Previously on Viktor Lofgren: Felt something was amiss. Went on a sabbatical to Figure Shit Out™ this year. Seven months later...

Redefining yourself

Being completely independent for an extended period of time has been an interesting experience. I imagine it’s the sort of harrowing that will either strengthen you or send you into a spiraling depression. I fell in the first category.

I’ve always considered myself as a bit of an introvert. I’ve never really needed very much in terms of social interaction, and whenever I’ve gotten more than I’ve wanted, I’ve been compelled to withdraw and seek relaxing solitude. Consequently, I’ve surrounded myself mostly with people of a similar nature.

That said, being a complete hermit grows old. Fast. Even for a self-proclaimed introvert.

So out I went, looking for people to talk to. At the outset, this is an uphill battle, especially in Sweden where small-talk with strangers is not very common. My general social awkwardness from decades of being an introvert didn’t help either, I must admit.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the preceding 28 years of my life, it’s that as long as you’re persistent enough, you can improve your ability at just about anything. I knew this was true about intellectual pursuits, and physical pursuits; and I learned it was true about social abilities as well.

Stranger still, the sort of people you’ll end up talking to if you do this aren’t the usual reserved nerds I hang out with, but outgoing extroverts… and it kinda rubs off on you in a very unexpected way. I think I may have slightly gone native here. I thoroughly enjoy being around people in a way I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before.

Meeting people far outside your usual circles can be incredibly interesting.

Chances are your friends, coworkers, family all tend to come from a similar cultural background, have a similar education, share similar values, enjoy similar things, and so forth. There is just too damn much common ground for any sort of real discussion to occur.

Where’s the fun in that consensus club? Yeah, the weather’s been nice lately…

I would have never encountered people like the middle aged Iranian man who sat on a bench late at night and offered an interesting discussion on prostitution, traditional gender roles, and the pointlessness of casual sex.

This open and extroverted side of myself is something I never knew I had, because I’ve never actually pushed myself to find my limitations in this area.

All else aside, it raises a lot of very interesting questions I can barely begin to answer about the nature of introverts versus extroverts.

Understanding yourself

In parallel, I’ve been investigating why I had this growing sense of discontent with the way my life used to be.

I’ve always been a believer in the whole Spock/Bones axis where on one side you have rational logic, and on the opposite, irrational emotion. Being a fairly analytical guy, I’ve leaned toward Spock’s logical point of view, and have not given emotion-driven Bones the time of day.

It turns out this is a great fictional device, but isn’t a very accurate description of how human minds operate. Ignoring emotions doesn’t make them go away. At best you stop understanding them and they sort of muddle together into an ill-defined ball of malaise and frustration that hovers over you and makes you feel something is wrong. Ironically, it makes you far more susceptible to emotion.

The only way of addressing this, as far as I can tell, is to actually get in touch with your emotions. This is a rather long journey I will only summarize briefly in the format of a single-slide powerpoint presentation:

  • Figure out what you’re feeling. Easier said than done in the beginning. Keep at it.
  • Figure out why you’re feeling this way. Hint: A lot of unpleasant emotions stem from wanting to change something that is outside of your domain of control, like for example things in your past.
  • If you want the emotion to go away: Accept its cause.

This process requires brutal honesty with yourself, in my experience tends to rub off as brutal honesty with others. For better or worse.

Something that’s become abundantly clear to me is that emotion and logic are not opposites. They’re orthogonal. Emotion deals with wants and needs. Logic deals with achieving goals and determining truth. Where’s the conflict in that? You can be a master in the domains of logic and emotion, and this makes you much stronger than if you are stunted in either.

Reinventing yourself (“Finding yourself’s” bad-ass big brother)

An unexpected side-effect of mastering your emotional side is that you realize how much of who you think you are is just baggage, and just how optional it is to actually pay any heed to that. There are things in your past you can lean on for strength, but also many things that just drag you down. Why let it?

Actually push yourself to be a different person and challenge your perception of who you are, and you’ll find that large aspects of the person you thought you were will just give away at the slightest push. They weren’t part of your nature, just some old habit you picked up.

A caveat is that challenging your perceived self in this way requires abandoning fears of rejection and concerns about how others will perceive you. This is easy to say, but can take some work to actually do. Make no mistake, it’s worth it.

I’ll leave the closing words to Marcus Aurelius (Meditations 2:4)

Remember how long you have been putting off these things, and how many times the gods have given you days of grace, and yet you do not use them. Now it is high time to perceive the kind of Universe whereof you are a part and the nature of the governor of the Universe from which you subsist as an effluence, and that the term of your time is circumscribed, and that unless you use it to attain calm of mind, the time will be gone and you will be gone and the opportunity to use it will not be yours again.