Cartoonist and web developer Rachel Nabors once drew a comic about something she called the “Self-Doubt Fairy.” I’ve found I have a similar voice in my head I call the “Passive-Aggressive Perfectionist Fairy,” or PAP Fairy, and is just as bad for my mental health.
The PAP Fairy says many things that pull me toward self-doubt and depression. It picks apart every little thing I didn’t do perfectly. It blames me for not trying to improve enough. When I feel defensive, the PAP Fairy claims it only wants what’s best for me. It says if I’m fine with being imperfect and undeserving, that’s my problem.
For the longest time, I couldn’t argue against all that well enough. But lately I’ve realized how its arguments are total bullshit by remembering a few fundamental truths:
- Perfection is pointless to strive for. The best I can do is be a bit better each day, a respectable goal for an imperfect human.
- I can want to be better while knowing my limits and priorities. I can accept the tradeoff of working harder in my career than my boxing workouts.
- What’s “best for me” isn’t relentless pressure for impossible perfection. What’s best for me is self-compassion, accepting my ups and downs as they are and as they change.
So you, PAP Fairy, are a stupid liar and not worth listening to. But you’re not universally bad - you also make me work harder and think critically. So despite being a stupid liar and all, I accept you as part of me with compassion. Maybe someday we can truly coexist.
But if we can’t, I’ll squish you with a sketchpad. It worked for Rachel and her Self-Doubt Fairy, so it’s a solid backup plan.
In all definitions of God I’ve heard, they’re all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing. I assume a God would need at least that much going for it to be worth worshipping.
But this same God also falls apart with the classic “Problem of Evil.”
- An all-knowing God would know how much evil would be in their world, and how to create a world without evil
- An all-good God would want to remove as much evil as possible
- An all-powerful God could create this world without evil
- Despite the above, evil still exists in the form of poverty, crime, murder, inequality, and flat-out misery happening to good people
A common response I’ve heard is it’s all part of “God’s Plan.” Human’s can’t understand this great design, so we must trust it’s for the greater good.
First off, I’m worried that someone’s willing to swallow a design where they’ll never know the reason for so much suffering. Plus no one could understand if a design “beyond human understanding” was for the greater good. By definition, no one could know if this plan of God’s is good or bad.
Even worse is how someone could accept these evil designs in the name of “faith in those with power.” That’s the kind of belief those in power are happy for people to have. The same leaders who, coincidentally, preach religion as a source of morals and inspiration. Makes me wonder if this answer to the “Problem of Evil” is how humans do so many evil things.
Instead of justifying evil to protect beliefs, people may be better off trying to understand the world’s evil more, decrease it, and build their beliefs from there. Then would it really matter how much of a role “God” played?
No matter how good something seems, I always find something better shortly after. A book that looks immersing later looks boring compared to another. Coding tools or frameworks I see one day soon becomes obsolete next to others.
It’s an endless cycle of want disguised as need. Ending that cycle means truly appreciating what I already have. Never forgetting the value I saw in it from the start.
For new things, if I only feel a “need” something once I learn about it, chances are I don’t really need it. The things I actually need, I probably already have and just need to remember.
This note brought to you by an hour after work wasted browsing Nintendo Switch before realizing it was an idiotic waste of time.
Whenever life is going well, I’ll ask myself one thing: do I deserve any of this?
The most likely answer I can think of is, I probably don’t. Maybe I never will. But the bigger point is that regardless, I have what I have. I better make good use of it. In some way.
Because if I don’t, these feelings of guilt and undeservedness won’t just get worse. They’ll be justified.
When your main thing is writing, it’s easy to get too caught up in reading and neglect the actual writing. It’s true whether one wants to write code, blogs, or stories. Reading examples helps, but my best progress comes from actually writing.
It doesn’t matter that writing’s for a detailed post, or random thoughts in my pocket notebook. Writing is a muscle to use each day. It’s is a habit I use to get through each day. It’s not something to turn on-and-off when I think enough people are looking.
I’ve based a lot of my happiness around my environment being consistent. I hate it when my car needs repairs, my posters fall off the walls, or my furniture gets too dirty. My brain wants these things to be constant, so I don’t need to worry about them.
Reality doesn’t agree. Something always breaks and must be fixed or replaced. My environment is never “as it should be.” Whenever things seem smooth, something always goes wrong.
One response is not bothering to try. There’s always something wrong I could use as an excuse to not do what matters to me - to write. The lazy, scared part of my mind is drawn to them like gravity. I think all human minds are. It’s a cheap, effective way to lower stress.
But it’s not about things “feeling right” before I do something. It’s about working around what’s wrong so I can do what I want anyway.
These “it’s not the right time” excuses aren’t right, they’re just easy. And the easy path is rarely meaningful.
I’ve liked television shows like House, and recently Bones, since they make me feel smarter. Part of my brain has said I shouldn’t waste time watching them. I rationalize that worry away by thinking about the show’s intelligence. Shows based around critical thinking, puzzle-solving, and science can’t be all bad. Right?
That rationalization has gotten weaker once I began accepting a few truths.
- Of everything I’d supposedly “learn” from shows like this, how much did I remember instead of it just washing over me? Little.
- Of the info I remember, how much of it is accurate, instead of being polished or simply wrong to increase the drama? Little.
- Of all the accurate info, how much did I critically think about in context, instead of being handed it as I unthinkingly down a plot path handing me answers? Little.
Ultimately, shows that make me feel smart are still shows. As almost any show does, they make me dumber, not smarter. It’s the same for medical dramas, mysteries, and late-night comedy shows going over the daily news. They’re made to entertain, not teach. It’s why my brain’s drawn to them more than articles or documentaries.
When it comes to my mental strength, I consider those shows honey traps: tempting, but better avoided. Resisting all that free nectar while watching others gorge is never easy. But it’s ultimately better for me.
The book series “Feed” features two adoptive siblings and their team blogging about their careers covering political campaigns and vast government corruption…around the time zombies walk the earth.
Between each chapter is a blog post or some other written communication by one of the characters. They range from articles they wrote, private letters to others, or unpublished glimpses into their streams of consciousness. Sometimes the writing is brief and lacks substance out of context.
For some reason, reading any of those posts inspires me to write more than anything. I think it’s less about the content and more about the characters’ clear purpose in what they write and why.
Do I often struggle to find blog topics since I’m not sure what my main purpose in writing here is? If so, I should at least have the same underlying purpose Feed’s characters have in writing their blogs: finding clarity and meaning through writing.
If you’re not using your own blog for that, then what are you using it for?
An insight I sometimes remember comes from an unlikely place - the Hello from the Magic Tavern podcast.
It was at the end of an episode with the homonculus made of bodily fluids (again, don’t judge). Someone dealing with a chronic illness said the podcast’s humor helped her through much of the pain. Even something as silly and pointless as an improv comedy podcast left a positive imprint on others.
Maybe it’s less about finding something new to help others, and more about helping others with what you already love. If people pretending to be, among many things, a drunk wizard, a passive-aggressive shapeshifter, and a bitchy talking flower can do that, can’t we all?
Seriously, don’t judge.
We all know we’ve inherited instinctual behaviors from our ancestors. We crave fatty foods, have sex drives, have a “fight or flight” mode, etc. But maybe people can inherit more.
What if people could inherit moral ideas and instincts? Things like a powerful desire for truth, hatred of injustice, or a wish to help the poor. Like our innate reactions to things like food, some ideas could have been so influential in someone’s life they were genetically passed down. There they’d unconsciously influence our thoughts and actions. We’d never know it, but this way our ancestors could still guide us.
Next time you reflect on a personal principle or truth, it could’ve been passed down to you. A guidepost passed down to help us navigate this messy world.
I like to think all that’s true. It shows we can all offer something valuable to the next generation.
Something all the real people I respect I have in common is they pour their passion into something that helps others. Sometimes more than one thing.
- Laura Kalbag and Aral Balkan for a more ethical web
- Heydon Pickering for greater web accessibility
- Rachel Nabors for better inclusivity and diversity in the web industry
- Bill Coplin for college students learning useful career skills
- Adam Conover for inspiring a mixture of humor and curiosity in others
It’s ideal since these passions likely bring them satisfaction (and a living) while leaving a positive imprint.
The hardest part of my career is finding a passion like that.
How many of your thoughts from yesterday can you specifically remember?
I’ve done this many times, and each time I barely remember any. This includes all that were snarky, depressing, serious, hilarious, witty, elating, sweet, sour, or secret prophecies from the future. The next day, they’re all lost in the ether. Never to be thought of virtually ever again.
I actually see this as a positive.
Whenever some thoughts intrude on my mind and get me down, I remember any power they have will fade by the next day. I feel their presence, count down from five, and imagine they’re a gust of wind flowing by. I see them fading into the ether myself, and moving on without them.
We often don’t have a choice with what thoughts crop up in our minds. We do have a choice with how they affect us. I think those choices do much more to determine who we are.