2016 has come and passed, and good riddance. It was far and away the most challenging year of my life, which speaks to my relatively privileged existence, since nothing terribly traumatizing happened to me personally. More than anything, what made it so difficult was having my bubble of naiveté burst. I found myself exposed to this whole other side of life and the world that I didn't really know existed, and frankly, a world that I previously didn't want to know existed, because well... ignorance is bliss. That I believe more than ever.
I found myself on my own for the first time in my life with no going back, and with actual responsibilities—work responsibilities, home responsibilities, financial responsibilities, social responsibilities—some which I handled better than others. More significantly, I found myself with a freedom to do whatever I wanted, without having to answer to anyone, and without the financial impediment. Initially, this freedom was liberating, but it quickly became overwhelming, because I didn't know what to do with it, and the things that I was doing, I wasn't enjoying. So me being me, I deliberated, and... I did nothing. And I deliberated some more, and I continued to do nothing. And then I started beating myself up over the fact that I was doing nothing, which only made things worse.
Eventually, I figured that I had to go back to basics and asked myself a simple question: what do I enjoy? Well, I enjoy being active. So, I started weight-lifting again, playing volleyball, hiking, and doing yoga. Being naturally inquisitive, I also love learning. So, I started listening to podcasts and reading more, about sociology, psychology, neuroscience, technology, and history. Things were going well. I was going through this whirlwind of "self-improvement", trying new things that I hadn't tried before. As a part of that, I also wanted to be a more informed citizen and further try to understand the ways of the world and why things are the way they are. Knowing the dynamics of politics and news, I did all I could to thoroughly educate myself properly, reading numerous, in-depth, articles and perspectives from various sources. This was where my naiveté bubble began rupturing, as I became more aware of the many injustices and atrocities that had happened throughout history, in addition to recognizing that many of those injustices were very much alive and still occurring today.
The thing I'm realizing about both "self-improvement" and becoming an informed citizen is that they're never-ending rabbit holes. The accessibility and availability of so much information in today's day and age is both a blessing and a curse. It's absolutely incredible that with a click of a button, one can get information to learn about literally anything. At the same time though, there's such an overwhelming amount of information out there that one can spend every second of every day learning about something, and there will still be a lifetime worth's of information that has yet to be covered. There is literally no end.
With "self-improvement" (there has a better term than that), it feels great when you first get started, because you legitimately feel you're bettering yourself, and objectively, it is great. I made a list of things I wanted to incorporate into my life: weight-lifting, healthy eating, getting an adequate amount of sleep, yoga, practicing mindfulness, running, reading, writing. I'd start with one thing, and once I was able to check that off my list, move on to the next, and slowly, I began incorporating more positive habits into my everyday life. After a personally dark period of rumination and deliberation, I had a 3-4 month period where I was feeling pretty good about myself; I was exercising 4-5 times a week, reading daily, getting plenty of sleep, and I had just started doing yoga as well. Then, work started to get busy. That was ok though, since a large reason why I started incorporating these habits was so I can better manage stress. The problem was, with less free time, rather than focusing on strengthening the habits I had already built, I tried incorporating in more new habits, and the habits I had previously developed suffered as a result. I tried to start running, but my weight-lifting suffered. I tried to read more psychology and self-help books, but I forgot the ideas and concepts that I previously read. Things snowballed from there, and in reality, even though I had probably taken was three steps forward and one step back, what it felt like to me was that I had taken three steps forward and ten steps back. Shit happens, and that's life; it ebbs and flows, but I'm not sure I helped myself by keeping my foot on the gas pedal the entire time.
With trying to be a well-informed citizen, the story is similar. I had always been generally aware of what was going on—enough to carry a conversation and avoid embarrassing myself when the topics came up—but now I wanted to really understand the nitty gritty details of what was happening, and more importantly, why they were happening. The why part is the deepest part of the rabbit hole, because there's never a clear straightforward answer in geopolitics as to why things are the way they are; rather, there are infinitely many different factors at play, all of which have varying degrees of influence depending on who you ask. I felt that in order to properly become informed, I had to first thoroughly understand what was happening, then expose myself to different perspectives as to why things were happening and what the implications might be, and finally, with that knowledge and differing perspectives, come to my own conclusions. Needless to say, it is exhausting and almost always very very disheartening, because there's a lot of awful awful things going on. Previously being in a bubble of naiveté and seeing the world as a good place, this is difficult to come to terms with, because it's one thing to cope with anger and despondency, but the helplessness I feel not being able to do anything to right these wrongs is demoralizing. Helplessness is one of the worst feelings there is.
Like many, the moment my bubble of naiveté totally burst was when Trump was elected, and once I got past the initial shock and grief, my first reaction was to do what I had been doing: try to understand what had happened and why, what the implications were, etc. But there was so much happening, and none of it good. I'd save articles to read later, but when I had the time to read them, I didn't have the energy, and when I had the energy, I didn't have the time. I was staying less and less informed, and honestly, I felt better not having to constantly be reminded that we were all screwed and that the world was coming to an end. This past week, I deleted all those saved articles. I've decided to stop hyper-analyzing every story in the news, because as much as I value being an informed citizen, I value my sanity more. And you know what, I don't think knowing every single detail about every single injustice puts me in any better position to help and make a difference. Just being aware of the injustice and empathetic towards those it affects is enough. In fact, I think that knowing the details puts me in a worse position, as I come away feeling cynical and hopeless.
So for 2017, my goal is to perform maintenance. We live in a society that is all about rapid growth and doing more, more, more. For me, I just want to maintain and strengthen the things I currently have, rather than try to continuously add more. I'm going to put down the self-help books for a while and read some stories that I enjoy. Along those same lines, I'm going to pay less attention to the news and focus more on what I can control: what I'm doing to make the world a better place. Knowledge and growth aren't bad of course, and neither is deliberation for that matter, but like all things, moderation is key. When I'm ready for more information and experiences, they'll be there, and I'll pursue them at a slow and steady pace that I'm comfortable with. I'm over the rat race.