I'm My Biggest Enemy ⛰ (#32)
A Story of Regrets
Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening to you on this beautiful Wednesday. Welcome to Long Way Home 🏡 where I explore creativity and emotional intelligence. I’m so excited for you to read today’s essay. It’s personal, but I hope everybody who reads it can take something valuable away with them.
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In this newsletter:
💫 - I’m My Biggest Enemy by Vandan Jhaveri
🎥 - Colonialism—The Board Game Struggle by No Pun Intended
Let’s get to this week’s essay.
I’m My Biggest Enemy
I don't really have many regrets, but this is about one I do have. It’s the story of how I learned that I can be my own greatest enemy and that to fulfill my dreams, I mostly need to get out of my own way.
In high school, I was obsessed with performance poetry. I watched hundreds of videos of performers climbing onto stage to recite original poems, packaging their stories of triumph and misfortune in mesmerizing ways. Slam poetry, as it’s more commonly referred to, is half theatrical and half literary; the poem’s delivery has the potential to be as powerful as the writing itself. I fell in love with the raw emotion of the performers and the audience’s energy.
Performers were unapologetically themselves, and as a massive hip-hop fan, I had developed an appetite for the original phrasing, intricate rhyme schemes, and vivid storytelling. I was enthralled by the endless re-hashing of tired subject matter to uncover something fresh and original. I was so inspired I decided to try my hand at writing and performing pieces like the ones I loved watching.
Thankfully, one of my best friends shared my passion for creative writing, and the two of us partnered to start a writing club at our school. We had two rules: everybody is welcome and everybody can write. We wanted a safe place where we could write, practice performing, and help each other improve, all the while encouraging each other to find our voices. We wanted others to share in the liberating self-expression creative writing had provided us.
We wanted to build a community.
By the time the founding team approached graduation, we were hosting sold-out events in the school auditorium and performing 60-minute sets as a team. Somehow, our band of eclectic teens showed our high school it was cool to be vulnerable and to write emotional poetry and to share it with people on stage. I didn't realize how special that was until I graduated.
Writing poetry to perform felt electric. I felt so competent. I was forever chasing the high of crafting a line that would make people kiss their teeth or let out a low mmm. It was one of the first times in my life I was genuinely good at something without having to work so hard at it.
I found something I could do for the rest of my life. Or so I thought.
I could not have predicted who I would have become during my first year of undergrad. I developed a complex, fixating on the idea that my best creative self was behind me. It seeped into every part of my life. I felt increasingly unremarkable and like a heap of squandered potential. I talked myself out of dozens of exciting opportunities to write for and perform at university events. I was convinced that if I tried, I would just embarrass myself.
I receded into myself, becoming a lonely shell of the person I knew and loved just months before. Suddenly, it was like the silver-tongued wordsmith, confident and effortless on stage, was a million miles away. Now, I could barely get out of bed.
I began to set ridiculous standards for myself. To be satisfied, my work needed to be beyond criticism; so good that even folks who didn’t care for poetry would be blown away.
I was obsessed with comparing myself to imaginary writers at my school. Out of 30,000 students, I thought, there had to be someone who could do a better job than I could. At that time, that was enough to immobilize me. Confidence breeds creativity, and I felt neither a confident nor a creative bone in my entire body.
As a result of this self-imposed pressure, I seldom wrote. On the rare occasion I did write, I would only show my work to a few friends I could count on to ingratiate me. Most people in my life didn't even know that I wrote. In fact, it was uncomfortable for me to bring up. There was tension in my hesitancy when telling others Oh, yeah, I write creatively, knowing full well the statement should be rephrased to the heartbreaking, but much more accurate, past-tense.
Further, the idea of my work on the internet, available to be viewed and judged by whomever, mortified me. I was terrified of being judged by people who didn’t know me. When we feel depressed, we have a damaged, but inflated, sense of self. We simultaneously believe that the entire world is watching, and nobody is watching at all. I thought everybody in my life would somehow find my personal thoughts online and make uncharitable conclusions about me. This paranoia, unfettered by rationality, grew like a weed in my mind, pushing me further into isolation.
I embodied every cliche of a creative—the self-doubt, the procrastination masquerading as preparation, the unrealistic expectations, the disregard for the value of editing. The years of stand-still, extending into my masters degree and beyond, made me lose hope that I would ever be able to live a creative life. It was clearly for others. Those with real talent. Those with self-discipline. Those who could get over themselves and actually create something worthwhile.
And then I turned a corner.
I can't say exactly when, or how, or why, but at some point over the last two years, I realized my grave mistake—I had sabotaged myself into stagnation. I began the process of unlearning torturous self-talk and internalizing a handful of truths that equipped me with the foundation I needed to painstakingly climb myself out of the rut in which I lived.
First, a reframing of creative work: producing great work is the result of showing up consistently and editing ruthlessly. Not much else. Every creative person I admired ascended to greatness through persistent effort and deliberate practice.
The genius who sits at their desk and produces magic without trying is a fallacy. I realized nobody who's done anything great speaks about how easy it all came to them. If being a good writer was important to me, I needed to be serious about it. I needed to write often, share often, and be deliberate with my incremental improvements.
Next, I accepted I was in my own way. At one point, I was so sure my lack of competence was fact and self-confidence would be delusional. In those ruts, I think our greatest fear is building self-confidence on a delusional foundation. Ironically, when we’re struggling, we never pause to consider that perhaps our harsh assessment of ourselves could potentially be the delusion we need to overcome.
I accepted my current skill level was the lowest it will ever be and that the only way to go was up. This led me to develop a much healthier relationship with critical feedback. The newfound humility allowed me to actively seek input from others and use that as fuel to make tangible progress.
Third, I realized the absurdity of believing I could stumble onto undesired attention online. It never occurred to me how difficult it actually is to stand out on the internet. Growing an audience takes years of intentional effort and self-promotion, and it’s only getting harder. Judgmental onlookers would never find me by accident and say mean things about me to their friends. People just don’t care enough. That’s liberating.
Lastly, I explored the idea of feeling past my prime in one of the most important pieces I’ve written for myself. I identify five fallacies that plagued me, and get it out into the world felt like finally getting a monkey off my back. I’ve felt lighter ever since.
Looking back, I can see the ridiculous beliefs I once held so dear. I regret listening to myself so seriously during those bleak university years. I regret simultaneously believing myself so blindly, and not believing in myself at all. I regret robbing myself of the joy of trying, failing, and growing.
I know I'm not alone in feeling self-doubt and fear. There's a good chance that somebody reading this right now is exactly where I was, feeling incapable of doing creative work. One of the core tenets of Long Way Home🏡 is to write what I needed to read back when I was the one struggling. I want to show people it's the most human thing to lose our way, and we all need help sometimes to find our way back to the best versions of ourselves.
Home is where we are happy, wherever that may be. Some of us have a little further to travel than others but the journey is always worth it. Understanding the unique ways in which we are lost—and we all are—is a beautiful opportunity we all have. Regret is the feeling we have when we realize that we were more lost once than we are now, and that means progress.
I can’t wait to discover who we all become on this long, terrifying, and magical journey home.
🎥 - It’s Your Turn
This video is a fascinating look at imperialistic attitudes in board games, and what role colonial history plays in board game design. The narrator in the video, a professional board game reviewer, shares his personal reason for why imperialistic undertones in board games matter, bringing the criticisms to life. Board games are fun and light-hearted, so it’s unusual to see board games re-evaluated through such a serious lens.