positive insecurities

Yesterday my favourite newsletter writer came out with a banger piece. Somehow she always speaks to my soul so magically, with immaculate timing:

"I’ve had a lot of shame around the fact that my choices made no narrative sense. The things I have done—that I do—aren’t what you would do if you cared about self-preservation or even conventional success. But now I understand that they were the choices I needed to make to be happy. I’m practical, but I’m also knowledge-seeking, experience-seeking, interested in zeitgeists, obsessed with stories. When viewed through that lens, my choices make sense because they’re my choices. For so long I think I didn’t even really understand that was an acceptable lens. That you can do things that are right for you, and you don’t have to explain it to anyone, and it can still all work out."

I feel like I hopped over what people my age usually stress about and strive so hard to achieve: financial safety, job security, life stability. In my current situation, I have none of those things. In tandem, joining an unproven early-stage startup, trying to take comedy seriously, and roaming around the Middle East makes little narrative sense for a 25-year old boy who grew up on more conventional streets. People constantly bombard me with these questions, with mixed looks of surprise and admiration. Who the fuck in tech does comedy? What were the catalysts that made you decide to take on all this risk? How did it come to a point of trading the well-paved, defined roads for the twists & turns of the crazy unknown?

My path of introspection and exploration has opened up a more subtle, sinister gift: positive insecurities, the extent to which you are anxious about events and outcomes in life that are favourable (by most objective standards) on paper.

You give up a lot in the name of self-discovery. In comedy, one core component of scenework is called heightening — you make a choice or take a behaviour, and you expand & exaggerate it to new levels. I think I've always had this innate urge to heighten whatever my immediate goals were, and when I was young this motivation largely came from what I saw in others. Slowly I got more absorbed into the bubble of Other People, and lost the sense of self-trust I was nurturing.

I'm halfway through 25, which is a flabbergasting figure. I can't believe how much I've pushed my independence to the extreme. If my life is a rolling film, people might see this as a romantic tone in a story full of colour. Yet this is an example of positive insecurity: a complete sense of agency propels me forward, the same agency that seems to be a Sisyphean struggle for many. Most of us have to battle the status-seeking, validation-hungry creatures that lurk in our mental dungeons to unlock freedom. But if achieving agency is great, why do I still get the same feeling that I'm stuck, that I'm behind, that I'm missing out on a lot?

Don't get me wrong: playing this leapfrog game has its extreme upsides. You naturally build resistance to what other people are doing and saying because the degrees of separation from "regular life" are so wide. You see so many unique sights and sensations by being receptive to what the world offers you, whether this manifests as a spontaneous foray into a new country (Saudi Arabia!!), a randomly tender encounter (nomad-to-nomad action!), or an eyeopening new experience (Expo!!). You physically feel like you're free from the suffocating living environment that has gotten too stale and too predictable for your liking.

But behind the curtain that no one sees, I worry that I'm giving up the pleasant, simple things and that I won't know how to completely return to those joys. Being part of a stable community. Going to group exercise classes. Checking off obscure eateries in the city. I know that these thoughts are so irrational — as A says, you can do things that are right for you, and you don’t have to explain it to anyone, and it can still all work out. My gut reaction is that the real explanation which matters most is directed inwards: building strong conviction to move to a certain city in the short-term, to re-experience the simple things in a new way.

To others, my justification for my current lifestyle is that this is the perfect time for me to be jetting off, when the world is still recovering from virus troubles. That's true for sure, a logically sound argument. But I can also see the writing on the wall slowly trickling in like a budget scary movie: going to a new location temporarily will never “save” me. I eventually want to be anchored in one place, surrounded by creative people and ideas, so I can focus on my personal projects.

Why do I care so much about doing these projects that pull my attention in so many different directions? I'm an ultra-generalist by trade; a kaleidoscopic person as I call it. I'm a classic multi-hyphenate with lots of interests and curiosities. At the same time though, my life is so niche, which brings in its own share of fears. Who can I even relate to, or who can relate to me? This fear oozes into important aspects of my life: professionally, creatively, romantically. That's why I struggle to reach out to others, and that's why the best strategy so far has to been to cultivate a strong skillset of self-reliance. You know the drill after that: optimize, iterate, optimize.

So despite what the outside views and Instagram feeds suggest, it's not all glossy and dreamy on solo mountain. The world is naturally interconnected, designed as a multiplayer game. Multiplayer is motivating, multiplayer is energizing. When you're a high-energy person like me and you're deprived of that sensation for too long, you start craving and comparing as a coping mechanism. I have it good, but what does that life feel like again? It's like a primal instinct where we succumb to the vice grip of mimetic desire. Who you compare yourself to also scales proportionally to who you want to become.

Like an intense ping pong game, the iconic bell hooks reminds me what I can see at the cliff of solo mountain. A secret to knowing true love through solitude:

"Many of us seek community solely to escape the fear of being alone. Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape."

With these varied points of view on the docket, I'm left with one sober lesson: we owe it to ourselves to craft a single-player narrative that best echoes our truths. Yes, that means filtering out everything else that is not being fed by your mind, heart, and gut. Should I just give up the ghosts of trying to fit into a narrative that's not mine? Yeah, that sounds like a good plan.

After the dust settles, there's a silver lining: when I feel myself drifting from my purpose, swaying off balance, it's empowering to remind myself that I can just do things that feel right to me. No further analysis needed. Yes, and.

Published by Sam (samwong) 3 months ago on Friday the 4th of February 2022.

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