I was a slave to the success-o-meter.
Actually, multiple success-o-meters. There was the daily meter: How much did I accomplish today?!? On that one I racked up high scores by being super productive at work and also going to the gym and cooking dinner and returning phone calls on a somewhat responsible, adult-like turnaround time (actually I've really struggled with that last one, but still). Basically I was a master of the daily success-o-meter. If there were a board for high scores, you’d see MEK blinking at the top. Ohhh yeah.
But then there was the success-o-meter for my whole existence: How much progress have I made on my life trajectory toward SUCCESS???
And I found it to be way harder to get any kind of a decent score on that one. Like the Test Your Strength game at the fair where you whack a thing with a mallet. Ever done that? Me neither, but I’ve seen it in cartoons.
In college I’d pictured myself having a super illustrious career in... something, but whatever it was, it was going to be great. After college I started to intuit that the illustrious jobs overwhelmingly involved doing things I didn’t want to do. So naturally I solved that problem by going to graduate school.
Then I went out and got a job. If that's what it took to earn a high score on the life-success-o-meter, then I was going to do it!!!
But once I had the job I actually didn’t feel like I was doing any better, life-success-wise. That made me think that the point wasn't just to have the job, but to be really really good at it.
So I worked on that.
But that didn't bring satisfaction, either. I started to think the point wasn't just to have a job or to be really good at it, but instead the point was to earn some kind of big recognition that would once and for all indicate that I was there. At this point it wasn't like swinging a mallet anymore. It was more like Test Your Strength: Desert Edition. I was crossing the Mojave Desert on my way to a shimmery castle. I just had to keep trucking.
Except that strategy was completely not working, because I was always measuring myself against everyone else, and there was always someone who was doing way better. Including people who were younger than me. So here I'd spent all this time swinging mallets and crossing the Mojave Desert and yet I'd made no progress at all!
That wore me down. It made me feel crappy about myself. It led me to certain dark places that I’ve written about on this very blog.
Until one day.
And nothing was ever the same again.