Part Twenty-Three: Wasted Potential

There are times in my life when I’m not even sure if I can still recognize myself when I look in the mirror, and not because I’m getting older or because I’ve happened to gain or lose a substantial amount of weight at that specific time. I wonder if I even know who I am anymore. I know who I want to be, along with the myriad iterations of who I wanted to be at various points in the past…and all I know for certain is that I am none of those things.

I suppose that is not entirely true, I wanted to tell stories and influence people’s minds since before I understood that a person could do that specific thing for a living…hell, since before I ever had a grasp on the reality that people did things for a living at all.

But here I am; one novel (albeit a shitty one) and a collection of poetry (not so shitty, but poetry is really a niche commodity) on the market, multiple novels and short stories in progress, and then there’s this abominable thing that you’re reading presently. I’m sure as shit not making a living from my writing, not even close, but I have made some small amount of money that wouldn’t amount to a drop in the bucket compared to my income from gainful employment. But it has made me some money, regardless of how little.

So, I guess that I have managed to make some small amount of progress towards being that portion of who I’ve wanted to be in my life…but it seems like an abysmally small bit of consolation.

Growing up, there was one word that stands out more than any other, that word is potential. Teachers, administrators, counselors, and family alike all seemed to be inordinately fond of that word. I did well in school for all of my troubles socializing with other children, never failing a class or even really receiving grades below an A or the equivalent, at least not until I stopped showing up for school part way through 10th grade…and yet I always overheard, during conferences and the like, that I had so much potential and that I could be doing so much better if I would just apply myself. Similarly I ended up hearing quite frequently that it was a consensus that I might benefit from feeling that I was being challenged in school, and that the problem was that I wasn’t being challenged at all.

Seriously, I wondered, how much better did they expect me to be doing? Personally I have come to believe that it’s somewhere in the training manual for new teachers that they have to use various iterations of that sort of statement regarding the potential a student exhibits whenever they meet with parents…at least when the student displays at least fair to middling intelligence.

Having that sort of thing tossed casually my way throughout my whole childhood, there was a great deal of pressure that I should make something of myself and do more with my life than I have thus far…at least to this point, I’ve certainly not done anything of note that would indicate that I lived up to that supposed potential. I wonder if maybe, somewhere inside of me, there isn’t my own little imp of the perverse lurking around and riding on my shoulder, encouraging me to do precisely the opposite of what I should be doing in order to capitalize on that potential.

Or maybe I’m just a screw up.

For a long time there I wanted to be a musician, which you’re already aware of by now. It wasn’t an overall lack of talent or skill that stood in my way there, because I did actually develop some small amount of skill where certain instruments were concerned…though nowhere near as much skill as I could have developed if I had devoted more time and energy to those efforts. A lack of faith was the greater hurdle for me, faith in myself and faith in the possibility of anyone being remotely interested in what I was creating.

I had no confidence in my own voice, the same sort of thing that had led to my feigning a sore throat and the like when I was supposed to perform as a soloist in choir…but it was much worse when performing on stage, performing things that I had helped to create, it was far more personal and a source of greater vulnerability for me. My overall lack of confidence served to severely hinder my performance even when recording or working on material with no one else present but my fellow musician. That inability to work with anyone present became worse with time until I lost the motivation to work at all. I’ve always felt bad about my self-sabotage where music was concerned because of the collateral sabotage that it inflicted upon those who wanted to work with me. I was difficult to work with at the best of times, but my lack of faith in what we were doing only ended up making it far more of a challenge.

It’s no wonder that I stopped trying. That sort of thing seems to be a trend with me.

I began attending college at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology at the age of 27, with a double major of physics and chemistry as my focus. I felt invigorated to be in that academic environment, to feel that I was finally doing something that stood a chance of improving my life and building a future of some substance for myself and my family. I always had a passion for science, and it seemed only natural to pursue an education along these lines.

The problem was that I had no choice but to maintain full-time employment while attending school full-time as well. Initially this wasn’t a problem, but over time that sort of obligation begins to take its toll. My GPA began to decline because I wasn’t able to apply as much attention to my coursework and studying as I needed to, especially as I realized that I needed some downtime in order to relax and decompress a bit…because that downtime cut into the time that I should have been spending on my studies.

The stress involved with making ends meet while still attempting to keep myself afloat in school was rough to deal with…but I was treading water with some success as I made it through my first year and a half in college. It was at that time when my two oldest children came to live with me full-time, which hadn’t been the case since they had moved away from the old apartment along with their mother some 9 years before.

Shortly thereafter my youngest also came to live with me full-time due to some problems at home with her mother, and I had a lot more on my plate than I’d had previously. The strain made it more difficult to handle the crowded classrooms and lecture halls, especially during periods when exams were being conducted. Stress can play hell with preexisting anxiety issues, and it certainly did in my case.

I found myself in a position where I needed to withdraw from school, only three years into my pursuit of the double major, prior to my youngest beginning kindergarten. The school days for her were half days, and I had to decide whether I was going to be home with her during the half that she wasn’t in school and be able to get her to class or if I was going to attend the classes that I needed in order to continue with my own education. Obviously, I made the only choice that a parent can make under those circumstances. I placed my education on hiatus, and that hiatus has continued to this day, almost four years later.

I do intend to return to school and finish at least one of the degrees that I was pursuing, if only because I want to finish what I started, but I don’t know when that time will come…hopefully soon. I don’t want that to be a particularly costly (especially in the financial sense) venture that never sees fruition like so many other things I’ve done in my life.

Mine is a life lived halfway when it comes to completing the things that I am passionate about, a life of incomplete goals and half-assed application…but I’ve spent this time sharing so many things with you, with so many things left to share as my story continues, and maybe this can be the next step towards actually completing the things I have started. We’ll have to see…I have a nasty habit of letting myself down, so you should be prepared that I might let you down as well. I’ll try to avoid that though.

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