Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why Monkey Hates Work

Monkey here today. Over the past few weeks, I've actually been having a bunch of what seem like emotional breakthroughs, so instead of try to be all preachy preachy, here's a look/call to arms about one of the things that I've been working on.

In order to get where I'm coming from, you'll need a bit of backstory.

Growing up, a lot of things came easily to me. This isn't just to brag, it's just how it was. I was home schooled until 4th grade, and when I entered public school, while I was really scared I'd be really behind the other kids, I found that I caught up and surpassed most of my classmates. On my first standardized test, I was in the 99th percentile for my age for most of the categories, and only in one subject was I below the 80th percentile. I was quickly pulled from my neighborhood school and put into a gifted program, where I continued to excel academically. To be perfectly honest, school was hella easy for me.

I know now how the school system in America biases certain intelligences and downplays others, and for whatever reason I was lucky to be gifted in the intelligences that schools promote. Thus, I coasted through elementary school, jr. high, and high school easily. Other students would study for a week for certain tests that I would study for the night before, and I'd still score higher. However, the ease at which academics came to me set me up for unrealistic expectations of myself.

When you get straight A's, constantly, there's not much higher you can go. Eventually my success in school became sort of business-as-usual, and my parents pretty much stopped checking my report cards after a while. High academic success was really just the normal routine.

At the same time, in junior high, I had friends who were even smarter than I was. They tried even less than I did, and would be the type to ace the SAT's on their first try. If I was above-average, they were genius-level.

Growing up in this environment did two things for me. First, it taught me that genius exists, and that I sort of was one, but not quite. Second, I was taught that the amount of work one puts into something is completely unrelated to your success.

Looking back, maybe the friends who were "smarter" than I was really just did a great job of hiding their studying. Maybe they were just naturally attuned to math and sciences. Who knows. Regardless, I've been living with an extremely high resistance to doing the work. As much as I talk about it here on the blog, it's mainly me trying to figure out my own head and to try new tactics that'll help me do my own work.

I just recently realized that the reason why I hate just sitting down and painting and would rather come up with some new complex money-generating plan is that my achievements for a good portion of my life had no correlation to the work I put into them. Things that came easily for me were celebrated, and when I tried really hard at something I wasn't naturally good at (something like, say, water polo), because the results weren't there, no one was there to celebrate my efforts.

Thus, every day I deal with a huge amount of guilt and self-hatred centered around my work. I compare myself to people who have been painting for 40 years, not other people who have been painting for 5. I compare my achievements to where I want to be when I'm 90, not to where I would want to be when I'm almost 30. Thus, the disparity of what I see when I finish a piece and what I want to see is like comparing a person who has never taken cooking lessons to a master chef (I do that comparison too).

When everything you do looks like a failure, you would want to run away too. Thus, the constant periods of facebook games, the busywork that should really wait until after the painting is done, the focus on business and marketing when I should really just be making more art. Sigh.

I hate doing the work, and often wish that everything was just handed to me. But I also know how hollow that feels, and really what I'm looking for is to be recognized for trying. Life is hard, and I, just like everyone, just wants to be recognized for what one was able to do. We're a generation that was told that we could do whatever we wanted if we put our minds to it, but we're graduating with huge piles of debt, are still lost at what we want in life, and are often set adrift in a less-than-ideal job hunting situation. No wonder so many of us are discouraged.

For me, figuring out the reason why I hate doing the work was really insightful, and doing things like recording all the stuff I do every day has really helped. As new-agey as it sounds (and probably is), repeating affirmations that "My work matters," has helped a lot as well. I still hate doing the work, but I'm finding that the pain that prevents me from actually creating something is slowly subsiding. I'm finding that I have more and more agency over when I do what (ie shut off the Facebook).

So whether you choose to do the scary thing of expose your own weird traumas and issues publicly like me, or choose to do the equally scary thing of confront your fears in the privacy of your own home/head, it really is something you need to do.

If you can relate at all to the feelings of regret, betrayal, loss, anger, and all the other crap that gets drudged up when you are trying to create, I can only urge you to bite your lip and plant your feet; look your fear in the eye, clench your fists and ask "why?" The answer might surprise you. And if you, like I did, feel guilty about your trauma (I didn't write about this for a long time since I thought people would think "oh, poor little smart boy is crying that he's not genius enough"), smash that thought. It's your life, and no one besides you has any right to tell you what is or isn't traumatic.

Take your life by the reigns and shake your fear until it's beady little eyes spin - you're not going to let it rule your life anymore, and this is your first step in taking back what is rightfully so. My work matters, and so does yours, and yours, and yours, and no one can stop us now.