So last weekend was Nine Worlds, a yearly convention over in London. As expected, it was awesome.
I was on 3 panels altogether, one of which I pitched myself several months ago. I was a bit nervous that my panel would actually fall flat, due to being a niche topic and scheduled in a popular time slot. Yet it ended up being my favourite, due in large part to the awesome audience we had and great panelists that joined me.
So overall I think I did pretty well as a contributor? At least, I got good feedback across all three. I think I could have done better in some places, but I’m happy with how things went.
Anywho, this is my personal blog, so it’s time for me to ramble on about my life, I might do a separate “OMG Nine Worlds is awesome” post later, which I’ll likely host elsewhere. So for now…
Let Me Entertain You
What I’ve learnt is that I really like entertaining/engaging/informing people. I’ve known this for a while, via how I feel about my writing, but being on panels and having people afterwards approach me and talk about how they liked what I said, even thanking me for being on a panel, just reinforced that point as a really powerful feeling.
I am admittedly a person with a rather unhealthy self-worth problem. Validation from other people, usually by being told I’m delivering interesting/entertaining/helpful content, is what helps make me feel worthwhile as a person. It comes from knowing I was able to help people enjoy themselves or help them feel better about a certain issue or topic. I realise this is not really ideal on a personal growth level at all, but er… at least I’m aware pulling validation from other people is not healthy, that’s a start? Right?
I’m certain my recent up-and-down anxieties over not having enough time to write lately are also tied to this, as writing is where I pull a lot of my sense of accomplishment from. Even if nobody reads a review or article I write, it feels good to have written it. I can put it down to practice, something that will make the next one better, then I move onto the next thing. When I’m not creating any new content I feel antsy, anxious and as if I’m wasting time.
This has led to periods where I’ve also frantically worked, moving from one thing to the next and ended up making myself ill, by cutting down on relaxation, food and sleep, which is also unwise, obviously.
Anyway, this is all very rambling. The point I want to get to is Nine Worlds helped me realise I need to reach balance. I went into Nine Worlds thinking 3 panels was a good number, but maybe I should be doing more, maybe I could have volunteered to help or contributed beyond these. However, I left thinking 3 was perfect and just fine.
I partly reached this conclusion because I had a rough day in the middle of Nine Worlds, on the Saturday. It’s something I might elaborate on later, but essentially I realised a certain topic is very distressing to me and I just hit my limit on what I could handle that day. It was a reminder that this feeling of responsibility, to try do as much as possible and help everyone I see in need, is really damaging.
I can’t push myself to do everything I want to do and ignore my health (both mental and physical) but I also can’t do nothing, as that makes me anxious too. I need to strike a balance. Look after myself, but also at least have a couple of things in the air to keep myself feeling busy.
I also know I need to work on finding validation elsewhere, feeling useful and worthwhile even when I’m not actively contributing to the entertainment or engagement of other people. I think having a drive to engage people has worked in my favour in some ways, notably it’s what helped me get over a fear of public speaking during University and put on seminars. I was a kid who hated presenting anything to a group, it would make me nervous and painfully self-aware.
As a teenager nothing made me more anxious than being called on to talk in front of the class. But by my post-graduate degree, I loved those chances. They were opportunities to make people laugh, intrigue them and an excuse for me to share my enthusiasm about a particular topic. Even when I was presenting about a fairly bland subject matter, I’d try to be entertaining, that was the key to why I liked giving presentations. It evidently paid off, a highlight being when one lecturer asked me not to present my research in a certain time slot, because she’d be busy teaching otherwise and she wanted to pop in and watch my presentation, not wanting to miss it if I presented first.
But that drive has also made me miserable. When I started my job this year, I mentioned that the sudden loss of free time and heightened stress meant I was too drained to write anything worthwhile. This was something that really, really bothered me. By defining myself so much around creative output it meant my happiness was shot when I wasn’t able to do anything. I felt guilty for resting, even though I know I needed to do it. When I tried to push myself to go full speed I ended up getting ill and being bedridden for a week. I was being driven not by a desire to create, but by pure pressure to not waste my time.
Again, I’m rambling so I apologise, but I’m using this blog post to lay out and understand my own headspace as well as elaborate.
The bottom line is that I need balance. I need to take on what I can achieve, without overreaching for what my health cannot handle. I need to stop dwelling on chasing the next milestone and try to stop and actually let myself feel happy and accomplished.
Before Nine Worlds I wrote a blog post that I didn’t publish. One where I faced up to the fact that, basically: I’m never satisfied. I never feel accomplished. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. Any sort of achievement I’ve gotten, I simply see as a stepping stone to what comes next, it’s never enough.
This realisation occurred to me now directly because my transition is moving further and further into the background. It’s easy to see a lot of issues tangled up with gender dysphoria, the need to transition certainly eclipsed all other problems for me. Now that I am transitioning and things are going well… it’s freed me to see what other problems are left behind, when the elephant in the room is finally ushered out.
I stopped and realised I’ve essentially been feeding a void. Chasing some vague and undefined version of happiness in the form of success. But every “success” was personally inadequate and tossed to the void, doing nothing to sate it. Meanwhile I looked up to the next level, thinking how I could get there, how could I reach the next success after the last one had left me so numb.
This was most apparent with my academic qualifications. Back when I was about 20, I felt like a failure, with barely any qualifications to my name, no A-levels, an embarrassingly bad set of GCSEs and two impractical BTECs I got from the local college. Despite this I managed to talk and write my way into getting onto a Bachelor’s degree course, by sidestepping the application process and speaking to the course leaders, convincing them I could handle the workload. This led to earning my BA after a stressful couple of years. From there I went and earned my Masters degree, but I never felt like I’d really accomplished anything. That feeling I had of being a failure never went away, even coming in the top grading bracket for every essay I wrote. It felt routine. Like I was still working on catching up. I didn’t even bother attending either of my graduation ceremonies, they didn’t mean anything to me, they felt like they’d each be hollow celebrations. I then was looking to the next level instead, a PhD. When I failed to secure funding, it was a huge thud to my already shaky my self-confidence.
Meanwhile, in my spare time I launched my own website and wrote literally hundreds of articles for it, in the form of reviews and opinion pieces. I also finally launched a podcast and got onto the press list for a number of companies. But just like my academic pursuits, I was chasing a feeling of accomplishment that continued to elude me. It was never enough.
In my personal life I at least found some happiness in my transition, but even that was darkened by feeling that I’d taken too long to get here. I always felt like I was lagging behind.
I acknowledged all this in a long, rambling piece of personal writing, as I worked to articulate how I felt and analyse what I’d been doing over the last few years. It was very cathartic. I concluded by promising myself I’d work on shifting to a healthier perspective, to be happy with what I’ve got and what I’ve done. To use that as motivation to keep chasing what I want, but without the anxiety that I need to keep chasing goals to not feel worthless. I need to stop delaying my own happiness to try reach some mythical stage in my life, where I’ll finally feel like I’ve accomplished something.
Well, seemingly that’s started to work. As coming home from Nine Worlds I feel happy (proud even? that’s new) about what I did over the weekend, despite knowing I could have done more. I don’t feel regret over missed opportunities and I don’t feel a grim pressure to immediately try and top it. Instead I feel happy.
I’m happy I was able to help entertain people. I’m especially happy about spending time with friends and I’m even happy I was able to find out something new about my own limits, letting me understand myself more. I feel like I have a renewed perspective on my life, that I’ve taken a step towards actual fulfillment.
It’s not something I expected to get out of Nine Worlds, but it’s something I’m very grateful for.