Today I was pondering why we do things that we don’t immediately (or ever) succeed at. Certainly I didn't succeed at writing The Beast Is an Animal for a very long time. And it was a big question for me as to whether I ever would succeed.
It seems to me there are two reasons we keep trying:
1) We’re determined to succeed one day.
2) We enjoy the task.
Some people can keep driving forward for just one of those reasons. For example, if you need a passing grade in a class, you’re going to keep working at a subject you don’t enjoy (see: Peternelle, 11th grade, Algebra II). Alternatively, you may know you’re never going to be a great artist, but you take art lessons anyway, because you love to express yourself that way (see: Peternelle in any art class ever taken). Disaster strikes in the absence of either motivation. The task is so hard that even a passing grade isn’t enough to keep us going. Then sheer loathing for the task takes over, and we run away as fast as we can, or waste time with our friends at coffee hour (see: Peternelle, freshman year in college, Statistics).
If I’m going to do something at all challenging, there usually has to be some joy in it for me. This isn't such a good thing. Sometimes you just need to buckle down and do something. Not all parts of our jobs are there to give us joy. I just read the definitions of Type A and Type B personalities, wondering if that made me a Type B. I think of Type A's as being competitive and driven to succeed at whatever the task, enjoyable or not. The definition I looked up tells me that Type A’s are also really anxious and at greater risk for heart disease. Type B folks are calmer about getting things done. They don’t stress. (Um. That’s definitely not me.) Type D folks are passive and altruistic, tend toward worry, and are at greater risk for illness. Yeah, not really me either (at least not the passive/altruistic part). There should be a personality type that correlates with hurling yourself into things you like, procrastinating mightily the things you don’t, and being pretty anxious all the time. We could call that Type Y for yeah, that’s me.
As a Type Y, I need ways to relax that also make me happy on some level. So that disqualifies reading the newspaper or spending too long on social media (I've discovered the latter works best for me in short bursts). My way of relaxing is to do something that rewards me and feels productive or creative in some way, but is utterly without negative consequences. Baking definitely qualifies. Lately I’ve enjoyed knitting, but I’ve learned that if it gets too hard and takes too long to complete a project, then it’s defeating the purpose. I’ve also learned to enjoy a certain kind of failure: the New Yorker Caption Contest. I never win, and I doubt I ever will. This is starting to become an accomplishment in and of itself—doing something that makes me laugh that won’t ever earn me a penny or land my name in tiny print one week in the New Yorker. Wow, I think that’s called doing something just for the fun of it. It feels…healthy? Very Type J for joy.
And what is more joyful than getting lost in a book? There is a very particular charge I get when I'm reading something that delivers on all levels—art, emotion, and pure enchantment. This month’s book recommendation is a novel full of joy and magic—The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. Don’t read it because you should, read it because it will remind you of a time in your life when (for the most part) you did things just because you wanted to.
Here’s how it goes with me and the New Yorker Caption Contest. These are last week’s contest finalists.
And here’s my entry.