andrew catellier


New Year, Blank Slate.

Well kind of. There’s this infrastructure but it’s not immediately helpful. It’s more like an empty template.

The arrangement of the infrastructure appears to be random; seemingly placed without thought. Of course, that’s really not the case. This piece is here because the available HVAC capacity is most efficiently utilized when distributed in this spot and that piece must go there because it services the room above. That other piece—well, it was supposed to be over there but we made a mistake.

The infrastructure, as we see it now, is the way it is because it is the sum of some specific set of events progressing towards some goal that can only be met if specific constraints are met. That goal, its constraints and the formative events are never directly communicated to onlookers.

Expectations, traditions and preconceptions are projected onto the template with stunning fidelity yet none of them quite match what the template is or what it will be. The fact is, these expectations come from a place of external (from the perspective of the template) desire. Traditions come from a time when the rules were only partially defined and mostly unknown. Preconceptions come from a pattern recognition algorithm trained using only patterns exhibited before those external desires even existed and before we solidified and discovered the rules we currently know.

But, just like the unexplained state of the infrastructure, failure to match these projections inevitably seems to draw criticism. Onlookers won’t recognize the template for what it is until it finally becomes a finished product, if or when that happens.

Seeing yourself in all of this from a third-person perspective is jarring and uncomfortable. Criticism from onlookers isn’t particularly useful. The projections don’t cede any comfort because you don’t identify with them—they’re not what you are or want to be.

It’s not really clear how this additional input should influence progress towards achieving a goal. Processing these external opinions can call into question the tradeoffs that resulted in this empty template, thus endangering forward movement.

There’s a fine line between self-acceptance and stalemate. There’s also a fine line between working towards achieving goals and not being overwhelmed by the opportunity costs of participating in society. The intersection of these lines is a locale at the apex of Maslow’s hierarchy that few even have the opportunity to find.

Perhaps in search of this intersection you’ve found what looks to be a good compromise. But then you take stock of the landscape revealed by your new vantage point and realize suddenly that the only thing you’ve got to show for your 31 years on this planet is a wash basin and only a wash basin, in a not particularly useful or aesthetic location. If not heart breaking, this realization certainly induces anxiety.

Explaining the context of the infrastructure and its slapdash state becomes exhausting but leaving details to the imagination of those around you is alienating. The feeling that you need to build up so much background before you can talk or interact with someone on a meaningful level—even family or someone who you’ve known forever—is crippling. It’s a positive feedback loop that shuts you off from the world.

Perhaps more frustrating is the fact that the mental model that many people use as a representation of you is a finished product. Along with this representation is a set of expectations that can be completely unfair and unrealistic. Knowing that there are those who are judging you based on the haphazard state of your infrastructure can decimate self-confidence.

The extent to which long-term investments are undervalued in our society is a crying shame. It is of course very important see projects through to completion and to carefully weigh costs and benefits. Still, we need to retrain ourselves to be much less averse to the long slog.

So if you’re out there in the world looking at people looking at the state of their infrastructure, see what you can do to make sure that the version of the ugly duckling unfolding before your eyes resolves with the happy ending. Stop dismissing your friend who’s writing a novel. Ask the other friend about the completion status of that project, but don’t be judgmental about it. Don’t assume that the ultimate goal of that girl’s hobby is to make a business of it. If you’re asking questions about some ethereal desire, “I don’t really know,” is a completely acceptable answer.

If you’re out there in the world feeling bad while looking at the state of your infrastructure, try and shake it off but do whatever it takes to not get stuck. Take a snapshot at precise intervals and devote time to looking at the snapshots. It’s pretty amazing how progress seems to sneak in right before your eyes.