The Anxiety and Self-Disappointment in Procrastination

When I was a child, I did not like being one. I was prone to depression and crying at inopportune times, it was humiliating.  There is a picture of me at four, at my pre-school “graduation”, where they wanted us to come up to the front and take a fake diploma.  You could hear the parents exclaiming how cute we looked.  I was horrified to have to go up in front of people, so instead, I burst into tears.  Somehow they got me up there, and in that class picture, I am rubbing my red eyes, looking away from the camera.  I hated the camera.  If I could have had a motto, it would have been “Don’t Look At Me!”

I spent so much mental energy trying not to cry all that time, that I was terrified of conflict–because I would probably embarrass myself with tears.  What is the use in a person like that, who can’t keep it together?  Who can’t speak up for herself?  That wants to talk but is choked into silence?

Somehow I made it through the slog of childhood and my teenage years.  Part of me wished that something outside of me had hurt me, to better explain my neurosis.  I made friends with people who had endured childhood molestation and actual abuse, because it made sense to me that if you had undergone such traumatic events, of course, you would emotional scars.  I related to their depression, their anger.  I had no such excuse.  The only person that tortured me was myself.

In school, I went to many advanced classes, which I enjoyed.  I love math and science, it made sense.  But I lagged behind in making friends because I was awkward.  In college though, I got better, and in my 20’s, I really thought I had beaten depression.  I figured out how to get a real job, I got married, and I bought a house.  Free (for a while) of my inner demons, I enjoyed playing.  I watched horror movies because I found they didn’t affect me in a deep way and I played lots of video games.

But my lifelong challenge is to get out of my own way, to stop being my own Janus, looking at both the future and the past (but no movement in the present).  Except that Janus has only two faces and I have many–stuck in the crossroads of opportunities, taking none.

Which I suppose is not entirely true.  I have had a diverse and interesting career path.  I have good relationships with my kids and my friends.  And well, my marriage didn’t make it, but I am happy with my romantic partner of three years.  However, I am still searching for truly meaningful work.

I want my work to matter, I want my years of life to account for something more than a boring, ordinary life.  I want some significance, some influence.

After my divorce, I started taking “how to start your own business” courses.  Marie Forleo, Denise Duffield-Thomas, Ramit Sethi, Jeff Walker, the big names. (There’s actually more, but it’s bad, I’m a personal development hoarder and I don’t want to own up to it all)  I wanted to explore making money without a job, I hate being reliant on any one thing.  And I’ve been failing SPECTACULARLY at every single one.  I have no business.   This is only my own fault. I cannot seem to get out of my own way.

I cannot seem to figure out what I have to offer.  My main gift is empathy, feeling.

Yay, goody for me, I cry easily. Yay, goody for me, I feel injustice.  Yay, goody for me, what effing career is in that?  I have spent my life censoring and weighing my feelings because I know they do not always show the truth.  That they embarrass me, that crying undermines any logical argument or thought I could make.  That I can’t be taken seriously if I let my emotions rule me.  So I have been very good practicing restraint, and over the years, I have made great strides in not crying when I feel it coming on.  But the fact remains, I do not trust myself to make mistakes and recover.  The feelings remain.

There is a quote from Kahlil Gibran that resonates with me:

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,
the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potters oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirits the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”

This has brought me comfort in the past.  But sometimes my cynicism says, “Oh great, so I can be deep. . . and hollow.  I think I’ve been cut up enough, thank you very much.”  Note to self:  Stop being mean to yourself!

Anyhoo, last year I decided THIS TIME would be different.  That 2017 was the year when I would finally change my lazy ways.  (When I’m feeling down, I compare myself to a smoker trying to quit.  There are people who fail again and again to quit but finally make it, and that’s the only thing that matters. So I try and try to start a side hustle and one of these days I’ll finally figure it out.)

In 2017, I decided to sign up for Steve Pavlina’s CGC course in the Spring.
In the summer, I embarked on a new spiritual practice.
In the fall, I signed up for Jeff Walkers PLF 2018 course, which started last September.

Wow, I like to start things, huh?

And time went on and I made some progress and then stalled.  I fell behind a little, and then a lot, and I’m looking at a year that has passed and thinking “What the hell happened?”

Where did I go?  Why is this so very hard for me, to put in the work?  My biggest fear is to be boring and to have a boring life, so I have a vested interest in putting in the work.  Perhaps that’s my problem.  Though I have never been without a job since graduating, I know I can be laid off at will.  I don’t trust companies to have my back, because I am disposable.  All employees are.

It’s not an incorrect stance, but it is a cynical one.

There is a part of me that is an optimist too though–I want to explore how to make money in a fun and ethical way.  How does one do such a thing outside of a job?  I like learning new things.

But it looks like I have to sort my internal emotional side out first because being consistent, having a plan and sticking to the work to be done brings up anxiety, avoidance, depression, and shame.  Goddamn stupidly connected neurons and their effing myelin sheaths.  EFF you, brain.  See, now I’m being mean to myself again, it’s a sick cycle.

So this past spring, I went to a business conference to try to move me out of my stuckness.  It was surprisingly emotional, some parts were really good, and some parts not so good.  I decided that when I got back I would get a coach to move me through my procrastination.

In retrospect, I did experiment with different things.  In May, I hired a business coach.  I thought that having someone specific to disappoint (besides myself, of course) might be a good thing.  Yes, I thought that the idea of disappointing someone cooler than me would make me move.  Guess what?  Apparently, it’s not enough. I am perfectly capable of disappointing multiple people.

In June, I decided I would continue with the coach and hire a therapist.  That was a good decision, he was really kind.  I made a teeny bit of progress on the writing with the coach, but I allowed myself to accept any writing, including journaling.  And I’m trying to get beyond the beating myself up because it just doesn’t work.

In July, I continued with the therapist and dropped the coach.  And in August, I dropped the therapist and did a deep dive into abundance with Steve Pavlina’s course.  I also signed up for a small group coach program, hoping that I had progressed enough to make movement on the business side.  But I have not done well in that either.

So here it is September, a new school year for my kids, a new cycle for me, spirals in time.  The Earth moves around the Sun, but only in a similar place, not the same place, because all things move through space.  I see that in our lives too – the slump, the low-level depression I’m in, is similar but not the same to things I’ve experienced before.  I don’t want to die or move somewhere else or not be who I am, but I am frustrated with my lack of progress.  I am frustrated with me.

I’m not boring, but I am bored with some aspects of my life.  I don’t want to die like this, never having accomplished anything of note.  So what am I doing?  Am I trying to escape, to prove to myself that I mean something?  Or do I just want to explore the potential of what I could be because I hate wasting something that could be great?  Or at least good?  What am I doing with my life?

The thing is, there are many things I could do, I just need to do them.  In this cycle, I’m going to practice forgiveness.  Maybe I got spoiled in those high school years when advanced classes were totally doable and I just did them.  Maybe I just didn’t realize that you can be smart and ineffectual.  Or maybe, it’s just that it takes time to get your life in order, some longer than others.

For the long haul, I’m going to keep going, even if it’s at my glacial pace.  I get upset at myself but I can’t really give up.  I have no choice but to go on, even if it takes me to the end of my life.  Because I have most of what makes a great life–love in all of its human forms, children and parents, friends and romance–but I just want that last piece. I want the last piece of going beyond, of going towards the love of an idea, love of meaningful work.    That’s what I want.

Divorce, 5 Years Later

It’s been five years since my divorce was finalized and I thought I would share what it’s been like.  My ex and I are still friends, I am proud to say that we held our own in front of the kids. We didn’t badmouth each other in their presence, we are there for their milestones, and we both love them for who they are and have never tried to use them as pawns.

 

The first step to a good divorce, and the hardest to correct if you get it wrong, is to marry a good person.  I don’t date assholes, and I didn’t marry one either. But the pain of a breakup often brings out our worst sides and it was hard to resist becoming one.  I also had an unfair advantage–I was the one who decided to end it. When people decide to end things, they end it in their head first; silently, without discussion, weighing the possible futures.  It can be a long process, taking months or years. But the longer the buildup, the more fixed the position. When that decision is finally brought to light, the other person *may* be able to bring up something new; some new argument or leverage that changes things.  But not always, and not often.

 

It does not feel good to break someone’s heart.  It feels awful. But I also knew that I had already been grieving for the end of it long before my ex did, and that he was at a disadvantage.  He wanted to do all the right things–how can we fix this? Counseling? We did do that, but it was too little, too late. Ironically, I had thought about counseling in the past and immediately would get angry–why is it on me to fix this?  I am supposed to do the work, in addition to everything I already do, to fix this? And so I didn’t, until it was too late. Emotionally I was done and I hadn’t even realized I had crossed that threshold. Suddenly, as things fell apart, I realized that I just didn’t care anymore.

 

Just to be clear, I’m not proud of that.

 

But the past is what it is:  we got divorced, and we both moved on.  He is dating a really awesome woman; smart, beautiful, and creative.  And I’ve been with my significant other for a few years now. We have come to a new normal.

 

I was reading a new book, “Decluttering at the Speed of Life,” which had a unexpectedly poignant section on decluttering dreams.  We assign meaning to our physical stuff. We assign meaning to how we label ourselves. When I was 18, I thought that someday I was going to get married and I was going to do it the smart way and I would be married for 50 years until we died.  Because I was going to be chaste and faithful and true. Turns out, you can be those things and still end up with a marriage that ends before five decades. You can make an informed choice at the time, be utterly sincere, and yet not be able to predict how life or either party will change over time.  I am not the wreck I was when making that decision, but I still feel sad about it sometimes.

 

So here are some questions from the book on decluttering dreams, on letting go.

 

Is this actually a dream?

 

Or is it a cool thing you thought you might like doing?  I respect people who get married, I respect those values.  And there were some parts to being married I did like, but I’ve never been one to care particularly about weddings or a ring on my finger or even talking about “my husband,” as though it was a status symbol.  I know myself enough that if that’s what I really wanted, I could have it again. But at the end of the day, it was about that day and the next and the one after that. The mundane, the ordinariness of everyday life.

 

Did you inherit this dream?

 

Is this your dream or someone else’s?  Certainly when I was younger, I absolutely wanted marriage.  It would have felt like I picked a waffling type of man if he couldn’t commit to me.  I wanted a public declaration of that commitment. I wanted that stability. My take on that has changed greatly.  Stability is only as present as the persons and circumstances allow. Now, I feel I don’t own anyone or owe anyone, and no one owns me.  I don’t know where this life journey is going to go. I can make a commitment as my present self, but I cannot speak for a future me that does not exist yet.  I may change my mind on this; after all, I changed it before. But for now, I am content to just see where the next few years go. And it ups my game to be the best person I can be.  If I want a great partner, then I need to be a great catch myself.

 

Was Collecting the Stuff the Best Part of the Dream?

 

Well, that was never much of an issue for me.  I used to live in a house, now I live in an apartment.  That works well for me. As far as furniture goes, I’m eclectic.

 

The Big Dreams

 

And then it gets to the hard stuff.

 

“I thought one day I would  ______________, but now I realize I never will.”

 

There is the small stuff, the regrets that I’m not going to be a major costumer and maybe I should get rid of my fabric stash under my bed.  I am no longer a stamper and I’m cool with that. I should unload those from the basement. Regret for the small stuff.

 

The big stuff comes with grief.

 

“There’s a form of grief that’s common in new marriages.  As you work to build the so-called perfect relationship, putting time and energy and focus on what it means to do marriage right, you start seeing the flaws in your own childhood and family.  While the way your family functioned was normal to you because it was all you knew, working on your own marriage means identifying things you want to do differently.”

 

That grief comes back when a marriage ends.  Because now the future possibilities you saw for yourself are erased and it takes time to navigate what the new possibilities will be.  For awhile, there can just be . . . uncertainty.  Five years later, I have dealt with most of that. I am happy where I am.

Driving Myself Crazy

They say a coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero only one.  It should be updated to say an imaginative person dies a thousand deaths, a dull person only one.  In neuroscience, it’s been shown that the pain of loss is twice the joy of comparable gain.  We feel loss more.  The problem with an imaginative brain is that you can see all the possibilities and know you get to choose one, or perhaps a few, out of thousands.  The thousand possible roads never taken–weighted or not, it’s overwhelming.

I look at my life and my one main regret is that I don’t write more.  I procrastinate.  I weigh choices, feel the ebb and flow of my emotions, and do nothing.  It is an ongoing regret, but apparently not one I feel keenly enough to do squat about.

This summer, after Sandy’s death, I kept waking up in the middle of the night, scared of my own mortality.  The feeling was, “Shit, I’m gonna die.”  Which is hilarious, because I’m always thinking about how I’m going to die.  I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to die since I was 11.  I made a conscious choice to be Christian at that age to diversify my eternal risk–if there was no god, then I had nothing to lose, so might as well believe in one.

But now I’m at a weird age where my parents are really going to die in the soonish future, anywhere between now and twenty years from now.  I have a teenager who is questioning her purpose her life, her meaning, probably because she’s thinking about how she’s going to die.  (No, actually, I think she worries more about my mortality than hers.)

And you know the regrets of the dying?   At least the ones in the book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”?  I’ve got them covered.  Here they are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

I feel good about all of those points.  I should be ahead!  But I have this desire to make the world a better place by having lived in it, and I feel I’ve let the world down.  What is my meaning?  What is my purpose?  Do I really have gifts that the world needs?  (I sort of hate even writing that because it sounds a little too New-Agey for me)  How self-effacing is that?  It’s a weird mix of “who am I to feel like anyone special” versus “do what you gotta do then to make the world better, so why haven’t done it already?”

You know what brought this on?  I was supposed to write a post for my business group last week, and now it’s two weeks late.  And I just feel so lame.  I had fun doing the exercise, but I have some block about actually writing stuff down.  Woot, I get the prize for being lame.

It’s this feeling that my job isn’t what I want to be doing for the rest of my life X I don’t want to die having nothing to show for the life I’ve lived X the worry that it won’t matter, really, whether I’m great or mediocre or nothing at all.

The feeling will pass, of course, it always does.  (And of course, it will also come back)  I know that in my small circle, my life does have meaning, at least to others.  But it is irritating to me that I still have to wrestle with this stuff.  Does a mind ever calm down?

 

 

 

30 Days of Life Advice, #1

For awhile now, my oldest daughter has been bugging me to write a book about  “life advice,” which is very sweet.  When she gets home from school, we often take a walk and talk.  I kind of laughed it off at first, but she kept bugging me about it, so I will write my thoughts.  It may not (i.e., probably won’t) be 30 consecutive days, so we’ll see how long it takes.  And this way, I can record it here and then put it together for her.  Because I admit, there are things I wish someone had told me earlier.

Life Advice #1

People overestimate how much they can control outside of themselves, and underestimate how much they can control within.  

We all wish sometimes that life wasn’t so cruel; that people were nicer, that we had more money or better looks; we desire people to look up to us and respect us; we hope that the people we love will be around for a long time.  Sometimes we get all of these things and sometimes we get none of these things, but wherever we are, it will change.  Even if you win the genetic, financial, and social lottery, your prize for a fantasy life is to eventually die.  And though you may delay or change certain aspects of life, it will keep flowing and you will never fully control all circumstances outside of you.  Bad things will happen to you, along with the good.

But what you can control, far more than you may initially realize, is your inner self.  What happens outside of us just is.  What we attribute to it is us.  Feelings are a part of who we are, but they are not all of what we are; something we forget when we say things like, “I am angry.  I am sad.  I am happy.”  To be more accurate, you have angry thoughts or you have sad feelings or you are experiencing happiness.

As a parent, my greatest fear is losing one of you.  I am very grateful I have not experienced that (and hopefully never will).  But I wonder if it did happen, would I regret every having a child?  Because the pain of losing that would be so awful?  Would I prefer that you had never existed to spare me suffering?  I would like to think that however long your existence is, the benefits of having known you, of having lived, loved, and grown with you, would outweigh the pain of saying goodbye.

So if I choose something far less traumatic, such as some of the actual “bad” things that have happened to me over time, I can see the power in reframing those experiences.  It sucked to have my heart broken, but I’d like to think it made me more empathetic.  It sucked to have a job where my boss hated me and tried to fire me, but it gave me the impetus to go into another field.  It sucked to almost drown, but damn I have a healthy respect for water now.  A lot of “bad” experiences can be parlayed into better character.  Choose “I don’t know why this is happening right now, but I will look for the good” over bitterness.  And if it’s really bad, accept that there will be sadness and anger for awhile.  Just don’t give up on happiness down the road.

So I Marched

I don’t like politics.  I like to understand people.

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I have my beliefs, of course, but I also know that I don’t know every person’s experience.  I only know my own.  But here is the thing–the one who tries to be everything to everybody becomes nobody.  The person that has no enemies, who offends no one, stands for nothing.  I wrestle with that–kindness versus confrontation.  Understanding versus taking a stand.

Let me be honest, I didn’t really want to go to the march for women’s rights today.  Because I’m lazy.  Because I worried about parking.  Because I wasn’t convinced that it would change anything, really.   But my friend convinced me to go, to do something that backs my beliefs.  So I did, and I was glad it did.  I was glad, in the end, to stand up and be counted.

Does it matter in the short term?  Probably not.  But in the long term, this is how you win the game.  Brick after brick, short term sacrifices for long term gains.  I didn’t go to the protest because I thought we would overthrow the president, I went to show that I believe in equality for all humans.  It’s sad that the word “feminist” has such negative connotations, I don’t believe in the superiority of any gender.  I just believe in humans.  We are capable  of grace and horror, but we have a choice.  I want us to do great things, I want us to choose grace.  I want us to get beyond naming and shaming.  I want us to fulfill our potential.

We are this weird animal, we are sentient yet we understand the divine.  Kahlil Gabran, the Sufi poet, once said,

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

That is us, my friend.  That is humanity.  Forgive the new-age postulating, but we are earth’s longing for life.  Or from a different perspective, we are God’s longing for life.  We will have ups and downs as our animal, lizard-brain nature conflicts with the desire to be be above all that.

I was proud to be a part of something higher today.  To assert my right to dissent, to put my time into something I believe in, to be a small piece of something greater.  I don’t assume to be great on my own, but at least I can work towards it.  And that is why I marched today.

 

 

 

On AI, Abortion, and Souls

gheyn-muisjeDo you ever follow a thread of thought from one link to another, until you get to a story that you wonder how it ends?  I was reading a paper from 2011 written by James Boyle, “Endowed by Their Creator?  The Future of Constitutional Personhood.”  It starts like this:

“Presently, Irving Weissman, the director of Stanford University’s Institute of Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine, is contemplating pushing the envelope of chimera research even further by producing human-mouse chimera whose brains would be composed of one hundred percent human cells. Weissman notes that the mice would be carefully watched: if they developed a mouse brain architecture, they would be used for research, but if they developed a human brain architecture or any hint of humanness, they would be killed.”

So what happened to the mice, I wonder?  Did they develop human brain architecture?  And what is the military doing right now?

When I was at Defcon last year, one of the speakers showed slides of a mouse with another mouse’s head.  It reminded me of those terribly morbid experiments doctors did at the turn of the century, sewing two dog heads onto one body and that sort of thing.  There is a biological empathy we have with life; the closer to our species it is, the more we feel.  (Though personally, primates for me are close enough to the uncanny valley that they creep me out.  Not that I could experiment on them, creeped out or not.)  Meanwhile, the turn towards artificial intelligence will mostly likely not be a bang, but a whimper.  A small voice that gradually grows louder until we are faced with a perplexing problem–the problem of personhood.

I have wondered if the future of humanity, if our evolution will end up as an intelligence that is no longer bound by our biological flesh.  The ethical challenges of personhood for non-humans is this strange, vague thing that like a painting, will probably not be drawn out or seen clearly until we are closer to it.  But when we come to that point, we have to evaluate all of our beliefs that deal with personhood.  What does it mean to be human?  What does it mean to be a person?

In the paper, Boyle focuses on two things:  the Turing Test for electronic artificial intelligence and genetic species identity.  It is really the head and the heart, because I can discuss the Turing Test and feel perfectly rational, but the idea of human cells within another animal, the feeling that human cells are trapped within something that is non-human, makes my stomach turn a bit.  So it was interesting to read this comment:

“But I dont think that any artificial intelligence will EVER have to be defined as a person. They dont have souls, though the discussion tends to take an ugly turn and no real answer is reached.

All I know is that even if a computer could feel pain, it wouldnt be actual pain, but rather an interpretation of stimuli that WOULD cause pain in a human.”

The idea that artificial intelligence would not feel pain and not have a soul might be a faulty reasoning.  After all, the father of gynecology, J. Marion Sims, famously experimented on black women because he believed they didn’t feel pain the way white women would.  The sounds of their suffering was just the braying of animals that didn’t know any better.  In his mind, blacks were fundamentally different and certainly not as human.  Frankly, the idea of race is still a vestige of this idea, when really humans simply come in different shades of beige and brown.

And souls–well, that is a belief system.  There isn’t a way to prove the existence of a soul.  But, if a soul is “endowed by a creator”, then might not AI be endowed with a soul by us, because humans are the creators of AI?  A transmission of sorts, like a holy roman vampire?  Eve came from Adam’s rib, and AI came from Eve’s brain?

In any case, it has implications for the arguments for and against abortion.  After all, those who are pro-life are being protective of the soul that was endowed to that embryo.  A soul that by original sin is damned.  Sometimes, the arguments pit the mother against the unborn child–what is versus what could be.  Who get rights first when there’s a conflict?  But these beliefs are based in the idea that humans are special, that there is nothing else like us.    If artificial intelligence has potentiality to become a person just as an embryo does, then is there a moral right to help it come to pass?  Should AI fulfill what it could be? And what would mean for us, as we rewrite what it means to be both persons and human?

Of Love and Sadness

fullsizerender-2I fell off the blogging every day thing.  I’m still working on my book though.  🙂  God, I just feel sad.  So, so sad.  And there’s different pieces to that.  One has been work.  One has been my parents.  One has honestly been the election and the denial of science and the elevation of hate.  Spheres of influence; my head, my family, my outer world.  My work has always been important to me, a calling that invokes my mind and my soul.   My parents are important to me because they are my roots and my challenge.  And science is the way we know the world, the way we see past our own lies and how we deceive ourselves.  It is the way we elevate ourselves beyond being merely selfish animals.  To deny that, wholesale, seems like a terrible step backwards.  Not that the earth will care.  It will continue no matter what we do.  But still, do we have to be this stupid?  Do we have to be so selfish?  Can we care about no one but people like ourselves?  I do not believe that love is zero-sum game.  These are the thoughts that I grapple with as the days grow shorter and nights colder and long.

But on the other hand, my inner-inner circle is really good.  My relationships with my kids are still so fun, so satisfying, so deep and happy.  True love.  It pierces like a thorn to the heart of who I am and grows like roses.  Wild ones, the ones you can smell, happy and sprawling and free.  And things with Kevin are really great–easy and happy.  It is a good thing, even if it feels strange, to be with someone who accepts me more than I do myself.  But the darkness sometimes is deep too.

So.  One thing at a time.  Bit by bit, I will change things.  However, not all things can be changed at once.  The first step is my job, and that has now been taken care of.  A pity to leave the one I’m at, I did not leave it lightly.  But you come to a point where you no longer fight the good fight, and it is time to move on.  I have a new position with a startup.  I am excited, it will different.  I will be able to do a lot of good there.

As to the other things. . .well, one does what one can.  I worry terribly about my parents.  I don’t know how much I can help them for afar.  I want them to be happy, but they are so alone out there.  And I have my own responsibilities to my own children who come first.  I don’t know what will happen there.

To everything else, I am not sure.  That is a harder question, one about meaning and how much one can influence anything.  I don’t know what I can influence.  In the meantime, I will do the best I can.