I was looking for a file on an old thumbdrive this morning and I found a cache of essays that I wrote about 10 years ago. As I got about halfway through an essay I titled "Breakthrough," I was struck by the sense that everything my younger self had written there was an exercise in mental gymnastics, and an effort to convince myself of some pretty heavy stuff: of the validity of various decisions, non-decisions, and opinions that I held at the time; moreover, it seemed I was actively struggling to push through the terrifying existential uncertainty that I felt so acutely in those years.
"Breakthrough" was a journal-post essay that I wrote in order to give focus to my otherwise muddled grappling with a desire to go back to school (i.e., grad school). Reading it makes me feel frustrated and sad: I couldn't let it be simple. I couldn't let anything be simple. I had to pick apart my motivations and consider as many angles of the thing—whatever it was—as possible, right up to and well past the point of it making any sense whatsoever or resembling anything even modestly helpful. It was in this manner that I created the illusion of progress for myself, and the mechanism by which I kept my desires and ambitions in check. Quite unconsciously, I was sabotaging myself.
"Just go to school, Nate," I imagine saying to my younger self. "Just let yourself do what you want to do."
I was a prisoner of my own limited beliefs, and I suffered badly in my outmoded little cell. I figured it out eventually, more or less, but by the time I really understood how toxic I was, it was too late to do anything about it without making some huge waves in my life. I had to change most things, and I did. I charged forward recklessly, either dodging or knocking down any obstacle that got in my way.
Several years later, I recognize that time as a painful and necessary stage in my life. I made the changes that needed to be made, but I ran up a hefty tab in so doing.