Being Smart is Sometimes Miserable

by: Trent Polack

Hi, I’m Trent. I was originally a programmer, then a programming book author, did a stint working on a program to monitor satellite data, went to the University of Michigan to teach High School English, then ended up making games for the last six-ish years (for the record, teaching is still my goal, but, you know… student loans).

Fun side note: I’m also a high-strung, neurotic, workaholic with obsessive-compulsive disorder and sleeping issues.

People in games, whether they be programmers, designers, artists, journalists, writers, producers, or gamers tend to be a very unique group of people. We run the gamut from completely asocial to vigorously personable. We’re a passionate, opinionated bunch, but we’re also a bunch of pretty smart folks.

And, you know what? Being smart is sometimes miserable. There’s a lot of introspection and analysis, but there’s also this fundamental drive to solve problems. 

I don’t know when I really became the way I am today; before college, I had a lot of the same traits I have now and sometimes it would take hours to fall asleep at night just because that’s when I chose to think about everything that could be thought upon. And that was annoying, but I don’t think I became truly aware of my anxiety until other people started becoming important to me. There was always my family, and they’ve always been supportive and amazing, but they’re family. To some extent, you know they just kind of have to deal with you and accept you the way you are. But then you get out of that high school bubble and you realize that no one else in the world has to accept you, deal with you, or even be nice to you.  

But you meet people who do accept you, deal with you, and are often exceptionally kind beyond what you think you even deserve. And that’s, by far, the most terrifying feeling that I think I’ve ever experienced. It made me acutely aware that I was a person on this Earth who could fail, have my trust betrayed, or actively disappoint someone I care about. 

It wasn’t until I moved across the country for a new job, got settled a little bit, and started meeting people and actually getting out that I really started to change. Some of those changes were that I got more anxious about everything, more concerned about what I had to lose if I lost my job (remember: loans. and maybe other debt from stupid spending), where I’d have to move, what I’d have to leave behind, and that was usually just the first hour of my day. I worry about what random people think of me, how my colleagues deal with my incompetence, what would happen if today is finally the day everyone realizes I’m a total impostor, or that a lady I like will finally realize I’m a horrible nerd unworthy of her time. These concerns became a governing aspect of my life that would inform so many of my decisions as to what to do or what to say from moment-to-moment that it got a little bit unbelievable up in my head. 

And then I learned two of the most amazing things:

  1. There are times where I feel ambitious and confident; it is then that I make decisions, and then force the other 98% of me to deal with those decisions as best he can. Things like quit your job and move across the country, or propose to a lady you met a month ago (this one isn’t recommended, by the way), or get that full-body dragon tattoo with the fire breathing down the leg (I may not have followed through this one. Yet.) 
  2. The people in your life are the most rare, beautiful, important things you have.

I always used to laugh whenever said something like that to me. I was always “I’m too smart for that” or “That’s silly, I can learn things! That’s better than people” or “People scare me.” 

And then a couple of strange things happened. 

All of my friends got laid off from the company I work at. Suddenly, I went from seeing people that were like family to me every day to having to accept that they may not even stay in the same state as me for very long. But, on top of that, what remains of our studio is a handful of the most passionate, intelligent, kind, talented people I have ever met. Suddenly, every day was back to being this intimidating mass of things I didn’t think I could ever do or expectations I could never live up to. But these people accept me and trust me. And that, alone, is one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve ever had in my life.

In the wake of all of that, I decided that I owed it to my friends who were moving on as well as my colleagues who put this extraordinary amount of trust in me to just work. Work all the time. I ended things with a lady I had been seeing, worked for a few weeks straight, tried to see my friends when they could, and that’s just how I thought things were going to be. And then, as tends to happen, I met a lady one night while out with friends. Well, “met” is not the right word. We had met before, but situations were different then. And things progressed from there. Not even for a particularly long time, but it constantly amazes me that someone like this lady — who has a good job, a radiant personality, a great heart — finds something likable in me, even when I try to be as upfront as possible about my plethora of personal issues.

And all of that is terrifying. That colleagues choose to work with me or a beautiful lady chooses to spend her time with me… It’s a lot of additional pressure and worry than I often think myself incapable of dealing with. But, I’m open with it, I talk freely about my thoughts, and there hasn’t been a single conversation with a person in ages who has shown anything but kindness, respect, and acceptance towards me.

So, yeah. It’s dangerous to go alone. 

– Trent Polack

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