I'm torn between the light and dark,
Where others see their targets, divine symmetry ...
I'm sinking in the quicksand of my thought,
And I ain't got the power anymore ...
— David Bowie, 'Quicksand', 1971

What is my Problem?

I was living the life that I had dreamed of in the place that I wanted it to be, but as the semester wore on I began to notice a rising level of frustration.

Frustration with Self

While I was with 'my people' in Newmarket I was having a wonderful time, but when I was not with them I would often get mad at myself for spending so much time doing 'frivolous' things like having fun. I didn't understand why I was so hung up on this point, but I began to feel tension between my continued desire to spend time with people who made me feel alive, and my determination to 'make something of myself' through getting an education. I began to feel like I was splitting myself into two people: one who loved life and people, and one who was wholly focused on 'being successful'.

Frustration with School

The cycle of working at the market and spending time with friends continued to be wonderful and satisfying, while school became increasingly frustrating. At first I blamed my busy schedule, but I seemed to have time for everything, so that didn't make sense. Next I blamed some of the people I was hanging out with, but that didn't ring true and I had to admit that my problem was with myself. Many of the old questions from my previous time at college had come back: What was my goal? Why was I studying things that didn't interest me in class, while so much outside of class did? Why was it getting harder and harder to do something I was so committed to? Why did it seem to be so easy for others, yet so difficult for me?

I began talking to friends about what was bothering me and putting those feeling into words helped me begin to separate the goals of 'getting my education' from 'getting my degree'. I often used those two terms synonymously, but in practice I was finding them very different — maybe even be mutually exclusive. I was getting an education by following my heart and mind and learning what interested me. Getting my degree was an activity that I was pushing myself to do by force of will. I thought it was the 'right' thing to do, but it was not something that I wanted to do in any deeper way.

Finding a Way Forward

After a few days of intensive self-analysis I was surprised at my conclusion: I realized that I had been living with a belief that I had an obligation to 'be somebody'. This was above and beyond what I expected from everyone else around me. It was just fine for them to do things because they enjoyed them, but I came to realize that I did not think that was allowable for me. I had an entirely separate list of rules for what was permissible for me and what was permissible for others. Somehow I had gotten the idea fixed in my head that I had to be some kind of shining example of ... I didn't even know what. I just believed that I had to work very, very hard and be 'successful'.

I was rather dumbfounded to realize this. Where did it come from? How did I not notice this before? Now that I was aware of it what should I do about it? This realization was not a solution, but rather, it was the entry into a clearer understanding of a problem.

Looking back to when I was in Ireland I could see how this belief had held me back. I felt like I couldn't travel freely as other people did, because different rules applied to me. My own beliefs were sabotaging my ability to live life like I wanted to. As I continued to think through this realization I found that it had corollaries behind it, most notably, "If there was one deeply ingrained belief that, upon examination, appeared to be untrue how many more was I carrying around?" If I had actually identified something that had been holding me back in life, then I would certainly want to find any more of them that were buried inside me.

Now that I could see my how my beliefs were holding me back I also realized that I had to do something about it.