As you may have, but probably didn’t notice, it’s been a little sparse over here on Crocumentary of late.
Turns out, it’s harder than I thought to crank out an endless stream of insightful, interesting posts that don’t copy each other. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been rehashing my Greatest Hits for the last two decades on social media, but that doesn’t really give myself credit for the fact that I did manage to become a wiser and slightly better person over the past five years.
As my life creeps (zooms) toward the half century mark, it’s sobering. I feel like I’m both futilely stomping on the brakes of a runaway train at times and other times falling asleep on that same train as it zooms by so many possible destinations. I want to slow it down, be able to relax and enjoy what I have, but then when I do that, I'm afraid of just being a slacker without the motivation to fulfill his ability.
In talking with a good friend recently, he was sharing some of the great things that have happened to him with his job, the people he’s had the ability to affect in a very positive way as a manager at a large tech company. He loves his job, but like most high paying tech jobs, the sheer amount of work expected of you doesn’t leave a lot of time to enjoy the fruits of your endless labor.
The majority of my good friends are younger than me and have objectively much better jobs. When I listen to them talk about their work, I’m extremely happy for their success, but inevitably I also feel extremely disappointed in my own career path, which is littered with tough breaks and decent jobs that should have eventually led to better things if they hadn’t frequently been given away to cheaper labor, thus making me feel ever worse about how replaceable my skills must be.
I have to admit that it’s much tougher these days to really give more than what is required when it comes to work because it’s almost never paid off with anything but getting overlooked and replaced, even with consistently very good reviews. So I find myself approaching my later years with almost no enthusiasm about my career, just the quiet but unmistakable sound of background anxiety.
When I think about my friends and what they’ve accomplished with their careers, how they’ve thrived with responsibility and gained job security, I often feel inferior as a person in some way. And I know that isn’t fair to me, because it isn’t just your job success that determines the kind of person you are or what you’re made of. Many people thrive in a career and struggle badly in their personal life. I am the opposite, my personal life is incredibly fulfilling and my career pays the bills at best.
I’ve spent most of my life obsessing on my flaws and brushing off achievements and compliments. It’s no wonder that I’ve had to constantly seek validation, since I never figured out how to get any from myself. And then when I would get it from others, I’d tell myself that people were just being nice to me. Because I was told that I was gifted and intelligent from a young age, and remember how other kids viewed me because of that, I was so afraid of having an ego that I never even really let myself feel confidence. I felt that if I ever didn’t feel like I needed to do more, I’d risk regressing instead of improving.
My friend dutifully listened to my confession, and like other friends before him, explained to me that he felt I had a lot to be proud of, that he thought I was a great person and valued our friendship highly, and I realized that how my friends felt about me had basically nothing to do with my career, the one thing I regularly used to discredit myself and used as a benchmark for comparison.
In society we’re so often measured by our wealth, by our status, by our career, by a resume full of eye grabbing bullet points and percentage improvements. And yes, money makes the world go round, but find me anyone in life for whom their relationships are not just crucial but essential? You can’t be friends with money. You can’t curl up with a yacht and watch a movie together. You can’t pour your own heart out to your job and get a badly needed hug from it.
I have been somewhat unsuccessful in my career, but quite successful in the relationships I’ve built through the years. I know I have people who have my back, and though I really hope to never have to rely on that, I feel pretty sure that even if things turned bad, I wouldn’t be out of options, which keeps my anxiety from overcoming me.
It’s high time to give myself a little credit for the things that are tough to measure on paper. As the world has become darker over the past few years with abysmal leadership, police violence and pandemics, it’s only my relationships that have carried me through the misery with very little emotional damage. I’ve lived in a ridiculously expensive place to exist for almost 25 years in spite of never making the kind of money that everyone thinks you must make to live here. But I’ve made so many friends, people who I’m beyond proud to be close to. People who just radiate kindness and positive energy.
Sometimes I wonder what I have done to deserve such incredible friends who believe in me. But realistically, whether or not I remember whatever it was, does not matter. What matters is that they clearly do. They know I would be there for them, that it brings me joy to be a bright spot in their lives, and I don’t need to have an impressive career to do it. I just need to give myself, my time, my care.
I joked to my friend about the fact that at least I know for a fact that all of the people who have gotten close to me clearly must like me for me since I don’t have anything to offer them in terms of money, gift art or status. All I have to offer is myself, and somehow that’s been important to some incredible people.
I’ve long been able to connect with and relate to many different kinds of people pretty well, a skill for which I'll always be grateful. But the downside to making friends easily is that it’s just as easy to bite off more than you can chew.
When I discovered the fandom 25 years ago, I had just gone through a difficult period of feeling completely alone and insecure about interests that up until then I’d thought were childish or strange. Now that I had discovered there were in fact many more like me, I made my #1 goal making as many friends as possible, trying to build relationships with people who would want me in their lives. I wanted to protect myself in case some people lost interest in me, so that I’d always still have some left who hopefully wouldn’t.
Now, many years later, I know dozens and dozens of people, so many that it’s not uncommon that I meet someone that I like, we hit it off spectacularly initially, and then both of us go back to our busy lives and the relationship and communication fades back a bit. When this happens I often feel anxiety about what the other person is thinking about me, but I hope that they kind of also are in the same boat in terms of being busy and there doesn’t need to be fault assigned.
To make things more complex, in addition to all of the friendships that I try to juggle, there are always people who seek me out for advice or more often, friendship. Typically young people who I’m guessing see my tweets and unsurprisingly seek guidance and love, things I try to project often. And I do my best to provide it, but it’s hard because my cup is already overflowing to the point that bringing someone new in is always pushing someone else out. And while I want to be able to help people without needing to be friends with them or have some major connection, it’s tough to help someone out and then expect them to go “yeah thanks, I’ll just leave you alone forever now!”
So there are messages of “Hi” and “what’s up” that go unanswered, not because I lack compassion for people who obviously are seeking a connection or a friend, but because in order for me to want to expend the effort I want to know that the person has the tools to do something good with it and I don’t have to carry them. Plus at any given time there are countless existing relationships that I could be putting more time into that I feel constant low-key guilt about, even though I know that only half the responsibility is mine.
Author Norman Peale, the author of The Power Of Positive Thinking, said “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.” I guess this is how I look at life. I set high goals for myself, and I think part of me knows I often won’t hit them, but I feel like I need to try because when I come up short I’ll hopefully still have achieved something worthwhile.
Back to confidence for a minute. It's important to remember that confidence and pride are not arrogance. Arrogance requires that you feel you are better than others. I swerve so hard to avoid any possibility of arrogance that I’ve never let myself get close to feeling much confidence. But the funny thing is, when I talk to other people or give them advice, my confidence is much, much higher. Why? Because I can’t be neutral about myself, I can’t be an unbiased observer, so therefore I worry that my thoughts about myself are not as valid as those coming from someone who isn’t me.
Of course the sensible rebuttal would be, “But no one knows you like you, no one else knows what you’ve been through. Why would they be more fit to judge you with less information about you and your life?” Which is also true. So I’ve been trying to remember that and let myself feel more positive about myself. It’s not like I don’t still want to improve, so there’s still plenty of room to feel better about myself.
We are usually our worst critics; when we measure ourselves against others, it’s usually not in the things that we’re doing better in, but worse. The way we’re brought up in a capitalist society is to value wealth and status and power, to have lots of nice possessions. To find a heterosexual partner who wants kids to settle down with, find a nice house in the suburbs safe from the presence of undesirables and a church where we can express total faith in an all-powerful invisible being, yet almost none in our fellow diverse human beings.
But in spite of all that mess, each of us has something that we’re good at. Creativity is often hard to measure the value of as so many things are viewed as unsuccessful if they don’t earn a lot of money and fame. I think that is the wrong way to look at it. Unless you are talented enough (and driven enough, and lucky enough) to reliably make your talent your livelihood, you have to pursue your creative interests with the intention of creating something you enjoy for its own sake instead of how much other people will like it. Invariably the things that end up being the greatest success among others start out as the same things that we put our hearts into and are proud of.
We have to stop finding ways to discredit ourselves at every opportunity as if there is some benefit at beating our critics to the punchline, and instead plant those little victories and compliments inside of us like seeds of confidence, things we shouldn't be shy to give ourselves credit for. Validating yourself can be really tough, especially when humility and neutrality is something you value greatly, but if you can’t do it, it sets you up for a lifetime of endless searching for something you won’t enjoy even when you do manage to find it.
Not every person needs to change the world in a public, highly visible way. Most people don’t have the ability or opportunity to, but never confuse that for not making a difference that matters. We need to stop feeling that we've committed a crime if we fail to push every ability to have to it's most wildly successful outcome. We need to stop believing what they tried to sell us, learn to love our strengths and work on our weaknesses without crucifying ourselves for them.
If you barely tolerate your job, that sucks, but it doesn’t have to wreck your life as long as you can surround yourself with wonderful people who appreciate the great things about you and remind you that you are so much more than what’s listed on your resume.
When my time comes, I will at least know that I did my best trying to do right by the people I met and the friends I made. Corporations will never give a damn about me beyond the money I make for or spend on them, so to hell with all of them.
To my friends, I owe, give and leave....everything I have, and everything I am.