Do you keep a secret record of what your parallel-universe self might be up to? I mean, there’s so many things you’ve unknowingly had to give up to be where you are right now, so many paths left untrodden — you would be deluded to think your inner compass was so well-calibrated, so perfectly attuned to harnessing your individual human potential, that you can comfortably claim to be the ideal version of yourself.
I’ll give you an example. I bet you sometimes flatter yourself with the idea that there is some skill you’ve never tried your hand at that, for no particular reason, you just naturally excel at. I, for one, tend to think parallel-universe me is a runner; probably the marathon type. What has led me to enter this spiral of self-deception? I have made the observation that I am virtually unable to ascend a flight of stairs without turning it into a race: almost without fail, I’ll sort of half run, half jump up the whole thing, skipping every second step in a clumsy display of stream-lined athleticity. The only sensible explanation for this behavioural anomaly is, of course, that I am actually, deep down, one of those ambitious, sporty people, right? Probably not, but it’s a comforting thought.
Another, slightly more tangible one of my “hidden passions”, I’ll have you know, is curating information. What I mean by that is basically that I can spend hours putting together a ten-slide Powerpoint presentation and relish every moment of it. This might just be an outlet for my obsessive compulsive tendencies, but I would venture to say it’s a pretty wholesome one compared to repeatedly checking whether the oven is turned off (but like, really turned off).
It’s all the more frustrating, then, when you find yourself working on a group project with people who might pick up on your irrational obsession with internal coherence and design but do not share that affiliation (or, rather, affliction) to any remote extent. They’re nice about it and all, but they’re not really what you would call compliant. Because, get this, even if everybody agrees to leave the visual tweaks and pixel-pushing to you, the perfectionist, your group members’ time management won’t allow you to keep hold of that control that you so cherish: so the presentation handout ends up in their hands, not as a printed, aesthetically sealed, copy but as a digital file subject to their dicey sense of judgment and sporadic research.
That’s when your absurd daydreams about parallel-universe you, about maybe going into information design yourself, etc. become utterly irrelevant. That’s when you’re forced to grapple with your very own principles. You were supposed to give that class an academic makeover with that presentation, you were supposed to wake your fellow students from their customary slumber of non-engagement, but alas! You failed. Because you neglected the most vital part in this undertaking: you forgot to eliminate that vicious virus of indifference within your own group.
Even though this makes me sound really judgmental, I want to clarify that I’m trying (and I do have to try very hard, which is probably why I failed) not to point blame here. All I wanted to achieve with this, well, let’s call it a cautionary tale, is to make you think back to a time when you were hit by the weight of caring about something — caring deeply, wholeheartedly, but to no avail. Because what’s caring worth if your commitment and enthusiasm don’t extend to others in some way? What’s it worth speaking to an empty auditorium.
Then again, you’re probably just reading the wrong side of the argument (which, given the non-confrontational wimp of a study buddy I am, didn’t even turn into an argument in the first place). You haven’t heard an account of my group members’ other obligations, you haven’t heard about the favours they’ve promised others, about all the side projects that urged them to surrender their preparation time just to help a friend. But since this is my side of the argument, you get the whiny pedant for a protagonist: the guy who just doesn’t have the courage to be an absolute nobody. You must be sick of it, and I’m sick of it too.