I’ve followed a philosophy of incrementalism for a long time now. I’ve believed that changes must be made slowly and in small steps. Lately, though, I’ve been worried about my sense of complacency. I don’t think I’ve thought about glory for a year. (Still reviewing that.) I’m worried I’ll just drift through life. What happened to that young ambitious man I used to be? Every time I think I’ve found him, he disappears and I think I only saw a mirage.

I had a choice when I got back from school. I could’ve jumped into sharing an apartment with a few friends, even though I had little money and no job and no car. Instead, I chose to live at home. I mean, it would’ve been bad news if I had run out of money and left my friends with the lease. My parents weren’t going to help me if I moved out; they were going to help me if I stayed at home.

Yet all staying at home did was extend my adolescence. I didn’t get a job for months. The problem wasn’t that the economy was bad; the problem was sloth. Me, and the deadly sin of sloth. My sin is supposed to be pride! In high school, never in a million years would I have dreamed that I would be sloth and not pride.

High school me never met college me. College was a terrible time. I guess the big plan was to join the College Republicans and worm my way into a political life. That all changed, of course. The Bush Administration was a disgrace and my political views were altered forever. I’ve also become much more cynical about the life of a politician and would rather be an ordinary citizen who one day holds an office. I can’t imagine spending my life fundraising and being beholden to special interests. And even though I often call myself a narcissist (no really I am that great), I really do care about glory and not just myself. There’s no glory in it unless I do something for my fellow citizens; I don’t want to be a whore. I also found out that I wasn’t a very good leader. I’m sure a good deal of that had to do with the fact that my heart wasn’t in it. So I suppose I learned that one cannot lead unless one believes.

And yet, I am tempted to become a slightly worse person in exchange for being more cocksure. This what I mean by dropping incrementalism. Become a radically different person: Vain, shameless but magnetic and a sharp dresser. If that makes sense.

The other radical temptation is the route of poverty, kind of. I keep thinking about how this one writer would gamble away his fortune to force himself to write another masterpiece. It appeals to the gambler in me, and it appeals to the part of me that just wants to hit rock bottom. That would erase the comfort in my life and force me to act. Even if I fucked up royally, at least I’ll know I can survive a situation where I have to do everything I can to scrape by. I couldn’t afford to be slothful.

When I think about it, I actually think I made the wrong decision to stay at home. Sure, I would be worse off financially, but I wonder if I’d be a stronger person. It certainly would’ve motivated me to find a job quicker.

All throughout college, I’d often feel adrift. Every once in a while, I’d try to find purpose and move forward, but I never found anything permanent. I never found the ground. Now, I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know if I’m adrift or drowning. I think maybe I’ve gotten too good at distracting myself from the hard questions in life. I do know now, at least, how much value friendship has in my life. I reach out and hang out with friends or talk to people on the phone instead of feeling sorry for myself.

The one thing I really enjoy about living at home is that I don’t feel lonely. I don’t think I can live by myself. Well, I could, but I think I’d be a lot less happy in my day-to-day life. As much as I want radical change, I can’t just move away because my friends are what keep me sane. I know that much about myself; I know that the close relationships I have with my friends and family are the most valuable things in my life.

So somehow I have to keep all that, and yet move forward and be a different person. It’s going to involve a lot of thinking — all the shit I’ve been avoiding since even before I finished college. It has to be intense. It has to involve brutal honesty. (Brutal honesty is like jargon for me. It means directly showing the soul, without putting any spin on it. It means being honest even though it hurts.) I do a good job of hiding it (or maybe I don’t), but I am fucked up. I am full of fear and I don’t know what the hell I want to do with myself. I don’t know where I’m going, and you’d be surprised at the amount of time I’ve spent hating myself these past 4 years or so.

I hated college. I hated writing essays all years. What really gets me is that I spent four years and I have nothing to show for it. I have nothing that brings glory. I have no great achievements; I created nothing of note. The only thing I am proud of from those years has nothing to do with school: It is my comic. My comic is the only tangible thing I created, the only thing I did (aside from the friendships I created) that has any meaning for me. I could burn everything I wrote and the world would not miss anything. If I took down my comic, I know I’d feel terrible and I know there’d be a lot of angry people. It pains me that I took so many philosophy classes, but I hardly did any philosophy.

The creator in me and the existentialist contradict each other. The existentialist thinks that nothing matters. Nothing endures; all is meaningless. But the creator in me knows that some things endure. Even if they disappear, they had meaning. Some creations just contain beauty and because of that they matter. It all sounds very Platonic and I hate Plato and the forms, but that’s how the creator thinks. There are souls and there is Beauty. The rationalist in me is confused by all this, of course. How do you measure this beauty? How do you know when something matters? Is it popularity? No, it can’t be because of all the disgusting things that sometimes appeal to millions of people (bad tv, bad movies, talk radio, Disney pop). Then is it something that matters by your own judgment? No, because Beauty is objective. The rationalist says to the creator, you’re a moron because you can’t measure it. The existentialist says, you’re a moron because there is no such thing as Beauty out there in the world; there is ultimately nothing behind our universe. The creator replies, no you’re the morons because I’m the only one who does anything that matters. The rationalist then chimes in, shit I must be crazy because I’m talking to myself.

I know I can make it through this, though. That’s the positivity paradigm that I’ve embraced. That’s one of the differences between me now and me a few years ago, I think. If you’ve embraced positivity, surely you can make a commitment to confidence, yes? (And this is where incrementalism comes in, does it not? Slowly you embrace a value, and you have to recommit to it all the time.) Yet I think I have to be less abstract. I have to further define what I want to be confident about.

Well, at least I know a few things. I know that friends matter, and I know that I have to create if I ever want to feel good about life.

0 thoughts on “Incrementalism

  1. Sarah H.

    Hey Shawn,

    Hadn’t checked out your blog in a while but glad I did. This was so on point. Very comforting to hear someone else considering these questions…I was utilizing my free time to get apprehensive about life stuff and what I’m doin next, etc.– I guess it doesn’t get any easier lol. You will’ve probably solved all of the above questions by the time you read this :) but just wanted to say thanks much for the insights!


    P.S. Don’t ever burn anything you write- it could be helping a random person like me!

  2. cj

    You know, if nothing else, you’re a really great writer. I know you say you hated writing essays, but obviously you find some joy in writing since you blog so often! Have you ever thought about writing for money? Pursuing a writing gig might be the kindof “step out” you’re looking for. Just sayin.

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