When I let myself sleep I feel guilty. No matter what time of day or night it is I struggle to stay awake. There always seems to be something pressing that needs my attention.
I'm not an important businessman. Dozens of people don't depend on me for their livelihood. I'm not particularly social either. I have a small number of close friends whom I see every now and again and often go for weeks without talking to. There's nobody waiting desperately to hear my latest profound thoughts or excitedly waiting for my next song.
Despite how little impact I have on the lives of others, I always feel that I'm supposed to be doing something. I think of how if I could just do a little bit more research, I could finally move forward with my novel. I spend hours listening to music, hoping to hear that one little element that inspires me. I read endlessly, most of the time without any true purpose except to know something I didn't know before. Somehow, I'm convinced that in this relentless search for more I'm going to find the answers I'm looking for.
The trouble is, I'm not entirely sure what the question is. I don't have the faintest clue what it is I'm actually looking for. All the while, the clock keeps ticking and time seems to be running out.
I wake with a jolt of anxiety. I wasn't aware of falling asleep. There is no decision to go to bed. I simply fall asleep wherever I am when it becomes impossible to keep going.
I feel the tiredness, and wish I could sleep. It wouldn't even be that difficult. I don't have a sleep disorder that keeps me awake. But there's a part of me that's afraid of wasting time sleeping.
Strangely enough, I feel like all I'm doing is wasting time. I skip meals, rush through tasks and ignore things that could always be done later when I finally have time. It's a little bit like a race car. Everything that adds weight without being strictly necessary gets removed for that tiny increase of speed.
You must think I'm incredibly productive.
As I'm writing this, I have deadlines that are looming closer. Some are set by clients, others are more nebulous. Deadlines like the fear of getting old without accomplishing anything meaningful.
I know that I should just start. After all, you can only get somewhere by putting one foot in front of the other.
I have a shining image in my mind. The project in it's finished glory. It could be a song, an article or even a fun night out with somebody I haven't seen in a while. It could be me, full of confidence and dressed so well that strangers compliment my appearance.
And I feel more anxious than ever because I don't feel capable of producing something like that. There is a deep certainty that I am just not good enough to meet these expectations. What's the point in doing something if you can't be special?
All around me I see people lauded for the talent, their skill and their determination. Instead of inspiration, I'm overcome with dread. I want to hide in anonymity rather than take the risk of exposing my own lack of talent. I don't want to be laughed at by the panel of judges. I don't want the critics to read what I've written. The future seems so clear:
"Not very memorable."
"Doesn't push the envelope of possibility."
My past seems to be a great enemy. I think back on all of the time I wasted, playing games and being concerned about relationships that are only a distant memory. I should have used that time better. It's too late to start over. I'll never be able to compete with the ones who figured it out all those years ago.
So I sit awake for as long as I can, determined to make up for the time that I threw away. And I throw this borrowed time away because I hardly dare to use it. All the while I'm stepping closer to the end of what I can cope with, and I'm only encouraging that moment to arrive sooner.
I look forward to dying because at least then I could finally let myself rest without feeling guilty, and I'm terrified that I'll never have done 'it' — whatever 'it' is — before I take my last breath.
I know that one day I will have to die. I dream about immortality. Then I would finally have all the time I need to become good enough.
But the truth is, I already have enough time. I could even sleep, and eat, and take care of myself properly and I would still have enough time. Because time isn't the enemy. It's me. I don't believe in myself. I stop myself from ever making progress because I'm afraid of the judgement of other people.
I never started doing the things I wanted to do because I wanted to hear people tell me how good it is, or how clever I am. I'm not sure when either of those things became important. As a child, I wrote for the pure pleasure of it. I drew, and sang and did all manner of pointless things. I wasn't very good at anything. I wasn't a prodigy. No adult looked at me in amazement as I played piano at the age of three better than a man with a lifetime of training and practice.
It probably started in school. Maybe it was earlier. Those first few fumbling attempts and being met with disappointment and the sudden onset of conditional love.
Some of us learned to fear the disappointment. Some of us yearned for approval. Either way, we all became terrified of ever failing again. We didn't have to be the worst, we just had to be anything less than the best.
And when we were the best? It lasted for only a moment, and then it was gone. Nobody can be the best forever.
You have to find another reason for doing. It's not enough to do something for praise, or approval. If you strive for that you'll always feel like an imposter. You'll find that people aren't impressed, and when they are you'll convince yourself that it doesn't matter, because the real experts wouldn't be. You'll pick holes in your work, and regret ever thinking it was worth the time. You could make endless revisions and it'll still never be good enough.
Let me show you an example.
I've written this as a study in procrastination, perfectionism and motivation. I'm thinking to myself that I use the word 'I' far too often, and it'll stop the reader from connecting with it. My conclusions feel trivial and obvious. There doesn't seem to be any great poetry to the language I've used. If it gets read a hundred times I'll be excited for a moment, and then remember that other articles have been read millions of times.
But you've made it this far, haven't you? Something kept you reading. I'm hoping that it's because you recognise all of this in yourself. Maybe it'll finally give you that mental permission you need to write your story, or perform your song or to start learning to play guitar at the age of 50.
The whole world wishes they were good enough, and we all try so hard to avoid being caught out as anything less.
But it's okay. You can be absolutely awful. In fact, I want you to look forward to being told how bad you are and that you should give up.
I'm not going to say it's because everybody who criticises you is secretly jealous and wants to pull you down with them.
But if you don't give yourself the chance to be truly bad at something, you'll never feel the joy of doing something for its own sake.
And then, quite without meaning to, you'll slowly become good enough that you'll be able to enjoy those moments of applause as they come. You'll still see the flaws that nobody else does, and you'll still see the room for improvement.
But those things will make you happy because you'll realise that you're enjoying the moment of doing. You might be practising a particular piece of music, and slowly your fingering gets better and the notes ring clearer. An outside observer will notice that the quality of the performance is improving.
You're just enjoying the music.