Opening the Doors to Authenticity

The question this life asks of everyone is, "Why should you survive? Why should you exist?" When we are children, our parents or other caregivers hopefully answer these questions for us, but when we become adults, we are expected to answer these questions ourselves. I have largely struggled with finding my answer to these questions ever since graduating college over a decade ago.

What I now endeavor to reveal here is difficult to share because I am keenly aware that my position is not one that tends to engender sympathy. I fear one group of scoffers, who will look at the vast number of privileges I have enjoyed and would minimize my suffering, pain, and struggle, as if these privileges somehow erase those things. On the other hand, I anticipate those who would call me soft, weak, pathetic, or the like. The kinds of people who would tell me to grow up and act like an adult—and especially those who would tell me to just "man up" and "do what needs to be done."

Ah, but perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. My purpose here is to strive for authenticity. For too long, I have let my fears of these two groups, real and imagined, make me feel as though my authentic self has no place in this world. As a result, I find that I have developed a splintered sense of self, where I personally am fine with who I am, but where I feel deeply judged by others (regardless of whether or not they actually are judging me).

Alas, I have reached the point in this writing where I can no longer talk around my issues. To put it simply, since graduating, I have done precious little work for which I have been paid. I was able to do this because my parents are generous: I have been able to live at home, and for quite a long while, I did not need to worry about living expenses (they did eventually start charging me a monthly fee to cover these, though I don't have to worry about rent, which is huge). I never had to take out student loans, and was able to graduate without any debt. These are enormous privileges.

It isn't as though I've done nothing with that time. I worked with a small independent game studio, Vernacular Games, for around five years or so (and am still collaborating with them some). During that time, we made a game, Highway to the Moon, which failed to make many sales. After that, I felt called to make content online on my own. I've been doing that since late 2017. Those efforts can be found here on this blog, on my YouTube channel, and at my Patreon. None of them have been particularly successful either.

This lack of success has been difficult for me. I've mentally wandered between wondering what I'm doing wrong and feeling like the systems are unfair. I've felt like feedback, with which I could improve, is impenetrable, and thus hard to actually use. I could go on, but at a certain point, I feel like I come across as an entitled little prima donna—or whatever the masculine equivalent of that phrase is. Don't I know that other people have it harder? Don't I know that other people have to "suck it up" and do whatever work they can get in order to survive? Of course I know! I dearly wish that they did not—I think the exploitation of desperation that happens is despicable, and I'd love to try and change social systems to find a solution to it.

Who am I, that I should be able to avoid such things? I long for my creative endeavors to be the value I add to this world, and to be able to survive off of them. I wonder, is physical labor all I'm good for? I certainly don't feel capable of doing creative work for someone else—not after past experiences!

Of course, plenty of creative individuals have to do other work. Indeed, many of them similarly dream of being able to pursue their creative endeavors full time for their living. Why should I be any different from them? Nevermind that I hate comparisons to others—they minimize and devalue individuals and our diversity. My response is that creatives having to do noncreative work is a waste of potential, a great squandering. I think a world in which physical labor is largely the purview of robots, where people can be freed up to pursue their creative passions, is a far better one—provided the reduction in physical-labor jobs doesn't result in mass starvation (not because food isn't getting produced, but because people can't afford it due to an inability to earn enough money). But I'm getting off track at this point.

Part of my difficulty in all of this is that I am extremely poorly externally motivated. My awareness of this had begun to come into focus over the last couple of years, but watching a video by Zoe Bee called "Grading is a Scam (and Motivation is a Myth) | A Professor Explains" crystallized it for me. I feel that I ought to be motivated by making money—that this is what is expected of me in our society—but I simply am not. Perhaps I'm in a privileged position to not have to make the choice between earning enough money or starving. Perhaps it's God's mercy, that I shouldn't be put in a such a position, lest I be tempted towards manipulation and thievery. Mayhap it is both a mercy and a privilege—who am I to know? I certainly did not choose my parents, though I do feel greatly blessed to have ended up with them.

I said earlier that past experiences have taught me that I cannot well do creative work for others. This lack of external motivation is a key part of why I have found this to be true. My creative work must come from my heart, mind, and soul—from all of me. Only if it is thusly born is it possible—so far as I can currently see—for me to have a creative fuel that burns steadily, that has endurance. I remember working on Highway to the Moon, where I'd spend most of the day trying to scrounge up bits of motivation with which to get anything done. It was a slow, laborious process. To be sure, I've learned more about my own creativity since then, but even more recently, I wrote a commissioned program for Vernacular Games, and found my motivation waning after about 10-15 hours of work.

In general, if I'm doing creative work for someone else, either for pay or out of a desire to help, then I get motivation that lasts but briefly; it's a bright flash that soon fades. This makes it increasingly difficult to get myself to continue the work, which in turn makes me unreliable, and as such, I can't in good conscience take work where someone relies on me. This isn't something I can simply change, either. I spent four years struggling my way through working on Highway to the Moon; I can assure you, I most definitely desired to be more motivated during that time, but that desire did not cause anything to change.

Frankly, the motivation issues have always been present. As a kid, I hated doing homework, because it often felt like my time was being wasted. I started quite a few WarCraft III maps, only to abandon them when my interest waned. I find it extremely hard to learn something if it isn't on the path to accomplishing something I have an internal desire to work on. My ability to be motivated is improving, I've found, but that improvement is mostly towards my own projects and endeavors, and even then, I can struggle.

A lot of what has led to my expectations of judgment has been feeling invalidated by others, especially a former pastor. I felt like a project to him, like he had some idea in his head of who he thought I should be that he was constantly trying to turn me into. For example, I feel uncomfortable driving places I'm unfamiliar with, and I don't like driving on highways, especially the ones around here (because they are super busy). This aversion isn't a matter of speed, but of merging and navigation. Both of those suck. Anyway, this pastor kept telling me I just needed to go out driving and get lost or something. And one time I was trying to drive my sister back to her college dorm after an event, and missed a turn off, and ended up taking the scenic route, except at night when we couldn't enjoy the scenery. I told this pastor about it, because I thought it'd make him happy. He saw my excitement over this, and reinterpreted it in his lens to instead claim that he was right, and that I just needed to do more of that getting lost thing. In other words, he weaponized it against me. He often did this; it was like he wouldn't believe any claims I made about myself. I got the clear picture that he didn't believe in me, he believed in the picture he had in his head of who he thought I should be.

This pastor was also often on my case about finding better paying work. Any reason I might give was an excuse to him. He used Bible verses, including a weird application of one to claim it was sin because I wasn't supporting my family—this confused me, because I had no family in need of my support. The verse from one of the Thessalonians about not being idle and earning your own bread was used as well.

There were multiple effects from this. For one, I became extremely wary of anyone who wanted to be a mentor to me. I've also become leery about trusting my full self to others, because I fear this sort of dehumanizing treatment. Indeed, I recall a time within the last few years where an older Christian man also tried to encourage me to find more gainful employment, and used someone who was doing whatever he needed to do to make money as an example. This only served to reinforce my cautious, untrusting attitudes.

Here's the thing: I don't do role models. I have inspirations, sure: C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, Mark Rosewater, and Hidetaka Miyazaki are a few examples. But I don't want to be any of them, I want to be me. I already struggle enough with feeling like I'm supposed to be someone else. ("So-and-so seems so spiritual, is that what a Christian is supposed to be like—what I'm supposed to be like?") I've put in effort to stop doing this awful type of comparison—it's dehumanizing, a sort of erasure of the self in an unhealthy way that basically claims that a second copy of another person is more valuable than I am. As a result of all of this, I'm very sensitive to people using others as an example and saying (in essence), "You should be less like yourself and more like them." It's even worse when I say that I'm not built like that person is and my claim is rejected, as if it's just some excuse to not do what I "need to do."

Frankly, all of this is bad enough from the perspective of me being an adult. Being a man only serves to amplify all of it. I don't feel like I at all match what I've been told masculinity is. To be clear, I'm not transgendered or nonbinary; I feel male, and I'm fine with being male. However, I feel like I'm not good at being masculine as far as society is concerned. I have yet to find it in me to sacrifice whatever is necessary for the sake of making money. I don't care about being strong; I want to be gentle and kind. I want to make things that bring people joy and give them something to ponder. I'm not a protector or warrior (except in video games). This all has its own impacts (chief among them, feeling like society tells me women aren't interested in a man like me), but I feel I'm getting a bit tangential at this point.

Another thing I struggle with that I've found little sympathy for is my sleep schedule. Put simply, I have a very hard time maintaining any given sleep schedule for more than maybe a couple of months at most before it starts slipping later and later. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation tends to exacerbate the issue rather than help correct it, as it usually makes it harder for me to get myself to bed. As such, a lack of sleep tends to result in a positive feedback loop that leads to further sleep deprivation. This contributes to the sleep schedule issues, but isn't the sole cause, either. Another contributor (that I've only come to realize exists within the last year or two) is that I tend to get more anxious at night. This anxiety seems to come from feelings of loneliness and isolation, which result from a lack of life-noises in my environment.

In other words, the world being too quiet makes me feel isolated and alone. I have found that nocturnal sounds, such as crickets or frogs, can help with this, as can sharing a sleeping space with another person. However, these are not present in my default sleeping situation, so I've only really noticed them on trips. Therefore, I do not know if, for example, sharing a sleeping room with someone long term (e.g. a wife) would alleviate this issue enough that it doesn't contribute to my sleep schedule woes.

Another common issue for me is getting a second wind late into my period of wakefulness, which can at times disrupt my sleep. I also find that lying in bed is an ideal situation for thinking, with my brain running off to figure out game design, write articles or tweets, or pray. Unfortunately, none of these help me to actually fall asleep.

To be clear, I would prefer to be able to maintain a sleep schedule. Doing so has quite a lot of benefits, especially given human interaction and the desire to be able to meet people at regular times for things like church. It also serves as a huge deterrent to getting a "regular" job. I could, of course, do what many people do, and use an alarm clock to make sure I wake up by a certain time. However, I'd prefer to not subject myself to that torture if I can at all avoid it—I still remember having to wake up at 6:30 AM every morning for high school. I was tired all day at school, but I still routinely didn't get to bed until after midnight.

So, sure, I could subject myself to that, but at what cost? I don't want to drive that tired if I can avoid it, for both my safety and the safety of others. I also know that such sleep deprivation would affect my ability to work well and do a good job. I don't want that, either. And yes, I have tried melatonin. It tends to be extremely powerful the first night, but its effectiveness quickly diminishes after two to three nights of sequential use. Also, caffeine doesn't help me wake up—I seem to be largely immune to its effects. I remember one college math class that I had at something like 8 or 9 AM, where I'd wake up, get a 20oz bottle of Mountain Dew that I'd drink during class, then afterwards I'd return to my room and go back to sleep.

If I seem defensive or overly explanatory here, it's only because of the reactions I've gotten to my sleep schedule struggles in the past. At this point, I strongly suspect that they're one of Jesus's shepherding tools that He uses to direct me. To wrap up this discussion of sleep schedules, I should add that I can't really correct my sleep schedule by going to bed earlier. I've tried that many times, but at most I get to bed earlier for one day, which results in greatly improved sleep, which leads to me being way more awake at that earlier bed time, and therefore unable to fall asleep at that time the next day, even if I wanted to. I have sometimes thought that maybe I'd be better suited to a planet with a longer day, such as the fictional worlds of Barrayar or Bajor, both of which have days around 26 hours long, but that's irrelevant given I live on the real world of Earth.

Finally, I dislike routines. This dislike has decreased some in more recent years, but the reason for my distaste of routines is that they make life begin to feel too similar—the repetition grinds on me mentally. Like I said, I'm doing better about this these days, but that mostly comes from recognizing the time I have between scheduled events. However, I'll still sometimes experience an oppressive feeling of repetition from things like brushing my teeth—it wouldn't surprise me if my subconscious messes some with my sleep schedule to try and avoid the repetition that the bedtime routine brings. This aversion to routine can come up in all sorts of ways, but the common thread is that I somehow feel like my life is set out before me in a pre-lived kind of way.

This isn't to say, by the way, that I don't like familiarity! I do, but I like to remix that familiarity. I like to take familiar pieces in a familiar space and rearrange them, thereby creating new experiences out of the familiar. Come to think of it, video games that let me do this tend to be my favorites. I also can enjoy repetition of something to improve at it, but the key to this is that it isn't a scheduled or obliged event: it's when I begin to feel stuck—like I lack the agency to change how my life is going—that I especially run into problems with any number of things, such as routine.

To conclude, my push for authenticity and openness here isn't just sharing for the sake of sharing. Rather, it is sharing to be known. I want genuine, accepting relationships with others, and for that to happen, I need to be open about who I am to the fullest. That these issues with money and work, productivity (or feeling the need to maintain the appearance thereof) have proven the hardest for me to share thus far is, in some regards, surprising to me. However, as I reflect on it, they shouldn't be. Over the course of the last decade, society has labored tirelessly to convince me that the answer to those questions I posed at the beginning—"Why should you survive? Why should you exist?"—is the possession of money. This has led to me feeling like the worth and value that others assign to me must somehow be capped by my income—that having a low income means others are unable to value me very much. This in turn has resulted in me not feeling the love that others have been showing me. I want to feel that love in my heart, not just know it exists with my mind. To that end, I want to see a change in how I believe those two questions are answered, for I desire the answer to be that I am loved—by myself, by friends, by my community, and by Jesus.

Thank you for reading.

You can support Sientir in his creative endeavors by subscribing to his Patreon or sharing his work.


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