But I had a headache, not quite a wincingly bad one but bad enough that I couldn’t face hearing the PowerBook’s hard drive spin up again, the soundtrack to my life. Plus I was fed up, and depression + headache = spend a day in bed.
Why could I see no point in doing anything productive, let alone make the greater effort to do anything purely fun? I wasn’t moping about a lack of love life, no one had died, I hadn’t run out of cash, I’d had lots of nice emails: the world should’ve looked rosy. The problem was that I’m not clever enough. “But Phil,” I hear you cry (or at least, this is what I hear a currently rogue sector of my brain crying), “you’re getting full marks in all your master’s work, you can code much better than your average man in the street, people occasionally email compliments about your paintings/photos/drawings, you have a wide-ranging and eclectic knowledge, you’re not going to be short of work, you rarely spend time doing anything that isn’t in some way useful or productive… lack of love life aside, how could things be any better?”
The problem was that I’m never going to be The Best at anything. Daft isn’t it, and this really shouldn’t be reason enough to lay in a darkened room for most of the day having strange half-dreams that I don’t even want to recall in the afternoon sunlight. But there I was, all enthusiastic, at last having a vague idea of a topic for my master’s project and so I mention it to Haddock because my clever chums might have some further suggestions. I didn’t actually expect much response to be honest, but before I knew it deep discussions had broken out among the more expansive brains of the group and I realised that even if I spent all the time between now and July, when I hope to make a start on this thing, I’d never be able to match up to these folk. Writing a master’s thesis suddenly seemed a waste of time; what could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said by far more educated minds than mine? And this is the same problem I have with all my other renaissance man abilities; however much I tell myself how undoubtedly fantastic I am, I’ll never be the best at anything. My code is basic and unelegant, I haven’t painted anything for seven years, my writing is neither excitingly personal or authoritively knowledgable.
Of course, now I’ve been back in the daylight (or at least seen it through the blinds) for five hours the world doesn’t seem quite as dreadful as it did a day ago (a whole day wasted, nothing achieved in 24 hours!). But it still bugs me. I have this fear that I’ll end up doing one thing my whole life, so I skip happily from illustration to modelmaking to tech to editorial to academia, and wonder why my abilities are spread so thin. There’s always something else I could be doing, and as soon as I’m doing it I’ll be looking over the hedge to that greener grass over there. Apparently this is the future, multi-skilled people who can mould themselves to the twists and turns of a fluid job market. But wouldn’t it be great to be among The Best at something?
It also makes decisions about what to do next difficult. It’s great knowing that I rock, and that I could tackle anything given the chance, but to be able to narrow all those choices down would make decisions easier. After two semesters I’m a little bored of this futures lark, and I’ve certainly had it up to here with living on my own out in suburban Texas, and I wonder what the point is in returning for another five months just for a piece of paper; I’ve done all the required classes, and I’ll now just be passing time somewhere I don’t enjoy, so I can say “Hi, I’m Phil, BA, MSc.” There must be something else I can become half-competent at, something new I can add to my portfolio of half-acquired skills? But I’m also a glutton for punishment, and having kicked myself for giving up a masters once already, I don’t want to wimp out on another. “If it hurts, it must be good for you,” I think, which is probably why I don’t have enough fun.