I have a theory:
Not addiction in the clinical sense. I’m not talking about a chemical imbalance that might lead to substance abuse. That should be treated professionally.
When I say ‘addicted,’ I mean that you do something just a little more than you probably should. And even though sometimes that “just a little” isn’t all that little anymore, if you had a shrink, he wouldn’t recommend sending you to Shutter Island just yet.
Here’s an example: When I was 15, I was addicted to soccer tricks.
I would watch all the Nike commercials and try to copy the moves those guys had. For about three years, I spent three, four, sometimes eight hours a day outside or in our basement and practice. I found a community online and we had competitions. We filmed videos. And in Germany, we were the first few dozen people to kickstart this movement.
Sadly, my knees are f*cked. Always have been, really. But putting constant pressure on my legs and jumping up and down on the tarmac didn’t help. So in 2008, I made a final video, then quit. I wasn’t forced to. It was a decision.
Here’s another example: When I was 18, I was addicted to video games.
I’ve been a gamer since I was 8. That’s when my parents gave me a Nintendo 64. I’ve played everything from Super Mario to Final Fantasy, from Pokémon to Call of Duty, from Warcraft to Blobby Volley. From 16 to 18, I spent my nights playing Counter-Strike on modded servers, trading items in Diablo 2, and kicking alien-ass in Halo sessions with friends.
But when I was 18, I really hit my stride. I bought an Xbox 360 and started chasing GamerScore. Every game had a maximum of 1,000 points you could score for achieving various things. Usually, that meant beating the story on all difficulty levels, completing side quests, pulling off certain stunts, kills, etc.
It’s the perfect system. On top of the flow experience you get from each individual game, you now have an incentive to play as many games as possible. What more, it allows for optimization, because you can focus on the 20% of tasks that give you 80% of the points, then move on. Sometimes, I would get 2–3 games from the video store on Friday, beat them all over the weekend, then return them Monday and pay 3–5 € per game. It was fun.
There was only one other guy in our city who did it as “professionally” as I did. I never caught up to him, but I was at 24,500 GamerScore before I quit. After my first semester at college, I realized it wasn’t a priority, so I sold my Xbox and that was that.
Do these things officially qualify as addiction? I don’t know. But in hindsight, I can tell you that’s exactly what they were. Because that’s what they felt like. They weren’t bad, crippling addictions. I enjoyed them. I was happy. But addictions nonetheless. From the outside, however, most people would have called them hobbies. Some might have called them excessive. But the one thing every person would have told you is that I was good at these things.
I was successful.
I have another theory:
Let’s take your hypothetical friend John. John is the Fonz in your college class. He has the face of an angel and the tongue of a stand-up comedian. His hair falls in waves when he hops into his Camaro convertible and drives off. As a result, he always has two girls on every arm and a whole lot more chasing him. He gets more Tinder matches in a day than you get in three months.
As you would expect, John is constantly “going steady” with someone else. And when something does turn real, he disappears into his new relationship for a few months, only to emerge again at the fall term frat party with an empty passenger seat. In short: John’s got game out the wazoo.
To the outside world, John is successful. Men think he’s a hero, women desire him. Inside, however, John might be completely happy, completely miserable, or one or the other, depending on the time of day. We can’t know.
But even just looking from afar, if you strip away our various, often crooked definitions of success, you can see that John is simply addicted to love. Every aspect of it. No matter how much of this addiction is enabled through luck vs. conscious effort, it’s the lens he chooses to live his life through.
That’s not to say we can’t have multiple lenses. You can be a little addicted to love, a little to food, and a little to video games. As a result, you might be in a stable relationship, only slightly overweight, and halfway decent at Call of Duty. But it’s not as “productive,” to use the word in a perverted sense, as an all-out addiction to only one of the three.
Whatever messed up standard the world has to measure how successful you are at something, if you’re addicted to it, you’ll do just fine. The problem is that the world seems to have twisted standards for everything.
But is that really a problem, then?
I have one last theory: it’s all meant to be this way.
I don’t think people without these minor addictions exist. But I also don’t believe this mythical, balanced person is an ideal we’re meant to aspire to.
Excessively engaging with the world is our way of dealing with the ridicule of the cosmos. We’re dropped into this life knowing full well we can’t take anything out of it when it’s our time to leave — and we’re supposed to play nice? I don’t think so. I think we should cause all the ruckus we can.
What’s dangerous is when we let the world’s corrupted standards dictate where we spend our disproportionately allocated chunks of time. It’s okay for inner motivation to trigger our irrational dedication to something, but outer success can never be the reason to keep it around.
When I quit freestyling, that was me finding the strength to prioritize my health over being a pioneer. When I quit gaming, that was me forfeiting a competition where there was nothing to win except respect.
These addictions were initially fueled by fun, but once the world pushed the right buttons, my ego took over and it became very easy to see my limitations. When that happens, the only answer is to let go. You’ll either find your way back or realize it was never the right addiction in the first place.
This isn’t meant to advertise this definition of ‘addiction.’ I’m not saying we should all dig our own rabbit holes. If you have your balance and like it, by all means, enjoy. What I am saying is that if you’re already down the burrow, don’t worry. Most of us are. Just don’t let the world shut you inside.
Me? Nowadays, I’m addicted to art. I work way more than I should and I can’t stop thinking of things I want to create. Sooner or later, the world will probably tell me that I’ll have to keep doing it in order to nail its definition of success. Whenever that happens, all I want is to remember why I started.
I hope I’ll be able to. I really like this one.