Dealing with a Thinking Addiction, AKA Elon Musk syndrome, AKA needing to know EVERYTHING
Growing up, I was always “smart” and “creative”. Everything was easy (except seventh grade math.) I could do anything at the last minute. I could learn anything overnight. I could think for days and solve any problem. It was like a superpower.
But as I got older the problems and projects I faced grew more and more complicated and nuanced. I still felt a need to not only do everything perfectly, but a need to do EVERYTHING. The ability to do an incredible job at ANYTHING, LITERALLY ANYTHING had become a crucial part of my own self-concept. And all the sudden, I found myself struggling for the first time.
But I resisted it. I only knew how to be really extra. I had never done a mediocre job on anything–I was an all or nothing girl.
So for years I continued to throw my entire self into projects in a flamboyantly extra and unnecessary ways, as if to prove a point to myself. 5 page papers turned into 20 pages because I couldn’t stop adding sources. I pulled two all-nighters in a row to teach myself MatLab for no reason.
All this dumb stuff was born from a genuine interest and desire to learn. But I was doing in a really weird, binge-y way. I could blame perfectionism, or ADHD, or whatever, but it was all my problem in the end: I was burned out and disconnected from real life.
Somewhere in between my 37th and 38th post-post-late-stage-burnout breakdowns, I had a revelation:
* Not everything is worth my time.
* Not everything is worth my energy.
I was trying so hard to please everyone. I didn’t even have values of my own anymore, aside from “please everyone”. So I sat down and overhauled my entire value system. What really matters and what’s some bullshit that isn’t as important to me?
My family and friends are most important. I was ignoring them. So, I decided to stop doing exhausting, pseudo-intellectual bullshit for no reason, and spend more time with my friends and family.
What’s the result?
The result is I write a letter to my grandma every week, see my friends, and make it a priority to go home and see my family. The result is I’m not even gonna proofread this before I submit it, I’m just gonna go to sleep because who cares?
The result is I feel brain-dead sometimes, and feel like I’m missing the part of me that used to be smart. I miss the “high” of working on a challenging problem until my brain and body are so exhausted I can’t continue. (???) But I am now doing things that are much more meaningful to me, and that bring me long term happiness. I am much more balanced, and it turns out my work turns out to be “good enough” (or “perfect enough”) even when I don’t give 1,000,000,999%.
It seems I always need a problem to chew on to be satisfied. Maybe someday I will find the perfect outlet for my weird, extra, analytical brain–a problem it can consume and process without exhausting or draining me. A problem that will give me energy to solve, and that will connect me to others rather than isolating me. But until I find that outlet, I’m happy to give up “smart” and “creative” for “balanced”.
Could I be a genius if I kept thinking about things forever? MAYBE. Am I actually going to send rockets to Mars or win a Nobel Peace Prize?
NO. What the fuck ever.
If you find that you exhaust yourself, if you find yourself in a perpetual cycle of overworking and then breaking down once a week, take a look at your priorities. What do you WANT?
You can do anything you want to. Anything and everything in the world. But just because you have the ability to do anything, doesn’t mean you HAVE to.
Here are some alternatives:
– forget about it
– think about it later
– pay somebody else to do it
– just call someone who knows how to do it and say “hey will you help me”
– say “I do not know how to do that, please find someone else”
– think to yourself, “there are lots of people who are way smarter than me who are probably thinking hard about this problem, so it’s not my responsibility to think about”
– go to sleep
– “this does not make me happy to think about so I’m not going to think about it anymore”
– delegate it to literally anyone else and if they do it badly, at least it’s done
– wanna learn a thing? Instead of staying up for a million years teaching yourself, try this:
sign up for a class