Know thyself

Every now and then, I feel either forced or compelled to take a look at myself and do something that is akin to taking an inventory of my life so far–not so much an inventory of accomplishments versus setbacks, but moreso an inventory of my feelings and how they have shifted over time, and considering what that leaves me to work with in the present. A sort of “Who am I now?” type of thing. Major life changes and events almost always spur these periods of reflection, but because a lot of them are invisible to other people, I rely on my own, often flawed ability to engage in introspection (which hopefully improves over time, but which I suspect just gets more confused or complicated as time goes on).

After my first boyfriend broke up with me, I had a rough time for a while. I was prescribed medication to help me deal with an anxiety disorder that I didn’t realize was a problem I perhaps had been experiencing for a long time. If I had taken an “inventory” of my life at that time, which I’m sure I did in some kind of sick, desperate way, it would have involved me accepting this new information about myself and trying to figure out how it fits into my life overall. New information gained can sometimes lead to one reframing one’s past experiences and developing a deeper understanding of Why this person came to arrive at this point in the present time.

To put it simply, a psychiatrist told me I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I realized that beginning in childhood I’d often made myself physically ill (always stomach aches) from worry and manufactured distress over any possible thing I could think to worry about. So while I was addressing my anxiety problem in the present, I was also reflecting on the innumerable sources of my anxiety throughout my entire past. Being able to put a name to a problem can give one a sense of power over it–the first step to addressing a problem is to acknowledge that it exists. But I began to hate that part of myself once the novelty of learning this new thing wore off. I also think time and age played a role in lessening its impact on my life.

The faculties I had at the time for dealing with the sources of my anxiety were underdeveloped to begin with. Seemingly small things looked like potential catastrophes because I always anticipated the worst possible outcome in any difficult situation. Further experience has shown me that each of these “catastrophes” would have required additional disastrous elements to come into play in order to develop into the life-destroying force I was imagining prematurely.

These days, it’s often difficult to put myself back into the frame of mind I had at times when I incorrectly thought my life was falling apart. It’s not that I don’t “recognize” my past self, because I can still imagine the emotional pain and what it was like to go through it. The difference is that I see that pain as self-inflicted rather than as a manifestation of my outward problems (with my boyfriend, school, work, etc). I caused my own pain most of the time. I only had to use my own bad thoughts to magnify any real pain a hundredfold and turn it into pain that was too big to comprehend and deal with effectively.

Pause for a second. I’ve already gotten off track. The text above is only included because I required an example from my real life in order to gracefully approach the subject of my efforts to understand myself better.

I understand that I do not understand myself. I have lost a lot of the clarity of mind that I had as a younger person. I understood what I liked, I understood my goals, and I did not question as much my relationship to other people and the world. Even though I was a weird kid and struggled socially at times, I still had a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities. I would dream without limits. I had massive, unreasonable expectations for my future.

Now I’m 31, and with three additional zeroes you get somewhere close to my annual pay (before taxes) at a job in a field that I either detest or tolerate, depending on my mood.

I bring up my pay only because I think I’ve internalized this number to the point where I do consider it my true worth. I applied for a few jobs recently, and nothing came of it. I always look for jobs in the $30,000 range because I’m unskilled and that’s what I make currently. The thought of applying to a job that pays $40,000 annually and getting it has become more and more unbelievable as the years go by, and I can’t remember the last time I applied for a job that would actually increase my earnings rather than simply maintain them.

Out of the blue, the business that I was working for in an on-call capacity contacted me to ask if I would be interested in submitting my application for a full-time position. I had two interviews this time around. I thought both went pretty well, especially compared to others, at other places, that upon reflection make me want to die of embarrassment. At the end of the second interview, I made a big personal leap for myself (in regard to assertiveness) by asking about the details of their benefits package and healthcare plan. I did not receive the response I was hoping for, because after mentally crunching the numbers, I realized I would be shorting myself about $3,000 annually at the absolute least due to the monthly cost of the premiums offered.

To put it simply, my current job that I felt like I had to desperately escape from or risk dying of disappointment in myself actually has really great healthcare coverage and is as cheap as you can imagine if you participate in the company’s Wellness program. I knew all of this, but I didn’t know just how bad it could be at other jobs, so I had nothing to compare it to in my own experience.

A lot of folks stay working here because of the healthcare.

That is not the worst reason ever to stay in a job.

I also tried reminding myself of all the people I would miss if I left. I was being very cavalier about the possibility of leaving a job in which I get to work with my own fiancĂ© on a regular basis. And that part is so great that I wonder how I could ever have been considering leaving just because a few people here are very hard to deal with. I should leave if I find a better job, yes. I haven’t found that job yet, and that’s okay for now, because the alternative I have found is astoundingly bad.

I’m not about to dive into a stream of inspirational B.S. in which I tell myself that where I am in life is Totally Okay. I’m not okay with it, and I don’t think that’s just the depression talking. I’m not okay with it because I’ve known for a while that the “career” aspect of my life went off the rails somewhere along the way and I’ve never been able to correct it. I’ve always felt tremendous pressure to excel in that aspect of life. My sense of identity is tied up tightly with what I’m doing in my life at a given time. As a student, my identity and sense of purpose was clear. I knew how to perform well and how to produce good work. My confidence reached its peak in college, and has gradually decreased in the years since. Looking back, I find it funny that my sense of self-worth could ever have been that high at a time when I was so stupid–so mentally and emotionally stupid.

I think it was at some point in my later teenaged years that my brother wanted all of us siblings to take the Myers-Briggs test and compare results. We were on vacation at the time and someone had brought a laptop along–we had a lot of fun because like many siblings, our differences and similarities have always been an intriguing subject (one of course that is patently uninteresting to anyone not directly involved). I remember my result because it’s the most absurd example of wishful thinking I have from that time: INTJ, “The Mastermind.”

Now, my brother–the one who initiated the test-taking–is a much more likely candidate for the INTJ label (though I feel like he very easily vacillates between introversion and extroversion and would be a difficult person to “type” correctly). Me ending up with that result is more a result of delusion than good-faith test-taking. It rang true enough for the time, though, and more importantly, it sounded like what I wanted to be. I guess it made some sort of impact on me, because I remembered the result for quite some time afterward despite never being fully indoctrinated into the MBTI cult (and I say that with affection!) and not really understanding the meaning of any of the letters following “I.” I can’t look past I–how apt.

Years later, at a now-former job, a conversation about the MBTI came up (the first time ever since my initial test-taking) and I was shocked when a person who I always felt a deep disconnection with (by that I mean: their behaviors and ways of thinking were so incompatible with my own that I found them to be disturbing) told us that she typed as an INTJ. I did not immediately go back and retake the test. I just figured there must be quite a difference even among folks of matching MBTI types, and went on my merry way.

Then I think another few years passed, and I must have been reading something about INTJs when it clicked that I wasn’t finding any true reflection of myself in the description I was reading. I retook the test. INFJ. And damn did I spiral downward for a bit because it can be very uncomfortable for me when I’m faced with a reflection of myself that isn’t just the wishful-thinking version of who I am. I was never so deluded as to think I could ever type as an E rather than an I, so the INTJ mistype was a sufficient substitute and further reinforced my shameful desire to see my specialness (such a rare type for a woman!) and difference (look at all these geniuses who are INTJs!) codified in some way.

Now that I want nothing to do with the World of Men, losing the INTJ label didn’t hit as hard as it might have had I typed differently much earlier. Gaining the INFJ label was more of a struggle. One can only be confronted so many times with detailed explanations of one’s most deeply-guarded vulnerabilities and poorly-concealed flaws before one feels that one may go insane. But on occasion I would find something that was actually comforting in its precise portraiture of the INFJ type. The first of these was this list found at Introvert, Dear (and penned by its founder, Jenn Granneman). By the end of it, I thought maybe at some point I had blacked out and written it myself in an act of hyper-focused introspection resulting in a true understanding of myself for once in my life.

The list attempts and thoroughly succeeds at detailing twelve distinct things that an INFJ type needs in order to be happy, and in a moment of remarkable insight, the author has chosen to place in the #1 spot the very thing whose noted absence in my life is the surest sign that I’m currently (current to the time) struggling inwardly: “A sense of purpose.”

Now that I’ve reached this point in my post, I’m going to finish up and return to the MBTI subject in a different post. Even though I don’t mind writing lengthy posts, I feel like people mind reading them, and therefore choose not to continue when faced with too many words and not enough pictures. There have been times when I’ve thought, “Maybe I should add a funny image right here to break up this wall of text,” but in an effort to follow my heart I usually choose not to add images unless they express what I cannot. I don’t need to apologize or make concessions for a long post. I also absolutely, positively loathe the trend of inserting images and animated gifs into a text just to keep some imaginary reader’s attention. This is why I avoid the review platform on Goodreads–it’s abhorrent to me and I feel like it discourages thoughtful reflection and analysis in favor of a Buzzfeed-style “hot take” of stupid quips and reactions culled only from media that has been given the stamp of approval from the culture-averse philistine. And already I’m thinking, “Wow, too harsh, tone it down,” because I’m worried that I might hurt someone’s feelings. But I remind myself that the reason I started this blog was to be able to scream into the void. I would never in a million years talk to anyone in this way, but I must be true to the worst parts of myself in this format at the very least. To be continued.

Achievements of another kind

Why is the bathroom shower one of the best places to do some thinking?

It’s not as if you get into the shower with a plan in mind to do some thinking. In that way, it’s totally unlike the spaces we create which are intended for productivity–an office at work, a desk at home. I’ve talked before about the importance of rituals, and the mindless ritual of showering lends itself well to facilitating more abstract thought processes. When I was in art school, I had two places where my abstract thought went into overdrive: the shower, and in bed right before falling asleep.

I didn’t make any big breakthroughs in the shower today, but I did feel like my thoughts during that time were the good kind that put me in the right frame of mind to go to work and try to make the best of the day. I contrast that with the times I’ve been assailed by bad thoughts that seem like they’re out of my control. I want to clarify that I do believe that our thoughts are usually well within our control, and our bad thoughts only tend to get out of hand and “beyond our control” when anxiety enters the picture.

Today in the shower I was thinking about how my perspective on “personal accomplishments” has changed over time. It has been a gradual change. The change hasn’t been drastic, either. I haven’t totally redefined what personal accomplishment looks like for me. I do think the change has been significant enough, though, that if I write about it here it’s possible that someone could find it helpful.


As a kid, I would have defined an accomplishment as having won something. Accomplishment = winning. Did I win something? If I didn’t, then no accomplishment took place. No achievement was made.

Awards weren’t the only way to win, though they were still the best type of accomplishment to make. An award is concrete proof that you are the best. The bigger the pool of candidates and the more prestigious the award, the more significant that award became and the more it helped to bolster my ego.

I was very preoccupied with winning awards in my three main areas of interest: sports, art, and academics.

And I did. I won a lot of awards. I didn’t win all of them though, so I was still a failure. A winner would have won every time.

I look back on that kid and I know that kid was too hard on herself. Today I realize that my problems with anxiety were taking root back then. I was the kid who would silently cry at her desk if my test score came back and I only received 98 points out of 100. I had to be perfect. I often went home from school with “stomach aches.” Looking back, these stomach aches were just the physical manifestation of my psychological issues. I didn’t make a connection between the two until a little later. I knew by Grade 8 that my excessive worrying was causing me to feel sick a lot. I wasn’t aware of any possible solution to that problem.

In Grade 8 we used to write daily journal entries in response to a topic selected by our homeroom teacher. Out of many journal entries, I only remember a few of them clearly. One question asked what our greatest wish was. My response at the time was that I wished I wouldn’t worry so much, followed by a couple elaborating paragraphs to fill the space left on the page. My teacher approached me about it afterward. She said she thought it was a wise response. I felt a sense of accomplishment from that, as if I’d won my teacher’s approval in some way. At the same time, that journal entry was a cry for help of sorts. I didn’t write it to impress my teacher, unlike many other things I did with the intention of impressing people. Because of the response I received, my screwed-up brain turned it into just another thing I used to bolster my pride.


The great thing about adulthood, so far, is that the awards are few and far between. A kid who has been accustomed to receiving awards in competitive settings has to wean themselves off of that feeling. At first, we find different ways by which to judge our own worth. Maybe we get accepted into the school of our choice. When it comes time to apply for our first “real job”, a feeling of accomplishment can arise if we are chosen for a position out of a large pool of potential candidates.

I haven’t gotten there yet. It’s something I’ve spent most of the last decade beating myself up about. My inability to secure a job in my field still weighs on my mind–even after the realization hit that I don’t really want to be in “my field” anymore.

Getting a job–the kind of job you go to school for–is just one achievement I wanted to have under my belt by this time in my life. Most chances at an “entry level” job in my field have passed me by. I’m not a recent graduate anymore. I’m not even in my twenties anymore. My resume is a cornucopia of unrelated, unskilled part-time jobs that would impress no one.

If I don’t achieve my dream of getting a job, what else is there?

As it turns out, I have plenty of other options–other ways to keep “achieving.”

I have had to redefine what that means for me.

One time at work, I overheard someone refer to me as a “nice person.” I don’t think I’d ever gotten such a HIGH off of being called nice before. Why? Because it doesn’t happen that often. I have spent a lot of time in my life being a jerk to people. I experienced a series of “rude awakenings” that all culminated in me realizing I’d been acting in a way that was contrary to how I believed I was acting.

These days, it’s an accomplishment to be viewed as being a kind person.

But a truly kind person would not be kind to others just to out-do other people who are also being kind.

If you decide you want to follow the path of kindness, you have to change something about the way you see other people. This is where my faith has helped me. My faith tells me that we are all children of God. We all have an intrinsic value, no matter what our actions might indicate. Even the worst, most undeserving people are included under the banner of “God’s children.”


Practicing kindness began with practicing patience.

I used to have zero patience. Now I have a lot of it. Now, I get taken advantage of more often. Part of having patience is opening yourself up to the possibility of being taken advantage of. No one wants to be a sucker. No one wants to be seen as naive. No one wants to have one of their virtues used against them.

But having patience allows us to do something that I see as a kind act: to withhold judgment.

As a teenager, I was very into myself and my own interests. I often looked down on people who didn’t share my specific views or tastes. I was quick to judge others and made no reservations about letting my opinion be known. Do you ever meet people who talk more about the things they hate than the things they enjoy? Do you ever get the impression that they experience a kind of joy when they discover yet another thing to dislike? It’s really obnoxious, but that’s how I think of myself at that age. And I know many people who are still stuck there, even as grown adults.

Practicing patience has allowed me to get to know people for who they really are. I don’t put a person on a pedestal just because we might have some superficial tastes in common. When I’ve done that in the past, it has led to me ignoring some of the more unsavory aspects of that person’s personality. Because at least we like the same music and can commiserate about our shared views on politics! Right? Gross.

I feel secure enough today in who I am that I don’t look for other people’s approval. My views are my own.

And I don’t feel compelled to inflict my views on other people. Here’s a scenario: You’re taking your lunch at work in the communal break room. A few people at your table are having an enthusiastic discussion about something they all enjoy. You very much do not enjoy that thing. In what way do you contribute to that conversation?

If the answer is something other than “listening politely,” we’ve got problems.

Have patience with people. Your opinion–my opinion–is not so important that you must take it upon yourself to ruin a pleasant conversation.

A while back I had to listen to my supervisor run down a much younger coworker–to his face–simply because this young man enjoyed the show The Big Bang Theory.

Is there anything more pathetic than an almost 40-year-old taking such offense at the TV-watching preferences of his younger subordinate to the point where he feels compelled to get into a heated discussion about it, the purpose of which was to convince this younger person that he shouldn’t enjoy a show that he currently enjoys?

I don’t know what he hoped to accomplish. Using your TV-watching preferences to demonstrate your superiority over another person is sad. It’s television. It’s all meant to be easily digestible in a 30-minute or hour-long format. I don’t care if it’s Game of Thrones or Peppa Pig–you sit there passively and watch it according to your interests and tastes. I don’t understand what there is to feel superior about.

And when someone is open about the things they enjoy, your first instinct should not be to run that thing down–I don’t care how much you dislike it. You’re being a jerk to someone who apparently made the mistake of showing enthusiasm around the wrong person. That wrong person is you.

Do you want to be the type of person who no one can be honest with? Because they fear your judgment, I mean. How’s that working out for you?

When I started to shut up and listen to people better, people started talking to me more. They know I won’t mock or ridicule them for something of no consequence.

I feel good about my newfound ability to shut my stupid face hole. It’s been a major accomplishment I’ve made as an adult and it’s helping me on my quest toward kindness.

Another thing I stopped doing: nitpicking the people who I’m supposed to love the most. The individuals on the receiving end of this nitpickery were most often my boyfriend and my brothers.

There was a time when everything annoyed me. I had no reservations about expressing my annoyance. Little brother cracking his knuckles? I would have lost my freaking mind. But it doesn’t bother me to that degree anymore. It bothers me so little, that I don’t comment on it. And I’m not just seething with anger, either. It’s just not a big deal. He doesn’t crack his knuckles to annoy me. He does it because it’s a habit he developed, and that’s it. I’m trying not to take things like that personally. It has nothing to do with me and it’s not meant to annoy me.

He is a very fidgety, anxious person at times. Sometimes when we’re sitting on a couch together, or eating lunch at a restaurant, his foot tapping is enough to make everything start shaking. I used to snap at him about this. I’ve stopped commenting on it altogether.

I try to look away when someone chews with their mouth open.

If someone is having a loud conversation via speakerphone, I quietly leave the area if it’s bothering me so much.

People don’t do these things to annoy me, so taking it personally would be a waste of energy and a totally misplaced reaction on my part.


Perhaps if I’d been given my dream job right out of school, or had other desires of mine easily fulfilled, I would not have seen any reason to change anything about myself. Sometimes when you get everything you want in life, you unconsciously see that as an affirmation of sorts. Just keep doing what you’re doing! Why change when being a jerk didn’t have any negative consequences?

But even if you’re a successful jerk, there’s a pretty good chance that if you look at the people surrounding you–especially people on a lower rung of the ladder, or perhaps your friends and family who’ve provided you with support along the way–you might find a lot of people who were inadvertently hurt or taken advantage of because of your ambitions.

It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in life–there is absolutely nothing that should preclude you from practicing kindness.

It’s something we can achieve as individuals as well as collectively in our social groups. Why wouldn’t you make that choice? Kindness is not a competition, but we can certainly achieve it. And unlike most other awards and honors, we can make achievements in kindness without limit–starting now, and until the day we die. The possibility is there.