Solitude and struggle

posted by Jeff | Thursday, October 3, 2019, 10:39 PM | comments: 0

I've been thinking a lot about solitude and struggle in a number of different contexts. Not sure if I have a point, but I need a brain dump.

First, I realize when I'm being reflective that I've spent a lot of time in my life in solitude. I mean, shocking volumes of time by myself. As a kid, I didn't really hang out with other kids. In high school I had my roles helping out in athletics, where I cared a lot about the other kids and their families, but I didn't have a lot of deep connections. In college I spent the first two and a half years not having any idea where I belonged in the bigger picture. It's not that I don't connect with people, it's that I don't value superficial connection. Deep connections don't come easy or often, so that explains the solitude.

The post-divorce time taught me a lot about how to be alone in a constructive way, which is to say that relationships should be additive to who you are. You can and should value relationships, but you need the foundation of having a good relationship with yourself, and that's a huge struggle. The parts with other people are easy by comparison.

I see my son going through a lot of the same things already at age 9, and it's heartbreaking. It's a similar struggle. He spends a lot of time alone, and doesn't find social connectivity to be easy. His relationship with himself isn't great. I don't know how to help him, because it took me literally decades to get even partially comfortable with myself, and being by myself. Telling him he's smart enough and good enough isn't going to do anything. It would help if he could find one kid who wasn't a dick to him, but like him, I found it was only the adults who really could be that person. There's a brilliance in his thinking, and I need to help him learn how to express and value it.

I spent most of today alone at my computer, writing code for my side hustle. I enjoyed the time to myself, but I feel guilty that I'm not spending the time with Simon and Diana.

...

I was talking to a friend who recently started therapy to help unpack a lot of damage. I've been in and out of it since college, and it helps a great deal with self-awareness. The underlying theme of all those sessions is about the struggle. Life is struggling... with relationships, family, parenting, work... it doesn't seem like it ever ends. That may sound kind of depressing, but I will say that you almost need that contrast to see the joy and happiness in life.

My last therapy session was to talk about the struggle, and how much of it was self-inflicted. We definitely put pressure on ourselves in a lot of aspects of our lives, which creates some of that sense of struggle. I've noticed discreet times in my life where I was happiest, when I ran out of fucks to give about whatever felt like a struggle. There's a weird dynamic there: You have to find the combination of action (or non-action) that allows you to be a reasonably productive member of society, while also letting go of the struggle. In other words, don't be a worthless bum, but stop doing the things that hurt.

The period of my life I can best point to in order to describe this struggle reduction was 2013. I bailed on a terrible job, picked up contract work that was slightly better but didn't matter, and resolved to reboot and move to Orange County. The second half of that year was strangely low stress, even with the big move. I was working a contract job that may not have been renewed or converted to full-time, and it was OK. I had seen enough chaos to know that I could figure it out. That was freeing. Parenting wasn't super hard yet either.

The truth is, I don't know that the solution is that you simply need to walk away from the hard things. I think it's how you perceive the hard things. Look, I'm not a Type-A personality (which I assure you is an anti-asset at this stage of my career). I have the capacity to see the relative importance of hard things, and there's a huge scale, all of which lies below the fact that I'll be worm food someday. It's surprising how easy it is to forget that.

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