Riding Waves

21 March 2016

I'm lost in the world, been down my whole life
— Kanye West, Lost In The World

So I’ve been putting off writing this for a while because I knew it would mean looking critically into my own life and evaluating my goals, but the longer I wait the more important I realize this exercise in introspection is.

For one reason or another (I can’t quite pin it down), I have very low self-confidence. I’m not quite sure why, I just know that I take compliments rather poorly and am very rarely proud or exuberant about myself or my accomplishments. It might be because I was told regularly I was too selfish when I was young, or because I was always part of good teams, but never the star player or the one responsible for the team’s success — I’ve always just been there.

Recently though, I’ve found myself in this pitfall: riding waves. Right now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Cooper, what in the world do you mean by riding waves?” And I’d respond to you, well dear reader, please sit back because I’m about to tell you!

There’s nothing better than being successful. It fills me with pride when I write code that runs, when I have a project that actually accomplishes the goal I initially set out to achieve, or in this case when I can put words on paper that convey my intended meaning. Now, imagine when you do this so well that you get an accolade and your project not only succeeds but also wins an award at a hackathon, or becomes super popular and receives hella stars on GitHub. In short, you might think this is good, but here lies the issue: for someone like myself who has little self-pride, I’ll wind up in the situation where I define my own self value by that of my projects, rather than myself.

This becomes cyclical, and it’s unhealthy. By riding the waves I mean that you can be so fortunate as to feel amazing for a week, maybe two while something is trending. Feel good for a couple days when you break your personal record, or you’re riding high on some success, but in due time that wave crests, the high comes to an end and you find yourself in a lull without anything to prop up your self pride. In my case, I’ll often feel this way after a hackathon (for a week or maybe two after I feel amazing, simply thinking to myself, “I’m amazing….I built that thing” and to the person who might offend or hurt me in that week or two I’ll simply think to myself “pff, they don’t know who I am or what I’m capable of, I’m amazing”).

The issue with this approach though is what happens when the wave dissipates, when your entire self-confidence, pride, image, etc. is built on ephemeral accomplishments and desires. This is my dilemma, it’s one that I haven’t figured out yet, one that I know hints at a significantly deeper issue in my life, and one that will take me years and years to root out. What I have come to find though is that eliminating venues for gloating or viewing of accomplishments (i.e. Facebook) make it easier to avoid getting into this cycle. That said, even not being on Facebook, I still find myself subconsciously riding waves and it’s very, very hard to stop.

So, if you get anything out of this writing at all, it’s that if you feel like you’re ever riding a wave, realize it’s momentary and try not to define yourself based on past or prior successes. Today you are a champion, tomorrow you are nothing.

Now I just need to figure out what I’ll do tomorrow.