Watch out, we’re about to get personal.
I’ve been writing so many memoir essay blog things recently. I’d like to turn these thought into fiction. I’m laughing because I was supposed to be writing erotica on this blog and I’m just spilling my feelings uncontrollably.
I’ve been thinking about success a lot, particularly because I’ve hit a slew of less than good grades on exams. (I’m talking 50.5 and lower). Which makes me wish I were a woodpecker so that I could safely bash my head against a wall at a nice couple mph–repeatedly.
I have an account on Medium, but I rarely use it now. I log on and on my dash are a sea of “ways to succeed” articles. They’re all quite objective, and many do provide some good advice. And they all like to say “here, let me tell you the REAL truth about success”.
So I’m going to tell you the REAL truth about success. (The real truth about my success.)
Sometimes I enjoy reading those articles, it throws some instant (and very transient) motivation into my motivation, but after a while it seems a whole lot emptier than it really is and I’m left feeling vacant.
I’ve been calling it the “productivity culture”, and it’s that hustle sort of thing. That make-a-schedule thing. That get-more-done-in-one-day thing. That ten-things-all-successful-people-do thing.
It was that, that effectively threw me into a downward spiral in high school, probably the first turning point in my life, and so since then I’ve been thinking about these things.
I didn’t have a 4.0 but I wanted it. I was in the upper percentile of my class but I wanted higher. I did a lot of volunteering at our zoo but I wanted more places. I slept a few hours but I wanted to sleep less. I would set a vibrating alarm on my phone for 4 A.M. so I could wake up in the middle of the night after going to sleep two hours ago and say, “ah, thankfully I have two more hours to sleep”.
Worst part was the numbers. The cold, hard facts that said it all: you did not do enough–look what other people did, how much more they did than you.
And it was expected of me. I was supposed to compete. I was a chicken thrown in the ring with nice little knives wrapped around my ankles, all poised to duke it out to the death and claim my victory because that was the reason I was there, right?
But, boy oh boy, I didn’t compete with anyone while I was there, I didn’t hinder, block, prevent, do anything to climb up that academic ladder.
I did fight to the death. The only one I ever fought was myself.
And I lost, very, very badly.
It was a horrible, month to month, year to year, hissy fit, arguing, ignoring, patronizing, criticizing, degrading, berating, and whatever other synonyms fit in there.
Though, I don’t regret a single damned thing because I would not be the person I am today.
The real truth about success is that it’s bullshit.
Success has never made me happy.
Only made me feel entitled to hoard all the other potential successes I would come across. First deserve, then desire. It took me a very long time to realize I don’t deserve jack shit. Because it’s not about receiving, it’s not about earning. Play to win the successes put forth by anything beyond yourself and I don’t know what to say. It just doesn’t work for me, maybe it works for you, and that is okay. Maybe I’m just greedy. I am damned greedy–I want to feel successful, I want to ride forever on that proud endorphin high.
In retrospect, it’s very sad to look in the mirror and see something different each day because your self-esteem, self-worth, is entirely dictated by numbers and tangible things and discrete moments and rankings and lists, the academic stock market. A disproportionately large amount of that time I spent feeling worthless because I haven’t done enough.
So skip forward two years and I’m in college and there it is: the ultimate worst time of my life thus far. The lowest low.
And since then I’ve accidentally done something that I hadn’t intended to do, because I never really thought it through.
Whenever I fail an exam I take some time to wallow in intense crisis but I always feel better coming out of it. Not logically, but emotionally. It’s like a welling up, a rising, a walking back from the grave–ha ha, bitch, you thought you killed me? Think again! I’m back to wreak havoc, suckers.
Logically I always knew the standards I was trying to achieve meant nothing, that getting into an Ivy League wasn’t the only way to “be successful” in life, that I could, in fact, survive with a C in precalc and that wouldn’t be the most closely held secret of my life, knew I wouldn’t care a few years down the road at most.
But no matter how strongly I tried to build that logic to influence the way I felt about my failures, nothing worked. I knew it was unsustainable, unhealthy, damaging, I tried to fight it, but there was nothing else that existed to justify that I should try to stop myself from following that productivity standard.
I just got my grade back for my last ochem exam, and to put it lightly, I failed.
Initially there was that horrible swarming feeling of this number is so small. But, oddly, I have that floating up feeling of ascension. And I think I have finally figured out what that is. I’m okay with failing now. I embrace my failures now.
Productivity culture is a jackpot set of numbers, pull the lever and stare, take a card and wait, cross your fingers, wear your lucky hat. Count up all your winnings.
Those days in high school I was working as hard as I could, hoping for luck, chance.
I used to say horrible things to myself in the mirror on bad days.
Most of my days were bad days.
I wouldn’t let myself live by any other standards except the numbers, the count, the productivity because that was the only tangible thing.
It’s very hard to believe in something you cannot see, taste, smell, hear, or touch. Like the electrons moving through the magnetic field, I couldn’t fucking visualize and understand the concept of being successful it meant numbers and something discrete because under all that there is something that is beyond definition and that scares me.
It bites, it scratches, it cries, it screams, and it wants blood, and it has no name and it follows no rules. It just is, and I know it’s there, stalking me every day, lurking, waiting, trying to eat me alive.
It took losing mostly every single thing–failing two classes when I had never failed a class before in my life, losing friends, losing very good friends, losing my significant other of the time, hurting people I cared about, breaking trust, isolating myself until there was nothing else left and I sat on the floor and cried and it was there then, circling me, and we were the only things left in the room now.
Months and months of sitting there and I finally, slowly looked up and looked it in the eyes.
It walked up to me, dragged me out of that room out into the forest, the middle of nowhere, too dark to see anything, but I could smell the night sky. And there, it nudged me with its snout, dropped my sketchbook in my hands and helped me up and it saved my life.
Passion is a very scary thing.
We can’t see, taste, smell, hear, or touch it. It tries to lead us terrifying places that have no maps, no names, no others, no laws, no sense, no sanity, no restraint.
I don’t wait for numbers anymore. I don’t do it for the trophy anymore.
I can look in the mirror and it’s okay.
I’m proud of walking through the forest with no light, letting my heart ooze out of my body in blood, sweat, tears, because it’s the hardest thing I have ever done, and will ever do.
First deserve, then desire. The more it hurts, the more it matters.
I like being afraid now.
That’s what I live for. That’s what makes me feel alive.
Success is jumping down into the pitch black cave, not knowing what horrible things wait down there, knowing horrible things wait down there, all for the fucking adrenaline thrill and a ravenous, insatiable passion.
Fuck productive success.
Anyone can be a number.
Run for your fucking life because you’re the only one who can.
And I humbly thank those few who saw through my successes and chose to appreciate that chaos, the only important thing I have ever chosen to be. For that, I cannot thank you enough, and your support will follow me to my grave.