Becoming better isn’t always what we’re trying to do
I push myself into discomfort. Doing so creates growth. Many do this to become who they want to be, I do it to escape who I am.
Growing up, math was my strength. I had one of the highest standardized math test scores in my state. Reading and writing, on the other hand, were my weaknesses. They haunted me.
I played clever games in school to obscure my weaknesses. I cheated, recycled the same summer book report year-after-year for a book I never read, and played clever social games to avoid ever reading in front of the class. I became a high school junior who had never read a book on his own.
But but before a flight that year, one of my friends slid me a slim book: The Stranger by Camus. I had never heard of it, but I finished it before we landed. She placed another before me: Fahrenheit 451. My eyes opened.
When I came home, my high school mentor began placing more books before me. We explored philosophy through the works of Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle.
I was starting to gain traction. Standing idle and avoiding my weaknesses were no longer options. The end of high school came and I chose to pursue a degree in philosophy.
My ultimate goal was to graduate with honors, which required writing a thesis. The standard academic task intimated me, but I was met with great professors who helped me build my confidence and skills in writing, and who were also experts who studied with the very philosophers I was writing on. I got the win I wanted.
But it wasn’t enough.
As I explored my feelings after graduation, the accomplishment felt inadequate. I took a shot at tackling my weaknesses — my weaknesses in reading and writing —and I still felt inadequate. And for years thereafter, I drifted as many do in their twenties, unsure of what my strengths were and my course ahead.
The skill of writing, however, is tremendously useful for providing clarity. It reminded me of working math problems out on paper. Providing words to thoughts, feelings and memories, I started journaling around the same time as I finished The Stranger. It continues to be one of the most consistent practices in my life. But I keep the writing closely guarded. I never share it.
My close childhood friend, Steve Sangapore, a painter, had always described his moral obligation to share his work with the world. I always found the instinct to be noble, but never bought into it being a moral imperative. If one feels that they want to create art, then do it, but one is never obligated.
But I couldn’t help feeling drawn to the topic and his work. Though I couldn’t square the moral argument, I was fascinated by what he was able to create. And by how much of it. A nagging feeling needed to be reconciled. What of the piles of writing I developed that I kept closed off?
It wasn’t until one of those afternoons with Steve, when he would setup his canvas in some landscape we discovered and create a work of art in a few short hours, that I realized what he had been talking about for so long.
I was always skeptical when someone would talk about their need to express or share. I always felt that a one-directional toss of paint, words or sound was deeply self-involved. That it was just done to be heard or seen. But I realized that’s the whole damn point.
A work of art is a masterclass in how that artist experienced, dealt with, overcame or grew from whatever struggle she faced. It becomes a critical lesson and tool for the rest of us out here. These works of art create community.
I realized that day I was not trying to only overcome my weaknesses in reading and writing for the sake of inadequacy — a fear of being weak when others were strong. I was cultivating these skills because I had something to say.
There were lots of reasons why early on my capacity to share ideas and experiences had been snuffed out — and it wasn’t from a lack of talent.
I was drawn to philosophy not simply because it required strong reading and writing skills — a challenge to be overcome — but it provided a method for searching for truth I needed. There was something in the pages of The Stranger that made me feel at home. A sense of community.
I have come to realize the need to share is not only to “get it off my chest,” but to invite others to do the same. To find community through our common and different experiences. It’s an obligation.
Nothing scares me more than to create and express myself before the world. There is the continuous feeling of inadequacy and fear of failure. But the real weakness is to not create anyway. It’s a step into discomfort. One step further from who I am and one step closer to who I create.
Originally posted on Medium on July 12, 2019.