On Giving Up

We’re taught growing up that giving up is one of the worst sins one can commit. Fail as many times as you want, but never, ever quit. Fall down seven times, get up eight. The quitter is the archetype to be reviled, spat upon, and feared. Feared that if you decide not to get up that eighth time, you’ll be cast out of respectable society and stripped of any right to support or empathy.

I think the “never give up” lesson is one of the most toxic ones that we still teach kids, and here’s why: there’s about a 99.9% chance that in your life, at some point, you have given up on something. So… now what? Game over, right? “Well, looks like I’ve failed at life! Time to go home and self-flagellate myself with the bootstraps that I so shamefully failed to pull myself up by.”

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely think people should be encouraged to hold on in the face of adversity, to not acquiesce on things that mean a lot to them when the going proves difficult. But I think there’s a significant difference between saying that, and the narrative of “quitters never win” that’s been the craze for about as long as the ‘rags to riches’ myth has been around.

When you say that some things are worth fighting for, you’re saying that, when something sets your soul aflame, when something is so fundamentally powerful to you that causes you to ignite with vitality and purpose… hold onto it. Hold onto it until your knuckles turn white and your hands bleed. Don’t give up that feeling, because that is a feeling that is very, very hard to come by in life, and you deserve to feel it. Something that awakens passion within you such that it brings you to tears is worth undergoing strife.

The “quitters never win” narrative, on the other hand, has deep, deep roots in the “not enough, never enough” story that so virulently infects millions of people in our culture (and helps no one, besides). When you say to a child ‘never give up’, ‘quitters never win’, you are giving them an ultimatum; a warning. If you give up, you will never be worthy. You will never be enough. Never have enough, never do enough, and never be worthy of love or acceptance, even from yourself. To be a quitter is to be the North American equivalent of the Untouchable caste. The sheer amount of disdain and disgust we hold as a culture for those we label ‘quitters’ is absolutely remarkable, when you consider that everyone has done it.

And for what? To what positive end do we continue to perpetuate this myth? So that individuals can continue to bang their heads against a wall in a relationship, a job, a vocation, that isn’t working? For those who, having attained material wealth or cultural status markers of success, are still miserable (but don’t you dare give it up, after all you’ve been through)? Of course not, because stubborn misery is the North American badge of pride.

The reason I write this, is that having left school for a year, come back, and struggled, I only now just completed and submitted a take-home assignment for the first time in two years. For the longest time, the assignment would come up, I would become paralyzed by anxiety, not do it, and inevitably fail the course because, well… not doing assignments tends to result in that. But once I gave up once, I was a Quitter. The narrative I was so afraid of had manifested, and I felt locked into a role that I couldn’t escape. Yesterday (the day I submitted the assignment) had been the first time I had not simply given up in two years.

I won’t lie; I felt proud that I persevered. That I plowed through when I wanted to curl up in my bed and hide from the world. But I also realized… having “never give up” drilled into my head for as long as I can remember did me absolutely no fucking good. All it taught me was that giving up is bad and wrong, and if YOU give up, you TOO, are bad and wrong. It taught me nothing about asking myself why I felt overwhelmed. It taught me nothing about how to objectively assess my circumstances and emotional state to see what could be improved (whether that be working for different time intervals or at different times, seeing a counsellor, being assessed for a learning disability, getting a good social support group, confronting distorted thoughts I might have, etc). All it taught me was not to do the Forbidden Thing (that is essentially inevitable at one time or another in life), and if you do the Forbidden Thing, well you should feel besmirched and ashamed for such an ugly failure.

The “Don’t Give Up” narrative is about pride. Pride to be able to say, “I didn’t give up!” after the fact. Absolutely, you should feel proud for overcoming your own personal struggles, but pride over your past should not blind you to the fact that other peoples’ battles are yet to come. Battles where many are woefully underprepared. Pushing the next generation onwards with only “quitters never win” to help does about as much good as it would to an unarmed soldier on a battlefield. Instead of sending them out to get skewered by the slings and arrows of life and then rubbing their nose in the mud, let’s help them armor up instead.

Unclogging

Well, one good thing will come from me not being able to sleep at anything resembling a reasonable time: I’m writing again.

That’s not to say I HAVEN’T written, but incredibly inconsistently, and almost never when I’m not being paid. At least not for the past… 6-8 months or so? A big part of that are the changes that have been going on in my life otherwise. For instance, I’ve been struggling HARD with depression the past while. Less so the cognitive factors (though those are, as always, a bitch), but the constant fatigue. It feels like walking through a thick, black ichor… a deep, oily mire that pulls and drags on my body and mind to the point where no amount of sleep or recovery seems to make it lift for long.

Continue reading

October 12th, 2015

I couldn’t come up with a title for this post. But I realized that isn’t a good enough reason not to write.

Neither is the fact that I haven’t updated this blog in about a year.

Neither is the fact that I’m not even sure if I want to keep this blog around, or move the content over to a new one I’m sowing the seeds of an idea for.

It’s not a good enough reason not to write that I have a bunch of other projects that I’m working on, nor is it that my work makes me tired and feels unfulfilling compared to what I want to be doing. It’s not a good enough reason that I don’t know if my latest project will come out worth anything, or look anything like the vision I have in my head.

I’ve had a couple of kicks in the existential arse in the last couple days. The idea that the job I have right now, even though it’s full-time, wouldn’t be enough to start paying back my student loans and keep a roof over my head once I graduate being one of them. As is my beginning to follow the Writing About Writing Blog, and in particular my reading of the article 20 Guaranteed Ways to Sabotage Your Reading (of which I currently subscribe to at least a solid dozen). As well, the reading of Seth Godin’s book The Icarus Deception, and the unceremonious writing of a book that I began in the middle of the night last Wednesday when I couldn’t sleep.

Basically, this confluence of events and actions have combined to help me realize that despite my being terrified of my future economically, existentially, artistically, career-wise, relationship wise, and even health-wise, is insufficient reason for me to not only not create art, but not create art EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

If anything, it’s the best reason in the world to start.

Sheer Wonder

Haven’t written in a couple days, figured I’d catch up. I’ve been thinking in the last couple days about answers to the question of what I want to do/be. I know in a previous post that I said I want to write movies, but that no longer seems like a sufficient enough answer to the question. The real answer is that looking at any one profession and going “That’s the thing I want to do” is no longer enough. Everyday, I absorb more inspiration through my experiences interacting with people, reading, watching, listening, working out, writing, etc. from EVERY outlet I can possibly find.  And with every new fount of information and experience I find, I find new ways to connect those experiences to other ones in novel ways. Ways that apply knowledge in ways you might not normally.

The fundamental nature of what I find interesting isn’t any one particular profession or area of expertise, but rather, the fact that all of them have enough analogous qualities that almost, if not every, domain of human knowledge could be modified and improved by taking into account the discoveries of all others. Therefore, it’s the interactions and relationships BETWEEN different domains of knowledge which fascinate me. The connections are all there, and the fact that there are so many more to be explored, examined, clustered and recombined into new ones, which then can ALSO be recombined is mindbogglingly wonderful. It almost makes me sad that I only have a certain amount of time on this planet with which to check all of these really cool things out. So much to do, so little time.

So when someone asks me what I want to do for a living, I don’t know what to respond, because I want to do everything! I want to write, blog, host, talk, voice-act, storytell, innovate, produce, edit, revise, CREATE. The career label is merely the incarnation of choice which I use to accomplish any of those given tasks at any given time, and so the question seems almost inappropriate in the tiny scale at which it is asked. But I’m comforted by the fact that such great minds as Henry Rollins and Chris Hardwick have felt the same kind of itchy curiosity to rip up the carpet of contemporary culture and look at all the little, intricate wires which connect every single aspect of them. Even moreso, I’m driven by the idea of the urge to mix and match the way those connections are structured, and pontificate and experiment with what the potential results can be.

There’s a level of beauty in the adjacent possible, the potential of one thing to be something entirely different to someone else at any given moment in time that almost exceeds any single incarnation of that thing that exists at a single point. Even typing that sentence, it’s like art and quantum physics and engineering and business and internet culture all colliding at a hundred miles an hour into an infinitely dense, hot mass of ideological potential, ready to birth an entire new universe of possibility.

And the fact that I have the desire and resources to explore that is… simply beyond words, beyond concept in how grateful I am for it. I won’t stop doing it until I am long-dead and in my grave, and I can only hope, can only dream that the fervor of my passion will be enough to inspire yet another to take up the cause once I’m gone. Inspiration: the most beautiful form of immortality there is.

Falling Off, Breaking Through, and Getting The F*ck Over It

So, after a couple of days things going well… I had a pretty shitty day productivity/diet/whatever else-wise. I ate junk food and didn’t complete any of my writing-related tasks. I was generally feeling pretty shitty, as I tend to beat myself up pretty badly when I fall short of my standards for myself. However, it happened to be that day when one of my favorite sites, NerdFitness, and Mr. Steve Kamb, posted this article, which happened to be just the thing to help me out of my mental rut.

Thing is, momentum is a cruel mistress. When you pick up speed from getting stuff done, working out, or just generally being awesome, it feels great, and soon you’re barreling through tasks like that boulder in Indiana Jones. But when you have a “fat” day, or don’t feel up to it, we often feel like the fact we’ve failed at something is a reflection on our own personal capabilities or worth. We start looking at failure as a noun, not a verb. But as the talented Mr. Kamb points out, it’s just one mistake. And, buckle in, bitches, because you’re going to have to get used to the fact that you’re going to make them over, and over, and over for the rest of your life. Because you’re human, and humans have an unequaled talent for finding new ways to fuck up.

But the great thing? The same exploratory instinct that lets us constantly go on adventures in screwing up is the same instinct that lets us invent new ways to get out of it, and take advantage of the resources available around us to do so. We just have to recognize that failure is an isolated incident, and has no bearing on the decisions we make afterward. Including the choice to shrug it off, and go immediately back to the drawing board to find out why we’ve messed up, and how to keep it from happening again.

To quote Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, in Batman Begins: “Why do we fall, sir? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

So, first, I picked up some lifting straps as was suggested on one of Jason Ferruggia’s most recent posts, and HOLY CRAP. It’s like I’m using those mass-cancelling magnet clamp things from the season 2 finale of Doctor Who. You never realize how much energy you use up JUST holding onto the bar until you don’t have to. I added an easy 20lbs to my deadlift (now at 265lbs), and a HUGE 40lbs to my barbell clean (now at 175lb 3RM), as well as bumping up my one-arm dumbell row weight another 10lbs each. They even help with pressing exercises, which I definitely was not expecting. It’s amazing how a change so small can make such a huge difference.

Gaming in Real Life

 

Second, upon advice from my counsellor, I’ve decided to start putting the unique traits about my geeky gamer mind to good use instead of constantly beating myself up about how I can’t motivate myself/learn in the same way many people do. Or at least, it’s significantly less effective if I try to. But. I love me some video games. So, I started constructing a to-do list using Evernote on my smartphone and making a checklist, with a few little extra challenges, effectively turning it into a quest-based reality game:

-I instituted what I call “Vetoes.” If you feel there’s a task you don’t think you’ll get done that day, you can use one of 3 Vetoes to cross that item off of the list, effectively pushing it until tomorrow. However, there is an achievement (more on those in the next point) for completing all tasks in a day without using a Veto.

-There are achievements for achieving all goals of a certain category in a day. Others for fulfilling additional “win” conditions for goals, and still more for completing every task on the Quest List. Here are some examples:

“Machine Man”:  Complete all health and fitness-related tasks

“Time Lord”:  Complete all timed/time management-related tasks in a day + log 5 or more hours of work into Toggl in that same day.

“Jack of All”: Complete all non-vetoed tasks.

“No Continues”: Gain the Jack of All achievement using no vetoes.

Credit to Jane McGonigal (because I haven’t praised her enough in this blog) and her book, Reality Is Broken, for providing the inspiration for trying this. It’s worked surprisingly well so far, and I plan on getting together with some of my game-design inclined friends to see if I can refine it further into something I can perhaps put out into the aether for others to use.

Anyways, I think that’s about it for now. Hope you guys enjoyed this and got something useful out of it!

Cheers,

Vince

I’ve gotten comfortable.

I don’t mean that in a positive way. The last week or two, I’ve been slowly slipping into a state of apathy. I’m working out less, writing less, sleeping more often, and indulging in junk food more often than I should. Not to mention not keeping track of my finances as closely, leading to overspending. Around the house, I’ve fallen backwards into a habit of “do a half-assed job and hope no one notices/says anything”, which disappoints me, because that seems to be my default setting when I don’t consciously focus on doing my best.

Back to the title of this entry, I think it’s because I’ve gotten used to the everyday beats of “get up, go to work, occasionally go to the gym”, and allowed myself to operate on autopilot. More and more I’m realizing that developing excellence (in whatever pursuit) is a skill, including any type of excellence of character (insofar as work ethic, diligence, present-mindedness, etc).

In the book Moonwalking With Einstein, the author Josh Foer talks about the “good enough” plateau in trying to continually improve his mnemonic skills in time for the World Memory Championships. There’s a point at which the practices which have gotten you to a certain point become inert, and there isn’t an established “next level” of practices laid out for you to ascend to in order to further improve. At that point, you must have the presence of mind, the desire, and the audacity to create that next level for yourself, and to pursue it with tenacity, despite nothing is forcing you to but yourself.

I feel like that’s the point which I’m at right now. The point at which being better than average isn’t good enough anymore. I’m unsatisfied with placating myself with the idea that I might be doing better than others. No more points for “just showing up.” I need to take that next step if I want to move from “good” to “great”, or at least continue my move up that scale. No. On second thought, no “at least.” “At least” is the type of apathy-building thinking that I’ve been allowing to pacifying my productivity.

Okay, so. What to do? Start right now. Let’s see:
New workouts, written down at least for the next week. Mix things up while keeping my presence at the gym and diligence/technique consistent. Remember to hit each main body section (chest, shoulders/back, core, lower body) in a different way each day. Two heavy-bag cardio days out of every 5-day spread. That leaves three days for weightlifting, which should be plenty. Leave early enough to allow cool down afterwards.

More meats and greens in my diet. I’ve been fine with fruit and nuts for a while now, but I’m seriously lacking in the veggie department. It wouldn’t shock me if this is partially why I’ve felt my energy levels and level of focus dropping as of late, despite vitamin supplementation. Rotate between meat-centric meals with poultry, fish, and red meat.

Keep consistent on intermittent fasts and homemade meals: 14 hours fasting, 10 hours eating, no starchy carbs until evening time meals. Move to 15 hour fast by the end of the week ending July 21st.

Cherry pick the online grocery flyers. Stick to sales as your main purchases, only move away from them for essentials (spinach, veggie stew ingredients, etc). Add up costs of items mentally WHILE placing them in the cart. This will help you be more aware of how much you’re spending and reduce the chance of over-spending.

Choose reading over video games. It fires up the brain more for writing/connecting new concepts, or just plain getting ready to do work. It’ll help get that initial inertia going that you need to sustain multiple hours worth of work on projects or school.

Write every day. If it’s on here, cool. If it’s a review on hubpages? Cool. If it’s part of a draft of an article you haven’t finished yet, or a scatterbrained plot of a screenplay you’re mentally piecing together? AWESOME. Just write SOMETHING. This is a skill you need to practice. Put in the hours, be there mentally, and you’ll see the results you want.

-Finally, stop being passive. All the above things are great, but changes won’t happen without you diverging from your routine and taking the extra step to get what you want. In anything and everything, it will get you that much closer. Another day of passivity means another day of the same old crap. Doggedly pursuing what you want and doing what it takes means you can wake up happy and go to bed proud. Which is a great goal in and of itself.

Phew! Okay, I’m feeling a bit better now with that stuff out there. Now, let’s make it real.