Obsession: Success Has a One-Track Mind
I meant to kick off this column earlier (i.e. several weeks ago, but also several days and hours and minutes ago), but I got a little bit sidetracked. This was initially because my computer was out for repair and I forgot how to write more than a sentence using pen and paper sometime in middle school. After that it was because, once reunited with my laptop (and newly acquainted with a crack-free screen), I started using it primarily to feed my latest obsession (to be revealed).
Hello. My name is Elizabeth, and I am rather obsessive. I use the term “obsession” entirely non-scientifically—I will not pretend to know if or how obsession is categorized in the DSM IV 0.I am fairly sure I know the difference between obsession and compulsion (Actually, I think I learned it from the TV show “Bones.” Then again, according to a tweet by astronomer Phil Plait, “Bones” is capable of failing at scientific fact-check as often as three times in the first four minutes of an episode, so maybe I don’t have a great sense of the difference, but I know there is one, so hopefully that counts for something. Anyway.
I don’t have anything very useful to say about “obsessive” vs. “compulsive,” or why it is very wrong or maybe just fine to casually throw around the label “OCD.” Addiction is a part of my family life, so I know something about that, but I cannot say I know what the relationship is between obsession and addiction. I will readily admit that I get obsessed, and I know I sometimes casually (perhaps carelessly) use the word “addicted”—yet I do not consider myself to be an addict, and frankly, I doubt a mental health professional would either.
For me, obsessing constitutes spending a lot of time thinking and browsing on the Internet and talking and waving my hands excitedly/hitting people in the face by accident whilst talking about my latest fixation. Sometimes my obsessions are expressed even more actively, such as through the purchase of a ticket, a t-shirt, a book—or through getting a friend on the bandwagon, which is generally free and thus preferable.
I am resentful of the stigma that surrounds obsession. The colloquialisms associated with the word have negative connotations: consider terms like “unhealthy obsession” and “guilty pleasure.” Fixations, especially in areas not traditionally thought of as leading to successful career paths, carry with them a sense of shame. I see this shaming as co-constitutional, with a bizarre preference for aloofness over enthusiasm: detachment is valued for its apparent coolness, while passion is reserved for the undesirable life of a nerd/geek/dork. We are taught that being very excited about and devoting a lot of time and energy to just one thing is wasteful and wrong, a behavior to be corrected. But why should it be?
As Malcolm Gladwell popularized in “Outliers: The Story of Success,” achieving expertise in a subject takes 10,000 hours of devotion. Why is it so important for us to be well-rounded people (read: college applicants, robots, resumés)? Isn’t being exceptional and distinguished a matter of excelling in one area rather than making modest achievements in several? Isn’t it more inspiring to be able to demonstrate passion and knowledge rather than a surface understanding? Isn’t living as a nerd thousands of times more satisfying than pretending not to care? I think so, and current trends seem to support this.
I aim to use this column to defend (my) obsessions as perfectly healthy and (my) pleasures as completely innocent. From musicians to TV shows, scientific theories to photos of well-plated food, Andrew Garfield’s upper arms to kittens on the web—viva la obsession!
I would like to use this space to note that despite being a self-professed nerd and having very little shame in general, I do regret that last sentence. Thank you.