My last post on our temporary poverty situation led to reflection on a variety of things related to my experiences over the last few years. I’ve noticed a pretty distinct pattern, which is probably related to my serial hobbyist nature:
It’s nearly impossible to have a remotely accurate perception on any experience until you’ve been immersed in it for some time.
This idea manifests itself like this-
- I try something new.
- I glorify the experience, then write about it while under the glorification spell.
- Further experience allows me to see the experience in a more objective light.
- I regret my initial glorification because I realize my perspective was limited.
- I assign the experience a more accurate place in my world.
This is what happened with teaching. And barefoot running. And ultras. And functional fitness. And homeschooling. And getting my book published. And the hobo lifestyle.
All of these things have played and will continue to play an important role in my life, but I have a much different perspective now that I did in the early stages of all those things. I feel as though I should have seen my flawed perceptions, but that’s nothing more than a hindsight bias.
I would like to believe this realization would insulate me for over-glorifying my current experiences, but it really doesn’t. Shelly and I recently started mma training which heavily features jiu jitsu (I even started a new blog.) Without experiencing mma training for a significant amount of time, I just don’t have enough perspective to accurately assess how important the experience is to me. I want to recommend it to everyone and rant about how awesome it is, but I know it’s like every other experience I’ve had- I’m over-glorifying it.
So why does this matter?
I blog about my experiences A LOT. Sometimes the discussions will be reflective in nature. Sometimes they will occur in the midst of the experiences. In the case of the former, my observations are probably pretty accurate. In the case of the latter, I probably make anything and everything seem a lot better than it really is… just like mma training today.
I’m a pretty skeptical person, but that skepticism doesn’t really prevent this. For example, there was a time when I was convinced we should ban all shoes. I sincerely believed everyone should be barefoot all the time and the shoe industry was nothing more than a grand conspiracy between manufacturers and the medical community to boost profits and income by promoting injuries.
Fast forward. Two days ago, I advised a contractor dude at work to see a doctor for some orthotics. He suffered an acute foot injury that could benefit from temporary immobilization.
The same thing happened with ultrarunning.
I used to think ultras were the epitome of the human experience. The suffering and perseverance needed to reach the finish line was among the greatest challenges a human could face. Now I see ultras a slow jog where you get to eat a ton of junk food and is really no different than any other recreational game we play to pass the time. There’s no reason to put ultrarunners on any sort of pedestal.
I used to believe functional fitness was the absolute best plan to attain fitness. I recommended Crossfit to everyone I encountered. Then I started seeing people get hurt while overtraining. Then I saw supposed “phenomenal athletes” that couldn’t run more than a few miles. I realized there’s more to “fitness” than being able to get a respectable score when doing Fran.
After twelve years of teaching, I thought I had sorted out the positives and negatives of the education experience, and could create an ideal homeschool situation for our kids. It went great… for about a year or so. Then the kids started to get bored. I became difficult to hold their attention. Ever-changing majestic scenery, hands-on science, practical mathematics, and first-person experience with historical landmarks loses its appeal when you do it every day. We enrolled them in school (a supposed poorly-performing public school) and they started to flourish.
I used to think getting published by a big publishing house would legitimize my amateurish writing. I expected seeing my book in bookstores to be a magical experience. As it turns out, it was far more satisfying doing it myself. The publishing world isn’t about validation for being a true artist. It’s a giant business designed to make money. Getting published doesn’t mean you’re a great writer. It means the publisher thinks they can make a buck off your writings.
I used to think being a nomadic running hobo was the perfect lifestyle. Now I see it as an extension of something college kids and those that live in poverty do on a regular basis. We’re not pioneers; we’re just middle class folks pretending to be poor. It’s cool seeing new places, but the logistics of long-distance travel can be brutal, campgrounds sometimes suck, you’re entirely reliant on location-independent income, and there are serious downsides to living in a house designed for intermittent vacation dwelling.
In each of those cases, I eventually learned none of it was really all that special. All have provided great memories, provided ample learning opportunities, and have changed me as a person, but none were worthy of the glorification I created while in the midst of the experience. Each was just another notch on the fence post of life.
So Now What?
This realization has made me a little wary of writing about current experiences. I won’t stop, though. It’s fun writing about current experiences. As far as personal growth, it’s good to fully document that early enthusiasm. It’s even better to make it public. It forces me to reconcile how I feel today with how I felt in the past, and explain how and why my thoughts and feelings have changed.
The situation I wrote about yesterday perfectly exemplifies this. For a year and a half, I routinely referred to us as nomadic hobos and talked about living with so little. Then we settled in an area where we were surrounded with abject poverty and got a first-hand taste of what it was really like [sidebar- Shelly actually grew up in severe poverty. Her response to yesterday's article: "I had a regular diet of government cheese. I already know what poverty feels like, damn it!"] Anyway, these experiences made me realize we were merely pretending to be poor hobos. We didn’t have to worry about our kids starving. When we actually DID have to worry about our kids going hungry, I regretted my previous hobo ramblings.
I do actively try to seek out contradictory evidence, but that’s not usually enough to counteract my bias. Sometimes my experiences provide enough balance. Gun control is a good example. I think our world would be a lot safer without guns, but I grew up with a lot of people that needed guns to hunt for food to feed their families. Sometimes, though, I can’t seem to find that appropriate gray area at that particular time. We can acknowledge the world is filled with shades of gray, yet still have black and white thoughts.
By the way, I still run barefoot on occasion and love teaching the basic principles, will probably run at least one ultra this year with some goal races down the road, still do a lot of functional fitness exercises, will probably experiment with homeschooling again at some point, am open to the possibility of using a traditional publisher in the future, and am working to get to the point where we can hit the road again.
It’s not that any of these activities turned out to be bad, I’ve just been able to put them in a better perspective. None are the royal road to anything. I’ve been able to consider them from different angles, which has stripped away the desire to overly glorify any of them.
Like any worthwhile life experience, all of these left me with more questions than answers. All made me realize I’m dumber, not smarter. All have made me realize I have a very limited perspective on anything and everything. Taken together, that ultimately fuels my curiosity to learn more. So I can feel even stupider. And so the cycle continues.
Anyone else experience this phenomenon? Better yet, have my long-time readers noticed this trend in my writings? Is it good? Bad? Share your thoughts!