But if I don't try the biathalon, how will I ever be happy?
October 5, 2010 4:53 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with the fact that I can't do every activity I want to do without feeling like I'm wasting my life?

Either perceived or real, I feel like everyone else is doing much more interesting things than I am. Everyone else is writing a book, going to art show openings, out to bars, composing music, homebrewing, having kinky sex, having flavor tripping parties, or something along those lines. And I feel like I want to do it all.

I know that it's impossible to manage all of that, and I know that no one person is doing it all. The idea, though, that there exists out there something that I could be doing makes me feel crappy as a person. As if I'm missing out on life. I'm a grad student, so I have little time as it is, but even if I did have time, I feel as if I'd feel like I were missing out on life, and feel crappy about it.

Because I can't do everything, I tend to do nothing. Last night, I had an emotional breakdown that was basically a variation of "I feel like I'm wasting my life because I'm not doing ever possible thing I've ever thought of." Part of that is real, part of that is irrational. The real portion is the fact that I'm technology addicted, and I spend most of my time fucking around on my computer or watching TV. I'm going to start taking steps to fix that.

The perceived part is that I can't do it all. I know it. The problem is that I don't know which ones are the ones I really want to do, and because I can't know that, I feel like I'm failing at life by not doing them all.

If you've dealt with this, how did you come out the other end? How did you figure out what you wanted to fill your life with, and be ok with the fact that you can't do it all?
posted by SNWidget to Human Relations (29 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
This is, I think, a common sort of stuckness. You feel bad, but your analysis of why you feel bad doesn't make any sense so you can't move on. What helps me in similar situations is to get out of my ordinary environment and encounter new ideas. Great books can be very helpful, or a walk in some pathless the woods -- intentionally getting out of my comfort zone, maybe a little bit lost. In such circumstances, insights flow much more freely. You might realize that your problem is not an inability to do everything, but rather an extreme difficulty with doing anything. Perhaps that's tied into a fear of failure or discomfort; in any case, you've almost certainly got a problematically strong aversion to risk. You can't think your way out of such aversions. You might be able to train yourself out of them. Or you might simply get far enough from your habitual pathways to see that you've been going in circles for months or years, and finally damn the torpedoes and DO SOMETHING.
posted by jon1270 at 5:19 AM on October 5, 2010

You have your entire life to do all of these things. That's several entire decades! That should really be plenty of time.

If you don't know whether you will like something or not, you need to try it out. Nobody else psychically divines that they will love X activity before they have ever tried it.

So, make an enormous list of all the things you'd like to do, and just have a go at one of them - whichever is the most realistic for you right now. While you're at it, subscribe to some mailing lists or RSS feeds of local events so that when there ARE art show openings and so on, you know about them.

Also: Freecycle your TV. Do more exercise.
posted by emilyw at 5:21 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everyone else is writing a book, going to art show openings, out to bars, composing music, homebrewing, having kinky sex, having flavor tripping parties, or something along those lines.

Yes, but is there anyone you know who is doing all of these things? I often find myself distressed by how much more knowledgable my colleagues are than myself about a wide array of topics and am simultaneously frustrated by my own ignorance and depressed by the amount of work it might take to equal their knowledge (at which point they will be far beyond me). Then I have to remind myself that they are all highly knowledgable but in a very limited domain and none of them are incredibly knowledgable across all domains. It just seems that way because I seem to naturally characterize my experiences into "mine" and "other people's" in which the "other people's" category can stand in for just about any other individual person when, in fact, there are (figuratively) an infinite number of "other people" each with unique experiences and knowledge.
posted by proj at 5:26 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

The real portion is the fact that I'm technology addicted, and I spend most of my time fucking around on my computer or watching TV. I'm going to start taking steps to fix that....

The perceived part is that I can't do it all. I know it.

The real part is in your actions, and the perceived part is in your head. Take care of the real part, and your perception of the perceived part will change for the better.
posted by headnsouth at 5:32 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

The problem is that I don't know which ones are the ones I really want to do, and because I can't know that, I feel like I'm failing at life by not doing them all.

This is important. Do you really want to do these things? Or, do you want to do them because they sound cool and impressive and you think you should be doing them so you can be impressive, too? You're getting a graduate degree, that's pretty cool and it keeps you busy. Rest and not running yourself ragged is important. Staying home is actually an acceptable thing to do. It's okay to enjoy being at home.

That being said...

I've been down this exact road (I even have had the wee emotional breakdowns) and I find that when I complain that I'm too busy, or whatever other excuse, it's just whining disguised as complaint that you have no time. Oh, I'm a grad student and I have no time. I'm so helpless.

You seem bothered that you're not doing more so I would advise to do some serious soul searching. What really interests you? Why do you want to do more? Write it down. No one can do it all, but you can fit in a few things that interest you. It could be going to art openings or it could be going to the movies twice a month. It could be taking long walks in nature on the weekend. It could be watching TV and using your computer. (What's wrong with TV and the computer, really ? Our society condemns sitting on a couch and using a computer for leisure. One activity is just as worthy as the other, don't fool yourself.) Make small goals to do things that interests you and fit them into your schedule. I think you'll feel better and get over this idea that you're wasting your life. You are not wasting your life.
posted by Fairchild at 5:42 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I totally understand where you're coming from. I myself have regular little breakdowns: there's always another sport to try, another language to learn, another friend to make, another pub to try! But then I take a look at what I'm actually accomplishing: I'm working on my Master's thesis, taking ballet classes 4 times a week, learning Swedish and adjusting to life in Sweden, applying to medical school, and still managing to read books, watch movies, and fill my weekends with social outings. I bet that you'll notice the same thing if you take an objective look at your life. And even if you don't, here my attempt at a solution:

Start by making a list of all the things that you want to do: activities, trips, new habits, books/movies/TV shows/music, work, sports, whatever. Write it all down. Once you've done that, you can start sorting:

- Is this something that really fascinates you or is it a passing interest?
- How important is doing it to your future happiness?
- Do you have enough time to do it?
- Do you have enough money to do it?
- Is it urgent or would you be happy putting in on a to-do-in-retirement list?

Now use this list. Everytime that you're about to sit in front of your computer/TV, check the list instead, and pick one thing that you have the time/money/energy for. Maybe you can't afford to go skydiving just now, but you can certainly go to the library and check out a couple books on homebrewing. And instead of watching a movie in your apartment, maybe you can look up an exhibit or a free concert downtown. And well, your profile page says you're married: talk to your wife about the kinky sex!

Every time you get an urge to do something cool, put in on a list. It's safe there. Just make sure that the list doesn't become an obligation: it's there to inspire you to make a good use of your limited free time, nothing more. And if something on the list doesn't appeal to you any more, take it off.

Try it for a while. I think you'll notice that the busier you get doing interesting things, the more motivation you have to become even busier and more interesting!
posted by snoogles at 5:51 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

The problem is that I don't know which ones are the ones I really want to do

Here. Take this.*

It sounds like you're assuming that one of your interests is the Right One for you to pursue — it's your Passion or your True Calling or whatever, and the rest are just distractions. But that's a weird assumption, and also sort of a crazy-making one. It keeps you from committing yourself to anything: "Gee, I don't know which of these interests is the Right One. I'd better just keep juggling all of them half-assedly until I figure that out."

So drop that assumption. When you think about it, it's pretty unlikely to be true. You don't literally have a Calling in life, any more than you have a predestined soulmate or a lucky number or a special susceptibility to the influence of certain stars and constellations. You just have a bunch of things you feel like doing. So, okay, pick one. I mean, pick at random if you have to. And then just pursue it and see where it goes. Odds are you'll wind up having a good time, since all the things you're talking about sound like fun.

A metaphor: you are standing at a point equidistant between seventeen different slices of tasty chocolate cake. You refuse to walk towards one slice because that means walking away from the other sixteen slices — and what if one of those other slices is better???? But this is a pretty silly predicament, because they're all slices of chocolate cake. Just pick one and go eat it. If you're still hungry when you're done, you can have another slice then.

*I feel sort of awkward linking to that post, since the marketing robots have eaten the author's brain since he wrote it, and his blog has evolved into a spammy low-content infomercial for his book. It used to be good, and that post in particular completely changed how I think about this shit. I'm basically paraphrasing it here, and probably not doing it justice. Seriously, go read it, and try to ignore the gee-whiz title and the remarkable marketing buzzwords in profoundly bold type in the sidebar.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:52 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

A few weeks ago my dad and I were driving in the mountains and for awhile the road ran alongside this nice river that looked like it'd be just about the perfect fly-fishing river and I mentioned that. We got to talking about fly-fishing and how it could be a person's major hobby: reading and researching the various aspects of fly-fishing, fly-tying, finding the perfect fishing spots, making bamboo rods, looking up the latest equipment, and so on.

There's the actual fishing part, too.

The problem is that I don't know which ones are the ones I really want to do

I already have three major hobbies and a few secondary ones and there's not really room on my plate for another one like fly-fishing. But I mentioned fly-fishing because it's something I know I could absolutely enjoy. I realized it was not about finding what, among all the interesting things in the world, were the absolute most interesting things that I really wanted to do. It was about accepting that there are more tremendously interesting things than I'll ever be able to do, and being okay with finding something interesting while knowing I'm not going to become involved.

Maybe someday I'll live near that perfect river and start fly-fishing. More likely I'll never get there, but that's okay. I have enough other things to keep me busy and thinking and engaged, and I try not to spend too much of my time doing more passive things like the internet or television.
posted by 6550 at 6:00 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I suffer from this as well. Maybe this is really abstract, but here's the only thing that seems to bring me any consolation:

The absence of activities in your life does not detract; but the presence of activities adds.

That is to say, when I don't or can't do [biathlon/lion taming/macramé], I have not lost anything or worsened my situation. I am no worse for the wear by not doing things. However, to the extent that I CAN do [X/Y/Z], I benefit. So, even if I only have 5 minutes per day, that is 5 minutes which enriches my life. The other 1435 minutes are not counted against me. The balance sheet can only register positive at the end of the day; no matter how much or little I am able to do, it has made life better by that amount.

Try and pursue the positive ("What would be a really fun thing to do tonight?"), rather than escaping the negative ("How can I escape doing nothing and feeling like crap about myself?").
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:08 AM on October 5, 2010 [15 favorites]

Not to get too heavy on you, and you may well roll your eyes at this, but this is what Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst heavily indebted to Freud, described as the reality of castration (anxiety). The secret is: everyone is castrated and everyone feels this. It's part of being human to both have capacities which you cannot fulfill, and mistake the fact that others are fulfilling theirs. Coming to terms with this is actually a major life task. It hits some people harder than others, but we all have to do it. We all have to pay opportunity costs.

I'm not sure I have specific advice for it. There are practical time mgmt things you can do, like not watching any TV, that seem like they might address some of it, but from your description my guess is that those types of suggestions won't touch the existential roots of the issue. It might help to talk with someone about it. It might also help to just pick some things and do them. You may come to realize that some things which seem great are not really all that great, or can have the itch scratched raw pretty fast.
posted by OmieWise at 6:09 AM on October 5, 2010 [11 favorites]

You need to develop and nurture "jobbies"--hobbies that have a tangential relation to your work or career, to your "job." For instance, reading novels in a foreign language might be an acceptable jobbie, if learning this language is connected to your graduate work.

For me, buying tools and repairing my house can be characterized as a jobbie, because it's my "job" in my family to maintain the homestead (and, in fact, there are monetary consequences for allowing the maintenance to lapse). Watching football games, on the other hand, is definitely not a jobbie, so it falls into the "leisure" category. Same for most Internet sites and DVDs and Blurays.
posted by Gordion Knott at 6:16 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To everyone: thanks for the advice so far. Those of you that have gone through my posting history will see that time management and anxiety are two of my biggest issues, and I'm starting to believe that this is just another hot spot for a larger, underlying issue.

proj: I realize that not everyone else is doing everything. Part of this might just be a deluge of information, and being unable to parse it. Between the blogs I read, MeFi, and my friends' status updates on facebook, I find it easy to get completely inundated with awesome ideas that I need to do RIGHT NOW but can't process.

But I haven't come up with a glowing cube that let's me know in the bedroom when my oven's at temperature! But I can't decoupaged that canvas with my leftover pornography! But I haven't gone with my wife to that burlesque show!

Damnit, when people ask questions about having "Come as your favorite 17th century musician but not Monteverdi" party, I want to have one to, and I feel like I'm not living my life properly unless I do that as well.

That's the kind of stuff that goes through my mind. As a half-assed followed of Getting Things Done, my someday/maybe list has become depressing as opposed to inspiring. I just see a list of things that I haven't accomplished that I'd like to do.

nebulawindphone: Passion may be an issue here. I'm finding my passion dwindling on a lot of things in life at the moment, and I also think I'm having a depression flare up (which I need to deal with medically, but haven't yet). I may be blindly grabbing at things to try to reignite some passion that I feel like I've lost.
posted by SNWidget at 6:21 AM on October 5, 2010

Ever have too many mp3s in your itunes and you want to listen to something but there are just too many choices? I recently got a Kindle and ran into this a million fold and found myself hard up against some metaphysical truth. When you have that mp3 problem, or at least, when I do, I find myself going through about a million songs before I find the one I want to listen to or I give it up to the shuffle function and then just shut it off. I'm sure other people are probably less peculiar with their music listening habits and don't just skip around a lot of tracks to find that particular sound that fits, but maybe not. But this is not the more useful analogy because music is small, tiny, we can easily skip through a thousand mp3s without the days spinning by like in the cartoons. Like the allegorical box of chocolates, one could just eat all of them. If there were a few thousand tiny chocolates, one could still have a meal of it.

Now, the kindle. This is the important bit. I loaded my Kindle up with a good hundred-- two hundred-- three hundred books in the matter of a few days. My hands rubbing, my smile across my face to my ears, like a wizard with that last gem of a fallen kingdom. Now is the time to do everything. How-to texts, technical works, classics, the list of vague descriptions of books went on and on. I organized them precisely. I prepared a notebook special for Kindle reading. Over the following days though, that wide manic smile diminished, the notebook remained blank. I was reading the books, but not really. I was reading introductions to all the texts, but not the entire introduction. Nor was I entirely reading. I was just skipping through them. It had been a week, not a single book was read more than a dozen pages in. This was distressing, so I got more books. I checked my math, maybe I am not putting in enough minutes of reading a day. So I expanded it out, one hour and thirty minutes, yes with that I could finish a third of the books on here within the year. A third? If I read for four and a half hours a day I could finish them all in a year. A year is a long time but maybe. What am I even doing in my leisure hours anyway? I could do that. I turned off the internet, spent the next evening reading. But by the end of those four hours, no writing in my notebook, and I somehow ended up with eight more books in the collection. Frustrated, I gave up.

The End.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:29 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Barbara Sher is all about figuring out what you want to do, and how to fit it all in or pull it all together into a life or career.

Refuse to Choose is great for figuring out how to do everything you want to do. I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What it Was is good for figuring out what those things are. She also has a message board that seems to have some helpful folks on it.

Another one I'm currently liking is The Vigorous Mind. It's about using small blocks of time to cross-train your brain in different types of activities. I find her enthusiasm for learning new things rather inspiring.

I tend to get interested in off-the-wall stuff too, sometimes for reasons I don't really understand. It helps to get some information and really think through the process of learning the new thing and doing it. In my experience most things are not really all that fun until you master them. If I can think through what the process, and the commitment of time and money, to acquire the necessary skills to actually start enjoying a particular hobby, sometimes I realize I'm really not that interested.

For instance, I think it'd be kind of cool to brew my own beer. I like beer, and home brewing is one of those kind of cool, interesting things I'd like to be able to tell people I'm into. But from what little I know about it, there is a significant (to my budget, at least) investment in equipment and ingredients; and there is a learning curve; and I'd need to have the space to do it and the patience to wait for it and keep track of recipes and after all that, what if the beer isn't all that great? Anyway, maybe anyone could make a drinkable beer using a kit, but if I really want bragging rights I'll want to develop my own recipes, and that's going to take a lot of trial and error, time and possibly wasted ingredients for ones that don't turn out. And I'm going to have to wash bottles and equipment... like I need more dishes to do? Really?

Thinking of it that way, it actually doesn't sound particularly fun or exciting to me, so at this point I realize that home brewing is something I can cross off my list, at least for now. On the other hand, if I had thought all that through and felt like "yeah, I think that'd be challenging and fun!" then maybe I'd want to get some beginner materials and try it out.

Basically, imagine your way through some of these hobbies and see what you can weed off your list once you have some understanding of what pursuing it really entails. The more stuff you can cross off your list (or move to a "maybe later" list) the quicker you'll narrow it down to a few things you might really enjoy trying.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:38 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

My only contribution to this discussion is this: we are all engaged in the continual process of creating ourselves. The experiences you choose to invest in now will define who you are in ten years (and beyond). So think about who you want to be, instead of what you want to do.

Does that help you narrow it down? It sure helps me.
posted by richyoung at 7:48 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Passion may be an issue here. I'm finding my passion dwindling on a lot of things in life at the moment, and I also think I'm having a depression flare up (which I need to deal with medically, but haven't yet). I may be blindly grabbing at things to try to reignite some passion that I feel like I've lost.

Yeah, I hear you. I struggle with depression too — and I do think it's related.

The thing about depression is that it sets the stakes unreasonably high on every decision you make. It's easy to be like, "Right now EVERYTHING IS AWFUL. I need something that will TOTALLY CHANGE MY LIFE. Can you promise me in advance that this project / trip / hobby / slice of delicious chocolate cake will be THE ONE that TOTALLY CHANGES MY LIFE? Because if not, I don't think it's worth getting out of bed for."

But (you already know this) depression lies to you. Sure, when I'm depressed, I feel like I need to find THE ONE PERFECT BRILLIANT THING that will snap me out of it and make me happy. But there is no such thing. On the one hand, the stuff with the power to snap you out of depression is pretty mundane and prosaic: take your meds, get enough sleep, exercise, eat food, talk to people you trust, avoid assholes. And on the other hand, once you've got your depression under control, the stakes go back down. An activity no longer has to be PERFECT and LIFE-CHANGING to be worthwhile: it just has to be feasible and interesting. So instead of the desperate depressive agonizing over which activity is gonna be THE ONE, you can let up on the pressure, just pick something to do — out of a hat, if necessary — and enjoy it for what it is.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:53 AM on October 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

You say you are technology obsessed... Are you on Facebook?

I find that I feel exactly like you when I spend too much time on Facebook and see other people's constant barrage of status updates and pics from last night that I feel like a total bump on a couch.

Then I realize I'm just a more private person and don't feel the need to broadcast to the world that I just made yummy pasta for dinner and read a great magazine article and can't wait for my hiking trip next month. You're not wasting your life, you're doing your school work and surely learning unrelated but interesting things on the webs. Reading about possible hobbies and such to try, new shows to watch. You're real problem is that you are paying too much attention to what other people around you are doing in their free time.

tl;dr stay off Facebook and other related social technology that serves as a brag book for people trying to convince themselves that their life is DA SHIT YO!. Continue trying new things you want to try and doing the same things you've always done and enjoyed.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:57 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: WeekendJen: My lovely wife (who is reading this thread and will probably post later) said something exactly like that last night while I was wallowing. Seeing pictures on Facebook of wild trips, late night drinks, and exciting outings is probably messing up my happiness equilibrium if you will. I see all of that, and I'm convinced I'm being left behind in the race to "awesomeness," whatever that means.
posted by SNWidget at 9:04 AM on October 5, 2010

Depression limits me with how many things I can realistically take on without completely sapping all of my energy (of which there I have a limited amount.)

Sometimes I am envious of other people, particularly friends, who have engrossing careers, plus multiple hobbies that they actually excel at. It's frustrating.

It's also frustrating to realize that, for some things I'm really drawn to, I haven't had the same advantages other people have had to indulge in them (big example: I'm "musical" but have never had the opportunity for lessons or musical education. And while I realize that those things are not necessary to be involved in music in some way, they are things I want badly and simply cannot have.)

Recognizing what makes you envious can actually be useful if you don't let it suck you down into despair and self-pity: that feeling of envy is a STRONG SIGN from your brain that "HEY THIS IS SOMETHING I CARE ABOUT."

In whatever limited way you can, try to get involved in one of those things RIGHT NOW. Don't worry if other people seem to be doing more things, or doing them better than you. One problem with adults is that they seem to lose the ability to just do something for the fun of it; it always seems to become a competition, and if someone can't be An Expert or A Professional at something, they don't bother getting involved at all.

Do what you want in the most amateurish way possible, if necessary. I try to sing along to challenging music and attempt to improvise on my own, figure out how harmony and different rhythms work, since I can't have lessons. I've brewed beer completely off the cuff without knowing what the hell I was doing, just because it was fun to try, and because waiting until I went through with the whole orthodox methods would have meant it would never happen, realistically.

I was really inspired by In the Realms of the Unreal because it showed someone whose capacity, for all intents and purposes, was pretty limited, and yet who created something amazing simply for himself, and entirely on his own terms, with absolutely no regard for how one is supposed to live, or supposed to make art.

Be an outsider artist. Or an outsider brewmaster, or whatever. But pick a thing that makes you wild with envy and take one, small, totally imperfect step toward trying it. If your interest dies, try another thing. Let it grow in whatever way it wants to grow.
posted by Ouisch at 9:38 AM on October 5, 2010

well, the short-term solution is to draw up a list of things you want to do, assign numbers to items in the list, and select one of those items using whatever your preferred random number generator. Then do that thing. Doesn't matter that there's other things on your list that you want to do, you don't do them. you're the dude who does the thing that your random number generator selected. Careful — when you draw up the list, you could be committing yourself to do any of the things you put in it. If it's honestly not realistic, or honestly not that interesting to you, you can't put it on the list.

Set aside at least a good hour or two for list construction. If you want to make a real project of it, you could actually set aside a few sessions over the course of a month or so for really fine-tuning your list before you deploy the RNG that tells you what to do.

The long-term solution, I think, though I haven't gotten a handle on it yet, is to accept that you, as a discrete, individual human, have neither the innate skills, the attention span, nor the life span to do all the things that you'd like to be able to do. The trick, once you've accepted that, is to start identifying with a group or movement that's bigger and more resilient than an individual human, and to start taking pleasure in the fact that people in your group or movement are doing the things that you'd like to do yourself, if you had the time, skill, and attention required. That way, you don't have to throw the flavor tripping party or craft the beer yourself, you can take pleasure in the fact that other members of your group are homebrewing or flavor-partying or whatever, and will tell you how it went later if you ask. Meanwhile, you can also take pleasure in the fact that the other members of the group take pleasure in what you're doing — they'll be at their flavor parties, enjoying miracle fruit and lemon juice, but also while they're there they'll be thinking fondly about how you're somewhere else having all that kinky sex.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:09 AM on October 5, 2010

You can't do everything that you want to do, or feel you should do - no one can.

It doesn't matter what you feel about that fact, its still a fact.

If you let go of the idea that you ought to be able to do all of it, or even most of it, then you can start to focus on which few things you will in reality do.

To start moving instead of being paralyzed you need to pick a very small list of things that you are going to get started on in the immediate future. And by immediate, I mean you can schedule time to take the first step this week.

Now that step could be as simple as brainstorming ideas for what you could write a book on, or finding an art show you want to go to, and making a date to go with someone.

And after that first step is done, plan the next step,

Every time you get morose about all those things that you are not doing, remember feeling morose will not change the reality of what you will and won't do in your life. Picking out a few things to do, and making a start will.

Btw, don't use other people as benchmarks of what you should or shouldn't be able to do. We all tend to excel at seeing only people that make us look bad by comparison, and don't even notice all the other people around us.

If you want a benchmark, consider what you personally could actually do this week, versus what you actually end up doing.
posted by philipy at 11:16 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I definitely know what you mean -- with the depression, and the wanting to do *all* the things, and the technology telling you that all your friends are doing something! really! cool! that you're not a part of...

A corollary to the tips about not looking at Facebook so much -- maybe try keeping your own "brag book", where you record (publicly or not - mostly for your own benefit) some of the cool stuff you *are* doing. I sometimes use Twitter for this -- I post quick updates like "went to the park with friends" or "playing guitar" or "baking bread", and then later when the depression tells me that I never do anything fun I have a record that reminds me that that's a lie.
posted by anotherthink at 12:03 PM on October 5, 2010

Well, SNWidget, I just happened to read you Metafilter profile and you sound like a more-than-average interesting person to me. You are the same age, studying music (which i love) and you just recently got married which is a milestone I'm currently only dreaming about. I bet myself and your wife are right in that you can't compare yourself other's so much. The cool late night pictures really aren't all it's made out to be - i have several friends who will literally spend the entirety of their night out trying to get a good picture to post on facebook. It's some new wierd modern obsession. You seem perfectly fine as far as your interesting factor. I don't know if it would be your thing, but maybe you could spend more time pulling together a picture or status update every few days to show what you and your wife are doing. Sometimes I do a similar excercise (though offline because that's my style) if I'm feeling like my life is going nowhere - before bed I write one thing that made me happy that day. It can be something as simple as hearing good songs on the radio during my commute. Just reflecting on being happy (or in your case living fully) becomes a sort of self fulfilling prophecy.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:04 PM on October 5, 2010

Response by poster: anotherthink, WeekendJen:

That's not a bad idea, actually. I can use a Twitter account no one knows about, more just as a record than publicly bragging. I'm not looking for the attention, so much as just figuring how to do these things for myself.

Putting together some pictures for Facebook might be a public way to go about this once in a while, when I do want a bit of attention, or at least to throw whatever interesting things we're doing out to the wind.

As is usual with my depression, a few hours later, I can see all of my crazy for what it is. Thanks for all of the advice in this thread - I'm going to see if I can get through some of my someday/maybe list, and pare it down to the things I really want to do.
posted by SNWidget at 12:53 PM on October 5, 2010

The real part is in your actions, and the perceived part is in your head. Take care of the real part, and your perception of the perceived part will change for the better.

Or do the total opposite: Take care of the perception part and the real part will change for the better. That is, LOVE and APPRECIATE just one single thing you currently do. Use that as an anchor to change further perceptions of what you do (through journalling? reflection? photos?). Then you'll be in a good position to do more things that will result in you feeling more fulfilled.
posted by kch at 1:54 PM on October 5, 2010

You're in grad school, it's what you're focusing on, so it sounds like that's what's taking up all that free energy.

Now that I'm out of school full time and working a pretty grind-ey job not related to any of my interests (and it's slow enough that I can do what I can do stuff at work!), I find I have a lot more energy to do what I want.

During school I was really paying attention to how long things took to do, and I would typically find 4-3 hours in a day that I COULD have spend doing something else, and instead I had slacked off. So I beat myself up for it. I blamed it all on my "technology addiction" but in reality I was Busy As All Hell.

Even after I was free from a busy school schedule, it took a few months before I got really productive. And what I was good at (Music production, Illustration, Game programming) I had been working on for the past few years on and off. But never had the opportunity to pursue them because I was BUSY.

Most of it is situational, you sound like you're pretty driven. Perhaps when you get a job and settle into a routine that's sane, the time will find you and you can really get stuff done.

Lastly: don't beat yourself up.
posted by hellojed at 1:55 PM on October 5, 2010

Lovely wife speaking. I'm pretty involved in discussing this topic (and all the others related to SNWidget's other posts) with him. One thing I'll note is the fundamental problem with comparing himself to unrealistic expectations (beyond simple comparisons to friends). For example, if I point out, "Well, the MetaFilter people suggested this as a good first step," the response I get is "But I should be better/different!" In our relationship, I'm the one to make lists and focus on incremental progress (and embrace any degree of progress as a positive step). I think the response regarding depression was particularly insightful--it does seem like Widget wants any actions taken to be life changing. Last night he seemed particularly concerned that even if I could put my list-making/organizing skills to the test and arrange for us to try some things on the list, he said he couldn't guarantee that he'd feel better about things. But, to some extent he's feeling better today, so we're going to capitalize on that and try some of the suggestions, like the Twitter feed of fun activities and positive statements or making me aware of his list so I can help make it happen. And maybe some kinky sex ;)
posted by Terriniski at 3:08 PM on October 5, 2010

Another fan of Barbara Sher's Refuse to Choose here! Seriously, this book has changed my life and most importantly, my perspective toward my life. I'm in the process of setting up 'avocation stations' around the house so I can work on projects when I'm in the mood.
posted by tar0tgr1 at 8:09 PM on October 5, 2010

This thread strikes such a cord with me that it is almost painful to read. My ticket out of this special hell was realizing who I was, what my motivations are in life, and what my place in the world was. For me, Meyers Briggs was the looking glass I needed.

I encourage you to learn about Meyers Briggs. You are definitely a P, and you wife is definitely a J. (I would hazard a guess that you are an INTP, let me know if I'm right!)
posted by wivy at 6:12 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

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