The Stupid Little Things that Define Us

Work ???
Another 37, Day 23

Everything felt fantastic. Everything was fantastic. For the last few months work was a struggle. I didn’t want to go, I called out sick far too often because I knew I could get away with it. My stats suffered. What did I care? I had no motivation, and they were still better than most of my coworkers stats. Then everything changed. Something in me clicked as I sat in bed one evening bemoaning the fact that I had to leave for another day of drudgery in just a few hours.

Just own it, I said to myself. You can look for another job, you can do something else. But until you do, just bloody own it.

I told myself that before. Of course I had. But in that moment my brain was listening. My neurological state was exactly right. I still woke up groggy and distracted the next day, with a passionate desire to flop right back into bed. But I made myself go in and I threw myself into the work. I stepped up. I didn’t let the moments drag from one miserable phone call to another. I applied myself, and everything started to get better.

For the last few weeks I’ve been almost enjoying my crappy job. And I’ve suddenly gotten very, very good at it. We can get up to three customer satisfaction surveys in a given day, and after that they won’t generate. I’ve been getting all of my surveys in the first three hours of work, and all of them positive. All of them glowing. My stats have skyrocketed, and yesterday I walked out of my job feeling fantastic about it, about life, about the universe.

That was yesterday. Today was very, very different. I could tell straight away that I just wasn’t feeling it. That spark wasn’t there. “It’s fine,” I told myself. “It’ll come.” But it didn’t. I had a headache, and felt generally groggy and unmotivated. Maybe I’m sick, and maybe I’m not. But ultimately it doesn’t matter. Even if I am sick, I’ve been to this place before. Full of vigor and motivation and passion, only to see it fade into a grimy haze of anxiety and laziness.

It’s been the story of my life, and it’s the deepest reason that I’ve never stuck to anything long enough to get really good at it. Because no matter how powerful I feel during my up phase, there has always come a time when I will stop caring. And that’s the key. You might be able to choose to work harder, to fight against laziness and temptation. But you can’t choose to want to do these things. You can’t choose to care. That’s why depression is so dangerous. It’s an old maxim that you can’t help someone change unless they want to change. And you can’t want to change unless you want to change.

I am not remotely alone. In fact, I think this might be the biggest factor when it comes to a successful life. Not my precise cycle, or my precise symptoms. But a variety of factors that fall into the same basic categories. When it comes right down to it, some people can make themselves do things they don’t want to do, and some people can’t. That might sound like a cop out, but frankly if you think that you are one of two types: either you are an idealist, or you have never, or very rarely, experienced the prolonged state of zero motivation. The temptation to just give up and do nothing, or distract yourself, that was undeniably stronger than your ability to overcome it.

When it comes down to it, I really am an idealist. I fully believe in the power of an individual to change her circumstances. But it takes a lot more than the desire to do it. It also takes the precursor to that desire. Maybe you can choose to fight against temptation and get up and exercise in the morning. But you can’t choose to have the strength, in that moment, to make the right choose.

Just like you might want to lift a heavy weight off of a trapped friend, but you can’t choose whether or not your muscles have that capacity. Some people can do it because they are naturally strong, or because they’ve worked out for years in preparation for this moment. Sometimes people can do it because, when it counts, adrenaline kicks in and gives them a burst of strength they wouldn’t normally have.

Motivation works the same way. It happened to me a few weeks ago. I sat in bed, whining inside my head, exactly like I had every night for months. But that night something was different. My broad view of the situation hadn’t changed. My abstract desires were no different. But in that moment the conditions were just right. Maybe it’s because the weather has been getting nicer. Maybe it’s because I recently gave up coffee in the mornings and I’m not feeling so shagged out. Maybe it’s because I had gotten a little more sleep than usual the night before. I don’t know, but it was something. Something I could never predict or control or choose. If I get any credit at all, it’s for taking advantage of it when I saw it.

But I’ve spent months without ever feeling that. Without ever being able to make myself care, or to make myself overcome the lethargy and anxiety that clung to my skin like an oily blanket. During those months I wanted to care. I wanted to change, to step up and take control of myself. I wanted it the way an ambitious business man wants more clients, or an aspiring actor wants more parts. But I couldn’t grab it, because at every moment of decision I couldn’t make myself care. Just like, for those people who achieve greatness, in those moments they can’t make themselves not care.

You can’t change your mental state just because you want to. I keep trying, and maybe some day I’ll elevate my state in a lasting and meaningful way. I believe it’s possible. Because despite the dour tone of this post I’m an optimist. And because research shows that believing it is true makes it more likely to be so for you. But I can’t know for sure. No one can. Today I felt crappy, and so I couldn’t reach in and ignite that spark. Maybe tomorrow will be better. If I see even the tiniest flame I will kindle it. But it’s impossible to light a fire when you have no combustibles. And it’s impossible to be other than what you are.

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