Current status: sitting on my brother’s old couch, now located on my balcony in Portland. I can see an ugly, dirty beige, wood wall, a bunch of leafy trees, a parking lot, and a maintenance guy with a leaf blower strapped to his back. I’m very, very angry about that last part and I don’t know why.
While I understand that stuff grows a ton here, is it really necessary to clean the sidewalks daily? MUST the bushes be trimmed twice a week? Why in the hell is the parking lot blown clean? Who cares? I know the answers to none of these things, yet I can’t stop contemplating them. I expected…something different than what I have here in Portland, but I still don’t know exactly what that is.
To make it worse, I’m almost embarrassed to write. Just before I left AZ almost two years ago, I took some advice and scrubbed my blog of everything I wasn’t completely proud of. Years of posts and memories were flushed into bits. While I think this made it a bit easier for potential clients to see my portfolio, I still feel like I cut out something that was part of me.
After doing that, writing became and still is hard. I’m worried that what I write isn’t good enough to drive traffic, I worry that someone will see a post for a client, connect me to it, and then think my client sucks. I worry that I’ll never finish anything I start because I’m always worried that it’s not very good.
Traditional advice would tell me that it’s time to face that fear, that it’s time to stop worrying about what others think and delve into whatever I want to be doing. To that, I say: I tried that. I tried very hard to do that and the innumerable arguments (both on and offline) led to a pariah-like status in my old city. While moving to Portland has somewhat erased any sort of local industry dislike of me, it has done nothing to restore my confidence nor has it helped me regain my ability to act despite disapproval.
And I’m miserable for it. As a way of compensating, I’ve tried volunteering. Conferences, small events, even a co-work space have all received my (mostly) free help, all in an effort to fill a void in myself that I just can’t shake. None of them have helped, though they have taught me that far too many people only care about how they think they look to others, not the job or the people they’re trying to help.
Yes, I’ve tried reading. While I used to be a voracious long-form reader as a kid, my tastes lately lean towards the poisonous combination of sites like Gawker, Salon and Slate. Try as I might, nothing but bad things happen in my head after I read those sorts of sites. They are intellectually ugly, made worse by the fact that they need to chase page views to stay profitable.
Books are better. My latest, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday, presents a modern take on Stoicism, and outlines a handful of philosophical books that can help those interested understand more. The premise of the book is that obstacles in life aren’t really obstacles, they’re part of the journey, and can be used to learn skills we may not have known we needed. It’s a great book and I recommend both it and the list of materials Holiday provides.
Sadly, the book didn’t solve my problem, as I’m having a tough time figuring out what in the the hell I’m supposed to be learning. For every time I make a mistake in not explaining a instructions to a fellow volunteer, I deal with an email chain with people chiming in to talk about stuff they were supposed to do but couldn’t for one of a thousand preventable reasons. I want to understand why people do this, but that’s just not possible for me.
I’m at an impasse, but at least I’m somewhere different than yesterday. I guess that all we can hope for, right?