#2. The First Time You Can't Remember Why You Believe Something That's Really Important to You
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I collect controversial political opinions the way other people collect Pokemon. The only real difference is that instead of playing a strategic card game with my friends, I spent college making enemies with the Student Government -- which is way easier than making enemies with the actual government, whom I'm told own guns and actually matter. Also like Pokemon, I spent a lot of time "setting up my build" or, in this case, researching: I read a lot of economic, political, and philosophical texts. I wanted to sound coherent and intelligent in my arguments, because I was having them all the time.
What I'm saying is this was me, the only difference being that I've never played Pokemon in my life
and I don't know what any of those creatures are called.
But then college ended, and I got a real job, and suddenly my responsibility wasn't to go to a room and half-listen to an incredibly smart person who was being paid to tolerate me explain some of the most complicated and nuanced ideas ever developed in human history. In fact, my responsibilities didn't involve bettering myself at all. They involved doing things for "other people," a group whose existence I had, until then, been only dimly aware of. I quickly learned that if I wanted to learn, grow, and better myself, I'd have to do it on my own time.
So I stopped bettering myself, because I had fucking video games to play, and that's where the Pokemon comparison stops working: In Pokemon, when you're not using your Squirtlezard, you can put him in a ball in your bag and forget about him until you need him again. If you whip him back out days, weeks, or even years later, he'll be in tip-top shape and ready to fight again. Opinions aren't like that. If you neglect them, they start to die.
This is not an accurate analogy for my thoughts on the influence of John Maynard Keynes.
My point is that, while I still have strong opinions about the existence of a constitutional right to privacy, the role of union labor in our country's development, and whatever a "permanent revolution" is -- I have no fucking idea why. I remember owning books that talked about that stuff, and I remember thinking, "Yeah, that makes a ton of sense! I'm going to reshape my worldview based on this information!" But I have no idea at all what that information was, or even the names of the books. I just have to trust that 19-, 20-, and 21-year-old me was being rational and thinking his opinions through and, fuck, that's seeming like a worse idea every second.
But even now, realizing that a lot of my opinions aren't backed up, I'm still not going to check myself, because I don't have time. I need to research the articles I'm getting paid for, and I'm gonna be moving soon, and I haven't called my dad in forever ... and speaking of complaints ...
#1. The First Time You Realize Your Problems Aren't Unique to You
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One of those weird memories that sticks in my brain for no immediately obvious reason is from my junior year of college, when my friend told me, "OK, I've sorted out my class schedule. Now I just need to balance my work life with my personal life." It seemed weird because she stated that like it's something you can just do, like it belongs on an itemized list -- but if it does, it's right below "figure out how to manage relationships properly" and right above "earn your dad's respect." I mean that it's a real problem, but it's one of those things that everyone, everywhere, has to deal with. Forever.
Awww, look how complicated and painful that relationship will always be, no matter fucking what!
Then I started noticing that everyone was saying stuff like that: kids babble about how they're having trouble with calculus, Jon Snow in that episode of Game of Thrones bitches about the fact that he's the only one to have to deal with family problems to another character on a show that's entirely about family problems. It was irritating until I realized that I do the same thing: I was talking to my uncle about whiskey, and I said that my favorite was Jameson, but I couldn't afford it, and he laughed and said, "Yeah, everyone would buy Jameson if they could afford it."
Then I realized what an idiot I had been. Partly because Laphroaig is superior to Jameson in every conceivable way, but also because I had assumed that I had any problems, any at all, that were unique to me. I had thought that I could never look at something in my life and think "No one else has to deal with this shit!" and not be hopelessly, hilariously, fucktardedly wrong.
You're never more ashamed of anything than your youthful opinions of hard alcohol.
Pick the big thing fucking up your life right now. Doesn't matter if it's something that everyone has to deal with, like situational social anxiety, or something more rare and difficult to explain, like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. There are dozens, hundreds, maybe even billions of people who have dealt with it before you. Instead of feeling ashamed, feel liberated. Your problems are still big, and important, and it totally makes sense to feel overwhelmed. But once you realize that there are thousands of people at any given time going through the exact same thing, and that there are all kinds of ways to find them, you'll also realize that you never have to feel alone again.
Sure, it makes you less of a unique and special little messianic snowflake, but it also really takes the load off. Plus, not being unique means you don't have to sacrifice yourself for the good of humanity in the third act.