Considering Others

I like to make people happy. That’s the good side of the young me trying to constantly seek my dad’s approval. I like fixing problems for people. I like being useful and good at my job. I like adding value and making people’s lives better. Apparently it’s a middle child thing too, since we middle children don’t get enough attention. The bad side is that I usually put the needs of others before mine. I’ll go into work when I should stay home and recover from my cold. I’ll rearrange my schedule and greatly inconvenience myself so I’m not late to meet someone. I’ll light myself on fire to keep someone warm.

A strength is a weakness if you look at it from the other side. A weakness is also a strength when you use it right. One of my bigger strengths is my ability to empathize with others. I’m certainly not the best at it, but I’m working hard on it and I’m a lot better than I used to be. It becomes a weakness when I overdo it. When I so closely align with another person’s emotions, I can very easily and unknowingly put their situation above mine. That’s kind of what compassion is until it becomes like Stockholm’s Syndrome, where you care more about your captors even though you’re their victim. That’s what kept me in connection with my family so long. I can bend over backwards so far for people only to feel betrayed when they don’t do the same for me. It’s unfair to me that I give so much of myself when they didn’t ask, and it’s unfair to expect them to reciprocate. Who’s going to refuse when I freely give so much free attention and support? At the same time, it’s not cool to take and not give back, so that’s a bad on both parts. I went out recently with people who were only looking out for their own fun, whereas I like to make sure everyone has fun. Sad!

We need to place all the people in our lives in the right categories. Some are good for heart-to-heart conversations, some are good for getting wild and reckless, some are better in a group, some are better in small doses. Certain friends can span multiple categories, which is what I think qualifies someone as a good friend. Best friends are the ones that fill the most. The best relationships aren’t necessarily the ones where you have to fit into all the different circles, but they’re the ones that fit into more and more areas as you grow closer. I’ve had terrible results making work friends into outside-of-work friends, but that’s alright if I don’t try too hard to make the relationships into something they aren’t meant to be. Some friends are better over coffee than beer, and vice versa. I have some amazing friends that I can’t really have a solid one-on-one talk with. Some school friends only remain school friends, and you can only ever talk about those good old times way back when. More broadly, some relationships can only continue while looking towards the past. Where I’ve gotten into trouble was trying too hard to fit people into categories where they didn’t fit in. I’ve invited shy people to events where they didn’t know anyone and where they wouldn’t have enjoyed the activities anyways. I have some good friends in the city whom I could technically see pretty often, whereas I actually visit my besties in Edmonton more often. This one customer asked how I felt working on Canada Day long weekend. I told them I’d spent a lot of time in the past few years sticking my neck out to make time for friends, so I didn’t mind working that weekend, especially since I enjoy my team and my job. I said it was getting harder to see friends as they were all moving on to do their own things when it felt like they weren’t trying as hard to see me. He asked how old I was, and then he laughed when I replied. "Wait until you turn 50."

Doing things on my own. I’ve been burned by my family for so long that it’s still hard to trust my closest family and friends. That’s not fair to me or to my new family of choice. I’m placing responsibility on them for actions taken by different people, and I become more isolated as I refuse to open up. (I understand if you don’t believe that I don’t open up to people when all I do is talk about my problems.) That means that a lot of responsibilities stop with me. I have to be the one to answer for everything at the end of the day. That’s all well and good, but I’m too weak. I’m still crumbling under the pressure of marriage, work, health, and relationships that I’ve fallen ill with a cold. I’m not strong enough. I don’t mean to be hard on myself for catching a virus, but what it means to me is that my walls are generally too rigid, leaving me too protected and isolated. I’ve forgotten that only Jesus can truly be my strength because I’m only made of dust. The last year has been hard as I’ve slowly learned by trial and error that I can’t do it all on my own. I can’t be ultimately responsible for everything. Trying to juggle everything only ends with me feeling crushed. I can’t suspect everyone of trying to hurt me when only a few people treated me that way. Trauma makes it more complicated than simply trying to relax or lighten up.

Forgiveness. Relationships can only exist when there’s a consistent and evenly distributed agreement to forgive. I need a lot of support right now, and I’m resisting trying to make Carrie pay me back for all the things I did to help her during her four years in school. She certainly did a lot for me during that time as well, but when I slip and I try to make her help me because of all the things I did for her and blah blah blah, then trouble arises. Sometimes I feel like a parent that gave up their dreams for their kids and constantly reminds them of all of their sacrifices. I need to be self-sufficient in my own life and trust that I will eventually reap what I sow. It’s a fine line between taking ownership for my life versus depending on others. I know that keeping score in my marriage leads to nothing but trouble, but I also know that it requires give and take. I need to be responsible for myself, but I have to let others take care of me. Forgiveness is necessary to keep relationships alive, but too much leads straight to the danger zone. I’m lost.

As it stands this week, I’m focusing too much on others and I’m not prioritizing myself. I shouldn’t even be going to work in my current state because it’s selfish to put others at risk of catching my cold. I care way too much what others are feeling, and I need to assert myself and take care of myself first before I can give to others. It’s like in the pre-flight safety demonstration how they say that in the event of the cabin losing air pressure, you should put your own oxygen mask on first before helping anyone else. I need some air.

Signal to Noise Ratio

Signal to noise ratio, or SNR, is the ratio of the power of a desired signal to the power of the noise.

SNR = Psignal / Pnoise

Signals are the desired content of the message. You send an SMS. You’re expecting an offer letter in your email. You’re listening to a speaker at a conference, and their voice is amplified through the audio system and their video is projected onto white screens.

Noise is the stuff that gets in the way of the intended message. In audio, we recognize noise as the hum in our speakers and headphones when no music is playing, which can sometimes be heard in quiet passages of the song. In online discussions, we identify noise as most YouTube comments. Noise goes by a lot of names. Fake news. Junk mail. Spam. Propaganda. Advertisements. Static. Interference. Bias.

In most respects, we want the SNR to be as high as possible. That is, we want to send strong signals and remove as much noise as we can. What does that look like?

  • Camping. Summer is the time to hit the trails and camp sites, and with Canada 150, access to National Parks is free. That means getting away from the city and turning off your phone (sometimes). That allows a person to clear the noise from their heads and reconnect to the quiet and important messages from their minds, bodies, souls, hearts.
  • My piano teacher taught me that if I want to play louder, I can either pound away on the keys and hurt my forearms or I can play my quiet passages quieter.
  • Wi-Fi. When you live in an apartment or condo, most people’s wireless is on the frequency band 2.4 GHz, and even the same channel within it, making it hard for devices to pick out your precise Wi-Fi network even if your signal is strong. Same with cordless phones, microwave ovens. A quick hack to boost your Wi-Fi reception is to choose a channel that no one else is on. That is, you reduce the noise by tuning it out.

That’s all well and good, but what even makes a good signal and what is considered noise? There’s a lot of good messages out there, so what’s a useful indicator to recognize signal vs noise? Eat your vegetables. Exercise 30 minutes every day. Drink water. Follow your dreams. Be a lover, not a fighter. Decent signals can have a high SNR. On the other hand, some people’s whole jobs and life missions is to amplify the noise to distract you from the signals you need to hear, using racism and xenophobia, sexism, trans- and homophobia, ableism, ageism, classism, all the -isms and izzles. Systems are put in place to keep you busy filtering out noise while the powers that be keep you oppressed and less likely to bother them.

One way to distinguish whether a signal is useful is its timeliness. When it’s received on time, when it’s needed or expected, that means it’s a good signal. It gets you unstuck. When I started blogging about The Struggle, a few people told me I should write about this particular topic or another one because it would be so important for people to hear. I declined all of those requests because truly, the most relevant topics came to me on their own every week. They weren’t ever really suggestions by others. It was merely a reflection of what my conflict was that week, and I’ve worked very hard to keep it that way. There are a lot of good topics I could explore, but the reason the writing can be so poignant for me is because of its timing. Certainly my topics won’t be timely for everyone every week, but choosing a message that isn’t relevant in its timing would decrease my SNR.

Reception. In order for a signal to reach you, you both have to be tuned to the same frequency. My friend got a tattoo this week. After several years of thinking about it, one particular artist in Calgary caught their attention. They could have gotten it at any time and any place, but once they knew what they wanted, finding the right person who was putting out the right signals made them lock on to that channel. The artist’s Instagram page is pretty consistently updated, but it’s hard to make a big splash when there’s so much noise. So many bots and spam accounts.

Filters. As in circuits, we can cut out the noise by setting up a passive filter. I stopped watching lectureporn like The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, Samantha Bee, and when Carrie watches those shows, I ask if she can watch with headphones on. I do value being informed, but it drains me to keep up with all the political hobbyists when I have more pressing matters at hand. I can only enjoy feeds like Reddit and Twitter when I have my filters well-curated.

Patterns. I have to write to clear the noise out of my head every week. I noticed that was a pattern that helped me. Prior to The Struggle, I only really wrote every few weeks once something interested me or piqued my curiosity. Then I noticed how much better I felt once I made writing more regular. When I don’t write consistently, other parts of my system feel the strain and have to compensate. I snack more. I exercise less. I clench and grind my teeth. My upper back stiffens up and I get more knots tangled up in the muscle fibres. Regularity makes for a clear message. Having weekly coffees with coworkers. Making special time for your loved ones.

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Searching for signal. One way of quieting the noise is by changing channels. For people familiar with any device with a radio, this analogy is quite literal. Old TVs had this. FM radio. You can remove the static by going to a different channel.

Pain is a huge signal. Sometimes it can be signal, sometimes it’s noise. Lifting weights, you should feel a resistance. That’s a good sign. When I felt a sharp searing pain, it was because I was using terrible technique for so long that a tendon or ligament was being pinched between bones when they weren’t supposed to be. Bad kind of pain. Signal that I’m doing something wrong.

Emotions are hard because they send us mixed signals. We tend to logically interpret our feelings as strictly binary, either yes or no, but all human relationships are murky because we can both love and hate a person to varying degrees depending on which side of them we’re looking at, including ourselves.

You’re probably thinking “Okay, Jon, we get it. We’re not dumb like you. Tell us then, what signals is your body sending to you?”

Great question. I’m getting a lot of signals right now. Let’s lay them all out on the table and examine them together. Working with so many people, I get reflections of myself through a lot of different ways.

  • Sleepy. I’ve never been so “on” for a job before. I feel alive and in the moment, and if I’m not well-rested, I perform suboptimally. I’m learning so much, and empathizing all day is new to me. My emotional muscles are getting a full workout, so I finish the day and just want to pass out. I’ve worked hard at other jobs before, but it’s an entirely different beast when you love what you’re doing.
  • I’m very hard on myself still. While I’ve worked a lot on being as compassionate to myself as I usually am to others, I beat myself up hard when I make a mistake. I’ll feel terrible, worry that someone is going to punish me, and curse myself a lot, loudly, creatively, and in a short period of time.
  • My physical posture is getting better, but it requires a lot of work. Still major knots in my traps. Hip flexors are loosening. Feet are much better thanks to the orthotics. My sore back is a pain in the ass. I’m done processing my childhood trauma emotionally, but I’m not done processing it physically yet. Even then, I can’t tell which of the three areas I should focus on and when. The only way I can tell is from which one is hurting the most at the time, which feels like an endless game of whack-a-mole.
  • Eating right. I eventually want to get around to this, but too much going on right now. I know that you can lose a ton of weight simply by eating better, but my resources are tied up right now with other tasks. Exercise is nowhere near as important as limiting calories, and I’m still eating my feelings.
  • I’m really forgetful. I used to memorize all my piano pieces, the tradeoff being that I was terrible at playing from sight reading. Since I stopped relying on those mental muscles, I pretty much have a goldfish memory. I’ll shampoo my hair in the shower, then I’ll rinse and repeat because I’ll already have forgotten if I shampooed my hair. I can’t say that I’ve blacked out much while overdrinking, which is weird considering how much I’ve binge-drunk before.
  • When I get nervous, I stop breathing. I need to consciously slow down and breathe so that I can get back into my groove.

Sometimes we don’t like the signals we’re hearing, so we crank up the noise. That is, we’re reducing the signal to noise ratio. We want to drown out that feeling. When my heart aches, I’ll put on some headphones and listen to some dubstep. Wub wub wub.

Power supply rejection ratio. PSRR. In electronic circuits, operational amplifiers can transmit the noise from the power supply into the output signal. PSRR is rated at how many decibels it can suppress at a particular frequency. For instance, power lines can pick up radio signals and general static. It’s up to the amplifier to filter out the noise to keep the power from entering into the signal. One example is that audible pulsating buzz in audio equipment when someone with a GSM phone makes or receives a phone call. In life, we see politicians being influenced by the money being donated by lobbyists. TV and radio shows alter their content depending on whether their sponsors and advertisers will like it.

What does power supply rejection ratio have to do with noise and relationships? It’s a topic I wrestled with regarding my parents. They would give me power, such as room and board, food, love, nurturing, access to education, a car, financial assistance. There would sometimes be strings attached to those gifts. Some of them were reasonable, like doing my chores, helping out around the house, driving things or people to places at certain times. Other obligations were not reasonable, like being taken advantage of, abused, manipulated, berated. The Asian parental mentality is often “I’ll take care of you when you’re young so that you can take care of me when I’m old,” so there’s this expected reciprocity. "Love" can often be given as a favour to be returned, not as a gift. As much as I appreciated the power they supplied me, I had to increasingly reject the growing noise they transmitted my way to the point where I had to remove myself from the channel entirely. I got a new power supply, a new family to support me.

Clear as mud? Signal good, noise bad. Sometimes signal bad, noise good. Filter signals and noise by squinting or changing tune. Power supply can introduce noise, so reject it or get a new one if it gets too loud.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Life is considered unfair when you're given challenges you never asked for. The dream is to only have adventures when you choose to take them on. Higher level education is one of those big ones, which is why I didn't really expect anyone to feel bad for me or Carrie over the past few years. We chose that life. At the same time, I never chose to grow up in a toxic family. Carrie never asked to be born in a refugee camp. Privilege puts some people ahead and others behind.

Privilege also means having the freedom to ruin your own life. Throw a few years away on a hopeless romance. Burn a few more on an interesting but ultimately unemployable degree. Take up smoking to look cool in high school. Train to become a professional video gamer. Spend disposable income on collecting sneakers and sunglasses. The height of banality in my mind when I was young was spending money on clothes. Most of my friends' parents made good money, so they flashed all the nice labels. Some of them aren't doing much these days, but at least they had nice clothes in school while I struggled to fit in. I always wondered "don't these people have bigger problems than looking nice?" and only now am I realizing that the answer is no. I feel like I was pretty unique in having a bigger share of problems, and I'm glad others didn't have to experience the same thing. It's kinda nice that people don't have to wrestle with being abused. It's great that my friends are able to be confident in themselves, something I still find hard to do for myself.

Pain wakes you up. It forces you into the moment. There's a threat to your system causing undesirable feelings, so your body responds by summoning an appropriate response to remove that threat. I think it's no coincidence that being conscious is also described as being woke. The ones who suffer the most see the clearest. My worst subject in school was English, which is funny to me because so many people have commended me on my writing on this blog. I never really thought anything about being a writer or a novelist, but I do however have this objectionable image of a kid growing up, idolizing being a writer. They wanted to write a novel, but having no real problems, they had nothing to write about. They just thought writing was cool. So they created their own problems and sabotaged themselves so they would finally have something to write about. It's like when Eminem, the Average Joe in 8 Mile struggling to get by as a single parent with his daughter in a trailer home, roasts his opponent in the final rap battle because his parents are rich and have a good marriage. I feel like my writing has gotten more fluffy since I stopped struggling so badly, which is a tradeoff I'll take any day. Why experience so much pain for the sake of being able to write? I had so many different layers of complexity to make sense of as a kid that it felt like nothing would ever make sense. When things did somehow click, I would latch onto it like a small connected section of a jigsaw puzzle that made everything else make sense. Pain was my friend in this pursuit.

I started reading "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up." Not sure how I feel about the whole topic, but one idea that has stuck so far is that of only keeping things that spark joy. The context they use it in mostly has to do with discarding belongings that no longer hold any significant meaning for us. Does your body and soul light up when you touch it? Throwing things away that are old or no longer functional doesn't necessarily work in every case compared to only keeping things that spark joy. Even if something doesn't work anymore, it might still be worth keeping because it can still brighten your dark days. Growing up with three siblings, we were strong believers in the hand-me-down system, which doesn't age well. It creates an imposition on the younger siblings to keep the items handed down, making it hard to let go of those things due to guilt and merely shifting the hoarding problem to the younger ones. When Carrie encounters a pushy salesperson, she tells them she doesn't love the article of clothing. That pretty much dismantles all attempts to close the sale. Now we ask that of everything. Should we make that brunch date? Should we attend that show? Carrie asked me if she should keep her graduation cap, and I asked her if it sparked joy. She threw it right in the trash. Certainly this idea applies to those that are a bit more privileged, who have the ability to replace items if they feel like it or who are advantaged enough to own too many things in the first place. I've been using this principle unknowingly, so that's why I like this particular phrasing. Every good revival I've experienced started with discarding things that didn't spark joy.

Sources of strength. What gives you strength and what takes it away? It could be anything: people, animals, art pieces, culture, tradition, philosophies. Some people are leeches of your life force, and they'll bleed you dry if you let them. On the other hand, it's really rigid to require that everything give you strength all the time, and frankly it's a bit selfish. You need to give and take. It's hard to argue when a certain coping mechanism gave you enough strength to get through a hardship. If smoking makes you feel better, how can you argue with that when your day exploded? Yes, long term you'll suffer from severe health effects, but what happens if it gives you the strength to die another day? It's tough to reckon with that day if you do survive to see it. I don't mean flatly that the ends justify the means, but we are constantly stuck between rocks and hard places. It's hard to care about the future when you're stuck in a dilemma in the moment. There were countless times during the two year period of counselling, which I'm heretofore calling The Struggle, where I thought "This much drinking is going to reduce my lifespan, but it's also going to move me past the crushing defeat I faced today." It's easy to respond that one should just tough it out and do the right thing. Okay. That makes sense on paper, but then the strength required to make that brave decision subtly removes your willpower from another area. Which one? I've denied myself fast food at lunch only to face a snack attack full of junk food for dinner. Sources of strength look completely different to us in different circumstances. It could be a friendship or simply a line from a book. It may break the rules or go against the grain, but who's to say it's not good when it gives you the strength to get unstuck?

That all sounds well and good (and preachy, like I'm standing on some digital soapbox), so am I practicing it? I can talk a big game, but can I live up to it? Looking back to The Struggle, I was facing a lot challenges and pressure from work, at home, and from counselling. It felt like I could never get ahead no matter what. Sleeping was a struggle because I was so gripped by anxiety in bed at night, and other days I would be so exhausted from the battle that I'd sleep by 8 PM. Eating wasn't really a joy anymore because everything seemed so far away, even when ordering in because I would still have to wait so long. Very few friends could understand or empathize with just how badly I was doing, and it was too uncomfortable to hang out with some people that I still had a lot of affection for. I realized that the pain was what had always made me so conscious of my surroundings, especially from my childhood. While I would agonize over issues or competing interests, the pain was necessary for me to analyze and dissect my problems into their smaller components and further to their root causes. I would take a problem, let's say my loneliness, and wonder why I felt that way. I'd basically throw as many different explanations at my heart to see which would ultimately soothe it. I quit my job, so maybe that lonely feeling comes from not building community with my coworkers like I used to. I had a unique problem that few people could relate to, so maybe that's why I feel so isolated. There were tons of other explanations I'd try, but what it came down to was that Carrie was my rock, but she was often unavailable to me and also became a source of the pressure.

In response to that pain, I grasped at anything that would spark joy in me enough to keep going for another day or hour. Pokémon Go in October was huge for me because it was a reason to go outside and to get some basic exercise. I worked my way up to about 5 km a day, developing a nice route around my neighbourhood through all the Pokéstops. Then my friend took me to the gym and helped whip me into shape. That was fun and deeply rewarding. I got deeper into EDM and hip hop music, especially the conscious raps of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. Certain games sparked joy enough to distract me from the burning sensation in my chest for a few minutes like Super Mario Run. Plus I learned to embrace being alone and enjoying my own company. I discovered many more activities that proved to not spark joy in me anymore, so I discontinued them in the interest of surviving each day.

Despite finding items that sparked joy, they weren't enough on their own to really drive me through the barriers. This is how I discovered that only people and not possessions would be my strength through The Struggle. Objects and activities sparked joy in their own way, but the people involved with those items were much more substantial in my experience. An hour for coffee with a friend, whether we were just bullshitting or genuinely connecting and catching up, could keep me going for days longer than snacking on my favourite candy. Grabbing a meal with a buddy was even better because it was always such a struggle to eat in general. Going out to dance with friends was by far the best, which could power me for weeks. It became really clear who was willing to stick their neck out for me. That was also what made The Struggle so devastating, when a lot of my good friends moved out of the city. That's why I was always grateful whenever I got even a single Facebook Like on a post or a general message of encouragement. Surrounding myself with the right people was so important because they were such huge sources of strength in my dark times, as was removing the wrong people, who took my strength away.

That covers it, right? Pain is your friend, only keep things that spark joy, identify the people that give you strength. If you live a privileged life, you'll have time to decide when you want to choose your adventure, but if not, I hope these words help to get you through the path that's been chosen for you. Carrie and I chose for her to go back to school, but along the way we encountered problems that we didn't necessarily want to assume. J. Cole says there's no such thang as a life that's better than yours. Circumstances won't always line up the way you want, but your response to those circumstances is always within your control.

Carrie got a job. I'm so proud of her. She got multiple interviews and turned down two offers. She attended a few interviews, one outside of Calgary, and she decided on a position that sparks joy. I'm really proud of her. She took some time after graduating to decompress. It was really disorienting for her to have so much free time. Sleeping the days away was possible, but she didn't want to do that. There were a lot of times where she didn't know what to do. However, creating that space made it easier to not only apply for jobs but also for her academic credentials to be approved by the College in order to apply for her provisional permit. When she was looking for a job last time, she felt very unemployable because of her heavy time commitment for school, and she was either under- or over-qualified for everything. This time around, it almost felt easy. I'm very proud of her. She worked hard through school, and now we can both start our next big adventure. No, not kids.

Sooner or Later

You can choose to face the music head on, or you can put off the problem and let it catch up to you eventually but only after having it grow much larger. It takes courage to make a sacrifice in the short term in order to save yourself from a much larger problem long term. It feels like the most ideal way to live is to regularly make long term investments such that the payout overlaps to compensate for all the future long term investments. The hardest part is starting.

The flip side means that you can make short term gains but with long term sacrifices. A recent silly example for me is how I saw a special promotion being put on by TELUS in the mall. Get a $200 Visa prepaid card for signing a two year contract. After chatting with them a bit, I thought "I don't really need the 100 Mbps connection. I can downgrade to 50 Mbps download speed and get some money in return. Let's do it." They called in and got me switched to a two year contract. I walked away, feeling quite proud of myself for being so savvy. Then I ran the numbers in my head again just to make sure since I'm terrible at mental math and I admittedly rushed into that transaction. Turns out I was already getting a discount that lasted until October, so I don't actually end up saving money in the end. Losing speed for no benefit. Okaaay, sure. Fine, whatever. I'm an idiot. Then in the middle of my day off on Wednesday, the internet cuts out. Okaaay. Turns out the profile in the network's back end switched when my billing cycle restarted, and my connection went from two DSL lines, which is how I got the 100 Mbps speed, down to one. This freaks out the network, and I can't check my Facebook anymore. Okaaay. Call in, and about an hour of troubleshooting later, which involved such fun activities as resetting my gateway to factory defaults which erased all my settings, plugging and unplugging cables, crouching around my home theatre setup to reach behind the device, all done several times. Overall, it felt like how Squidward always tries to find some way to take advantage of Spongebob, but it just backfires on him in the end because he hasn't learned how to play nice with his neighbours. I tried to get a leg up with my internet plan, and it just caused me grief, ultimately getting me nowhere. I thought I was getting a short term gain, but I'm actually losing out long term.

That's the silly example, and as many of you have caught onto by now, it's time for the serious example. I could have delayed my counselling. I could have avoided all that trouble of being unemployed while Carrie was busy with school. I could have stopped writing about my problems and focused on staying afloat. I could have suppressed my problems further, but thing is, I'd already been doing that for years. They were already growing on me so fast that I couldn't proceed. I have terrible spring fever, and my allergist talks in terms of annual cycles. "Let's see how this nasal spray works in the spring, and we'll see you in twelve months. If it doesn't work so well, we can evaluate some other pills or allergy shots." I could have done the same with my talk therapy. I could have waited a few months to wait for when my world stabilized before taking the deep dive into my emotions. That's a lot of coulda-woulda-shoulda. On top of that, it was really hard dealing with joblessness while fighting all the other titans. Thankfully, Carrie and I aren't there anymore.

Carrie is looking for work now. Night and day difference from when I was job hunting. I didn't hear back from anyone for weeks and months, whereas she's getting interviews within a few weeks. Salary range is looking pretty good too, so we'll soon go back to stability and paying down debt/buying me more brushed aluminium.

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When it comes to being happy with your job, I have a theory about tradeoffs between compensation, coworkers, and content. In my observation, if you have two out of the three, you're happy with your job. First of all, having a job is nice enough on its own. Also, most people can't choose the job they want, but when you start asking about whether you're truly happy there, the difference between having a good job and a great one usually comes down to these three domains; certainly there are exceptions. I've only had two of the three combinations:

  • I've worked places where I liked my coworkers and the salary but was bored by the actual work.
  • I've also had jobs before where I liked my coworkers and what I was doing but didn't get paid enough.

In concept, it might seem ideal to balance all three, but it's really hard to pull off, especially at my age. In reality, balancing all three probably looks closer to having none of them at all. I think once people are actually able to find that perfect mix, that's when they stay put for like 10 years or more. Most people end up with a job that only ticks one category.

Certainly there are many more factors that play into job satisfaction, but I think this works as a simplistic filter. And that's only on the spectrum of enjoying your job. You can hate your job for multiple valid reasons and still live a great life.

I've seen people get caught up with one factor of job satisfaction, usually salary, only to have their unhappiness eat away at them over time. It's common to think that you can make so much money that you stop worrying about it entirely, but wealthy people can worry about their money too much too, like how to grow it faster or how to keep people from stealing it. I've worked only for the money before, and it gets old fast. You can get so fixated on doing what you love that it bankrupts your emotional reserves. I've also been here before, trying to work on a startup on the side of my day job, just because I enjoyed designing and building electronics. I can't say that I've worked somewhere just to be close to my friends. The scene that comes to mind is from Good Will Hunting, one of Carrie's favourite movies.

Struggles will find us all at some point. Some people's lives are front-loaded with hardships in their childhood, yet others seem to breeze through only to find calamity in their later years. Some are self-inflicted troubles, some are inherited. I could have tried to put off my deep dive into my emotional struggles, but I had already delayed dealing them so long that they exploded out of my control. I should have dealt with them earlier, but now I have a job I love. Troubles are always coming, so in a general sense, it's up to each individual how courageous they want to face them head on.

Denouement

Man's Search for Meaning talks about three mental stages of imprisonment in the concentration camps. What happens to the prisoner just after being put into the camp, entrenchment, and the third being what happens to the prisoner's mind after release. I'm out of my own little prison, but what does that mean for me moving forward? Half of the book is recounting the details of what happened, and the other half is about analyzing and studying those experiences. Even though I wrote a lot throughout my counselling, I still have a lot to sift through in order to truly complete my growth. Carrie just had her convocation, so a school-related analogy would mean that this stage for me is equivalent to the time after finishing final exams and packing up my belongings in order to move on to the next project in life. Even though the hard part is over, there's still a lot of baggage to put away and people to connect with before moving on.

I suspect that when most people read a book like this, they all experience it differently from how I did. They feel appalled, they think "how interesting," or "wow, I could never go through that." My predominant feeling while reading it was empathy. Even though I was never technically imprisoned, I found that I could relate to a lot of the feelings he described. Where some people might read through and express shock and horror, I went through certain passages nodding my head in agreement, thinking "yep, I know how that feels." Emotionally shutting down, becoming numb to the suffering of others, embracing the pain, finding meaning in the darkness. I had tried reading this a few years back, and it was too traumatizing to make it past the first few pages. It's a short book, and I'm about halfway through.

What else is there to do now that my counselling is over? I already wrote a few posts about how I'm different from before I started, but that's only scratching the surface. My analogy of choice throughout that time was of drowning. Say I fell into the ocean, treading water like Jack in Titanic, and just when all hope seemed to be lost, I was suddenly rescued. The process of returning to full health can involve many things like treating the hypothermia, changing out of the wet clothes, sipping a warm drink, and eating some food. What does that mean for me with regard to my counselling? Just because I stopped suffering, does that mean I'm ready to embark on the next adventure? I thought that's what it meant, but I'm getting signals that there must be loose ends I'm not done with.

May was entirely a transition month. Carrie and I tried to stay out of trouble. Stayed home, rested. Didn't really go out, didn't enjoy any patios. Slept lots. I could have gone crazy celebrating, but instead, I just wanted to sleep. We got really bored, but before long, we found lots of little cracks that needed to be filled in, lots of little tasks that piled up from procrastination. We put away Carrie's desk into storage, just to get the associated feeling of school out of the home. That freed up a lot of space. Then we cleaned like mad. Donated or consigned unwanted clothing. Sifted through storage and discarded a lot of stuff. I did a brain transplant on my 3D printer. There was a list that piled up of about a dozen fixes and upgrades I wanted to make to it, but I only found the energy during May even though I always had the time to perform them. Mopped, swept, redecorated. We built a new shoe rack from IKEA. Carrie sold some jewelry and bought books with the money. Upgraded our record player and bought some vinyls. Shuffled the coffee equipment on the counter. We put the toaster away. That one may not seem like much, but when you live in a space this small, anything that isn't being used regularly quickly becomes very annoying and somehow gets in the way all the time. We've settled into a quiet quotidian routine. Now that it's June, busyness has spiked quite quickly, so now Carrie and I are transitioning to that pace. It's funny how clearly delineated our lives are with the changing of months.

Counselling made me a lot stronger than I realized. There's a confidence that comes from hitting rock bottom. You know how bad it can get, and you also know that you survived. Even though I thought I had duct taped together a nice little comfy life by my mid 20's, I almost lost it all. That's made me less afraid of the world, and it also deepens my gratitude.

In a practical sense, I need to find full-time work that makes me happy. I quit my last job, and EI lasts until the end of September. I was just offered a full time position at work, so that's a step forward towards the conclusion of this story.

One other way I know I shouldn't rush to my next story is because I'm still tired. I still see the world through weary eyes. My posture is that of a broken man, exhausted from the beating he took throughout the counselling. Viktor Frankl talks about negative happiness, or freedom from suffering. In that sense, I'm experiencing negative happiness right now. Bad things have stopped randomly happening to me, like that one time several months ago at the gym when whoever showered before me decided to turn up the heat all the way up and point it where I normally stand out of the way when turning on the water, scalding my face on an already rough morning. I also experience positive happiness now, where good things happen to me, but I still feel drained. You can see it in my face. There's still that slump in my shoulders. I haven't fully recharged.

One of my guiding principles is to stay put until you know when to move on. Suppose I went for a walk on one of the many nice days we're seeing here in Calgary. I'll walk along the river, find a nice place to sit, and then relax. I'll think some thoughts, check some online feeds, maybe take a picture, then sit some more. After a while, I'll get self conscious. Should I just keep sitting? When should I leave? Does someone need this spot later? A previous version of me would have gotten awkward and nervous, leaving for no particular reason other than feeling unsure of how long he should sit. What I do now is stay put. It's an extension of the idea of simplifying my life. Why move if you don't have to? Instead of letting my anxiety get the better of me, I stay planted until I know I need to go. Maybe I'll need to go to the washroom. Maybe I'll feel hungry. More likely, I'll remember that I'm allergic to grass and I shouldn't be outside in the first place because I have bad hay fever. This principle has been the antidote I needed against the insecure drive to optimize and maximize every part of my life. There's a fear of missing out built in to that philosophy, which conveniently exacerbates my anxiety. I was at the farmer's market last weekend, and when I was standing in the aisle, I realized I was blocking this woman and quickly shuffled out of her way. She thanked me but also gave me a stern warning: "Don't ever rush through anything in your life. Take it from me. Take your time." She was very adamant. It's a message I've told myself over and over to little effect, but it's starting to sink in now that I've cleared a lot of garbage from my life.

I know I can't move on to the next episode until the credits roll through completely. Netflix likes to skip the credits when it can, giving you that 15 second timer before it auto-plays the next episode. I gotta cancel that and wait to the end. Maybe there will be a special scene after the credits like in The Avengers.