feel okay, to be loved, to not feel the anxiety and stress that I’ve carried with me for decades to the point that it became normalized, like living on a ship in turbulent waters for so long that your body just gets used to constantly re-stablizing. Except that takes a toll as the years go on. The version of myself I was constantly at war with was created by my own constant pressure to be more amazing every day.
Even when people would give me heartfelt compliments I would look for ways to subvert them because I surely wasn’t worthy of the thing I constantly craved. It’s like being starving for food and given a delicious sandwich and deciding that there must be something wrong with the sandwich so you take a bite and just toss the rest out, feeling just as hungry as you were before. I constantly kept creating the negative patterns that fueled my illusions of who I needed to be and who I was. It was only after many years of constant self-examination and generous love from those close to me that I started to break out of my trance and realize my mistake.
I am okay, maybe even a little better than okay. Both as Croc but also just as some 50 year old dude who sucks at losing weight and maybe hasn't done anything truly remarkable, but tries his damnedest to be a caring person.
I am slowly getting better at seeing the ways I have made a difference, and the burdens I shouldered, sometimes honorably and sometimes irresponsibly thinking they were honorable. I’m not who I thought I would be, I’m not who I thought I wanted to be, but I am still pretty good, even if I have no children and 50 more years from now all that will exist of me are the photos and possibly music that I created that find their way into the hands of future generations.
It’s okay because I love and am loved, because in my own clumsy and perhaps inadequate but heartfelt way, I tried to make a difference. Because I have learned that relaxing isn’t cheating, and having a low motivation is only harmful when you aren’t doing the things you need to have a decent life. But in spite of all the stress and anxiety that I still fight, I have a very decent life. I’m slowing down, and I need to embrace the changes rather than continue to seek a version of myself that only exists in my mind or some other timeline. I’m not in that timeline, I’m in this one, which sometimes is amazing and sometimes fucking terrible. But whether it is, it may be all I get, so I’m sure not going to waste any more of it not loving myself and others.
I’m rededicating myself to simple pleasures and complex relationships. It’s okay if I spend a week playing Baldurs Gate 3 and Dreamlight Valley instead of “making content” or working on music. I’ll do that when I want to do that, if I do. I wish I’d learned this a decade or two ago, but as they say, better late than never.
I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but now I do beyond a shadow of a doubt: someone able to take comfort in his creative abilities rather than seeing them as a signed and unfulfilled contract, who wasn’t afraid to look at himself through a greener, fuzzier lens to find what was special, someone who most of the time tried to make a difference to others, whether it succeeded mildly, wildly or not at all.
In a world that can often feel bad, I will stop punishing myself for doing things that feel good, because what seems insignificant by one measure can also be essential by another.
I reinvented myself to be more special than I thought I was. But what I learned in the process was that being special is less about massive incredible achievement and more about what you do with the choices you have, what you use your gifts for, what matters to you. I kept vying for something I was never going to achieve without understanding that I’d already achieved most of it.
And sometimes you realize that growing up means embracing the parts of you that will never grow up, and celebrating them, letting them be silly and spontaneous without judgment. I hope you discover what is beautiful about you if you have not already, and the people who recognize and vocalize it. Find the people who know you best, listen to them and think about what they say. True friends can give you truths more accurate than anything in your own head, but you have to actually hear them and not let their words wash over like you a warm breeze that passes in seconds.
I know much of what I write is about myself, in spite of my desire to be more diverse, but I suppose I should realize that in a way this is theraputic for me, and perhaps in reading it you may relate or learn something about yourself. I appreciate your attention, I always have and always will.
Even though this is the beginning of a new chapter for me, where I may be less online, I still love to write and share myself with those who are curious. I am tempted to say I should do it more, but in the spirit of accepting myself, I will say that I do it as much as I need to do it. Thank you for taking this journey with me, please be kind to others and to yourself.