I lack drive and initiative. I dithered over whether to study History or English Literature at university, for example. I eventually chose English because, ironically, it involved less reading, and that reading was more fun. (I’m not very good at reading.)
When I graduated, I had no idea what to do with myself. I was going to be a poet, but I was aware that there was no money in it and I’d have to earn a living somehow. Lulu did a TEFL certificate and got a job in a central European country teaching English. After a year working in an office on minimum wage, I drifted, in her wake, into the same career. The school she worked in wanted another native speaker, so I did the training and then went out to work with her. It was her suggestion, but it was still stalkerish of me to accept so eagerly. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, though.
I was astonished to discover that, while I had stayed grimly true to a fixed and restrictive sense of myself, Lulu had carelessly changed. She had transformed from a languid sybarite into a real work-horse. She was committed to her students and would work very long hours, late into the night, preparing and teaching lessons, creating teaching materials, marking work. She did this with enthusiasm, relishing the chance to make a positive difference to her students’ lives, and the adventure of living in a strange, fascinating new country and meeting interesting new people.
This struck me as no kind of a life at all, but I admired Lulu’s industry. I wished I shared her dedication and her adventurous spirit, and I was still striving to be what she liked and admired, so, cursing inwardly, I claimed to be made of that self mettle. We embarked on a life of hard work, hard drinking and screaming arguments, much to my dismay, not being very good at any of them.
Once she and I had gone our separate ways, and the dust had settled on the ruins of our friendship, I was left with certain habits and proclivities, certain assumptions.
a. I had profound doubts about myself as a cognitive entity. I distrusted my own ideas and opinions, especially those to do with righteousness or legitimacy, having repeatedly tried myself against others and come off worse, (although, admittedly, much of those debates degenerated into the argumentum ad hominem (ad nauseam!)) (See b.)
b. I felt fundamentally subordinate – I lacked initiative and aimed to please; I was irresolute and indecisive, deeply distrusting any conclusion I came to. Who would trust the choices of an idiot? Deciding made me feel vulnerable because I was fearful of the consequences and the fierce, disdainful reaction to my idiocy. I relied on others not only to make decisions, but also to confirm my existence through acknowledgement and appreciation of my supportiveness of their choices. (See a.)
c. Yet I believed you enacted yourself: you came into being by acting, and being recognised for those actions. And all acts were moral. Preceding your self was your self’s responsibility for that self (which makes no sense at all), so successes were due to willpower; failures to weakness: you were giving in to some sort of inexplicable, interior, a priori badness. Thus, my sense of self was feeble (see b.) but I could change myself through tangible, measurable activity; this would somehow set me right: if you paid lip-service to an idea, by repetition you could make it true. You faked it to make it. But this denied the truth of any original self. The character I attempted to adopt was defined by others, making me, down to my very essence, seem false, deceitful, insincere, a pretence (See a.) (Jesus! I sound like Kierkegaard, or Berkeley. Next, I’ll start claiming that my silly mental confusions necessitate the existence of God!)
d. I valorised hard work (see c.) and the serving of others (see b.). I felt it was a person’s duty to add value to their society and environment, to justify their place in it. This would firm you up, solidify you, as an entity. (See a., b. and c.) The people I admired were hard workers, an attitude that’s reinforced by society at large, I think.
e. I hoped work would make up for my sins: I might be forgiven if I could be of service. Hard work made you a better person and you could work at being a better person. (See a.)