I guess feeling lonely is a by-product of my lifestyle.
My energy is nearly totally focused on improving my professional abilities. I think what I’m doing is noble. I think it’s a good use of time, I think it makes me a better person (on the whole, compared to the alternative), and it brings me the types of success I care about.
But it omits, at least at the current pace, some things that are important. Like spending time with friends, with no motive and no purpose. I get that feeling every time I spend time with my family. It’s a carefree, expectation-free feeling. I want nothing, and I don’t feel asked for anything except my time and my attention. And I’ll gladly give both of those.
The last couple months have been a drag. My energy levels are zapped almost always. I’m a zombie by 8pm most days and wake up in the morning feeling unrested. The grind pushes until Friday evening and then I expect myself to continue the pace but switch it up to cramming in personal and social activities that I’ve been putting off. This generally means drinking a lot. So then Saturday is an anxiety inducing hangover day OR it’s a hair of the dog kind of day which, in the moment, presents itself as a far more palatable option. Same decision comes on Sunday and I generally choose to be a good boy. So I slept less than perfectly Saturday night, haven’t worked out since Thursday, and am pretty much content to stay in bed all day Sunday too. But I know I ought to work out, go food shopping, experience something outside for the first time in 5 weeks, eat dinner with my parents, read, catch up on some work, watch football, and get a good night’s sleep, even though I woke up at 11am and need to be in bed by 9pm. So, I need to kill enough energy in 10 waking hours to comfortably sleep at 9.
And this is a pretty-much-every-weekend thing.
I could go away or travel for a weekend. But I don’t have much money. It’s largely spent on rent, gas, car payments, food, utilities, and other things. I spend relatively conservatively with a few exceptions. But the energy expended on traveling will likely end up making me exhausted on Sunday and I’ll have to jump quickly back into the grind on Monday.
The other thing is food. I get home most night’s at around 7pm. I shoot to be in bed by 9pm. I left for work at 6:45am after waking at 5:45am. I still need to eat and work out. Cooking will take an hour and the time at the gym is usually not overlapping with cooking time. So I have about two hours to do all that and traveling to the gym takes 20 minutes round trip. So I can work out for 20-30 minutes, then cook, then go straight to bed. No reading, no calling somebody to talk, no thinking, no resting. And this is every day. For months on end.
I feel that I’ve made impressive strides in my abilities to:
- Articulate my thoughts on a range of subjects, ranging from politics to finance to marketing to patient care in a medical setting and its requirements
- Lead a group of people by example
- Read the business properly and make decisions based on sometimes limited information
- Source together varying and disparate information to create a strong and balanced view of things
- Think critically and speak effectively
I feel this is a result of reading everything I can get my hands on – from MBA case study books, to Surgeon General’s reports on Addiction, to the biology and chemistry of the brain, to Chinese trade practices, to the history of the Russian Revolution, to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, to essays by Dr. Mark Epstein on the crossover between Eastern and Western approaches to psychology, or a novel on Middle America and its struggles. Writing all my thoughts down in whatever format I can is helpful, too. I feel proud of the progress that I’ve made, and I feel worldly and like I’m able to engage anyone on any topic. And this brings me confidence.
Yet in doing so, I leave little time for the small and ostensibly insignificant moments. I know that they’re not insignificant. I’m referring to time spent with my family, to time spent doing something selflessly for a friend, to going on a date with a girl I met out one time and taking a chance. These are all important things that have momentum just like the kinds of things I laid out above. What I struggle with is how to balance both. When I give slack on my personal development efforts, the long-term effect is a questioning of my long-term ability to succeed. A nagging and persistent fear of failure and anonymity in history is always there and goes dormant when I work my way to its silence. I can work to make it go away. But it requires my whole effort. And when I give back a little bit and balance things with the personal side, it plays with me and allows me to think it’s still in remission, then comes back in a big way. And then I feel insecure and dissatisfied and it can have violent repercussions on the relationships that I built as an offshoot of my previous personal development efforts. In other words, whatever relationships I built in trying to re-balance following an intense period of reading and writing are often scourged and violently thrown away as a symbol of lethargy or sloth. It’s fucked up, but it’s true.
Any slack I give up in my development efforts comes back to haunt me. For the last 4 to 5 years, I have consistently reverted to my comfort zone of building myself. I crawl back into myself, knowing deep down there’s much more for me to do. People on the outside – my parents and siblings often – say cliché things like, “just take some time for yourself,” or, “relax a little. It’s going to be OK.” For all I’ve got inside me, I wish that those words clicked. They never have, though. I immediately respect them as pieces of eternal wisdom, but scoff in the medium term at the virtues they try to push on me. There are things in my head that just don’t want to get out. A perpetually nagging sense of uselessness or worthlessness is always there. It’s incredibly potent and picks its spots like nothing else in my life – that is to say, perfectly.
From my vantage point, I’m no closer today to having these answers than I was two years ago. I said out loud the other day to my dad that being 24 isn’t easy. It’s a glorified time in life that old guys never shut up about. College was that way too. I never felt like college was a big party like everyone else seemed to. College was stressful as anything for me, but I felt like I came out the other side better for it. I feel that way now.
This doesn’t feel like a fun time to be alive or to be 24, all things considered. There are fun elements. The freedom is a virtue. But, at least to me, this is an incredibly challenging time in life. The marginal gains from effort at 24 are far greater than those at 35 – meaning that every bit of additional work I do to improve my lot today will pay far greater benefits per unit of energy expended today than it will in 11 years. That’s because, how I see it, they compound. So, I feel an enormous amount of pressure to continually build a strong foundation for myself. So much so, that I jeopardize my short-term happiness or contentedness. That’s sad.
I’ve come full circle on why I think I feel so hollow. A strong and consistent sacrifice of my time and almost all my energy goes to this concept of self-development. A penny today yields a dollar in 10 years. But a penny in 8 years yields 3 cents in 10 years. I don’t know what exactly I’m sacrificing toward. I can unmistakably say that I feel the benefits of my previous work and sacrifices and that’s incredibly rewarding. I’m proud of all I’ve done and become. The long-term vision, however, is hazy and ephemeral. I know it’s a good place, but I cannot identify or visualize it. I have tried.
I wonder how I may better balance these things that I know to be critical.
They’re all just words to me – mission statements, plans of action, to-do lists. They all mean nothing and I’m beginning to feel a sense of emptiness. I can’t tell if this is a trough, the dark before the dawn, or if I’m in a bad place and need help getting out. I know that I’m tired and not all that happy and lonely and I just want 1,000 good nights’ sleep and someone.