Me — Tempering Life Expectations

I’ve been working my way out of a depression the last few months because of a few things, but central to it was an increasing feeling that I’m never going to have my life where I want it to be. (Don’t worry, I’m okay now, for reasons I’m about to get into.) I still have a bad night every week or so, but a few days ago I was talking to a friend of mine, and he commented that life is just always bad and people have to make their own happiness amidst the bad. We all have stuff to go through. It’s a conversation I’m sure we’ve all had in the past, but I guess it was the right time for me, because it sparked some thoughts.

That “revelation” might seem obvious, I know. Life is always a constant battle as we try to position it on a precarious pedestal and hope the slight breeze doesn’t ruin that balance, and that’s after you find the right life and the right pedestal. I’ve started to think, probably realistically, that there will never be a moment in my life where everything is exactly how I want it to be.

Sounds sad, but tangential to this is the opposite effect. Life might never be perfect, but it can get pretty good, so its imperfections shouldn’t disallow you from appreciating the times when it actually is pretty good. And for me, that’s right now. I’m doing great, all things considered. I have two passion projects (sort of three, if you count the play I’m working on), I’m hosting a D&D campaign that is going really, really well, and my school and work lives aren’t tearing me apart, even if they are a constant source of struggle.

So just because I don’t make as much money as I’d like to be, or my living situation isn’t ideal, or my social life needs a ton of work, doesn’t mean I haven’t made any progress. This time last year I had no job, was actively struggling with friendships/relationships, and my writing block was just starting to take hold. I’ve made some good strides since then.

I think it’s time to stop putting unrealistic expectations on myself. I’m not going to fix my financial situation or my social life by this time next year. They might improve, but the problems won’t be solved. But hey, I’m doing fine where I am now, and I can’t discredit that. Of course, we should never stop striving for more, trying to make things better where we can, but being disappointed when perfection isn’t achieved is just going to ruin things at every turn.

Also, if you’re no longer satisfied with being in a good position in life, waiting for it to get better, maybe that’s also a sign that things haven’t been bad for quite a while, and if that’s the cause, you should be thankful for that. It’s easy to forget harder times when you’re living in a period of mediocrity.

Learning! — Are You Creative?

A while back I wrote about what creativity is. I have a different way of looking at it because my improv experience has taught me that most people think of creativity as the ability to pull things out of thin air, but it’s just not. You’ll have to read that post to hear my full thoughts on that, because today I’m going to talk about something slightly different.

I would say a lot of people also think of personality traits as sliding scales on a Sims game. (I really hope that’s how Sims games work or else I’m going to look real dumb here.) You have 2/10 laziness, 7/10 attractiveness, 5/10 intelligence, etc. Creativity is no different, right?

I actually think it is very different.

All my life, I’ve had things swimming around in my head. Dragons single-handedly fighting off armies of thousands. Powerful spell casters throwing hurricanes and tidal waves at each other, sundering the landscape around them. An evil king increasing the gravity in his throne room to literally force those around him to kneel.

There is always. Always. Something like this in my head—even if I don’t have the willpower to put it to paper, like right now.

This is just part of the way that my brain works, so I was a little surprised when I found out that not everyone thinks like this. To be honest, it still seems a little strange sometimes. But maybe that’s just it.

Maybe having a creative mind isn’t something you put a scale to. Maybe you either have it or you don’t. This is only an inkling of a theory, so I could be way off base, but perhaps there’s a kernel of truth in here somewhere. Hear me out.

If you split it this way, turning it into a dichotomy, it becomes easy to differentiate the sort of people around you. It’s easy for me to split everyone in my writer’s group between creative and non-creative people.

Now, being creative doesn’t necessarily mean coming up with scenes of a book. Maybe it’s hearing new melodies or seeing magic in poetry. Whatever it is, it’s breathing life into something new.

It is important to note that when I say non-creative, it isn’t an insult, merely a descriptor of how our brains function. In fact, some of the best writers in my writer’s group were far more technically inclined. They weren’t creative at all.

You may or may not agree with me, but thinking of people in this way has helped me better accommodate for the strengths and weaknesses of those around me. Putting creative people in technical fields can yield interesting results, and the opposite holds true as well.

You could probably immediately tell me whether or not you’re a creative person with my definition, and if you start thinking about your friends and family, you might be surprised to discover that their profession is something contrary to their personality. Well, you might think it’s contrary, but in actuality they’re just bringing different things to the table.

Just because it’s unconventional doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Me — How to Find Your Energy

I had a really heavy workload last semester of school, as you might have guessed by my unprecedented absence from this blog. I was working a lot, directing a play I wrote, and doing what I would simply describe as a mini dissertation for one of my classes.

Towards finals, I was starting to get really stressed. I would get home from work or class, and based on the schedule I outlined for myself, I would often have a single two hour chunk of free time to get work done before it was due in the morning. Problem was, I would get home with no energy to do any of that; the only thing I’d want to do is sleep.

This problem was surprisingly and miraculously solved when I watched a video from one of my favorite “public” figures: Day9. He’s a streamer (known for Starcraft) that I’ve talked about a while back, an old post of which I did not re-read, so browse at your discretion. He has a very casual and sociable persona, and he’s one of the people I admire most because of that.

That video was a snippet of one of his streams; just a conversation where he’s talking about this very thing: How do you structure your life in a way that allows you to get the work done with the time that you have? You can watch the video with that link, it’s about 9 minutes long (he does occasionally curse, though). But I’ll also just talk about it in my own words.

The solution is actually alarmingly simple. You can start tomorrow, in fact, and you don’t need to prepare. You’re not going to like what I have to say, but let me tell you, all it takes is the discipline to commit to your own promises and the ability to restructure your day to day.

All you gotta do is wake up early and do all the extra stuff then. If you’re trying to learn a language, write an essay, whatever doesn’t matter, don’t set yourself up for failure by pretending today will be different. It won’t. You’re going to get home from work exhausted like always and then you’ll hate yourself for looking at Instagram or Reddit for two hours after you get home.

But let’s say you have work at 9. Here’s what you do: You get up at 5am. Yup. 5. You cry a little inside, maybe take 20-30 minutes to get up and you curse me for convincing you to do this, but then you get up and get ready for your day. By 6am you’ve showered and eaten, you’d be ready to walk out the door now if you had to. But now you have 3 hours to just do stuff. The house is quiet, nothing going on, you’ve got the whole day ahead of you, and now that you’ve woken up you’ve got the energy to work.

That’s when you write that essay, or go to the gym, whatever you want to be doing more. You devote some time in the early morning, and by the time you get home after work, you’ve already done the stuff you want to, so now you won’t hate yourself for wasting the rest of your night. Maybe you’ll go to bed a few hours early, but who cares? You’ve already done the things you need to. Plus, if you go to bed early, it’ll make getting up earlier that much easier.

I tried this in the middle of a work and school week, throwing caution to the wind, and it changed the way I did my day-to-day. I’d get home with so much more energy because I wasn’t dreading the work I’d still have to do after work. And because I got up at 5am every week day, sleeping in on weekends meant getting up at 7-8am. I felt like every day suddenly and magically had 3 extra hours.

So, that’s it. Watch that video if you’re not convinced. Give it a shot. Trust me, I know waking up that early is awful. But if you can do it, you’ll feel better, and every day after that will be easier and easier. Especially if you’re a morning person like me, sleeping in until even just 10-11am feels terrible because there’s no morning left.

I wish you the best of luck, and as a farewell note, I highly recommend doing things that wake you up immediately. Shower and eat right after you get out of bed because there is no being tired after that. If you jump out of bed and immediately start working on an essay, you’ll just fall back asleep and you’ll hate me all the more.

Me — Overcoming Doubt

I know the everyone gets moments of doubt. That feeling of uncertainty where you don’t know if the choices you’ve made are right, and you don’t know what you can possibly do to keep moving. I’m lucky in that those moments are rare for me. I consider my being a writer a given, and that someday, somehow, I’ll be making a living telling stories.

But after watching The Wind Rises, I had that terrible thought. “How can I be so arrogant as to even attempt to construct something to rival this?” The movie gave me ideas—amazing ideas I’m very interested in exploring—but ideas that end up being shadows of their origin.

It really makes me wonder. If people like Hayao Miyazaki exist, why bother? Even if I end up writing something amazing that is on par with the greats, the world will still be the same. It basically doesn’t matter in the slightest whether or not I do write anything worth experiencing. There’s no hole that needs filling—there’s no shortage of great writers, and it would be ridiculous of me to assume that I would be the person to fill it if there was a hole.

But at the same time, that line of thinking doesn’t help. When moments like this happen, it’s important to remember that you have not just had an epiphany that you’re the worst and will never amount to anything. You’re just not letting the optimistic side of the argument have their say. It can be hard not to give the nihilist the wheel when falling into that pit, because it’s so easy to just think of how much things don’t matter.

You’re right, nihilistic Kollin. The chances of you being successful enough to make any tangible influence on the world are minuscule at the very best. But there are two glaring flaws in your argument. The first is that giving up isn’t an option. It simply isn’t. So entertaining that is silly. You would feel way worse for not trying than you do for trying and failing. The second flaw is that you don’t actually care about making an influence in the world. All you want to do is tell cool stories people love. So really, nihilist Kollin, your entire argument is moot.

Well, somehow I sort of used logic to convince myself to feel a bit better, so that’s good. Good job, optimist Kollin. Thanks… also optimist Kollin? You can go now, me. Argument’s over. You got it, me.

I think everyone’s goal in life is just to be happy, when you boil everything down. What “being happy” means changes from person to person. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the point where I’m satisfied with the stories I’ve told or with the people that have read them. But pursuing that is the only logical thing for me to do right now. Otherwise, I’m just twiddling my thumbs and complaining about how unhappy I am.

You gotta work for it. Don’t let your nihilist steer the wheel, cause he/she will just steer you into calm waters, and there’s no growth or happiness to be found there.

Me — Knowing Yourself

Recently (within the past few years) I’ve noticed that I really don’t know myself all that well. I, like everyone else, have this nebulous list of wants and needs, but lately, I’ve realized that in order to figure out the “how” of achieving this list, it’s important to understand the “why” those wants and needs are in place. If you don’t know the “why”, figuring out the “how” can be nearly impossible.

It isn’t enough to say “I want to start a family and be successful.” There are lots of ways to accomplish this. If you want a family because you think it will make you feel validated as a person, you need to dig deeper. There are lots of ways to feel validated as a person. This isn’t to say that your list of wants is wrong, just that the why can inform your decision making. Why is having a family the way you choose to pursue your goal of validation? Is it because you never felt like you had a supportive family? Or because you want to leave something behind? Or something completely different?

These aren’t the questions I ask myself, but the idea is the same. Figuring out the “why” will make the “how” much clearer, but it’s not always easy to see. Sometimes, the wants themselves are difficult to understand. This happens a lot with teenagers who are just finding things (and people) they like. I’m sure we’ve all heard stories about (or are) people who dated people against their sexual preference because they didn’t know themselves to act differently. It’s a learning process, and the path is really obscure. As in, the canopy is four feet high and we can’t even see where we’re going because we’re constantly getting whacked with leaves and branches.

I don’t have any clear cut answers that will help you figure out who you are. I’m a little busy asking myself hard questions. There are two things that I’ve made a habit of doing, though, to ensure that I’m at least on the right path. One: ask yourself if you’re happy, or if you feel you’re taking steps to get there. If not, what steps can you take now that will put you in that direction? Two: Constantly keep tabs on how you feel. Keep track of what makes you feel good and bad, and use this as a road map. Play Hot-Cold by yourself, and soon you’ll develop a compass that will get you somewhere. It may not be the place that you expected to go, but constantly questioning everything, and thinking about why you are the way you are is bound to yield good results, even if it doesn’t happen right away.

In my experience, everyone older than you seems to know what you’re doing. It’s amazing, if you think about it. Everyone 50% older than me seems to have their life on track, but as soon as I get that old, I realize I’m wrong. I’m probably showing my age a bit by asking this half-rhetorical question, but I’m curious: do people ever really “figure out” who they are? Or are we all just swimming around in a pool of confusion and only barely figuring out where we should be?

Life — Scheduling a “Catch Up” Day

Recently my life has been so busy that I’ve had things piling up more and more. The sort of things that aren’t urgent but do need to get done, like ordering textbooks online, or talking to people about future plans, etc. This sort of thing is almost never in the forefront of my mind, simply because there’s always something more pressing, and when there isn’t, I’m too tired to do it.

So, how do you make sure you don’t let those things fall by the wayside? It’s pretty simple, really. Maybe you’ve heard of the priority analogy called “The Jar of Life”. Important things like livelihood, family, friends, etc. are ping pong balls, less important things like your job, house, and hobbies are marbles, and the trivial stuff like what you do with your free time is sand. If you start big and add the unimportant things in later, you’ll have room for everything. If you fill the jar with sand first, you won’t have room for ping pong balls.

Now, this analogy is intended to teach you about priorities, so it’s not entirely relevant, but bear with me. These side jobs that need to handled but aren’t important for your direct, day to day life can often be forgotten. They’re marbles, but they are also a source of stress because they can be unconscious baggage on your addled mind. You know you’ve got lots to do, but you’re too busy to get it done, and when you get home you know you won’t have the energy to do any more, so it becomes a vicious cycle.

Here’s how I handle it. I keep track of everything I need to get done. (I put this list on my phone so I always have access to it.) Then, I resolve to spend the most convenient day off working on those errands. I don’t treat it as a day off at all, in fact. For that day, all of those errands have top priority, and I need to get as much of it done as possible. Depending on how quickly errands pile up, this “Catch Up” Day could be weekly routine for you. Otherwise, you might only want to schedule it once you have enough stuff to justify spending the day doing them.

This accomplishes two things. One, knowing what you have to do and resolving to do it all at once will get it done quicker. You won’t have to worry about squeezing in an errand between work and relaxation. Two, it is extremely relieving to get everything done. You may not consciously perceive that burden of things you know you have to do, but once you clear it up, it feels great. You can rest easy knowing all the non-urgent stuff that needs doing has been done.

Personally, I’ve found this to be a great conclusion to the week, because when I get back to work/school the next day, I’ll feel like I’ve already been extremely productive. Even if, realistically, it means discarding my only day off, that one carefree night of sleep is worth the trouble.

Life — The Three ‘Me’s

I measure a lot of my success based on the progress I’ve tracked for myself, and how much further I am from my goal. I have endpoints for three distinct things I want to achieve in life, and those endpoints are actually people. Figures whom I admire for very distinct and different reasons, but all who have become something that I want to match (or surpass) in the coming decades. Now, I’ve talked about all of these people before, so I’ll include links to previous posts where I talk about each more singularly.

The first person is probably the most obvious and the most distant goal, and that is Brandon Sanderson. Now, obviously he has achieved things in the sci-fi and fantasy world that is extremely impressive. Having such a name for himself and working on multiple highly anticipated book series is nothing to sneeze at, but the reason he’s one of my endpoints is that he has such a knack for worldbuilding and putting giant concepts into edible chunks. I doubt he’ll ever be as famous as J.K. Rowling because his world is so expansive, but success isn’t necessarily measured by a paycheck. I’m the furthest away from achieving anything he did because he’s so far out of my league professionally, but his ability to constantly write new and diverse worlds never ceases to amaze me. Brandon Sanderson is therefore my aspired “Professional” identity.

My aspired “Hobby” identity is Matt Mercer. Him being an endpoint represents everything I want to achieve in my free time. Not only is he an amazing dungeon master for D&D, but he is also an incredible voice actor. His status as one of my endpoints is a little more ephemeral, because I also attribute this to my career as an improvisational actor and teacher. I don’t really care about doing anything with my abilities as a voice actor, improv actor, or dungeon master, but these are all nonetheless a part of my life, and I want to be able to be awesome at each in my own right. In this sense, I don’t think I can ever achieve this endpoint by virtue of the fact that he does those things as a professional and not as a hobbyist, but they are aspirations of mine all the same.

Lastly, and this may or may not be the most accessible goal, is my “Social” identity, whom I attribute to Sean “Day9” Plott. He is a streamer that plays games like HearthstoneDota 2, and made his name for himself by talking about Starcraft. The reason he’s on this list is because I think his most admirable quality is his personality. When you’re watching him play, (and I think this is pretty rare for streamers), the focus of the content is not on the game, but on him and his reactions to it. He’s built a community with the people that watch his stream, and is very engaging with his viewers. Not only that, but he also loves to tell stories and give advice. Day9 is an extremely charismatic person, watching him would be enjoyable even if I had absolutely no interest in the game he was playing in. While I have no intentions to have any sort of ‘online personality’ (outside perhaps this blog), I want people to have that sentiment towards me, as well. I want to draw in people based on my social character, not my accomplishments or anything like that. This endpoint is the hardest to gauge because, while all it takes is a change in character, that’s by no means easy. In fact, it’s pretty contradictory to the way I’ve lived my life up until recently. I’m taking steps, but it’s difficult to say how far the path leads, and I doubt I’m on the most direct one there.

I think a lot of people might interpret this information and incorrectly conclude that I’m not happy with where I am. On the contrary, I think I’m doing okay. But I think it’s healthy for us as people to have goals, both short term and long term. And it’s okay to have goals you will probably never achieve, because you’ll still get somewhere by trying. I would be lying if I said I expected to actually accomplish any of these endpoints (except maybe one). But that’s not really the point. All of these are markers to help me find the path I want to take, and while I might not get where I’m going, I’ll probably be content with wherever I end up.