That’s so meta!

Under many circumstances, I revel in playing (and observing) the meta game. I greatly enjoy watching YouTube videos about how to make better YouTube videos, for instance, or listening to songs about the music industry. Given my chosen career, I also enjoy writing about writing, both in terms of the actual mechanics (like grammar and syntax) and the business of writing professionally.

I think about thinking and that’s partly why I use Rodin’s Thinker as the logo for Beyond the Rhetoric. I also think that I might think about thinking too much. Don’t you think? That’s a whole other level of meta. And that’s all well and good, except the meta game also has a dark side. It has a side that becomes horribly self-destructive, digging me deeper and deeper into further levels of abstraction and agony.

I’m stressed about stress.

I’m anxious about anxiety.

I get depressed about depression and worried about worry.

And since I catch myself thinking about these negative thoughts often, it becomes far too easy to spiral into bouts of self-doubt and existential angst. They become self-perpetuating, as the more I worry about worry, the more worried I become. And it can prove profoundly difficult to pull myself out of the rushing current.

I’ve written before about the tremendous sense of guilt I feel as a work-at-home dad. When I’m in the home office, I feel guilty about not spending more quality time with the family. When I’m taking care of my daughter, I feel guilty about not being more productive on the professional side. No matter the choice I make, I feel like I made the wrong decision. And so the spiral continues.

Yes, I fully realize that such struggles and existential crises are inherently the stuff of privilege. I fully recognize that there are other families out there with far bigger problems than I have. When I get a bill in the mail, I receive it with a mild sense of disdain and inconvenience, not a sense of dread about how I can afford to pay it.

But these kinds of realizations only make me feel worse about feeling bad in the first place. When I’m told that “at least” I’m not living paycheck to paycheck or “at least” I don’t have to worry about keeping a roof over my head, it doesn’t make me feel any better to “look down” upon the people who do face these kinds of challenges. It makes me feel worse. And then I get stressed out about how these feelings are stressing me out. The spiral continues.

This never-ending meta game can hurt, but I suppose I should feel lucky to play it. Now if only I could figure out how to be more productive about my productivity, more comforted by my relative comfort, and happier about happy moments.