My therapist once told me anger was a useful emotion because it could inspire action, as opposed to the incessant torpor depressive moments can bring. At the time, I enthusiastically clung to the concept.
I was angry then, a 24-year-old girl (I couldn't yet own the word "woman"), and before that, I had been a teenage girl with a chip on her shoulder.
I knew how anger operated, the energy it could bring and the attitude of get the f*ck out of my way, I've got this.
So, I targeted my anger at my ex, with whom I had just ended three years of emotional abuse. I threw some of it at my job because I was sick of getting cursed out over the phone because of a Medicare appeal.
And, a lot of it ended up on my own doorstep because I was stupid enough to have been involved with the ex, stupid enough to take a job for which I was so overqualified.
And, I was stupid enough to make a habit out of being angry whenever something wasn't going the way I wanted.
My husband has been coming to me, letting me know I've got a quick temper lately. He says I'm taking everything as a personal attack instead of whatever it is or was supposed to be.
Thing is, I have the feeling of great annoyance or antagonism as the result of some real or supposed grievance, which is the emotional response related to one's psychosociological interpretation of having been threatened. In short, it's a crisis.
In a list: 1) The job I have could be done by a 12-year-old; 2) my novel and collection of essays aren't getting written; 3) I can't find a decent medication for my bipolar disorder; 4) out there, other people have the indecency to succeed and to also be in a similar state of crisis.
How dare they.
Honestly, though, that is the reason I'm upset. I'm struggling while others are shining, and I don't know what to do to turn my coal into diamonds.
That's the supposed grievance, the way I'm interpreting reality: If other people are doing well, they're pulling from the shared "well of success" and draining it dry. So, I panic; I worry; I get angry.
And, for a while, it turns into drive. The anger turns into the energy and initiative I need to get my motor running fast.
I feel the inner urge that stimulates activity. I feel energy, push and aggressiveness, and it feels good to work toward beating them at their own game. F*ck you, achievers; I'm going to throw a bigger bucket into the well, and then we'll see who succeeds.
The problem, then, is they still maintain their level of achievement, despite my anger and jealousy because that's part of it, too.
Why them, and not me? I push harder; I work, often excessively, until I don't remember what it's like to feel joy as a result of my efforts because I'm not aiming for joy.
Instead, I'm aiming for self-preservation, reproduction or aggression, something that will get me toward a particular end where I, too, am someone to be envied, not just another bystanding nobody.
I'm resolving to end that today.
Using anger to build your drive is like throwing gasoline on a flame to heat your house. Soon, everything is on fire -- destroyed, burned, ruined.
Instead of using logs and patience, the fire was built on newspaper and turpentine, a quick destructive flare that reduces everything to ashes, then swiftly goes extinct with nothing to show for itself.
Instead, there is the harder thing to master: grit.
My first experience with grit was through a podcast, a call-in show about people who are dissatisfied with their careers and want to either start a new career elsewhere or on their own.
The advice was almost always to work on developing a passion project in spare time, and not to quit your day job.
They said to find the mental toughness and courage to work strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years, despite failure, adversity and plateaus in progress.
Grit is why some succeed in their wild dreams when others fail. As Elizabeth Bishop once wrote:
The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
But, to be filled with a fire that never dies -- that takes perseverance, hardness, resilience, ambition and powerful motivation -- one must be indomitable. One must be resolute; one must be a superhero of sorts, and I'm not certain I am.
My actions may say so, in the short-term, at least. I've maintained a podcast and magazine for over half a year, mostly on my own. But, I don't feel plucky, zealous or even enthusiastic sometimes.
What I feel is, indeed, not a feeling, but knowing a decision was reached, rendered and settled upon.
Determination is not just a quality of being resolute, it is also the act of officially deciding something definitely and firmly, the resolving of a question. Laying aside anger is now part of my determination because I see it only works in short bursts, if it works at all.
What I need is resoluteness, the end of wondering on my purpose or my direction. I have decided to control my outcome and nature, to set my tendency toward the end goal of success.
This leaves no room for jealousy, nor for anger or even for much emotional response. I have calculated my future, and am putting myself into action toward my desired end. That is, I have decided to succeed on my own terms.
That means completing my novel, and my collection of essays. It means being published. It means building up my magazine so much it topples the endless and arrogant tower of listicles and how-tos.
It means paying my authors, whether I must beg, borrow or steal to do it. It means carrying on with my podcast on the days when I least want to record, and doing so with ever-improving mic technique and quality of speech.
It may mean changing course, but it never means turning around. The thing I have decided to achieve is difficult, but the choice has already been made and set in stone; my purpose is firm.
I will take my anger and demolish it; let it raze itself to the ground. I will build my drive from grit, which will come and always has come from determination, both the act of deciding my future and the decision itself.
My progress may be slow, but it is progress, nonetheless, and in the end, there is no final destination. There are only the actions that move us toward getting there.