Competitive Coward

By | February 25th, 2006 | 16 Comments | General

I spend too much time doing the same damn thing. Every day after school, you’ll find me in one place. That’s right where I am now, right in front of my computer. I honestly don’t have any of the big commitments that all my friends have.

When I was younger, I was into everything. I was into acting, into running, into baseball, into coin collecting, into pottery, into reading, into everything. And now it’s one dominant thing – the computer. I’m good at it, better than I ever was at all of my other things combined. I certainly enjoy it too. I love coding, I love writing here, I love making five times the money my friends make. But it’s just one thing, the same thing, every time.

I’ve recently dropped into envy of my two best friends. They are complete opposites from me (and comically similar to each other). I mean, they do everything. Science bowl, track and field, otter bowl, mathletes, cross country, and countless other things I’ve missed. I often wish that I had all these things to do as well.

Everyone thinks I’ve got my hands full. The track coach thinks I got too busy with theater ensemble. The thespians think I’m too busy with other extra-curriculars. But my big cowardly secret is that I don’t have that much happening.

I’ve always got more than enough to do – I’ve got a queue of people waiting to pay me to do their websites. But that stuff doesn’t have to happen. Shit, I’m only sixteen. Why do I need to be confining myself to office work when I should be exploring the boundaries of teenagerdom. I’m sure looking back, sitting in my cubicle ten years from now, I’ll be wishing I had lived it up a lit more. With this huge future in front of me, the only path I’m looking at is straight into web development. Seriously, when anyone asks me what I’ll be doing as an adult, I can give them a straight, confident answer. Sometimes that feels good, sometimes it feels terrible.

I think the reason I ended up on the computer is, strangely, cowardice. On the web, you can’t lose at anything. There’s no competition. I don’t have to train for a race, I don’t have to perform on game day. When I was really little, I remember walking alone down the streets of Albany, thinking of how if I just poured my soul into something, I could beat everyone, everyone, at anything. It was a beautifully pure, inspiring feeling, that I’ve unfortunately misplaced in the past few years. I have since realized, or just surrendered, that there’ll always be someone to beat me. The saddest thing is, that one idea has shooed me away from getting into anything new. I’ll never be at the top, so why even try? I hate, hate, hate that idea. But somehow it has constricted me. It’s always that ugly conscious: what do people think of how bad I am? My safe place has become the internet, and its incalculably vast opportunity to be the king of anything you like.

So now I’m here, wondering what to do next. I want something new, I really do. People keep telling me to rejoin track, and I’d like that. But then I dismiss myself, I’m just not fast. Moan! I’ve recently discovered new things to love, like French. But they aren’t things I can train for, things I can work on afterschool.

I think what I really need is something to suck at. Some team sport I’ve never tried before, where I can just go in proud and not worry about making a fool of myself. What might that be? I’ve yet to place it. Of course, if there’s something I could be good at too, that would might be fun.


There've been 16 whole comments

6:01 am on 2/25/2006 1. Dave

I know exactly what you mean. I’m a fair bit older than you, but last summer found myself in a very similar predicament. So I had the slightly random idea to learn to ride a motorbike! It was pretty hard work and did cost a bit for all the lessons, gear, failed tests etc! But now I’ve passed and at least I have got a very good, completely un-computer like thing to do with my time!

1:26 pm on 2/25/2006 2. Eric

Hey man, you get major respect from me for being able to do all yer technical things. I can’t do much besides listen to the tech support people.
As for new interests, I can’t say much. Mine aren’t very amazing. Theater and longboarding. That about sums it up. You know theater already, so there’s not much I can say (myself not being a member of the close-knit theater crowd, per se)
Longboarding on the other hand, is my drug. I’ll admit I have a problem. I’m addicted to urethane wheels and sweet sweet fiberglass laminating techniques. Now I won’t be able to look back 20 years from now and say, “ya know, that was a waste of my time.” Because in 20 years, I plan to still be doing it. It’s by no means a competitive sport, theres a slim to none chance I’ll ever get back any of the hundreds I spend a year on it, and I’ll certainly never be able to make a living off it. But hell, I love it. Theres nothing like flying down a large hill with little regard for your or anyone elses personal well being.
So do what you wanna do man. At this stage in the game, it’s about what makes you happy. And if you can make money off of it, why not?
But if yer ever interested in longboarding talk to me. Heh

1:49 pm on 2/25/2006 3. nik

Wow, you did some serious soul-searching there (say that five times fast). But its a great thing that you can. Most people (that I know, anyway) have trouble looking at themselves, with criticization or complement. That’s not to say they’re bad at doing thise things — just not with themselves.

Why don’t you try something fun that no one takes seriously (at least, no one worth mentioning)? Something like, oh, Frisbee? Nothing as serious and compentative as track, at least.

Or, if you’re worried about sitting around as an adult and wishing you had done more, you could jsut make your million now and spend that time in the Caribbean, with no free second to reflect on your life. Hey, its how some people do it.

8:04 pm on 2/25/2006 4. Kevin

I would say what i want to say in three words but i will only use three letters: DND! Seriously, you have to train all the time to get your hp and xp up and you don’t actually have to work! Plus if you get your ass kicked you can just cheat and pump up all of your numbers/skills/magic spells.
That was actually a pretty good article. Hobbies are nice things to have at this age. Except at our age they always consume and overtake our lives in the hope that one day they will BE our lives. Like music. Every one my age who plays music only plays music. No sports no nothin. Unfortunatly i made the choice to be in leadership which came with a nice side of outside sports. MMmmm MMmmm.

1:22 am on 2/26/2006 5. Eric

Yeah, like Kevin said, when you pick a basic interest, that’s what you get. Theater’s the only school-y activity I do. Have no time for nothing else. And as for DnD, I picture you as a Gnome Illustionst. I understand they have some good charisma.

2:04 am on 3/3/2006 6. Corical

Dude, i also know exactly what you mean. In the same boat as you, except i’m older. (23) I did however enjoy my school days, doing track and field, rugby, tennis, gholf, cricket etc. After school, i played a bit of rugby, and more 6 down touch. Now .. i’m not doing anything. I have a girlfriend, and also swamped with projects all over the show, ppl want to do all these things, and i have to make it happen for them. *Respect* i know where you coming from. And your analysis of the whole, internet is my safe haven is excellent. I’m currently looking at becoming more spiritual though(in the sense of meditation, maybe even OBE’s). Also have to get back in the gym, to keep my body in shape atleast.

What i’m getting to is, once you finished school it’s even harder. So you have to do something about it NOW. Think about it, and start doing something, no better time than now.

Regards, from Southern Africa.

7:40 pm on 3/5/2006 7. Nicolas

I’m 10 years older, but I was like you. The big difference is that the internet was much younger when I was 16; it was slow and ugly.

I was building computer-controlled robots in the basement of my parent’s home when I was 12, learning electronics by myself before I learned algebra at school. It was hard, but I was passionate about learning new things. I had very few friends, and even fewer *good* friends. My life was in the basement, surrounded with wires, dirt, electronic cards and parts, and computers. At the age of 14, I got hooked into programming. At 15, I discovered the internet, and was into 3D rendering with my own engine, still before I learned real trigonometry.

My main sport was cross-country biking. I was really good, able to follow my father, who had joined a serious bike club.

Then, college and university got really interesting, but I hated to listen to a teacher all day long. I dropped after one year of university. I actually found a “summer” job earlier than I should, and that’s how my professional life started as a programmer. I was going to work by bike every single day, travelling 30-45 minutes at maximum speed.

I started with a normal salary, got a big and satisfying raise, then changed job to earn more than my mother, after only one year of experience, and no degree. I now have 6 years of programming experience, and still feel I have lots to learn. I want to get back on my wheels, every day, and feel healthy. I’m spending most of my time in front of my computer, if I’m not spending money renovating my house. Children are in the plans, but I want to travel, which will have to be in the next few months, after my girlfriend finishes her studies. Hell, I can’t believe we live with all we have and she’s hasn’t even started making real money!

Ok, until now I’ve only spoken for myself. You can’t be the best at anything – first, as you say, there’s always one to do better than you do; and second, even if you’re the best, you’ll think you are not. As we say, the more you learn about things, the more you know that you don’t know shit. I personally feel like an impostor, that I shouldn’t be making that much money because I know so little. However, people really see me as knowledgeable, and even if I do my best to explain them I know nothing, I’ll still have their full trust. I think it is not only about knowledge, but about attitude, and honesty. I try to stay myself, and am easy to say I don’t know.

You are 16, and you have a lot to learn. I’m sure you can think of a dozen things in your field you have no clue about. Surround yourself with knowlegeable people, and find great things to build.

Try to use school at your profit, by bringing projects and getting credits for them. Integrate your life with school. You’ll meat plenty of interesting people – there are older students, and some great professors out there just willing to have fun with unusual projects.

If that’s really not your thing, go find out if there’s any special interest group around you. Some are more casual (Linux user groups, for example), other are more serious (computer professional associations, standards bodies).

I do not personally miss what you call teenagerdom. I’ve built few pipe bombs and got huge adrenalin rushes, but I won’t recommend it! It is very dangerous and I’m glad I had no accident. I preferred building soap boxes and tree houses higher than a house :)

4:37 pm on 3/13/2006 8. Kim

Very inspiring read… I am at about the same point in my life, wondering: “Is it all worth it?” – And more often than not I convince myself it is. I might use all my time in front of the computer now, but it’s to make a living (I’m a self-employed web-developer) – “Normal” people go to work everyday – How’s that any difference from us “wasting” our time in front of the computers? Some people even work with something they don’t like – Be happy about your passion, and don’t worry about wasting your teenage-hood – I’ll bet it will come back ten-fold ;-)

8:58 pm on 3/15/2006 9. shep

you don’t have much to do but you can’t find time to visit your old friends in #wordpress? your absence makes us weep.

8:52 am on 3/17/2006 10. Matthew Gotth-Olsen

You know, I’m going through the same thing.. only I’m realizing it at age 27.

I work on computers every single day, I go home, I play World of Warcraft until midnight, I go to sleep, and do the same thing the next day.

I think liek you said, computers are safe. They’re easy and they offer the path of least resistance. I find myself not going out with my friends because I’d have to deal with the general public. I’m becoming less tolerant of people as I spend more time away from them. Working on computers isn’t fulfilling for me. What impact am I having? Oh so someone can send that funny video or picture to everyone on their contact list? It feels like I’ve been reduced to an accessory.

What I’ve learned though, is you have challenge yourself on a daily basis, don’t let yourself be complacent. Because if you do, you’ll set yourself up for an entire life of it. Because it’s easy.

I went through this previously a few years ago, and I learned that every so often you have to reinvent yourself. Pick up something new. In my case I bought a guitar, having no idea how to play it.

I don’t know how much you’ll get out of this comment, but I hope it helps a little bit at least.

6:26 pm on 3/17/2006 11. Joey

duuuuuuude. I just turned 35. I ran track, played baseball and football in high school. I busted by hump in jr. college trying to break 16 feet in the pole vault; transfered to UT Austin and walked on to the track team; had a blast traveling, competing in track meets; and NOW, I’m sitting in front of the computer every day looking forward to 5 o’clock so I can get home and see my wife and kid. I guess my point is, just do what you enjoy. And if you want a challege, try hangin’ out with your local vaulters. Just don’t hurt yourself.

1:30 pm on 3/19/2006 12. Logan Leger

I know how you feel. I’m really not that different from you, except I don’t program. Instead, I take programs apart, learn how they work, put them back together and build another program that does the same thing. I can actually can fix any program… anyway. Everyone is always complaining that I spend way too much time on the computer so, I picked up Xbox. I became really good at it then, they complained about this so, I moved to an actual sport, swimming. I worked hard because I am not athletic at all. I’m not that good but I was better when I started and although I have no hopes of breaking a record I can probably get first someday… The point being, you’re successful now. Don’t waste any more time, you need to seize you life now, you don’t know when it could tragically end much like my 15 year old friend’s did this summer. Take a break, pickup track again. Sure, you might not ever be really good at it but that might be because you’re already so obviously good at other things…

1:57 pm on 4/4/2006 13. Joe

good chat box on the right side! super!

6:37 am on 5/10/2006 14. Vaughan

It’s all true I know, but swear to god, if I could drop 16 year old me a message, it would be “chill the fuck out”. There’s a near-pathological trend in these western societies to fantasise about being a genius specialist in some field, when instead we could just be improving ourselves day by day. Smile at strangers, be nice to the people who serve your cappuccino-y needs. Read some Zen Buddhism, read some Tao Te Ching.
Me? I topped 25 and the existential angst shifted to existential joy. We’re screwed, so try to have some fun moments anyway. I’m not what TV would tell me is a real adult male, but I have a lovely fiance and a life of daring adventure and boredom. Or something.

9:31 pm on 8/6/2006 15. Thanx A. Lott

Islam does NOT mean “peace” as we are told. It means “submission”. And that submission has always been by choice or by force. Islam IS terror. Islam IS domination. Islam IS racism. Islam IS intolerance. Islam IS hate. Islam IS deception. Islam will usher in a new “dark ages” if it is not stopped.

4:52 am on 12/15/2006 16. Deathmaster2020

Its my birthday lasty year my friend whos a girl gavme mem head. she sad this year wold be even better i wil let you guys now!!