This past weekend, I got a real good look at my greatest enemy.
It started Friday morning–before that, actually. I had started on my Toastmasters speech a week ago. For some reason, though, my practice kept falling apart. I simultaneously approached and avoided the speech all Thursday afternoon and night (yes, I was up all night); then after a last few broken run-through in the car on the way, accepted that I’d have to ad lib my way through it. I did fine–not my best, but fine. The other speaker, an accomplished and seasoned Toastmaster, gave a 2 to 3 minute speech, and brought down the house when she gave a member a gift on behalf of the club during Table Topics. Because of the way those events fell, she was voted best Table Topics for the meeting, and the club let me have the Best Speaker’s ribbon. “I don’t deserve this,” I thought as I sheepishly accepted it.
From there, I went to the Dojo. When I first started working there, I didn’t want to hog any of the semi-secluded tables around the edge of the room, which I thought I should leave for regulars and “real” geeks. So I took a seat at the emptiest location, in the center of the room. I sat in that same general area from then on out of habit. Then on this day, forgetting about happy hour, I stayed later than usual. At least four people I knew who had come to socialize came through, one at a time, and I shared a big smile and a wave with each one of them. One of them, a famous geek with a Wikipedia page, chatted with me for some time–he was duly impressed that I was working on the kernel, and he glowed with the respect I had just earned from him. I felt warm and happy as I drove home that night, my internal vision filled with happy smiling faces.
But there was one thought that kept popping up that evening and the next day, a thought I tried to tell myself was insignificant. I wasn’t sitting in the middle of an empty room just so people would see me, I thought. But I had been there. Haughty little princess, sitting on my throne and soaking up the attention.
I couldn’t bring myself to settle into my work the next day. I wasted time through the evening and night until about 8am, when I was forcing myself to finish a game of sudoku that I actually dreaded and loathed, even though I was repeatedly falling forward in my chair from lack of sleep. The last semi-coherent thought I identified before I finally pulled myself out of the trance was “Good, another half hour down the drain where it belongs. You have no right to that time or to the pride of that finished work. When you throw it away, you understand that you’re not special.”
Guilt. Guilt because earning money isn’t supposed to be fascination and joy, it’s supposed to be misery in a Bullseye store. Guilt because I’m supposed to be silent and invisible, not be seeking attention with a blog and a social media presence. Guilt because a hot new laptop is supposed to be a frivolous toy, not a tool to get the job done. Guilt because I’m supposed to be all alone on the playground, hated and rejected, not immersed in a community of supporters and kindred spirits. Guilt because I’m always supposed to be a loser, not a living, acting human being.
Getting the guilt off my back will be the real challenge these three months. Understanding the kernel’s MMU will be trivial compared to that.
I have at least one tool I can use: visualization. I got through the application period, and several Toastmasters contests, by picturing myself working, practicing and succeeding. Even though I knew failure was a distinct possibility, and I let that knowledge drive me harder, I never allowed myself to dwell on the image of it. Next, I can visualize myself introspecting, identifying the guilt and the fact that it is unearned, and saying No.
My New Year’s resolution last year was to advance my career, which I did; but the real resolution was to cultivate the mindset to allow it to happen. The game is now leveling up.