What are you hiding for? Go on, tell me yours.
I’ve told so many lies in my life. I find it less and less useful, the older I get, but that doesn’t mean I’m above it. Lying’s a tool, as is the truth. Feel superior to me all you want, but the way I see it, without lying there’s no fiction, no daydreams, no metaphors, no surprises. And heck, even if I stopped lying to others, there’s still plain old delusion.
I’ve stopped keeping track of the times I’ve caught a lie I’m telling myself. What delusions, what small comforts are you still clinging to?
Do you believe you’re a good person, but never do anything that improves life for someone else?
Do you think you’re a good friend, but haven’t checked in for a while?
Do you believe you appreciate your family, but haven’t said it out loud, to their faces?
I know. I know. You didn’t come here to be personally attacked. You came here to see the secret at the root of my soul, the one I’ve successfully forgotten for twenty-odd years.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to disappoint.
Well, I will. I’m a terribly boring person, and it’s a terribly boring secret. But I’m going to tell it to you.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
For a lot of people, that would be nothing. Ambition basically got it’s own Hogwarts house, it’s hardly a dirty word. But I’ve read too much Shakespeare and Mary Shelley to be comfortable with my own pride, let alone ask for more on top of it. The universe at large doesn’t seem particularly sweet on me, and for a long time I preferred to go unnoticed, as a form of protection.
But now I’m writing, and it’s getting harder and harder to lie to myself every time I do.
There’s so much in life that I want. There’s a reason I find myself up to midnight most nights, putting in 40 hours a week at “regular job” and considering that my goofing off time. Somewhere between 10 and 20 hours a week of my “free time” has become a version of work I get psychologically itchy when I don’t do. My weekend are no longer fun — if you want to contact me or do something social, you better catch me on a weekday evening.
Sure, my ambitious tendencies have stirred before, but always in a slow, long-term way. I was too comfortable to be concerned in the present.
My ambition has woken up from an almost twenty-year hibernation, and it’s making up for that by dragging my depressed ass along by the hair.
I say depressed, because I am (see, aren’t we getting to know each other today?). Have been for a while. There’s only so fast that my brain chemistry seems to be ready to go, at least right now. My mental (and physical, if we’re being honest) stamina is pretty damn low. I’ve burnt myself out a couple times now, and on each, my ambitious self has thrown a tantrum, not letting me enjoy breaks and making everything seem worse than it is.
It’s a learning process, working with my ambitions and finding a functional solution, holding hands as we go along, rather than ambition “making up for lost time” by dislocating my wrist.
A lot of the problem stems from the sheer fact that I don’t want to be ambitious.
There are so many factors that go into why. I’ve spent my whole life looking down on ambitious people. I’m an introvert, for whom the idea of hiding behind others can be downright seductive. I don’t enjoy being aggressive, I’ve never been good at it. If there’s a passive aggressive route, for better or worse, I will pick it over bluntness almost every day. I have a lot of empathy, which is part of what makes me a decent writer. I put myself into other people’s shoes by default, and then have no idea what to do with what I learned there. I help others at my own expense, and frequently. I hate saying no, and literally am consciously trying to teach myself how. Being ambitious means being frustrated and uncomfortable, and wouldn’t being content be better instead?
Plus, like everyone, I hate failure.
The other day I was thinking about my earliest memories. There’s one I hadn’t thought of in a while, from second grade (I know that’s when it was, because I had just gotten glasses). My teacher at the time had this practice of keeping a leaderboard up on the wall, listing by name the students in the class that had the highest grade, or could spell the most words, or something like that. I remember it as a numerical list of who was smartest, because it essentially was. And it was fucked up.
There was, as there always is, the smartest person in the class. The saddest part is, she was so nice about it all. I never once hated her, even at the age of seven and experiencing jealousy for one of the first times. I tried so hard, for weeks, to be at the top. I’d been sorted into the “gifted” class, just like her, I was privileged and middle class, with two caring, attentive parents who could give me anything I might need. I was smart. There was nothing wrong with me. In lots of situations I could have been on top. But she’d gotten too far ahead, and was that little bit better.
For two weeks in a row, I was number three. That was the highest I’d ever gotten; I was working my little heart out. And she (her name was Meredith. I know that, even after eighteen years) turned to me one day, and complimented me on how awesome that was. Because she was kinder than me as well as smarter. I suddenly realized I would never pass her. It wasn’t going to happen.
And I gave up.
Yes, I certainly could have tried again, ever, with anything, at any point between then and now. Can hardly blame a childhood non-trauma for who I am as a person. But, between laziness, a fear of failing, and being an absolute doormat (we can talk about my feelings on the word “bossy” later. At length), I’ve spent so long denying my inner boss bitch I didn’t believe she was in there. You can talk all you want about how people change, but in this case, I didn’t.
I’ve been an angry little brat my whole life, and I just got really good at contenting myself with what I consider scraps.
I compare my personality to the moon, a changeable and wavering person who acts or reacts differently to things from day to day. And it’s sort of true. Like the phases of the moon, my inner frustration rises up and up and up, and suddenly I’m overwhelmed with the urge to do something stupid, cruel, or self-destructive just to let it all out and start again. Whoops. Guess I’m just crazy! It’s unexplainable.
Mostly because I don’t want to find the explanation.
If there was an explanation, I wouldn’t be able to delude myself anymore. If I wasn’t deluding myself anymore, I’d have to find a way to do something. If I tried to do something, I could fail at it.
There’s no situation where I’m comfortable, honestly. Not a one where I’m fully happy or content. So I focused on making other people comfortable with me, and molded myself to them.
Sorry y’all. I don’t think it’s going to work out now.
I’d ask which you’d rather have, the comforting Cait, or the one that writes interesting entertainment like this, but I don’t think that’s how this works. It would be interesting to take a poll, of course. And I’m still going to care for others, try to make them comfortable with or around me, but I’m not as willing to compromise at my own expense anymore. I’m not willing to just sit still. I have to rest, sure, but even that is a specific, conscious necessity, so I can go back to what I want to do. This is the kind of thought you can’t unthink, that needs years and years of burying and covering up to be ignored.
The change is palpable, honestly, even as part of me is still uncomfortable and trying to hid these things. I was complaining to a friend recently, trying to ignore what my ambitious side was saying about our plans for the future, and my friend texted back:
“The honest reality is if you really wanted to spend all your time writing, you’d already be spending all your spare time doing it.”
I don’t want to put that friend on blast (I really do love you buddy!) but that sentence is why we’re here, why this article exists. I spent days thinking about that, sort of reeling. This is a smart, loving person, who can usually tell you things about me I haven’t realized for myself yet. I very rarely see him be wrong about something.
And here he is, denying the basic subject of our conversation.
I don’t blame him, not at all. Sure, for the first few minutes I was incredulous, and terribly frustrated. Like I said, that sentence rang in my head for days. But the longer I thought about it, more I started to realize that I couldn’t deny it anymore. My behavior has changed, my habits have changed, heck, my life is in a total overhaul. My ambition finally got too frustrated with me, with the state my life had sunk to, with the excuses I never stopped making. And, even while I kept denying it, my ambition started making choices for us.
At some point, I’m going to have to stop treating my ambitious nature like a separate entity. That will come with comfort, I hope. Unfortunately, I spent a long time insisting people with ambition for themselves were just people who were too selfish and greedy to properly prioritize other people. Acknowledging my true Slytherin nature is going to be a work in progress, like everything else.
But I’m tired of letting everyone else decide who I am, have a say in my personality. The world’s worn the stubborn out of me for too long. I went through an abusive relationship, and I set another one up for failure by being dependent, clingy, and needy. I’ve tip-toed through every friendship, terrified that if I was honest upfront, the people I like won’t like me. I consume more than I give or create, and I’m drowning in a swamp of guilt about it. I’m done.
My secret is that ambition is one of the key aspects of my personality. I’m ambitious, stubborn, and independent. And I’m caring, attentive, and empathetic, it’s true; I love and cherish those things. Don’t think I’m abandoning them entirely. But I’m not always going to put those first and foremost anymore. The part of my life where people need me seems to be over anyway, all my friendships becoming long-distance, and previously disturbed and confused people grown up and putting their own act together without assistance.
I’ve got work I want to do. And like it or not, I’m putting that first.
25 years. I’ve both waited and procrastinated enough.
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Thank you, so so much for reading this. It means more to me than I can tell you.