Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Devil's Advocate

In the Seinfeld episode “The Pick,” George is torn over whether he should call his ex-girlfriend to try to win her back. Out of desperation, he turns to Kramer for advice.

“What does the Little Man inside you say?” Kramer asks him. “See, you gotta listen to the Little Man.”

When George replies that his Little Man doesn’t know what to do, Kramer dismisses the notion.

“The Little Man knows all!” he insists.

“My Little Man’s an idiot,” George replies.

Like Costanza, I have been struggling with my Little Man, too. You know the Little Man – that voice inside your head that’s constantly reacting to the world around you, narrating your experience of life. Like the voiceover of the grown-up Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years, it’s your unfiltered inner-dialogue, helping you decide what to eat, giving your true opinion of a friend’s outfit and cussing out that driver in the left lane who’s going 10mph under the speed limit.

And while my Little Man hasn’t told me to knock over women and children to escape a fire or to eat an éclair out of the garbage can, his impact has been just as destructive:

He’s turned me into my own worst enemy.

Ideally, the Little Man would be your biggest cheerleader, talking to you the way an encouraging friend would. He’d keep you calm when things get chaotic and would instill a you-can-do-it confidence when doubt sets in.

Unfortunately, my Little Man has taken on the opposite persona. He’s a drill instructor – think Private Pyle’s nemesis in Full Metal Jacket – berating me at every turn, casting a shadow of negativity over my entire existence. He gets an I-told-you-so kick out of seeing me fail, and my life is slowly turning into a demented self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s not due to a lack of effort, though. I’ve continually put myself out there, trying different jobs and different addresses in hopes of finding a path that is in harmony with who I want to be. But my search has led to little success – and even less inner-peace – because I’m consistently derailed by the demonic voice in my head.

Having always been an evaluative person, I am constantly reviewing and analyzing everything I do, from my job productivity to how symmetrically I trim my sideburns. In a lot of ways, this is a positive characteristic, as it gives me a clear picture of where I stand, helping me to transform my weaknesses into strengths.

But this trait became a detriment the moment the Little Man shot it full of HGH. Now, every situation – no matter how inconsequential – is an opportunity for him to judge me. A casual conversation with a friend will get replayed over and over in my mind, as I try to determine if I said the right thing or cracked the right joke. I probably spend more time breaking down my “performances” than an NFL quarterback.

How I ended up like this is beyond me. Since the day I was born, my parents have done nothing but shower me with affection and acceptance. My mom went so far as to say that she’d love me no matter what – even if I killed someone.

And while I don’t plan on testing the bounds of my mother’s promise, I do feel like head-butting a wall when I think about the negative impact the Little Man has had on me. I’m always drained, constantly battling him, expending my energy on simply surviving instead of thriving. No longer relishing the thrill of being in the arena, I now seek out the relief that comes when something is over and done with.

That wasn’t always the case, though. As a kid, I loved to play golf. There was no place I was more at peace than out on the course at dusk, racing the sun to the 18th green, imagining I was in the hunt for a major championship.

Like the PGA Tour golfer Tim Petrovic said, “I was always happy when I was hitting a golf ball.”

So as I got older, and I went to work for Corporate America – where if you work in golf you never actually get to play golf – the Little Man was not pleased. He’d call me a coward for selling out and shrinking from the challenge of playing competitively. When I watched tournaments on TV and saw guys my age succeeding, he would mock me for being at home on the couch.

After a few years of taunting, I conceded that, despite his cruel delivery, the Little Man had a point – I was not doing what I wanted to do. So I quit my job, trading in the spreadsheets and staplers for my 3-wood and a daily tee time.

I thought that the Little Man had been so tough on me, because I wasn’t being true to myself, and I appreciated the nudge. Now that I was on the right path, I figured he would become an ally.

But nothing is ever good enough for the Little Man.

My golf game was just a new forum for him to deliver body blows. Every shot, every swing, every score was under his merciless scrutiny. No matter how hard I worked, and no matter how much my technique improved, my progress as a player was stunted because I couldn’t shut him up.

I don’t care how much talent you have…it’s hard to hit a 200-yard cut shot over water when someone’s screaming “Don’t choke” in your ear.

Going to the golf course became like going to the proctologist, and eventually, I couldn’t do it anymore. I was tired – of feeling inadequate, of thinking I was a joke, of emotionally going 15 rounds with Ivan Drago. The Little Man had taken something that I was passionate about, something that gave me joy, and turned it into a never-ending prostate exam.

I didn’t hit a golf ball for a year.

And now he’s starting to attack another one of my passions: writing. Lately, I’ve dreaded doing it at all, because I know that I’ll instantly start hearing about how I can’t come up with a good story idea, or that I’m not funny enough, or I won’t figure out how to say what I want to say. I find myself scrounging for anything that will keep me from having to sit down to the computer.

“Ya know, I haven’t been on Facebook in three minutes…maybe somebody who I haven’t seen since elementary school just uploaded some new pictures!”

With “compare” being one of the Little Man’s favorite verbs, it’s hard for me to even read or watch the work of accomplished writers. Instead of being inspired by the brilliance of Aaron Sorkin or Malcolm Gladwell, I end up taking a series of you-could-never-do-that punches to the stomach, leaving me scrambling to find an episode of the new 90210, so I can feel a little less inadequate as a writer.

The most frustrating part of all of this is that I’m doing it to myself…it is the voice in my head, and the Little Man is my own creation.

But I know that deep down, beneath all of the chatter, is my spirit, whose voice is the spokesperson for the true me – the one that pushes me along, that fosters my dreams, that gives me the energy to keep going in the face of the Little Man’s discouragement.

There are psychiatric hospitals filled with people who can’t control the voices in their head. I guess I just hide it better, but I am still searching for the Little Man’s “mute” button.

Who knows…it may take the work of a priest, but maybe someday he’ll get demoted to lowercase letters, from "Little Man" to "little man."

I often wonder what I’d be able to accomplish if I could get out of my own way long enough to allow my natural talent and abilities to flow through.

Come to think of it…Costanza did become a fake marine biologist, so that could be an option.

1 comment:

  1. You are a good, intelligent writer with a rewarding sense of humor. Trade in that little fart of a brain cloud for kind of writer's voice you deserve. Sdeitch@gmail.com


About Me

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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?