Teachings of the Bubble Shooter

Screnshot of a half-finished bubble shooter gameLife lessons can come from unexpected sources – snippets of overheard conversation in a public place, serendipitous discoveries while channel surfing, surprising insights from acquaintances who didn’t seem to be paying that much attention.

And then there’s the bubble shooter. Bubble shooters have everything I like in a game – color, shape, matching. And they avoid most of what I don’t like. Despite the shooting, nothing gets hurt. The bubbles don’t even break.

But the best thing about bubble shooters is that they cut right to core truths that should have been obvious but weren’t. Here are a few things bubble shooter games have taught me.

That deer in the headlights is me.

I wasn’t really conscious of just how disabling time pressure is to me until I started playing with bubble shooters. It stops me cold. I become flustered, make mistakes and miss opportunities. When I ended up stuck for months on levels where decisions must be made 100% swiftly and accurately to advance, I realized I hadn’t paid enough attention to the impact of time pressure on the rest of my life. I switched professions (and found some non-timed bubble shooter games).

Some things in life are harder, and that’s OK (within reason).

Check the reviews of any bubble shooter game, and you’ll find people complaining about how the bubbles don’t go where you point them. This is intentional, of course. Easy levels are fun and affirming, but if they were all easy, there would be no sense of achievement. After awhile, success without effort would become boring. On the other hand, if every level was difficult, the game would be arduous and dispiriting. I have sometimes wished for an obstacle-free “rest” life when the scales were tipped too heavily towards adversity, but I ultimately discovered I need a balance of accomplishment and challenge to be happy.

Get your priorities straight.

What bubble shooters revealed about the randomness (and ineffectiveness) of my tactics shocked me, but it did explain a lot. I have spent most of my life feeling confused about priorities. Or so I thought. Actually, my priorities were fine, I just lacked the confidence to follow through on them. I never realized how badly this messed up my life until I noticed how frequently I chose an action that would end a game instead of one that would continue it, even when I could easily predict these outcomes. This was not so much self-sabotage as cognitive dissonance between my behavior and my goals. Bubble shooters taught me to become conscious of my top priorities, and properly weight them to take precedence over everything else.

The ad-free version is worth the 99¢.

I played a favorite game for years, fuming at the distracting, annoying, and sometimes outright offensive ads, ranting about them in reviews, even downloading other apps to try and suppress them. The ad-free version was only 99¢, but I was damned if I was going to be harassed into buying something. Finally, I really looked at that decision and realized how bizarre (and more than a little control-freaky) it was to view paying a buck for something that gave me hours of pleasure as losing a power struggle.

Sooner or later you will conquer even the hardest levels.

This is the most telling lesson of all. I have been stuck for weeks or even months at the same level, playing it hundreds of times, often with steadily diminishing hope that I would ever make it through. And yet, I always did, eventually. When I learned to regard failure as an essential stage of generating new strategies, I finally found one that worked.

Overlapping circles of color against a pastel background

In Which, At Last, My Ship Arrives

After six years of integrating a new understanding of my own character, the last three of which were focused on an agonizingly slow career evolution, things are looking up. My new profession finally gelled, and a lot of other things that were on hold along with it are finally flowing too.
An old time sailing ship on a calm sea
I started this blog hoping for such an outcome, and also hoping that sharing my process along the way would be useful to others. It didn’t quite work out that way, especially for the past couple of years. The things that were getting in the way of my working life also got in the way of my blogging life.

And the Answer Is…

An elaborate old metal key on a rusty chainI’d give you the magical life-fixing key, but it turns out I had it all along, and you probably do too. The trick is having enough faith to try it in the door.

If there is a secret, it’s self-acceptance. Reconsidering personality through the prisms of introversion, sensory processing sensitivity, and Clifton Strengths helped me give myself permission to be who I am, and to build my life around my own physical and emotional comfort, without drowning in guilt or shame.

It still feels a little daring just to write that. What’s so horrible about needing to feel respected at work, anyway? No one would find that excessive in a man. But the female role monster lurks in corners, ready to pounce on me for my unwomanly egotism.

This is Your New Life

My new life is a lot like my old one. I still have to stick to my depression management program. I still struggle with internalized critical voices, and the stresses of being an HSP introvert in a mostly unsympathetic culture.

And yet, it feels different. Things I have been visualizing for years (if not decades), are finally coming to pass. I followed my own drummer, and it turned out OK. It seemed like every other decision was waiting for that affirmation. I was afraid to let go of other things, even when they were weighing me down, whether unneeded possessions or short term jobs I hated. My backup plan was failure. Some security!
A dirt road through an open savannah curves in the distance towards the clearing sky and a lone tree
This isn’t the end of Sensitive Type, because it isn’t the end of a road. More like another twist on the spiral. Progress is so incremental, and there will be other challenges and other deepenings, I’m sure. See you then.

I Know I’m an HSP Because… I’d Rather Be Barefoot

I’ve always hated restrictive clothing – clothes that cling, clothes that bunch, clothes that bind, lady shirts with sleeves set so you can’t raise your arms above 30 degrees from your side, tight cuffs, and shoes. Especially shoes. I lose the shoes the minute I walk in my front door, and shed additional uncomfortable clothing all the way to the bedroom.

Luckily, the Asian/hippie-inspired 70s, and the mysterious popularity of fragile water-based floor finishes begat a new convention of leaving shoes at the door in many American households, so my barefootedness isn’t weird anymore.

A middle-aged woman in a business suit and bare feet sits and reads a book at the beach

I Know I’m an HSP Because… I Can’t Ignore a Thirsty Plant

No matter what else is going on, if I see a wilted houseplant, I have to water it immediately. And those poor plants in front of grocery stores, tended – if you can call it that – by people who have no concept that they are alive. Don’t even get me started!

I joke about how I can’t stand to hear the screams, but it’s kind of true.

Photo of houseplant dropping leaves with thought bubbles saying "HELP!," "Please?," "I don't mean to be a bother but I'm dying here," and "Literally."

This is not my photo. No plants were stressed for this post.

How to Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed by Your Newsfeed

A woman sits at a table in front of her laptop with her head in hands, which cover her face Here’s a blog post by parenting columnist Ann Douglas that will speak to a lot of us in these distressing times. She draws a very useful distinction between staying informed and feeling obliged to be immersed in disturbing news, which is especially apropos for HSPs. I would even go so far as to say we may need to actively avoid news, when exposure to it becomes immobilizing. It’s not like we are in any danger of becoming indifferent to the plight of others. We aren’t built that way.

Her article also mentions the therapeutic value of moderate political action. I underscore moderation because it is not a strong suit for HSPs. The sense of urgency when people are suffering is a terrible taskmaster. But it is far more effective to be moderately active over time than to fling oneself full throttle into activism, only to crash and burn in short order and need a lengthy recovery. There’s a long haul ahead – we have to pace ourselves.

Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being

Hah, I knew it! In this Scientific American article, a psychotherapist discusses the benefits of “negative” emotions, and the risks of repressing them. Maybe we should stop calling them “negative” and instead refer to them as transformative. What’s that you say – “transformative” could apply to all emotions? Exactly.

When Opportunity Knocks, but it Isn’t Looking for You

How about those women’s marches? I feel better about my country than I have in months.
View of the January 21, 2017 women's march in a major city with protestors filling the street between tall buildings and holding signs
As it happens, I didn’t attend one. Pop-up protests over the past few years have been a major source of stress in my life, and I’m pretty angry about that. The same few demonstrators show up to anyone’s march, looting, breaking windows, vandalizing random cars, and stoning police. Not a constructive way to espouse a cause. I depend on public transit, and a few dozen demonstrators can close it down for hours. As I result, I have often been stranded far from home, in the middle of a very tense situation, lugging 30 pounds of perishable groceries.

Because of this, I am on alert lists for the bus company and police department. Which is how I heard about the women’s march – the bus company sent out an advance email about expected service disruptions. Other than that, I saw only a TV commercial, which surprised me. Protest marches advertise? That’s new. But given aforementioned experiences with protests, I wasn’t intrigued enough to find out more.

But on the day of the march, when texts from the police department started coming in with massive numbers, I realized something different and historical was happening. I briefly considered going, until I got a text from the bus company saying they had completely closed down bus service to the downtown core. I texted back “completely unacceptable!,” but I was relieved from the decision of whether to enter an intensely crowded, noisy situation where my ability to retreat would’ve been severely limited.

Maybe I would’ve risen above the limits of sensitivity on the group high. Then again, I tend towards disturbed-hibernating-bear syndrome in January, so maybe not.

But even from my armchair, it was pretty cool. And the more I learned about it, the more amazing it got. It wasn’t just the massive turnouts in major cities. There were also hundreds (not an exaggeration) of marches in smaller towns, and even tiny villages, some of them in very bad weather and/or unfriendly environments.

I’m something of a coward about putting myself physically and visibly on the line. I’ve found some peace with this reluctance, now that I understand it’s a pretty natural reaction for an HSP introvert. There’s more than one way to be an activist. Still, I respect people who expose themselves in that way, even if it feels less risky to them than it would to me. If you participated, thank you. A lot. Thank you for showing me I wasn’t alone.

But this post isn’t about that. The rest of it isn’t, anyway :)

What’s New – or Not – with Me

My self-employed career isn’t going well. It turns out there is a fatal flaw in my business plan (this is a figure of speech. If you happen to be comparing yourself with me, I don’t want to deceive you into thinking I have anything as organized as a written plan). I’ve done a really excellent job at finding people I emotionally resonate with as clients. Over and over, they tell me they chose to work with me because they felt I understood them.

And I do. They are people who are going it alone, carving out their own career niche, plus a few passionate bloggers who just have to write. Like me. Most of them are struggling financially, also like me, with a very limited budget for things like… my services. I have done an excellent job of finding my peers. At creating myself an income, not so much.
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