So Let it be Written, So Let it be Done!

January 17, 2008

Ramblings of a Distracted Mind

It’s 2:28am EST and I’ve just send a 4 msg long text to a friend of mine. Part of what prompted this is I just finished reading the book The Game by Neil Strauss aka Style. Style is/was a pickup artist who found that the game can suck you into it and take away what you find enjoyable in life. I’m not saying that I’ve gotten so deep into that culture (far from it) that it is affecting my life but as I read the book, I could see how seductive that kind of life is. I’ll admit that I’ve been reading and practicing some tactics as part of my efforts to remake myself into a more sociable person but as I neared the end of the book, I started to wonder if it was serving as a proxy for me to deal with more underlying issues. I’ve also spent money that I didn’t need to spend and plan on spending more on items for my car. While I like the car and the status it gives me, I’m not the sort of person that necessarily needs flash and flare – or at least, I wasn’t a couple years ago. I’m starting to wonder whether I really want those things because I really like them, or if they’re just a temporary obsession to divert my mind from taking on it’s true task.

I’m now a PhD student. However, I’m currently lacking in motivation. Luckily, I’ve learned the lesson of the importance of doing well in school or work, so I’ll be forcing myself to read, study, do problems – both assigned and unassigned, both graded and ungraded, though at the moment, I don’t feel any zest for learning. In fact, I don’t feel any zest for anything really. I think that’s what’s attracting me to “cool” stuff. Spending money is serving as a means to energize me, albeit temporarily. The problem is I don’t have enough money to keep this up forever or even more than a couple months. I need to find a solution fast, or put my money into instruments that make it hard for me to take it out, like 3 month CDs. That way, I’ll buy myself time to think and sort out my life. Then I can decide whether I really want the stuff.

So, back to the topic, motivation. I’m not sure when I lost it. I think it was during the quarter after I’d started in earnest on work for my Masters’. That was my worst quarter academically in my undergrad. While I was able to focus effort on my thesis, I still barely managed to pass that class. I think I understood the major concepts in the class. Certainly, it was not harder than anything else I’d studied. However, I just lacked whatever fire that motivated me in my first year to spend four to six hours twice a week doing Calc IV homework. I used to read my textbooks for FUN. For FUN. I’m not sure how this compares to other PhD students – I think I need to actively meet some and spend time talking to them, but this was reality for me. Now, I’ve not really read much of any text, other than material for a class I convinced a prof to allow me to take. But I wonder about my plan to stay afloat and human motivation. Will forcing myself into doing my work turn into its own motivation? If so, then a couple months or years from now, I could find myself realizing that the only reason I’m still in the program is because I forced myself to stay. That in making myself go through the motions of academic success, I imposed an artificial motivation on myself. I wonder if I’m explaining this accurately, that I’m afraid of creating enough motivation in myself to do work now for the sake of working and doing great and not because I actually want to do this. That I can convince myself so well that working is the right thing to do, that it will make me happy until the discontinuity between that and my unconscious becomes too great to suppress and I’m back in this position.

Before sending the text messages, I’d initially considered calling a couple friends of mine whom I think would be best to talk to. My dad is another choice, though less appealing – not because I don’t like talking to him, but because my reasons for not calling my friends are even more amplified where it comes to my dad. I’m afraid of seeming weak. I’m afraid of admitting that I’ve gone through a significant period of time where yes, I may have accomplished some good things, but ultimately, it feels without substance because I did them without any real direction or ambition. I’m afraid to admit to my best friend who I think looks up to me as much as I do to him, that I’m just going through the motions in life. That I’ve been motivated not by a desire to accomplish anything but rather by a desire not to let people down. I guess I feel like a fraud. Like I’ve been deceiving everyone around me. Pretending to be a good engineer, a good student, a good friend, a good son, when really, I’m just being who they want me to be as a reflection of their wants, expectations, and conceptions of me, rather than my wants, expectations, and conceptions of myself.

Academically, I’m starting to think it is possible I’ve learned nothing since that class. That is not quite true since I learned stuff in the class I took in Tallahassee. However, for that, I had motivation to succeed. I needed a good grade to complete my degree. I had a friend I wanted to impress and help pass the class. During that time in Tallahassee, I’d had some motivation to work well. I did well at my job. I studied for class. I worked on my robot on my own time. Now, I feel like I’m lost. Perhaps I’ve just been awake too long. Maybe I’m projecting my worries of being a relatively poor graduate student and facing the necessity of being very cost conscious over the next few months onto other things. After all, I’ve had what I guess could be termed fugues or panic attacks before. Though this time it is a little different. In the past, I’d be depressed about my performance in school or work or motivation about getting things done in life. This time, my problem is not so much with my past but my present. Perhaps it is a good sign. That my emotional down times are migrating towards dealing with problems in my present, rather than rehashing things I can no longer change.

Going through the motions, following a script, are methods to condition oneself to doing something. With time, they become a part of you as you internalize the general algorithm or methodology and make it your own, or add your own little touch. This has happened when I sold knives for Cutco, when I called alumni to raise money for school, when I started building and coding robots, and the jobs that I’ve done. It seems silly to worry about falling into a routine of doing class work, conducting research, reading, when internalizing those behaviors will yield to good things for me. I don’t know why I’m now scared that I could be slowly boxing myself in. I’m here because I chose to apply to grad schools. I chose this life a while ago. I did it for good reasons. Whether I can think of them now is irrelevant. Unless I have compelling reason to do something else, I will continue along this path and make sure I don’t screw anything up in case some time in the future, I finally figure out why I’m doing this and return to my senses. Perhaps I’ll spend that money. Until I enjoy studying and working for the sake of doing so or because it furthers my own ambition, I’m going to need things that can provide me with enough excitement or “wow, that’s cool” to help keep me sane. Then maybe six months from now, I can write a post where I’m happy with the progress I’ve made in my program, but depressed over the stupid spending on stuff that I did now.

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