For context about who I am, and why I’m sitting here writing these things, please see my previous blog post.
You haven’t worked in nearly two years. You’re broke, living on the state, in a vocational rehab program. You’re sick of it. You don’t have two red cents to rub together, and you hate being broke. You come from an upper middle-class family who’s not contributing a dime, so you have to depend on others for literally anything. You’ve been homeless for a few days. Finding a job is roughly impossible – you have a two year gap in your work history, and no education beyond high school, where your grades were thoroughly underwhelming. You’re sick of it. You’re sick of all of it. You feel like a piece of shit for being so dependent on everybody.
But when the time comes to actually search for a job, your effort is lacking. You find little excuses not to apply to various positions. You have to be reminded to call back. You spend maybe an hour or two a day searching and applying, and even then you find yourself frequently distracted by Team Liquid.
The latter sentence sounds like somebody who doesn’t really want to find a job, doesn’t it? One of those folks whom politicians vilify as the “lazy poor,” when they try to cut direct funding to the destitute. But both the latter and the former paragraphs describe the same person. It sounds like a contradiction. It’s not. I know this person, personally. You might know someone like this, too. Maybe they’re employed, in school. They know they need to kick their ass into gear to make decent grades, and they desire the result that this effort would bring them, but they can’t seem to do it. It seems genuinely distressing to them.
There are a number of reasons people have a hard time getting motivated to do stuff. Most of it is nonessential stuff. I’ll take the trash out tomorrow, Idra’s about to take a game off MC. I’ll start exercising next week, I’m tired today. I’ll clean the apartment next weekend, I’m too busy this weekend. Most of it is nowhere near as critical as finding employment to regain one’s own self-respect and avoid homelessness, or studying to keep your grades high enough to keep a scholarship.
I am sure that there are many reasons people have a hard time getting motivated to really do something essential, but the one I’m going to discuss today is fear.
Everyone fears failure, to a degree. But it doesn’t stop them—at least, not from doing these essential things, examples of which I’ve laid out. Their fear of what will happen if they don’t do these things outstrips their fear of failure by far. Extreme fear of failure such as this is a symptom of anxiety, or depression. (I have mentioned previously that I have a hard time separating these.) I believe it to be more a symptom of the former than the latter. For me, anyway, my mind races, and as it races, a million ways I could fuck it up, let myself down, let others down, be subject to ridicule, cause disappointment flash through my mind at roughly one million miles per minute. None of it is particularly coherent. In the end, for me, it takes on a physiological symptom, as these things frequently do – a pit that forms in my solar plexus and extends towards my gut.
I’m an engineer, as I have previously mentioned. I’m not a genius, but I’m not an idiot, either. I enjoy taking on new challenges, in theory. But when these challenges become something I actually need to think about – planning an algorithm carefully, sketching a flowchart with some foresight, developing safety requirements with some breadth of vision – I shy away from the task, and take a brute-force, trial-and-error approach instead. I’m afraid to sit down with a pencil and paper. I’m afraid to engage my brain. I’m afraid I might turn my head on and find out that I’m actually just a fucking idiot, not up to the task. I look at the problem, I identify roughly what it will take to solve it, and as I do, my gut starts to tighten up, to develop that pit. I’ve even got a little pit in my gut as I write this, as I’m afraid that I have no idea where it’s going. (I don’t) and I’ll just wind up trailing off and looking silly. I’m actually a fairly capable writer, (though I’m fully aware this blog isn’t showing it) but I haven’t written a story in years for this same reason.
Putting effort into things is scary. You’re committing yourself to the success of that task. Job hunting is scary, because what if you do get an interview? And if you get an interview, what if you actually get the job? What if your friends and family are overjoyed to hear that you’re finally making it, and you’re beginning to develop some self-esteem for the first time in literally years, and then on your first day you drop a tray of cokes onto the ambassador to Eretria? And then everybody just looks at you and says, “I knew it.” Or worse, you look in the mirror and say that.
I’m lucky. I kind of let myself get shoved through the system – I got good grades in college, and I got an easy job straight out of the door. I have very little thought involved in my job. I’m scared of taking on more responsibility. I’m scared of failure, of being fired. Of letting myself and my girlfriend and my mother down. I am starting to work on topcoder exercises, which are exactly the kind of things I’m horrible at, precisely because they take thought, planning, and thoughtfulness. And I fail sometimes, but nobody cares but me, which is a good start. I’m also going to start my MBA in the fall, and with any luck, my company will pay for it. This latter is a cop out – management is a new kind of challenge for me, sidestepping the one I’m currently afraid of. But it’s a step towards change, and making a change when your situation is comfortable is what somebody like me is most afraid of. The ultimate failure is trying to change your life for the better and failing. That’s the fear that the person I described in the opening paragraphs of this blog truly fears.
Sometimes, people like me luck out. We are able to conquer our fear of failure by succeeding enough times. Sometimes not. I still haven’t figured it out, but I’m trying a few things at a time. Between that and the counseling I receive, I might be able to figure something out. I’ll let you know if I do.
As always: If you find yourself in a situation similar to mine, or like the one I described in the opening paragraphs of this blog, or if you simply find yourself unable to start doing the things that you need to do to create a tolerable life for yourself, I'd like to encourage you again to get help. See a therapist. Get treatment. Nobody will force drugs down your throat and nobody will withhold them from you. Nobody will ask you to cry about your childhood and nobody will stop you from doing so. Because I finally took others' advice and sought out help, I am learning to cope with my issues, and push towards leading a normal, healthy life.