Errant Priorities

I caught myself in a neat trap. I set it, and walked myself into it. I’d been trapped in it for a few weeks before I realized what had happened.

To step back, I bought a Fitbit last January. I like it. I enjoy walking. Walking, like writing, helps me think. The Fitbit tracked my walking and gave me quantified results. That was beautiful. I had goals, and could stretch myself against those goals. Great.

Similar to playing video games, walking and measuring my progress and activities sucked me in. I play video games every day. They’re small, online games; I don’t let myself buy or enroll in more, because I know I’ll get sucked into them. It happened a long time ago with a computer game called “Empire.” The game with its attendant strategies and tactics sucked me in. Huge swaths of time and energy were lost to playing that game. It was an ugly lesson learned.

It was also an insight into myself. Like many people, I hunt validation about who I am, and my relative merits. They’re hard to come by in the modern world, especially when you’re in the military or working for a corporation. They like to give you “Atta-boys.” That’s a reward where they beam at you, and say, “Thanks. Well done!” Yes, it worked for a while, but as I realized the emptiness of those rewards, and the challenges became easier and easier, the rewards became meaningless for me. Winning video games became more rewarding in my schema, thus validating me.

Coping with myself and my tendencies, I began seeking things that can be tangibly measured to reward me. In turning to writing, I discovered, hey, I can achieve the same sort of satisfaction by writing one to two thousand words a day. That made me feel good about myself. Finishing a story made me feel better. Selling one made me feel great.

In the cascading process, I then went after another prize: writing a novel. Each step in the process was again a tangible reward, an objective achieved. From finishing a chapter to finishing a novel was a wonderful experience.

Selling it, however, was not easy. Dejected with the publishing process, I went the Amazon publishing route. The rewards fall miles short of my hopes and dreams. So….

Writing became less rewarding. Well, writing remains rewarding. I find writing novels to be akin to solving logic problems. They hold an inherent challenge and reward. But writing doesn’t provide me the validation from outside myself that I know I need. Being thin-skinned and insecure, I need huge quantities of validation.

Enter the Fitbit.

Just like that, I started increasing my goals and exceeding them. I stretched goals from ten thousand steps to fourteen thousand steps, from five miles to six, to seven, to eight.

Naturally, these goals absorbed time and energy, especially in these summer months when it’s ninety degrees or more. Reluctantly, I realized, I needed to draw back from the Fitbit and the walking goals, because they were distracting me from my writing goals and activities. Why, of course, was obvious: the Fitbit goals were tangible and reachable. Writing goals of writing novels, publishing them, and selling novels were tangible, but not easy reached. Not reaching them despite the efforts made became a depressing effort. Mad sequences of Peggy Lee singing, “Is that all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing,” kept streaming into my head. “Let’s break out the booze, and have a ball. If that’s all. There is.”

So, seizing myself by my metaphysical scruff, I drag myself away from Fitbit goals and re-prioritized. Whereas I had been targeting six to ten thousand steps before writing, I now write first, and then hunt the steps and miles.

Someday, I believe, or hope, that I’ll find something more, something that will finally quiet the desperation and disillusionment in me. Meanwhile, I’m going to avoid boozing, except for a few beers and wine, reduce my Fitbit goals, and keep on writing.

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