Every once in a while I feel like I regress, that I’m not doing or feeling as well as I think I should, or how others think I should.
Back in college I did a little experiment on myself: Every few days, I would assign a score for how I felt on a scale from -1 to 1.
A score of -1 being “I feel like life cannot get any worse right now,”
1 meant I felt on top of the world and everything was possible.
My hypothesis was that I would oscillate between -1 and 1 in a sinusoidal fashion, and I did. The frequency was non-constant, being as short as half a day to longer than a month, but it happened as I had expected.
The time spent in positive territory was rarely equal to time spent in negative territory. Sometimes the scores would oscillate without crossing zero.
Life is full of ups and downs
Every so often I feel like shit. I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, where I’m trying to get, and why I’m trying to get there – everything feels incredibly meaningless (-1).
It’s during those times when I notice that my attitude changes as well. When I’m at or near -1,
I get annoyed very easily,
I’m less social with friends,
I will treat people badly and get mad at them for no reason,
I’m more pessimistic and talking to me is probably not super enjoyable, and
I’m more likely to give up and quit what I’m doing.
I don’t like being in the negative, but invariably I always seem to fall back there.
I feel like I’ve been there for the past two weeks.
But then there are nights like tonight where events occur that remind me that I really don’t like being in negative territory.
Two things happened this evening that reminded me that positive territory is a much, much better place to be:
- I had dinner and played chess with one of my best friends I hadn’t seen in much too long.
I thought, this is what life is about: spending time with people I love doing enjoying things. It’s not all about work, stuff, money, or any of the other millions things that are advertised as a way of being happy. It’s about what I’m going to remember as the good times when I start dying. I’m going to remember the little things like this.
Ah, I remember now, this is why.
- I bonded with an Uber driver about how Uber sucks, but you just have to keep grinding until you get there, no matter how unfair it is.
Other people are trying to get there, too! It’s like we’re all playing a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, but it’s life and you only get one. And everybody’s starting equipment is vastly different. I forget it sometimes because I get too caught up in my own mind-bubble, but people are not too different from each other. Our contexts vary, but we all must go through similar grinds before reaching the destination.
Of course, that makes total sense. How could I have forgotten?
It didn’t take much to cause the inflection. Mostly it’s a reaffirmation of principles and/or a reminder to keep chugging forward on the roadmap I have set out for myself, even if it’s not the same one I’ll look back at when I’m dying.
There is always a choice to be made
The Uber that came to pick me up didn’t come to the front of the building – he went to the other side of the street and stopped at the light. By the time the light turned green, a car had come up behind him and he felt inclined to make a right turn, increasing the distance I had to walk in the rain with water leaking into my shoes. Later, he told me that he was about to cancel the ride and take off because I was taking too long.
I had had such a great night up until this point and I was annoyed that my feet were wet because of this guy’s incompetence. He probably can’t navigate without his app and won’t dare to make a U-turn to pick me up.
I’m definitely going to give this guy a 1 star rating.
I got into the car and said good evening.
I was over there, you know.
At that building, over there. You stopped pretty far away.
Oh, what do you want me to do?
Well, you could turn around and go in front of the building. You got the address.
I was coming on this side already. I’m not going to risk getting a $300 ticket for your $5 ride. The app told me come here, so I came here. It’s not my fault.
Now I had a choice to make. I could (1) leave it at that, and we would sit in silence for the ride’s duration, or (2) try to make the ride more bearable for both of us by changing the subject and talking about something else.
We are obviously in an argument here – a tension has already built up. The second choice is harder than the first because it requires me to deflate the argument. Staying silent or inflating is easy – come up with the next jab and spit it back at him. Deflating, on the other hand, is harder because it requires me to accept what he’s saying as valid and return his hard response with a soft response. I’d be saying, “I understand your position, and I approve of it. You were OK to be far away and make me walk in the rain. I now don’t mind at all that I had to do that, so your viewpoint has the advantage over mine and I will lose the argument.”
I’d have to break the tension.
But it’s more natural to inflate. I want to win the argument. He is clearly in the wrong because <all the evidence, reasoning I could muster>, and I won’t give up until he trips up or gives up. If it gets so heated that I get kicked out of the car, then that would be a great pity story to tell!
Hahaha, being argumentative is great. Especially when it’s someone you’ll never see again. It makes me feel like a real tech bro that SF natives love to hate.
Ok it’s fine, no problem. Is this your music or radio? I like this song.
No, no… it’s my album. They’re good. If you know these guys, Dire Staits, uh
Yea, I know them. Good song. So how do you like driving for Uber and picking up shithead tech bros?
Sultans of Swing was the only song I heard during that ride – couldn’t tell you what any of the other ones were.
It doesn’t take much to cause an inflection, but there is always a choice.
My state of mind right now would have been a lot different had I had gone with the silent option. The ride would have been long, quiet, with a tension of dislike between us.
It would not have been an enjoyable ride. It would have been a ride I wished wouldn’t have happened. It would have been an “If only…” ride. The driver would have resented me as a rider and wished he’d never gotten that ride request.
I wouldn’t have inflected and I would surely not be writing this post right now, because the ability for me to write these words was delivered during that ride.
If I hadn’t made the choice to deflate, you would not be able to read this post.
The Silent option
If I had gone with the silent option, there is another way that I still would have written this post.
That is if the driver chose to deflate in response to one of my inflations.
But, as you know, the more natural thing to do in an argument in response to an inflation is another inflation.
Deflation doesn’t come naturally – it requires you to think of another thing to say instead of the fighting words that pop into your head – and it can be difficult to do for a big ego.
But when you do deflate, the other person is left holding all of this tension and wondering why they ever held on to it in the first place – it seems just so dumb now.
And most of the time, the other person is relieved that you did the deflation – they didn’t have to do the deflation themselves!
I don’t know if the driver would have chosen to deflate if I did not. I’d like to think that he would have, but this is because we had a good chat and I think he’s a good guy.
But why wait? Why wait for someone else to deflate? Why wait for anyone’s approval?
It’s also likely that they would appreciate the deflation, but are not willing or unable to do it themselves.
It’s certainly not an alternative fact that the deflation would have absolutely occurred if I chose to do it.
Waiting for it to happen? Might never happen.
A certainty versus a possibility.
Might as well make it a certainty.
It’s a sine
Up at the top of the post, I said that every so often I feel like shit. I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, where I’m trying to get, and why I’m trying to get there – everything about it feels incredibly meaningless (-1).
And then there are nights like tonight where events occur that inevitably and easily move me back into the positive.
It’s like I’ve been holding onto all of this tension and now I wonder why because it all just seems so stupid.
But realize: there are two ways in which inflection towards positive or negative territory can be caused:
- Conscious choice. Capability to control: 100%
- Someone else’s conscious choice. In my control: less than 100%.
Given these odds, I think it’s an absolute certainty that you can make sure that you spend most – if not all – of your time in positive territory.