I am a person with the best kind of problem. The kind of problem you can’t complain about because you sound like an asshole, and which I don’t often discuss, because everyone would tell me to Fuck Off (I would respond in the same way if the tables were turned.)
I lack direction. This is perhaps unexpected because I am also a compulsive planner, laden with to do lists and productivity apps and Excel sheets which compartmentalise my time and bookmarked folders of grad schools and internships and a myriad of career prospects. I lack direction because I am good at things. I don’t say it in a narcissistic way (I hope), just in a I-have-been-successful-in-many-endeavours kind of way.
There are explanations for this. Firstly, I am blessed with a great memory for facts and concepts, which means I test well in an educational system that praises the regurgitation of information. I do well in academics, which is augmented by the fact that I like to learn, and also that I am the black and white perfectionist type that does all the readings, rather than just some of the readings. Which feeds into my second point: I have a compulsive need to be right. This is also a huge and glaring flaw of mine which annoys both me and my contemporaries. I read and research and argue and debate and read some more. Thirdly, which adds to the first two: I don’t do things at which I know I will fail. My spatial awareness is awful. I can’t tell left from right, and in all sports, the ball (or puck or whatever) is going to hit me in the face. So I have avoided team sports like the plague since PE class. I don’t get into debates about subjects about which I am not well informed, because there is little point bullshitting with people who know what they’re talking about. All this leaves me with a low failure rate, making my stats of success great. Finally, I’m not a prodigy in anything, I just range somewhere on the scale from adequate to highly competent in my common activities. Why am I extensively relaying all of this? Partly because there have been a lot of “kate stewart limerick” searches lately, so someone is clearly curious. Mostly to link back to this concept of direction.
I’m reading Sylvia Plath’s journals at the moment and she writes about a similar feeling (which is very Esther Greenwood in the opening chapters of the Bell Jar.) A feeling of deflation in spite of academic (and other) success. A niggling that none of these amount to anything when faced with the responsibility of the Real World. A pervasive sense of indecision around which avenue or interest will steer one’s career and direction and life. A disorientation around determining a new plan when the original plan becomes untenable.
It is relatively easy to write a list of things which interest me and at which I could probably be competent. Public health, community advocacy, politics, writing, theology, social justice, development, music. All things I equally love and have passion for, and (you might notice) have career paths which are not necessarily stable/profitable. But all things that, once in a while, have a positive impact on society. And therein is the issue.
I am not sure where it came from, but like Sylvia Plath, I can’t seem to shake this obsession with impact. It is repugnant to me that I could have the ability to do something in a world as unjust and horrifying as ours, and not do it. But what is my ability? What have I to contribute? There are some things, that once you see, you cannot unsee. I sometimes miss the days of blissful ignorance, but as I was once reminded, “Narrow is the gate that leads to life.” And this confusion, this uncertainty, this pulling of one’s attention in a dozen different directions, leads to a stationery stillness which is more akin to the advance of equal and opposite forces than it is to inactivity. This stillness uses up a wealth of energy, with little to show for it, and leaves me thoroughly exhausted. As fatigue goes up, motivation goes down, and the consequences of any move in any direction seems overwhelming. Anything less than 100% perfect hardly seems worth doing, so you find yourself caught in the throes of apathy lest you fail.
At this point, it’s important to count the little victories. I send emails I need to send, I keep my journal, I go to every appointment, I read my books, and I wrote two blogs in one week, which is better than I can say for all of last semester. Someone is googling me, which is always flattering (or tremendously creepy.) A definite lack of direction, but not a wholly unsuccessful day.