I realized, last night, after I went to bed, that I have taken on a habit of accepting defeat too easily. Of course, this thought nagged and nagged and nagged me until four in the morning, when exhaustion finally took over. Should’ve gotten up and ridden the trainer, I guess.
In short, I am by nature fiercely competitive, and my primary opponent is myself. For years, I furiously lambasted every failure; that didn’t yield much in the way of results and did yield a fair bit of grief for me and everyone around me, so instead I’ve adopted this pose of being easy about failure.
I have not managed to attain my intended racing weight, but I’ve managed to lose quite a bit of weight … so, you know, that’s pretty good.
I didn’t finish the race, but I got out there, so that’s pretty good.
I didn’t meet my goal this month, but I was only 10 miles short, so .. you know, that’s pretty good.
I call foul. I am tired of pretending I’m happy with “pretty good.” I’m not going to criticize myself for having spent some time there — it was important; urgently necessary to getting the ball (or the bike) rolling again. It was critical to learning not to kill myself both with effort and with aspersions. It was good for learning to set limits.
It was the right thing at the time; the right thing for a while.
Now it’s turning into a roadblock. I don’t try particularly hard because I’m comfortable, right now, with failure. I don’t try particularly hard because I’m afraid of unleashing the part of myself, once again, that meets failure with fury. The more effort I put forth, the more furious that part becomes when I fail. I don’t try in part because I’m a little afraid of succeeding; of setting some precedent that I then have to live up to, when in fact I’m an essentially unreliable character. And I’m really not too keen on once again unleashing the part of me that rips me to shreds when I come up short.
Here’s the thing: that part of me gets stuff done. So maybe that part of me is like the other parts of me that I’m learning to embrace — a bit antisocial, maybe, a bit prickly and uncomfortable and way out of keeping with our culture — but maybe if I ca learn to temper that part instead of just stuffing it back in a box somewhere…
This year I’d like to step up and say, “I did a lot of failing last year, and on one hand that was good, because I needed to learn to fail without killing myself, but on the other hand, it’s time to learn to take a more balanced approach.”
Failure is always an option (let’s be honest), but it’s not the option we’re going for. There are a thousand lessons in defeat and only one in victory, but if you keep being defeated, you’re not learning.
Here, my dear readers, are some things I have learned about myself in the past year: first, that I am by nature a narcissist. Call this the result of spending most of my time alone for many years, even as a child; call it a personality flaw; call it a variation in my biochemical makeup; call it what you will. It is what it is. I am deeply insular, accustomed to a primary relationship with myself, and the fact that I often hate myself reflects the fact that I also love myself in a way that I suspect many people don’t. Hate is often the shadow-twin of love.
I’m not a malignant narcissist; I’m mostly benign — but I am self-centered, self-absorbed. Because of that, I’m an awkward friend: I will happily do anything in my power to help out in a crisis (I’ll even listen for hours, though I’ll have no idea what to say — but I promise I’ll be completely honest about that, rather than trying to hand out platitudes that I know will ring false), and not because you’ll pat me on the back after, just because I am pretty capable in crises (it’s everywhere else that I just completely and utterly suck) and I like doing what I’m good at and also because I like acting more than I like sitting around. That said, I am not good at the day-to-day portions of friendship. In fact, I am summarily terrible at them.
I am pretty awesome at riding bikes with people, when I can extract myself from the epic tangle of my day-to-day life at the same time that other people are able to ride, but if you (like my best friend, like my sister, like my parents) live too far away to ride with me, or you don’t ride, you don’t hear from me that often. In short, I have friends like an eight-year-old has friends, only all my friends are grown-ups and, as such, most of them would like it if I was, too.
Worse, I tend to form one overwhelming primary attachment, and that one attachment pretty much fills my needs (which isn’t terrible in and of itself) — but, at the same time, I don’t know how to have casual friends, so I forge emotional entanglements with people who rightly expect and deserve a certain level of reciprocity (which is to say that I’m rationally aware that that’s how relationships are supposed to work, according to the wants and needs of the vast majority of people).
Then I ignore my friends because I’m riding the bike, or writing, or writing music, or reading, or buried up to my eyeballs in my latest obsession. Sometimes I drop off the planet entirely. I don’t feel guilty about it in the least because, essentially, I don’t experience guilt. The closest I come is a chilly, rational awareness: “I haven’t talked to Robert in a month. That probably hurts his feelings.” I don’t feel bad about it.
I am restless, sometimes ruthless, a bit insensitive, driven, and somewhat antisocial (in the technical sense: I am rather lacking in natural empathy, though I have learned to emulate it, I don’t feel guilt, and I could really give a hoot about social norms; I adopt them to the degree that they serve my ends and otherwise discard them). I habitually ignore everything that is not relevant to my interests. News of the world? Who cares? I have miles to log.
I am lazy except when it comes to anything relevant to my interests, and then I am a dynamo. I understand that it is totally not normal to have the energy and drive to spend four hours riding a bike in the freezing, windy cold; in weather that makes your face peel off two days later and, at the same time, lack the energy and drive to unload the freaking dishwasher first.
I am deeply and abidingly hyperactive. It’s not that everyone else is lazy. I’m a freak of nature. I mean that, though, in the best possible way. I’d rather be a freak that logs ridiculous miles (though they’re not that ridiculous; not yet) on the bike than a non-freak who doesn’t. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a non-freak. It’s just not what I am. The world needs normal people to get things done while the rest of us are out mindlessly turning the cranks for hours and hours and hours or whatever it is we do.
It requires an effort of will, but I try to bear in mind the fact that I can do what I do only because other, more responsible people who are — in essence — better human beings than I am in a fairly objective sense are getting things done. Sometimes I ride the bike at their expense. I ride the bike, quite literally, at Denis’ expense. I understand rationally that I am, at this point in my life, profoundly spoiled. I don’t work. I am free to ride the bike pretty much whenever I please. In exchange, I spend a little time with a man whose company I enjoy immensely and make an effort to keep our house somewhat livable (for varying values depending on whether or not school is in session). I understand all this, and still I sometimes choose to go ride the bike when I should be completing the month’s financial wranglings or cleaning the kitchen or whatever.
I am, apparently, immune to guilt. I don’t feel bad about things even when I should. This makes it really easy for me to live by my philosophy of eschewing guilt, doesn’t it? Pretty self-serving philosophy, there. I am capable of being afraid that I will lose someone or something that is meaningful to me, but that’s not the same thing.
I am capable of being furious with myself for falling short of the arbitrary ethical standards by which I live, but that is also something very different. That is, in short, the same kind of pissed-off I feel when I fail to finish a race or to reach the mileage goal (the pissed-off I’ve been keeping chained up just beneath the surface, for fear that it break free and actually get something done: I am more afraid of success, for the precedent it sets and the responsibilities that come with it, than of failure). I don’t feel guilty. I feel angry that I’m missing the mark; that I’m not winning my battles.
I am, in a word, capricious. At my best, I am really not worried at all about anything. At my best, I live almost entirely in the present. I am driven to do what seems interesting, what seems engaging or fun or captivating or even, in some cases, infuriating (nothing gets me going like a good case of frustration; give me a roadblock, and I will work like crazy to get past it by whatever means necessary). I am not very good at imagining consequences even when, by some miracle, it occurs to me to do so (when it does, most of the time, it’s when I’m already careening down a hill at 45 MPH on a bike whose brakes I haven’t checked, etc).
All that said, there’s another side to this coin: mildly antisocial, hyperactive, hyper-focused people who are not, by nature, particularly concerned with leading normal social lives or emptying their dishwashers are often exceedingly good at getting other things done. It’s a question of taking all of those characteristics and using them in the service of some greater good … or, at least, in the service of finishing your damn races (you got that, self?). Obsessive drive, relentlessness, singular focus, and boundless energy can all be harnessed.
Bit by bit, I’m learning not to fight my own nature: that I am happier when I don’t, and that I am not capable of being much use to myself or anyone else when I’m not happy. This doesn’t mean, of course, that I should completely dismantle the system of checks and balances that keeps me from being a completely antisocial, exploitative, freeloading ass-hat, but it does mean should stop trying to dismantle my basic nature and replace it with something else.
Weirdly, I suspect that the way to my own particular Buddha-nature, in this incarnation, is the path that leads through a kind of selfishness. Not the grasping selfishness of acquisition or the petty selfishness of jealousy, but the acceptance that I am what I am, and what I am is a creature of equal parts drive, whim, caprice, and focus. I am monkey-mind and Buddha-mind. I am not finished yet, but someday, perhaps I will be.
This year I will make my target weight. When I said that last year, I didn’t really believe it, because I was on the fence and my motivations were all wrong and my focus, really, was somewhere else.
This year I will finish my races. When I said that last year, I didn’t really believe it, because I knew everything would be okay if I didn’t. This year, things are different because I am different.
These are not New Year’s Resolutions. They are statements of fact. A while ago, I said to Robert, “I am going to hold a doctorate in neuropsych.” We begin by stating our intentions. I am going outside. I am going to ride the bike. Last year, I wasn’t stating my intentions, wasn’t say the equivalent of, “I’m going to the store.” I was outlining my aspirations. Not quite the same thing.
Last year, I was the kind of person who hopes to make it to the store.
I am not the person now that I was a year ago. I was not the person then that I was a year before that. I am not yet the person I become. The only constant is change; I would say that we only stop transforming when we die, but even then — both materially and, as far as anyone knows, spiritually — we continue to transform.
I am done being easy with defeat. This year, I will succeed.