Caught in between my fingers, the hesitancy wraps itself around as spindly ligaments congealing, holding in place. My hand hovers above the to be clacking tiles. Hesitation suffocates me. Perhaps another day, I think. Another time. Perhaps later, the right words will flow. Perhaps later, the fist in my throat will unclench and the words fighting in mind will unravel enough to spill out. Perhaps, one of these days, I will be strong enough to listen to myself. Again.
Today, it is mid-September. It has been six months since I quit my job to work on my own project/start-up. Let’s refer to it by its current not-really-a-code code name: Mosaic. Four months since I wrote the post committing to chronicling and pursuing the development of Mosaic.
I have not been doing nothing in this intervening time, however little visible progress has been made on the prototype. I have four months left until my self-imposed deadline of do something by the end of the year and yet, it feels like only now am I beginning to overcome the struggle hold of hesitation that has cause me to wallow the past half year in videogames (aka Pokemon) that I never got to play as a child, tv shows I never started following, and books I never got around to reading. Just generally doing all the things I had wanted to but had told myself I couldn’t. By my standards, I was just wasting time the last several months.
Whenever I got to the point of annoyance at myself, that enough was enough. It was time to get things done. I would be hit by an onslaught of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. I would lie and stare at the ceiling, too unmotivated to check avenues of communication. Going online, catching up on missed emails or Facebook messages, I would be bombarded with Instagrams and Twitter reposts of what I was not doing with my life. Head over to the job postings and scan it for things I qualified for in the hopes of finding something that did not add to the leaded weight on my soul as I wondered to myself, why I could not just make myself ok with going with the flow. Just be happy, that I was able to graduate with hopes of job and prestige in exchange for weekend trips to New York or London and drinking with my friends every night.
I was one of those kids who got the awards in high school. That everyone said would be successful, be a leader, be a world changer. Slowly over time, my self-worth began hinging upon the attribute of being a success. I became good at convincing others I was excellent, all the while wondering how much of it was just an act and how much of it was them letting me get away with it.
William Deresiewicz, a professor and former attendee of Yale University, has recently been posting quite a number of articles with regards to the idea that all the Ivies are doing is churning out excellent sheep. Students smart enough to realize what others expect to see in one who is excellent and smart enough to achieve exactly that. Failure, then, becomes proof that one was never good enough.
Though I did not attend an Ivy League school, I can commiserate with this psychological trap. I attended UC Berkeley, which according to world renown holds similar ranking and prestige.
I expected to have my horizons expanded. To be given tools to facilitate greater change for a better tomorrow. Instead, it was new game of success. Professors to please, answers to memorize, to regurgitate and not question. I argued with professors over their assumptions, fought GSIs to simply present a controversial topic, and slowly whittled to the point where I have began to wonder why I simply cannot just go with the flow. After all, all of this is supposed to lead me to become a successful person. I got in, the outcome is success in the world. Why could I not just simply relax?
In return I found myself unable to stop myself from sinking my GPA, from going against practically any advice counselors to advisors have given me with regard to my coursework and majors, from rendering my resume so incomprehensible that it led recruiters to look up with a mix of confusion and concern, “Are you really a good fit for us?” and “What do you really want to do with your life?” and “Are we really interesting enough for you?”
If I truly become successful one day it will be due more to my flaws than my virtues. My hardheaded stubbornness that will resort to self-sabotage to achieve what I truly believe regardless of my conscious sentiments. Also because if nothing else, Berkeley has taught me to fail.
Truth be told, I have been angry the past year and a half since graduating from Cal, that I left demoralized, questioning my ideals, my passion, my self-worth. I sought out jobs that fall within my discipline and seem prestigious rather than what I have always wanted to because I was so tired of feeling like I was constantly failing. I was jealous of the friends who went to other institutions, particularly the Ivies, for whom college was a confidence boost rather than an endless stream of barely not succumbing to the other side of the sink or swim club.
Berkeley yields successful people and dammit, I wanted some sort of compensation for the abuse I had taken. I needed to do something to prove to all of the people who had supported me through all of college that it was worthwhile, even if I could not convince myself. Some sort of proof that the entire system was not a cheat. That I had not been lied to all along.
If I am meant to be successful, if I truly am that intelligent, I should be able to achieve anything which I set my mind to. Correct? That seems to follow logically. If I fail, then either I never wanted it or I was never good enough. I never belonged to the crowd of successfuls.
The danger here lies in the psychological push to never find out. To never diverge from the herd, to never take risk for fear of finding out that you have been pretending all along. That despite all the talk and accreditation, you were never capable of achieving much.
Perhaps then, the condition in post-graduation, of soul crushing demoralizing angst and loss of self-worth that attending UC Berkeley and insanely convincing the college to allow me to triple major in only sciences and engineering, sabotaging my chances at a more traditional path to success, was in some round-a-bout unconscious way: the best thing I could have done for myself.
I believe I am just about ready to let go of the easy paths to perceived success. Ready to allow myself to believe that perhaps no one knows what they are doing and by following along, I will have achieved nothing. I have no idea what I am doing, except that I am convinced that there are problems and better solutions must exist. Otherwise, none of us are intelligent, because intelligence implies ability to achieve solutions. In particular, solutions to real problems. Otherwise, success based upon intelligence might as well be meaningless.
For myself, I choose to define success as the achievement of solutions to real problems as determined by intelligence. Otherwise intelligence and success are irrelevant.