As Thoughts of Failure Swell
I was doing some work, recently, good, honest work, when a thought descended on me. I was riding my bicycle, got off, trotted across the street, and just thought, "Damn, I'm a failure." I stopped for a second, breathed. "Damn."
Right now, I'm deep into a project that I've lost the will to complete, but inevitably have to. It's thankless and payless. Its ultimate effect on anything but a tiny scope of knowledge will be beyond miniscule. Frankly, it's almost worthless. This never dawned on me when I hastily jumped on it. At the time, I was chuffed that I was going to enlighten people on an obscure topic; now, that's not enough. I keep telling myself that I have to be working on big things, I have to be living up to my delusions of grandeur. Big things. Important things. Things that will make historians look back and say, "That, now that, that said something about who we were and who we are. That, yes that, that was important." I don't want to be important. I want my work to be important. But this isn't important enough. And that stinks.
With every passing day, the relevance of this project sinks, making me regret even more that I took it on. I'm putting too much time into it, investing an unreasonable amount of resources to complete it, over-extending myself. I'm a noodle reaching for the other side of the plate; I'm either going to snap or else I'm going to recoil into a bundled morass. Finishing this project is going to feel good, but it's also going to leave me with the sense that I wasted this critical period of the year on something undeserving.
It's not going to receive the acclaim I want for it. It's not going to be noticed by any large majority. And it's not that I'm a fame junky in need of precious love—some Pompey—but that I'm the sort of person that feels the constant need to justify what he's doing. Time is short, there are things to be done, and I can't do them for the sake of doing them. They have to have a reason, a purpose. They have to be important things. And this isn't important enough.
The stress it is drawing is not the stress it requires, but I'm in the middle of it, and I can't turn either way. It's too late to quit, too early to finish. So, I have to keep on. And, so, I feel like a failure. I am my own personal rat race, and I am falling behind. I must get better, I must improve, I must meet expectations. I feel like I'm wasting my time when I can't afford to waste my time. And I feel like the exact spur that stopped me in the middle of the street is that I am wasting my time doing things that are wasting my time. And, yet, here I am. I'm not going to stop until I finish.
So, I breathed, I thought, "Damn," and I trotted on. The only other thought that came me was that I had to work harder, finish quicker, stretch like a noodle until I'm on the brink of snapping, because, right now, I'm not. I must improve. I can still over-extend that little bit more, because if I'm going to work on a project that will having no meaning in 2 months' time, I might as well go all in and be done with it. That stinks. And that's okay, I thought, I feel like a failure, now, and I will feel like one tomorrow and the day after that, because in completing this project I will have continued to squander my hopefully-existent talent and not reached the heights of my ability, as I am today.
Eventually, I got home. I ate some cereal, and the slice of the cake my girlfriend made. It's really good cake, although the perfectionist in her disagrees. Then, I checked my e-mail, and noticed something. I clicked it and saw it was a rejection of my, if you will, latest masterpiece the world will inevitably detest: that old, exuberant tome. The person kindly apologised and left me to wallow in what should have been spurned agony. Instead, I felt those swelling thoughts subside, if for a moment, and I appreciated the rejection. It reminded me that I'm still doing important things. Even if they're not enough and I'm not good enough.