Then I was thinking about those folks who end up on the title page of the University web site... the ones who are meant to serve as a inspiration and only make me feel more inadequate and loserish. Like, there's the guy who was diagnosed with leukemia and whose wife gave birth to their second child when he was in his fourth year of ... I don't remember - physics or something. And he still made the Deans list in spite of chemotherapy and having a new-born. Or the chick who manages to work 30 hours / week, raise five kids on her own, and complete a PhD in half the regular amount of time. Okay, I made that last one up - but I bet there is someone out there who fits my fictional profile of courage.
I both admire and envy these people, and at the same time I know that kind of perseverance is completely out of my grasp. Which takes me back to the character flaws.
One of course is envy, as evidenced by the surges of inadequacy and irritation I feel when I hear about the incredible success of others. The other is deeply entrenched laziness. I used to think I was one of those people who works "smarter not harder" but strictly speaking this isn't true. I seldom work smart. I spend ridiculous amounts of time staring off into space and thinking up interesting project ideas that I have no time to undertake because I've spent so much time staring into space having ideas, that I've missed my self imposed deadlines for urgent school projects and end up making the actual deadlines only by pulling an all-nighter.
Another character flaw is the very notion that I should be able to compete with those spectacularly talented and hard working exceptional people. Especially since I am not spectacularly talented, hard working or exceptional myself. This is nothing but vanity. These people are exceptional precisely because they bear so little similarity to me.
Which reminds me of Notes from Underground:
About ten years ago I was working at a job I hated with a woman who was exceptional in her own unique way. She was undergoing some rather hideous cancer treatments, but she was no model of composure in the face of nausea and a potentially fatal illness. This young woman was a true misanthropist and we got along like gang-busters. My capacity for darkness sometimes surprises me. Anyway, the last time we worked together before she became too ill, she gave me her copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes From Underground. She said it was her favorite book, and I kept that in mind as I read it. I couldn't see her in it actually, but I saw something of myself from the first paragraph:
I am a sick man. ... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I
believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don't consult a doctor for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine, anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious). No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand. Well, I understand it, though. Of course, I can't explain who it is precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot "pay out" the doctors by not consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don't consult a doctor it is from spite. My liver is bad, well let it get worse!
People are never as entirely good or as miserably bad as they think they are, including me. That absolutism is just another form of vanity. We all want to be exceptional. Still, there is something satisfying about peering into your own dark corners and finding them grimmer than you thought they could be...
I dislike people without dark corners. People with moral clarity. People who seem forever to find their path come alive with light.People who haven't yet been to the bottom of their own personal dark pit of despair and managed to claw their way out. This is also a character flaw. Not theirs, but mine. I used to think I envied them, but now I'm not so sure. There are those who have been to the darkest places in themselves and now find even twilight is full of sparkle in comparison. These people I have an abiding respect and admiration for, but why should I? The only people who do not have their own stories of survival are either lucky, crazy or dead. And for the lucky ones, you never know when the world will break open and try to swallow you whole, at which point you will, to use the standard cliche's, either sink or swim.
In the mean time, I will try not to judge too harshly. I don't wish to linger underground myself. After all, it is rather self indulgent (another character flaw).