Measuring My Life
"If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it." - Lord Kelvin
I've spent a lot of time thinking. It's primarily what I do with my time. Whether I'm thinking about writing, actually writing, thinking about work, actually working, or thinking about why I'm not working because I have so much free time on my hands and if I only had more work to do it would be better and I wouldn't be ruminating and writing poetry that refers to various ways of ending my life violently and suddenly.
Thinking. The problem, the cure.
But I've been thinking . . .
When I was a boy, before the mental health issues and the trauma of repentance in the LDS church and law school and hospitalization and everything else that's gone before, I was a leader. I saw a problem and I decided what to do to solve it and I tried to pursue that solution. I made goals and I achieved them. I stood in front of rooms of people and talked out my ass and they listened because I was the one in charge and they figured I knew what I was talking about. Sometimes I even did (about fifty percent more of the time than some of our presidents).
Now that I'm a man, a middle-aged man, the thing I wish for the most is a job in which I'm told what to do and allowed to do it and that fills up my day sufficiently that I don't have too much time to sit and think. I'm not a leader, not anymore. I'm not even a very good follower, at least at work. I'm unmotivated and without vision. I have no real goals. I wake up every day and sit and think and when there are some instructions do my best to follow them well enough not to get fired. There is no proactivity, no leadership, no evidence that I once could speak to thousands of people and inspire them in some way with my example and my words.
What happened? Life happened. Mental health happened. Alcohol and drugs happened. Bad decisions and lots of shit happened. But that's not the point of this little essay. The point is that I am now beginning to realize that my attitude, and my current position, are important to understand before I can make any major changes in my life, and my work.
Measurement. It's primarily the way I've managed to lose sixty pounds over the last nine months and how I've written over fifteen first drafts of novels since I was in high school. It's why I managed to graduate with three degrees and pass the California bar exam while actively hallucinating and delusional. Its lack is why I became a lawyer in the first place, why I haven't ever done the work necessary to turn those fifteen first drafts into publishable books, and why I gained those hundred pounds I'm still working to lose. Measurement.
It's the guiding principle of the Weight Watchers organization. That by measuring where you're at you're able to begin to change your situation. That's why they market their own scales so proactively. So that you can measure your weight on a regular basis and make decisions regarding your behavior and your diet based on what happens to your weight.
The same concept applies to life, or so I've read. That by measuring certain hermeneutics it is possible to begin to shift the metrics from where they are to where you want them to be. Measurement is the first step in making an active change in anything. Knowing where you are helps you chart the path to where you want to go.
So how do I measure up?
In the last year and a half, I've managed some good improvements in my writing practices, begun to focus on editing and marketing more, and improved the product I'm preparing to submit to agents. I've lost weight, though I must admit in the last months of lockdown I've gained a little of that back. I've managed to get on a positive sleep schedule that allows me to wake up every morning and go to work, something I haven't managed to do since before 2014. I've made a lot of positive changes in my personal life. And I'm generally happy with my time outside of work. The problem, I've been thinking, is work itself.
In the last nine months since I started work, I've had to get back on anti-depressants, had a couple of close calls with hallucinations, thought about killing myself, and spent a good deal of time struggling with avolition and apathy. As I went through several years of living with minimal stress and minimal crises in my mental health, I can fairly easily come to the conclusion that this spate of mental health issues is linked largely to my work situation. And that primarily the lack of enough activity to fill the eight hours a day I spend sitting in the office staring at my computer screen wondering when I'll get an assignment.
I've written a dozen blog posts about different insights that have led me to flashes of inspiration. More often than not these flashes last a day or two and then I'm back in the same position, I'm sitting at my desk doing nothing with my day and getting more and more depressed and experiencing more and more existential stress as I think about how awful my life is and how there's no hope that this situation is going to change. I've blamed my boss, I've blamed work. I've tried to decide to become an expert. I've tried to fill my time with learning. I've tried to do a dozen things. But they all end up in the same place, a few days later I'm staring at my computer screen wondering how much time is left until I can go home and do something I want to do.
Something has to change.
That's where measurement comes in. Where understanding my actual situation, coming to a better comprehension of the person that is me, will give me an idea of where I need to go to make that change. Last night I finally understood a major issue that is part of the reason why I long for simple assignments with which to fill my time. The leader and self-starter that I once was no longer exists. I no longer display the initiative or the enthusiasm for innovation or problem-solving that led me to success in school.
I am, in essence, a sheep, waiting for a shepherd to lead me into activity and work.
The problem isn't my work ethic. When I have work to do I don't have a problem doing it. I can work for hours on something if I'm given an assignment. I wake up every morning and write for an hour, edit, and do other work towards my personal goals.
No, the true measurement is that I lack the initiative and the proactive drive to be a self-starter. I lack the leadership to lead even myself, at least at work. And that points to another measurement. I have little to no commitment to my job. I have no goals. No point at which I can say I've done a good job because I haven't figured out yet that I even care. I'm rudderless because I've never sat down and figured out where I want to go. I want to write, yes, I want to be able to eventually get published and maybe have a career as an author, yes, but what about my day job? I've always looked at it as nothing more than the thing that pays for my books and food until the next book I write gets me the publishing deal. I've never actually set long-term goals for a career or aligned myself with any organization or done much of anything to excel at my "day job" because I've always thought of it as merely that, a "day job." I never intended for it to last.
Obviously, however, by any standard measurement, I'm forty years old and unpublished, which means it's about time I reevaluated my relationship with work because I've been doing this long enough that I need to be ready to do it longer, and if I don't want to be utterly miserable every day I have to go into the office or sit at the computer, I need to come up with something more than "it's what I'm doing until I can land the big publishing deal."
Measurement. I'm not a self-starter and I have no career goals which means I also have no desire to progress, no long-term or short-term goals, no plans, no schemes, not even a real desire to compete. So I go to work every day and sit miserably thinking about my misery because I don't have any aspirations or any habits that allow me to come up with innovative ways to fill my time in furtherance of an organization with which I have aligned myself because it's the best way for me to get ahead with my career.
And there may be other measurements, other things I lack. I'm working on identifying where I stand at this very moment. What I lack and what I have. What my situation is. I'm working on coming up with a way to understand where I am on life's map so I can come up with the proper path to get to where I might want to go. How I'm going to do that remains unseen. But like Lord Kelvin said, if I can't measure it I can't improve it. I'm now measuring. I'll figure out where I want to go after that.