Having revisited my past entries right after the start of the new year in preparation to resume actively writing, the events and changes over the past three years are fresh in my mind. Comparing the place I was at then to where I am now, I finally sincerely feel I’ve reached a pivotal milestone on my personal development path: the turning point where I’m feel closer to the destination of that idealized self I’ve been pursuing than I am to the trainwreck I was when I first started down this road.
Back at the start of said inward journey, I decided it would be a one-year effort and that I couldn’t afford to invest the full three years of the legend of Musashi I modeled it after. But that single year wasn’t enough time, and eventually became those very three I planned on bypassing. The road to recovery has been as arduous as it has long. As self-involved and melodramatic as I sound even to myself on the matter, breaking down and discarding and entire history and identity, a life, and building someone better out of the remnants is no mean feat, but what I ultimately needed to make my peace and move on.
Now when I read the things that I wrote then and recall the mindset and the what it felt like to be myself at that time, it feels like I’m looking through the lens of someone else’s life. And as I wrote at the start of the new year, the road ahead is still long – but I’m at least now moving fast in the right direction.
One of my main to-do list at the office today was to verify that the freelance photo editor/photographer that we’ve contracted online to process the backlog of remodeling jobsite photos had received the latest batch I’d prepared. Since he is located on the other side of the world in Europe, our correspondence has become equally conversational and business oriented as a workaround to the lack of shared in-person working hours that traditionally build a working rapport.
When I received his reply at mid-morning, he admitted that he’d gotten curious and done some investigative Googling, found this blog, and had read a few entries. By the time I reached the end of the message, I counted four separate compliments on my writing ability. Immediately, that inner critic started spouting off in my head how and the many reasons why I was undeserving of any compliment in that regard.
When your mind starts to deny the validation of a sincere compliment, be humble. When you deny yourself a compliment from someone, the hidden implication is that you don’t believe others know what they’re talking about. That modified perspective allows you to call out that inner critic for the arrogant asshole he is, and in turn removes the power from any of the thoughts in your mind he provokes. If you take the compliment, you did something well enough to earn it. If you privately don’t, you’re arrogant and a terrible person to yourself. It’s a lot easier to make the better choice when the problem is properly identified, structured, and presented to yourself.
That said, much as I’ve learned how to shut that part of my psyche up, I’ve also learned that it’s important to be able to pull out the truth in what that inner critic is saying.
As I was processing my email later this evening, I realized that I’ve been receiving a surprising number of new subscriber notifications. Now, because of the time I spent working in the SEO industry and learning how it works, I’m automatically suspicious of any kind of follow notification. However, clicking through a few different blogs and reviewing their content, I concluded that nearly all of them are run and updated by real people. Followers don’t necessarily equate to active readers, but they do indicate a potential audience. One to which I’m definitely not bringing my best to.
Subsequently, those self-criticisms from minutes earlier became the focused motivation for improvement they’re meant to be: write more, read more, and do better enough at both to the point where my inner critic has no reason to even start talking.
Tonight, I decided to knock out a long-standing to do list item and get my domain registration renewed. After I got it done but didn’t have a corresponding hosting service to point it to, I paid WordPress the $13 to get it mapped to this blog for a year.
Sure, I plan to get back onto a self-hosted installation some time later this year, but in the mean time, this will definitely do.
Over the past week since my last entry, I’ve been putting constant thought towards my next update, but haven’t been able to firmly nail down what to address. I try to focus myself by asking the question “what is it I’m trying to communicate?” Immediately, I’m flooded with so many different ideas itching to be transposed from thought to text, but as I start mapping one out mentally, I trace dependencies on other past events/people/places that I’d need to also write about in order to provide full and proper context and get overwhelmed by all that needs to be written. It feels like I need to author an autobiography of my life so far for everything I have to say to make sense, but it also feels ridiculous to put time and energy in diving deep into the past when my present and the subsequent future demand are so demanding of my attention.
I tell myself that I’d already have it done after all these years if I’d spent even a fraction of the time I’ve put into that repeated deliberation towards writing, and that it probably wouldn’t end up taking nearly as long as I imagine it would if I made a concentrated effort. Once I get those doubts pushed out of the way, I leave myself confronted by my final and greatest hesitation: the burdens and responsibilities of disclosing truths.
Little over a decade ago, when the beginnings of my inward spiral were freshly transpired, I took to the internet and wrote about them. Since the internet was screen-name driven and largely anonymous at that time, I was safe behind the cover of whatever LiveJournal username I had in use at the time. So I wrote about myself, my family, and what had happened then, overflowing with unbridled rage and hatred. I removed them from the web sometime in the early 2000’s, and since then have not allowed myself to write about them until I’d achieved the capacity to revisit those memories without being affected by them; emotional bias has a tendency to skew the truth, and likely being the only documented perspective on the events of my past, I’ve been very hesistant to believe myself capable of creating a record that accurately reflects reality.
Even if I now feel myself capable of doing so, my life hasn’t always been the isolated existence I’ve forced on myself in the recent years. Even if I were to avoid using names and stuck to relative references to people, public records and online social networks make it very easy to pinpoint a person’s identity. I’ve made my peace with airing my personal past public knowledge, but the inherent nature of also making parts of other peoples’ past as well in the process isn’t lost on me. And it makes the thought of playing the part of historian feel like a very arrogant prospect.
But at this point, it’s just something that has to be done – my alternative is to throw in the towel and sweep everything under the rug by purging all of my internet records, which even then wouldn’t guarantee anonymity and something I refuse to ever do again. So over the past few days, I’ve been firing up Scrivener in small stints, getting familiarized with the application and cobbling together the story of the past 28 years. My expectation is the more I get through it, the more I’ll be able to work out those reservations I have through refinement.
I loaded up the last entry I wrote to give it a secondary review before switching it from “draft” to “published” status, and that inner-critical voice immediately got to work. The situation being my own mind attacking itself, I was just as much criticising everything I write as I was that single entry. If you’re supposedly not that person anymore, why can’t you just drop it and leave it alone for good? You read like a badly written petulant & pretentious closet-narcissist. Is this finally going to go anywhere, or are we circling back to pointless babble. Again.
Self-acceptance: I’m constantly an asshole to myself, but that’s how I move myself forward; doubt is how areas for improvement are recognized. My inner monologue is not a positive self-affirming voice – and that’s okay. The potential pitfall to this approach, the one I not too long ago was deep into, is letting the drill sergeant take control and actually break you. Moreso if you’re the self-aware introspective type; knowingly completely how flawed your thinking is, and being powerless to break away from it.
So I tell myself to stop being a dick, but that I have good points. After so much time already invested (and even wasted) on “looking back”, it does make more sense to focus on the present & future instead of putting it back towards things already past. Considering all the greater adversities that other people are facing and conquering every passing day, this tireless determination to tell the story of my own makes me feel that I must either be really in love with myself or addicted to dwelling in my past misery.
So I tell myself to stop being a dick again; I should know better than anyone to accuse myself of being in love with myself having spent day after day for years feeling the polar opposite of that sentiment. And sure, my story may not be anything worthy of a Hollywood prestige biopic, but it’s still my own. Flawed, fucked up, and unproud of it as I may feel about it a lot of the time, it’s what I have to tell, much as I wish it were a different story entirely. Most people spend their 20’s in self discovery and adventures in life, big and small. Mine have been consumed by a decade-long war against myself.
It may be counterintuitive to progress to keep focus on that huge part of my life I’ve written off, but the way the world is, keeping it to myself and burying it in the past does my little good, but putting it out there, in whatever pieces it comes in, may do someone else some good. May just be pointless hopeful idealism, but “dare to dream”, as they say. That, and I’ve already started – even though it’s a decision my present self would probably make differently, I can’t leave business unfinished.
The New Year is freshly begun, and that universal milestone has come announced by a new set of goals and challenges. I spent the entirety of 2014 berating myself for not producing more writing output due to that annoying predisposition to debate whether what I’m thinking is even worth taking the time to capture, more so in then having to search for the words to commit them through. Getting overwhelmed by my own thinking and eagerly submitting to my inner-critic have been both obstacle and convenient excuse to getting the work done and the story told. Over the remaining days of the previous year, I started pushing myself to journal more (digitally and on paper) to get retrained with the ability to process and organize thoughts when they’re staring at you straight in the face; preparation for getting back to writing sessions that end with the push of a “publish” button.
Reading back through the archives to refresh my memory on what exactly I’d posted in past entries, I was pleasantly surprised at how not abysmally awful the thoughts I’d captured in text were put together. Though it is embedded throughout repetitive self-critical ruminative loops, there is a pretty accurate record of the journey and the progress I’ve made with myself as a whole. I broke myself down and pulled the pieces apart, severed all of my attachments, committed myself to self-betterment and the quest for knowledge and personal mastery – in effect, I’ve taken a very roundabout way to get to my personal knockoff variant of East Asian philosophy.
Long and arduous as that process has been, it was the easy part. Wiping the slate clean and turning myself into the nothing I felt like was like a very long downhill run – hell on the knees, but ultimately doable, you just have to maintain balance and not trip. But now I’ve reached a seminal turning point along this journey, where the time for reflection and recovery has expired; the challenge has shifted from “not being” and “becoming” towards action. It’s a personal admission and declaration I made a few times last year, but I was still missing the drive to power it with, too comfortable with being that hurt and helpless nobody and too scared of being incapable of becoming anybody else to fully commit to pushing myself further.
But it didn’t stop me from trying — and in my private attempts and subsequent failures to enact change throughout the past year, I found myself met with self-acceptance, patience, and compassion than the usual criticism, resentment, and loathing. After so much time rewiring my thought processes, I finally started lending belief towards the ideals I’ve been telling myself I ascribe to and the person I’ve made my goal to become. So begins 2015, with myself no longer focusing on how far I’ve fallen and why I hate myself, but with the clarity of mind to how it happened, and more importantly, what came from it all.
Time really flies when you’re not paying close attention to it. I’ve pulled up the blog in my browser to check when my last entry was and to refresh myself on what I’d written, and I’m surprised to find that the last one was put up all the way back in September, the day right before I started my then-new job. I could have sworn that I’d composed updates during the time in between, but apparently those were private DayOne journal entries I’m thinking of.
Since that last update, things have been moving along in certain areas of life, and completely stagnating in others. Following my change in employment, I took October & November “off” from my various personal projects and dedicated myself specifically to my running and becoming deeply acquainted with my new job. In the recent weeks, my physical status has started to slide backwards on the decline. Winter is generally an unfavorable time of year for me. The drop in temperature and the earlier nights make it easy to rationalize not going on a run. Mentally and emotionally, the focus on family unity that comes with the holidays has historically taken a heavy toll on me. While it hasn’t been as prevalent as in years past, it has been causing me enough discomfort to drive me to use food as a crutch; I’m now fluctuating in a range dangerously close to breaking back up in the 200’s. Couple that with bouts of random back and joint pain (and the resulting recovery periods) from back when I was more actively pushing on the physical front in the fall, and it all adds up to a pretty unpleasant time to be living life in my body.
However, as I wrote to myself earlier in a journal entry, a brand new year is quickly approaching – not just a calendar year, but the marking of another year since birth as well. I’ve only got one more year of life in my 20’s left, and the pressure to progress on the personal roadmap I laid out for myself years ago is really starting to bear down on me. There’s a beginning of a whole new narrative to my life that’s finally within reach, and I’m no longer held back by all the mental-emotional burdens I’ve known all my adult life.
Progress and setbacks all accounted for, things are in an overall good place. I’ve been opening myself back up to my writing, and have started warming up the engines on all my personal development projects. These past couple months pouring all my focus into my job were a nice respite from focusing exclusively on myself. Now that it’s time to get back to work, harder than ever before.
Updates on a project are not fun to write when there isn’t any progress to report (and, logically, also pointless). During the downtime in July from a prolonged IT band flare-up and, immediately after healing from that, a recovery period for my calves, I packed some weight back on. It’s hard to avoid when you’re couch-bound during a record hot summer, when heat-induced sloth and gluttony start undermining your willpower. As much as I hate losing progress made and having to compensate for results that were already achieved, this last time was particularly upsetting due to how close I was to breaking into a new weight threshold. At the end of June, I was weighing in at 192, and on the cusp of breaking into the the 180’s. By the end of July, I was back on the verge of crossing into the 200’s. After the first week of August, I aggressively set off towards getting myself back on track. Over three weeks of continuous running later – a couple of them my new extended 10 mile route – I got back down to my end-of-June range between 192 and 193 lbs.
This past week, I broke the chain. My run on the 9th earned me an entire set of blisters on my right-foot toes, which was a bit perplexing since I didn’t get any the first time I ran the long route and I hadn’t taken any protective measures that time. Even though new blisters rarely elicit any sensations of pain at this point, the sheer size of it made me hesitant to keep going at full effort and risk unnecessary and serious aggravation.
In addition to the blisters, I also came to realize on Thursday afternoon that I’m dealing, for the first time ever in my life, an inflammation of a different kind of a much more personal nature that’s also been prohibitive to my distance running. Today marks the fifth day that I’ve been on break from my training, resting and recovering with generous applications of ointments and heat/cold treatments in all my afflicted areas. It’s getting close to the end of the day, and I feel like I’ll be back in prime form to resume the running madness of the past few weeks. At the end of June, I was 192 lbs and wearing size 36 pants. Last week, I was at 193 lbs and fitting size 34 pants. This next week will likely end up being damage control for the past five vacation days, and by the start of October I should see myself under the 190 lb mark and in the 180s. Not only will that finally put me under the tolerance threshold I set for myself years ago before I’d allow myself to grow my hair back out, but also in the weight range where my fitness plan expands it’s focus on cardio & weight loss and into more active weight training and muscle growth.
More importantly, the more I’ve been actively working on this aspect of my life and achieving measurable progress, the more inspired I’ve been feeling to actually sit down and write an update. Good stuff is happening, transition is in full swing.
I was combing through my email archives earlier today, and came upon this old message from my previous employer, who was a long-time VP of account management for North America at Yahoo. Throughout the time I worked for under him, he regularly complimented me on my writing skill. The most honoring piece of feedback he ever gave me was in a face-to-face feedback session, wherein I was told that my writing and materials output was of much better quality and clarity than anything he ever saw in his time at Yahoo.
Back then, my depressed self accepted the praise graciously, but secretly refused to believe it. How could I, a nobody from a lower-middle income class family with a troubled past, produce something on par or better than professional executives with Ivy League accreditations? In the present, I firmly believe that I, nobody from a lower-middle income class family with a troubled past, am capable of producing top-quality work and results; that’s exactly what I’ve done in the stints of my past where I allowed myself to hold that belief.
Depression, awful enough in and of itself, has a tendency to kill self-esteem. Having struggled with both for an entire decade, their effects were still felt long after they’ve been conquered. Emotions aren’t binary, and no longer being depressed does not automatically make you happy. Similarly, refocusing the mind and silencing the oppressive inner critic doesn’t mean make you automatically self-loving and confident. It leaves you feeling as if a blindfold has been removed, allowing you to open your eyes to find yourself stranded in the middle of an empty desert, years in distance away from the last time you believed in yourself but at least capable of being able to make out which direction to head towards.
With all the ways in which the world is capable of making a person feel insignificant, undeserving, and worthless, it’s important to be able to allow yourself to accept the positive affirmations that come your way. A depressed mind will resist them fiercely, and will make very convincing misleading arguments to prove itself right. “That’s what they think, but they don’t know the real me.” “If I’m really that praiseworthy, why doesn’t anyone seem to think so when I need them to?” “What do they know, they’re just saying that to be nice.” And after doing so through a job of getting in the way of itself, the depressed mind will turn on itself, and berate the individual for being depressed and not being able to take control of life. Unchecked, that cycle repeats and spirals, waiting to be broken by the determination to enact change and the courage to think genuinely think positively of oneself.
Be determined. Be courageous. Be nice to yourself – you deserve it.
Earlier this week, I sat down to write my monthly snapshot in my journal. When I finished and compared it against last month’s snapshot and the blog posts in the time between, I was surprised to find that almost an entire month has gone by since I’ve made an update. Which is something that I’ve long been wanting to change, and now have a pressing need to finally put into action. My last entry touched upon a variety of career related struggles I’m wrestling with:
Being 28 and not having a degree or certification
Feeling like I’m limited to where I’m at because of how hard it was to find my current job when I was unemployed last year
The feelings of self-loathing and resentment I have for “not being able” to improve my financial & professional station
The feeling of uselessness from having my most noteworthy professional accomplishments lie so far in the past
The obligatory explanation for why and how I write
In distilling that post into concise pieces, it’s easy to see that the common underlying problem has been succumbing to the trappings of “feeling”. Or as a philosophical stoic would call it, “unhelpful perception”.
In my day to day life over the past few years, I’ve reclaimed my sense of self and confidence. As I represent myself here, I haven’t moved very much past the weak and senseless wreck I used to be a few years ago. Initially, it was necessary. It was a way to writing was a theraputic form of self exploration (which happens to be the tag I’ve grouped those past posts under), and it satisfied a craving to know that it was possible in some way for my real thoughts and struggles to be knowable.
But the ultimate goal was to move past it all, and having done so, my personal site should reflect that. I can’t very well claim to be capable at content creation & strategy skills if my personal site is an abject mess using a past self as an excuse.
This week, I’ve been working on establishing a better organizational hierarchy and navigation flow, updating my about page (both here and on various other websites), and planning future content formats. I hold no illusion about being a hard sell at being a 28 year old generalist with no degree, but I’m also once again willing to trust in professional track record with exceeding expectations and earning the respect of all my past employers & partners. It’s time to truly start fearlessly putting it all to work again.