Everybody’s got a voice in their head. It’s the voice you check with whenever you have to make a decision, reflect or form an opinion. Sometimes that voice is elevating. Other times it’s critical and cringe inducing. Most of the time it’s an echo chamber, confirming stuff you already believe. For most people, I assume the voice in their head is their contemporary, seeing and processing things in real-time. For me, the voice in my head is my own from two decades ago. It’s the person I would have turned-out to be had I listened to everything he had to say. I check with that voice every day because it fills me with enormous gratitude to know I ignored him during my formative years. That voice twenty years my junior is the voice that always encouraged me, ‘Not to bother’, or ‘It’s a waste of time’ or “Everything’s a scam.” It’s the sanctimonious “know-it-all” voice that would have kept me languishing in my parents’ basement well into adulthood without career or relationship in sight while my peers moved on with their lives. It’s the voice that would have permitted me to leave the house, gross and unkempt and to create grand narratives about how I am the only person who sees the world as it is while others are blind to society’s machinations. If I listened to the voice twenty years my junior, I’d be a loner with a lot of rationalizations about personal choice and whatnot, all the while yearning for human affection and anybody to look in my direction. Whenever I hesitate about doing something, I check with the voice, remind myself what I would have become had I listened to him, and just do what I want to do. As an adult, I don’t have heroes I want to emulate. I just have people I don’t want to end up becoming.
You don’t need permission from anybody to do anything, least of all, the shittier version of yourself.
We are, all of us, the result of our decisions. If there is one voice we should all ignore, it’s the one that says, “It’s not worth the effort. It won’t make a difference.” While that may serve a purpose if you reduce your life to analytics and cynical cost/benefit columns, it’s a disastrous guide to follow if you wish to be a well-rounded adult. Had I listened to that voice, I would not have had the career I had, met my wife or started my family. In short, if I believed the voice from two decades ago that constantly told me, “It’s not worth the effort. It won’t make a difference”, I might have never grown up and somehow rationalized it as personal brilliance.
The demons I fought were rooted in deep insecurities and they still are. As a young man, every positive impulse for improvement was countered with, “Who’s going to care?”, then rationalized with “It’s not worth the effort.” I’d hear that voice constantly because not doing was far more comfortable than doing. Not doing anything required far less effort than doing something. Sure, I could see others who placed a premium on their own improvement making positive gains. But I chose to focus on the ones who tried their best and failed and compared myself to them. “See. Far better to have not tried at all.” The problem with this logic is the longer you persist, the more you believe it to be true. It’s like the saying, “Whether you believe you can or can’t, you’re right.” except in this case you’re rationalizing self-loathing; that you are not worth improving. That your work is not worth improving. It’s the ultimate in cynicism. If the only argument is “To what end?”, then there is no argument. All art stops. The person who says, “I can be happy with nothing” is one who has never truly experienced ‘nothing’ because he is living a life someone else who came before him, built.
So, what changed? Nothing. Even though this voice has been a constant in my head, my earliest memories of it being in my teens, I listen to it, ignored it, and did what I was going to do anyways. Often, the effort to improve led to something better. The voice that tells you “Not to bother.” or “It’s not worth the effort”, will ALWAYS give you permission to do less and it will ALWAYS sound astute and reasoned because it’s what you want to hear. I conditioned myself to engage the voice, and simply do the opposite and was rewarded. I made sure to choose peers that felt the same and by virtue, all those I chose were active in life, love and achievement.
It doesn’t take a philosopher to see what lack of effort could lead to. When I see what I could have been had I always chosen the path of no resistance, no effort and no reflection, and I look at the life that resulted from acting in the opposite, I’m grateful every day that I never took that voice seriously.
It’s as they say, people without their own parades love to rain on others’. Just make sure you are not your own worst tempest.