Thursday, April 24, 2014

A serious sort of person

Val and I were talking about our basic attitudes towards skills and challenges the other day.  I have a relatively odd sort of disposition in that I feel that I could do absolutely anything excellently if I put my mind to it.  It sounds like boring old narcisscism but I think there are some key differences between me and someone who is just simply full of themselves.  I don't think I *am* particularly good at most things, I just have a core belief that I could do anything I wanted to.  I also don't attribute any particular valour or importance to it - who cares about unrealized potential if I don't do anything about it?  This isn't something I defend or believe in or choose, rather it is just the instinctual way I think about things.

"I could do that.  I could be great at that.  I probably won't though."

Most people don't think like this.  Val pointed out that in academia in particular people are very often familiar with impostor syndrome where they feel like they have somehow snuck in and really don't know anything.  I don't feel that way most of the time and certainly not about skills and areas of knowledge - I think people generally rate my abilities at things about the same way I do and it mostly reflects reality.  I am really damn good at games, decent and writing and speaking, and have few other skills of note.  Somehow despite that my brain is consistently able to remain utterly, completely certain that no matter the task or competency I could be world class at it if the desire was there.

I do feel imposter syndrome when I am trying to be a Serious sort of person though.  I mean, do serious adults really spend all of their time thinking about Diablo 3 builds, roleplaying game mechanics, and sex?  I mean, I totally think about buying groceries and making small talk and making computers do what I want but only for just long enough to make the world conform to my wishes.  The instant that is done it is back to tongue wrestling and games.  Sometimes when I am walking about the world and people are treating me like a Serious sort of person I wonder.  Do they imagine that I am thinking about The State of the Economy or Politics or something else important?  I do, but only for a minute, and then it is back to longsword damage modifiers and tab A and slot B.


  1. Win a Magic Pro Tour Qualifier. I challenge you!

    Do you think your gaming ability extends to the psychological aspects of gaming? Reading opponents, bluffing, etc. I don't think mine does (not consistently) and I keep wondering if there's an aspect to gaming that I'm missing (mostly from a Magic perspective where winning is a bit more of a priority than regular gaming).

    I know what you mean about being a serious person. Thinking it over, I find I'm "serious" at work. You don't have that environment available (lucky guy!). But yeah, I don't really know what regular people think about all the time since I'm pretty sure it's not what I'm thinking about.

  2. Well, it isn't entirely luck. There are costs, and this state of affairs took planning and preparation.

    I am pretty good at psychological aspects of gaming. I can read people in poker games quite well and playing people off against each other in games like Settlers or Puerto Rico is definitely a thing I do very successfully. Against players who aren't aware of this or who don't know me my ability to tell what people will do and get them to do what I want is a huge factor in winning. I don't always *like* to do this, but it is certainly a thing I am good at.

  3. I've been thinking about this for a few days.

    When I've had such thoughts in the past, people have occasionally brought up, "well, could you be a good painter or singer?" and I've thought, "well no, but I wouldn't want to be good at that". Does your definition of "anything" include things that are tedious? Stuff that you believe to be valueless? Activities that perhaps don't align well with your logical thinking?

    For example, I don't think I could be really good at designing clothes. I have no interest in clothes, I have objective way of figuring out what does and does not look "good", I'm uninterested in patterns and colours, and it all seems wasteful. I'm not even sure I could get excited about designing purely functional clothes - it presumably involves knowing the textures of different fabrics, learning sewing, etc. All of which sounds incredibly boring.

    Wine Tasting is another one. I think it's mostly made up hokum, and I barely notice good wine from bad wine.

    I eventually decided that I could be good at anything I care about or find interesting or meaningful or useful. But that still left lots of activities.

    That then leaves how we define "excellent". My Magic experience, and to a lesser extent my Civ experience (where the Internet revealed thousands of much more hardcore players than me) have shown me that while I can be pretty good at most things, and possibly extremely good at one or two things in the right circumstances, being among the best in the world at something requires a level of dedication that I am not generally able to commit to.

  4. My brain tells me that I could be a great painter or singer if I wanted to. It says that if I spent 10,000 hours and threw myself into it with a passion I could be phenomenal. Rationally there is no way I would ever be good at designing clothes for the same reasons you list for yourself. I don't give a rats ass about it and I never will. I think all wine tastes bad and I think wine tasting is mostly people who can barely tell a difference going on and on as if they have all kinds of incredibly deep things to say. It isn't totally made up but it sure is overblown.

    I recognize that being the best in the world at a thing requires a ludicrous level of dedication. I don't have that, even for things I love like CiV or D3. However, if you generalize a little more to things like fantasy themed game design then I could potentially be really top tier I think.

    We both have the circumstance of being very talented naturally but having chosen lives that include spouses and children and those things pretty much prevent excellence because somebody else out there is just as talented but doesn't have those distractions. The price we pay for cuteness, snuggles, and somebody to put us in a home in 40 years.