When “I Can’t” is a Fair Assessment of the Situation

They say that the most productive people in the world don’t have the word’s “I can’t” in their vocabulary. When they’re asked to jump, they don’t even ask, “how high,” they just jump as high as they can and try harder next time. Whether or not they have a sociopathic and delusional belief in their own abilities is irrelevant, confidence, even over-confidence, begets success in many cases.

I think back to myself as a little girl and I wonder if she believed in herself – that if she believed if she worked through problems instead of getting frustrated and giving up in a manner of seconds – she’d be an entirely different person today. She didn’t realize that while extreme intellect enables a certain kind of success, not everyone needs to be a genius to change the world.

Little girl me flunked out of her smart kids program in second grade because she grew too frustrated with confusing logic problems and would rather doodle and daydream. Little girl me saw math and science as that thing my dad liked and he clearly wasn’t happy or a person I’d want to be like, so why bother? Little girl me sat and watched the second hand tick by in just about every class I had, waiting for the years to pass by.

My therapist this week said something that struck me in its crystal clarity – those who dwell in the past are depressed. Those who think too much about the future are anxious. It’s best we focus on now. And that is what being mindful is all about.

Then, today, a headline in the New York Times caught my eye – “The Cost of Daydreaming.” The author is a woman in her 60s who considers how much of her life was spent wasted lost in what could be, versus accepting and enjoying what is.

“Ever since I could remember, I had feared being found wanting,” Gornick writes. “If I did the work I wanted to do, it was certain not to measure up; if I pursued the people I wanted to know, I was bound to be rejected; if I made myself as attractive as I could, I would still be ordinary looking.”

Oh, how I can relate! How much safer it is to wrap ourselves in this cloak of disappointment in the now, with all this hope wrapped up in the future. But future is the now of tomorrow. The future will be a now sometime and it will never be enough. I don’t want to get to 60 and realize I’ve wasted my life daydreaming away time.

The essay continues… “Around such damages to the ego a shrinking psyche had formed: I applied myself to my work, but only grudgingly; I’d make one move toward people I liked, but never two; I wore makeup but dressed badly. To do any or all of these things well would have been to engage heedlessly with life — love it more than I loved my fears — and this I could not do. What I could do, apparently, was daydream the years away: to go on yearning for “things” to be different so that I would be different.”

I am already exhausted by yearning. There is some god-awful romanticism to wanting versus having – an art enabled by privilege-fueled guilt cradled by insecurity. The future is this amorphous globule which is so fucking pretty from the perspective of the hear and now, or ugly but salvageable with the grace of time. Then the future zips right up to our present and are we at all the better for it?

Elon Musk, a perfectly imperfect human (and some reporter’s lunch with him.)

I daydream that I’m actually as brilliant as Elon Musk – but I didn’t have quite the right upbringing to set me up to access the brilliance. I know it isn’t true. I was creating websites with a dozen too many iFrames at 14, not building computer programs with lightening speed at 9. We both had pretty insufferable childhoods and hated the structure of school equally. But Elon spent his time voraciously devouring science fiction and fantasy. Something stopped me from reading when I was younger – this strong anti-authoritarian rebellion which made it impossible to given in to anything that I deemed too “adult” or “educational.”

Dwelling in the past leads to depression. True. There are so many problems to solve in the world. In the little time I have left on earth – with my god-given abilities, or lack there of, what can I do to fix them? Or is the best I can do hold my breath and stay out of the way? And does it really matter – my inner Nietzsche rears his ugly head – tells me I can’t do a damned thing about any of the problems and even if we make interplanetary habitation possible, we’re still destined for nothingness as soon as the chance of the universe divides by zero.

Returning to present time, not future worry (anxiety) or past reflection (depression), I ponder on now. What am I now? What drives me now? I give myself permission to care about how I feel in this moment. And I feel broken down. I feel weak in my skin, cut up by a life of scripting persuasion and failing to do the exposition justice.  And I HATE the feeling of being unable to do something, but even more so I hate the feeling of not knowing what it is I can do. It is remarkably refreshing to say “I can’t” as long as it’s true and one can accept this and move on.

Elon Musk doesn’t say I can’t. That’s why he’s Elon Musk and I’m not. And I don’t have to be Elon Musk or Tina Fey or Barak Obama to lead a meaningful life filled with the wonder of the present. And that starts with saying “I Can’t,” and it’s time to start down the path of whatever it is where I can proudly one day say “I Can.”

 

Mother’s Day: Being Thankful for an Imperfect Mother

Now that I’m 31 and of age to be a mother, I acknowledge that age doesn’t actually poof make you mature enough to be a good mother. Mother’s are just little girls that grew up and made little creatures that they have to take care of – who then go on to become mothers (or fathers) more often than not before they have their own shit together.

I must be thankful that my mother was not a drug addict or alcoholic. She was not a thief, sex trafficker or Russian spy. For all this, I am grateful.

When I see a bunch of my friends post pictures of their mothers on mom’s day and say “thanks to my best friend” I have to wonder what it’s like to have that kind of figure in your life. Don’t get me wrong – my mom and I talk all the time. But we talk at each other. Not to each other. And, without a nurturing bone in her body, she never once was the type of mother who was “there” for me when I needed it most.

My mother embarrassed me time and again in my life in terms of oversharing my “accomplishments,” trials and tribulations to anyone who might be willing to listen – but the worst of it came from how she, along with my father, completely warped my world view and sense of self. I was trained from a young age that all that matters is being brag-worthy. That I’m inherently special and worthy of praise. Yet any shortcoming, any slight imperfection, was not something that I could work on and fix. It was just ignored. Replaced with some story of grandiosity which fueled my oft confused ego.

I’m grateful that despite my mother’s unyielding self-self-absorbtion, she doesn’t have an evil bone in her body. Her acts are just frustrating, inconvenient at best and nails-on-chalkboard annoying at worst. In the most meaningful moments of life, her only though is if she and the others posing around her look good in a photograph. She is just entirely void of the ability to empathize with others. Her own growth was stunted by her narcissistic mother, who is evil and selfish. My mother is selfish but not in the same way. She’ll put her needs above others but she won’t be angry at said others if their needs end up coming first. Her entire life since age 18 has been in an abusive relationship with my father. She’s never cried. Not even behind closed doors. Her emotions seem to have been stunted as a small child, and were never recovered.

There are worse mothers out there. Ones that go out of their way to use their own children. Ones who push their children to do things that they wouldn’t want to do otherwise. Even when I came out as bisexual she cringed but didn’t kick me out of the house (she hoped it was a phase.) And, in terms of being present versus not in my life, my mother was always there – I’m not sure if she was always there for me, but she was always there. Involved in the school PTA, all of my teachers and administrators knew her well. Everyone in the school knew my mother. Her entire identity, at least once I was born, was created by the accomplishments of her children. Without a sense of self, there became an impossible pressure on her kids to be special enough.

My mother did not teach me about love. My mother stayed when my father screamed and threw ice water in her face or when he grabbed her arm and threw her across the room. For all the effort my mother put into outside appearances in terms of dressing nicely and wearing makeup, she didn’t worry about my father’s repeated humiliation of her in public. After being out of the work force for so many years, she was too afraid to get divorced and have to return to the employed life. She enjoyed her life of shopping and lounging by the pool in the long summers and actively involved in her children’s schooling. She saw her own child getting beaten with a belt and said nothing, even though she knew this wasn’t right. She let her young child start to abuse her, because her child learned this was the only way to stop her chronic nagging. She was a victim, still is a victim, and was incapable of escaping the borderline personality disorder eggshells she walked on throughout her life – first with her own mother, and then her hot-tempered, violent husband.

I feel sorry for my mother. Sorry that she will always be incapable of having her own life. Sorry that she does not have the emotional depth to have a fulfilling adult relationship. Sorry that happiness in her life is defined by buying more and more things, even though she’s never actually happy. The normal state for her is anxious, constantly panicking about what needs to be done, yet never accomplishing much at all.

My great worry is that if I do have kids one day, I won’t be able to be a good mother. I know I will try to be more nurturing and caring, more there for them when they need it and out of the way when they don’t. I’d love to be the type of mother who one day, when my children are all grown up, is referred to as a close friend and confidant. I want to be a strong figure, with a satisfying career and sense of personal accomplishment, to show one example of a successful life and ideal, loving relationship.

And all the while I wonder who I’d be today if I was born to one of those mothers who – maybe is strict – but who knows what it means to love and care for her own children – to, outside of financial means, put her children’s needs ahead of her own, especially when they are young and most vulnerable. All of the crazy in my mind – the constant panicking – the inability to get things done without someone telling me I’m absolutely awful, and having to prove them otherwise – my recurring failure to lead a stable, normal life – or to stand up for myself when I should instead of burst into tears – is something that is so ingrained in me, I can’t shake it off. So much of that is due to my mother. My father had quite the influence as well, but since it’s mom’s day I’m writing about the female component of my parental pair specifically.

So as much as I miss my mother, I’m glad that I moved to the other side of the country. It makes me sad that as the years go by there will less and less time I can spend with her. It’s terribly upsetting that if I do have kids, she will barely ever see them – even though I imagine she’d be a better grandmother than parent, especially if my father isn’t around to scream and make for anxiety-ridden situations. I wish I could flip a switch and suddenly she’d know how to feel – how to care – how to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around her. I know that sounds awfully silly coming from someone such as myself who is also so self absorbed. But at least I have some awareness of the fact that this world isn’t all about me – or my future children – or my life. I’m just a speck in the infinite universe. I’m lucky and unlucky all at the same time, but more lucky than not all things considered. While some of what I have has been earned, most has been obtained through chance.

She would never be able to grasp that. She just doesn’t care about other people – or herself. She is driven by a relentless, all-encompassing need to have stories to tell about others who would want no part in the tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t care about money anymore.

For the last almost 15 years of my life since I graduated from high school, I’ve felt overwhelmingly lost. I may as well have been wandering blindfolded through Siberia with my hands tied behind my back. Somehow or other I’ve managed to float from one job to the next, things I never really wanted to do, but it all just happened. I got really good at faking it enough to get hired in only the things I didn’t actually want to do.

I always return to my $325k+ networth, because that’s my one heaping achievement at this point in my life. I don’t own a house. I paid for my used car outright. I live in a relatively modest one bedroom shared with my boyfriend. I have no kids. I barely have a social life. I spend most of my time working or thinking about work or doing something related to work, despite not being nearly as productive as I should be. And I’ve given up on all of my dreams for fame or fortune. Right now, I just want to find my calling. I don’t need a six figure job. Ironically I find the more money I make the less I want to spend, the more I want to save – and I’ve figured out I can get away with about $3k a month in expenses, or less if I was desperate.

Part of me thinks I’m absolutely crazy. I should be fighting for my current life, my current job, with every ounce of my being. It may not be enough – I may just not be intellectually capable of doing a good job in this specific type of role – but I should at least be trying with all my might. I don’t feel like I have the right to be burnt out at this point – it isn’t burn out, it’s just the wrong fit. My whole life has been the wrong fit.

But I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not completely on the wrong path. There are elements of my role, the industry I am in, which are more than fulfilling. I just know that the only thing that stands between me and a life I can be proud of is the GRE. Yes, there’s graduate school as well, but the GRE is the big giant monster standing in my way. When I say this out loud it sounds like I’m throwing a pity party but I’m really not that intelligent in the book smart sense of the term. While I need a billion hour of study on quant to score decently on that section, I feel like I have a chance to master quant if I put my mind to it. I’m terrified of verbal, surprisingly enough, because my comprehension skills are limited.

Clearly I’ll need to study a lot for the GRE. With an undergraduate GPA of 3.2 (barely, it’s a bit all over the place) I don’t know i fan self-respecting graduate program would seriously consider my application without some crazy stellar GRE score. I’m talking top 95%. Or, you know, I just don’t go to grad school, and I figure out something else. But the longer I think about it… you know… 10 years or so… the more it’s clear that I need to go back to school to get where I want to be. There are specific programs I want to apply to, and all of these are at top schools to where I wouldn’t have dreamed of applying for undergrad. And I still think it’s rather funny I’m considering applying to them for grad school. If I were to actually get in, I think that would be the first actual accomplishment of my life that I’d be proud of.

At the moment I’m trying to figure out how to arrange my studying. I’m not opposed to putting $1000+ down on a class, but I feel like it would make more sense to TRY to study on my own and take the test first – see how I do after seriously studying on my own for two months or so, and then go take a class or get a tutor to hone up on the parts I couldn’t learn on my own. The whole prep class thing reeks of scam — the GRE is supposed to be the type of test one can learn themselves. And would 8 weeks of classes really get me where I need to be? Tutors are crazy expensive though. I realize compared to a $100k graduate program spending $5k on getting in is really not that insane. I just don’t think a one-size-fits-all type of program would really work. So I’m going to see what I can do on my own first… probably. I’d like to double down on quant first. Answering verbal questions is frustrating because I can’t go back and “work” them and figure out what I did wrong – other than memorizing words. And I SUCK at memorization.

In any case, the next 4 months of my life = intense GRE study. I need to approach this like a game. The game is the GRE. And I want to win it.

Absolutely Terrified of Making the Wrong Decision

All my life, I’ve been a jill of all trades, master of none. I’m at the point in my career where I want to invest significantly in becoming an expert in one area – but I’m still perplexed as to what that one area is. I always come back to the fact that my current savings of $325k, growing at 5% annually for the next 30 years, gets me to a $1.4M nestegg in retirement. That assumes, of course, that I’m not touching any of that money until retirement – but that’s quite a reasonable expectation if I can manage to make enough yearly to at least cover my expenses.

So – I could move to somewhere super cheap, take on a few side jobs to cover housing, health insurance, et al – and whatever I have left over use for travel or taking art classes. Kids will be expensive, that’s for sure, but my boyfriend would also be working – we would never be rich, but we should have enough to have a decent retirement. Heck, if it 325k compounds at 10% year over year then in 30 years when I’m 62 that would be worth over $5M.

Why bother spending $100k now on myself when I don’t trust the investment will pay off. I just don’t have much faith in myself and for good reason. Even now as I browse the help wanted ads for a variety of different positions I return to how today I’m qualified only for roles people are desperate to fill, if that. I started to put together my resume and I couldn’t think of one valid accomplishment in my current role to put on there. Not one. Clearly I deserve to be laid off. In the meantime, I’d like to actually add value that I can talk about later. As a trusted mentor once told me – no job is forever, focus on doing the things that will help the company but that will also be the achievements you’ll put on your resume. I ought to get to that asap, if there is still time left.

There are so many different things one can do in the world – but it’s hard to imagine what would actually make me happy over the long term. If I was already a millionaire and money wasn’t an issue, what would I do? I’m not the type who actually wants to sit around all day, or who wants to spend years traveling the world. The funny thing is – I like to work. I like to work a lot. I like to feel like I’m actually contributing to something greater than myself. So I don’t want to just sit on my ass and waste my life away. But then, money aside, what is it that I would actually be able to do? I’m really awful at so many things. I’m pretty bad at responsibility overall – which is pathetic, but true. I’m forgetful, unorganized, and while I tend to do a lot of things at once I’m a terrible multi-tasked. I’m pretty much the antithesis of who anyone would want to hire today. I should be doing whatever it takes to keep my job because god knows it is going to be awful hard to get another one.

But then I come back to my frustration with myself, and acknowledging that maybe I’m not ready for this position. Every role I’ve taken on in my career I’ve started from scratch, pretty much. New field, new industry, everything new. I liked that – it was exciting and kept me on my toes. But it’s also been really hard. And I’m just not good at certain parts of my job that I don’t think are trainable, it’s just either you are good at it or you’re not. Needless to say this is not a long-term career. I give myself 60 to 180 days at this point. Maybe less. Not by choice. And given my performance, I wouldn’t blame them.

It’s just I don’t see myself ever succeeding at anything. I’d be wise to quit while I’m ahead, hibernate my life away, invest my cash and wait until it compounds enough to actually see the light of day again. That’s a bit dramatic, but it is actually an option. There are things one can do for little money to entertain themselves. One laptop or pen and paper if you really want to rough it and you have all you need to write the next great american novel. A few colored pencils and a sketchbook and you can draw your days away. Reading is pretty cheap, so is going to the occasional movie or watching television. Exercise is free. Food can be affordable if you cook yourself. Really, work doesn’t have to be the central part of one’s life once you have a decent savings. I’d never want to quit work entirely – but I don’t want to have to rely on it. I want time to live.

On the other hand, I am completely the type who lives to work. I can’t not think about my job – ever. I’m always thinking about what needs to get done, the overall industry, and creative ways to tackle problems. I don’t actually go on to execute these well, but I know I am happier when I have a job I can throw myself into 110%. So if money wasn’t an object I’d probably still work. I’d still want to get really good at something so I can finally feel successful and productive. But what is that one thing? I’ve always been interested in too many things. Too many interests left me with no direction. I don’t know how I got where I am but it all feels like a giant sham. And it is. I’m tired of the charade. I just can’t fake it, and everyone sees it. When you’re in a field where results are easy to quantify, there’s no place to hide, for better or worse.

When I invest in the stock market I always invest in what I think is stable or is solving a key market problem that will only get worse over the coming years. In other words, I’m smart about my investment choices. If I were a business and I knew everything I know about myself, I wouldn’t make the investment. That’s why I’m so scared. I don’t think it’s worth it. I don’t actually believe in myself one bit – not to do anything I actually want to do. Be an accessories designer. A photographer. A film editor. An interior designer. I don’t know. Be something that has nothing at all to do with enterprise software. To create something tangible. To spend my life on projects that have a clear beginning, middle and end to them. And to reach some level of creating something that is well received by others. That others want to see or buy. To actually create that said thing. If money were no object, I’d be a maker, not a marketer. But the grass is greener and I had my time in life when I was studying the “making” side of things. That didn’t go over so well either.

In any case, I do need to figure something out. It won’t be the end of the world to go on unemployment and have six months to get my head on straight, but that isn’t forever. I just hate feeling like I’m back at square one, yet again.

Am I a Writer?

I write an awful lot, but unfortunately it’s all redundant non-fiction bullshit about life and admittedly rather benign. If you were to read any of my attempted academic content you would might have a good guffaw over my inability to successfully support a thesis. My college teachers, much like my high school teachers and middle school teachers before them, were vehemently confused over the nonsense I turned in for reports, which would often be rewarded a C at best, and the long musings which poured out of me in opinion essays, which most often received the highest mark, always punctuated with a +.

There is a musicality to language which I adore. I wouldn’t say I’m a great writer – my vocabulary is limited and often used incorrectly – and any content of mine that has been published in print has been thoroughly edited. But of all the things in the world one can do – if I’m inspired, writing comes the most naturally. I wish I could turn my little writing hobby into an actual career. Well, I have turned my little writing hobby into a career – and unfortunately that career required other talents which I do not have – playing well with others, maneuvering my way through corporate politics, maintaining relentless, unbridled enthusiasm for some product which, based on my experience, I will likely long outlive.

I’m angry at myself for not being able to write anything worthwhile. Even a memoir would be impossible – my life is yawn-inducing with the exception of a few non-memoir-length moments of my youth that shall be reserved for a never-to-be-printed appendix. I haven’t done anything special enough to merit a memoir – and the only illness I suffered through as a child put me in the hospital for a week and then I was fine. My own neurosis aren’t tragic enough to be considered art, they’re just cumbersome.

It seems, if I’m going to be a writer – a novelist, a screenwriter, a short story creator, a playwright - well, I need an imagination. You know those people – who you grew up with, who were just constantly inventing stories and ideas? Yea, I wasn’t one of those people. There was a story about a magical peacock I wrote in third grade, I think that might have been my last dose of sheer inspiration to date.

The challenge is I’m not much of a reader either. I’ve tried to get into fiction and I always return to reading the news. I watch a ridiculous amount of television so perhaps that is my calling, but attempting to generate believable dialogue when I barely interact with humans proved futile in my few attempts.

Maybe I just need to do a shit load of drugs.

Who am I kidding? Getting high leaves me sitting indian style on the floor noshing on a bag of avocados. That’s not quite the right writing nudge.

It’s just all those people out there who have managed to write – who love to write – who just fucking write, I am so envious of them. For their wild imaginations. For being able to close their eyes and envision whole new worlds, new people that never existed in real life – you know, the way they speak, move, and their own fears, hopes and dreams.

I have ideas, of course, but they don’t go anywhere. They’re not plots, they’re themes, concepts, visions of future worlds in which my story might live. I haven’t yet imagined one believable character, and I’m too terrified about pissing of people anyone I know to borrow them for inspiration.

So maybe I’m not a writer. Or, maybe I could be one. Some novelists do start out in their 30s. But how to even get started? I should have written that damn 50 Shades of Grey book. I’ve dabbled in erotica, but my erotica has been much less mainstream, even compared to that. And 90% of it was written before I so much had been to second base. So that’s out of the running.

I would love to write strong female characters for film – because they’re sorely needed. But I’m not sure where to begin. I have this one idea for a romcom – it’s actually a cute idea, one that could be quite mainstream, or indie if the jokes are a bit wittier – I’d like to start with that. Still, I just waste away my little free time writing about how I can’t write here versus actually being productive and churning out a few pages a night.

A few days ago I had an interview for a certificate program I’m considering applying to, and they asked me what is one accomplishment I am most proud of over the last 10 years. I had to stop and think because I’m really not proud of ANYTHING I’ve done over the last 10 years. I managed to talk about a few work projects and then the first show I directed, which was now seven years ago. The only thing I will ever feel proud of is my creative work – my completed creative work. Nothing else – I don’t care about my title or how much money I make or save – feels remotely rewarding.

It might be the outcome of narcissistic parenting, but maybe it’s my truth, and I ought to listen to it.

My hope was that my stock from my prior company would be worth enough to free me up to lead a creative life, but instead that turned into a loss. I’ve saved aggressively but it’s not enough. If I were to hit $1M in my 30s I’d be perfectly satisfied working part-time to break even on a monthly basis and allow my savings to compound while I pursue whatever art I find myself actually getting good at. But that $1M is so far off. Even if I were to keep my current job for the years to come, or one like it that pays as well, assuming an average of $50k savings per year, that will take me another 13 or so years.

That’s not horrible – at 44 I could retire and maybe by then I’d actually have something to write about. But I know I can’t mentally maintain work like this for long. I’m falling apart. I see the schizophrenics wandering all day on the streets of San Francisco, babbling to themselves, screaming at the world, and I think to myself — how far away am I from that, really? I often want to just grab a shredded blanket, wrap myself in it, and wander the streets screaming, maybe even sobbing – I think I’d fit in more with them than the people I work with who are far more civil and far less insane.