The Worst Sickness of All

I’ve noticed an ailment that a few of my male friends from the South have. This isn’t to say it’s a uniquely Southern thing, but I have yet to notice it in any of my friends from California. It’s so unspeakable that I’ve been putting off writing about it for years, but alas, I feel like it should be named so that it may be conquered.

The ailment I speak of is not being passionately interested in anything in a consistent, identity-defining way.

Here are a few symptoms these people all seem to share:

  • claiming to have many interests, but constantly complaining of boredom

  • moving constantly between new obsessions, and burning out on them within days/weeks

  • being somewhat negative towards others and/or anti-social

  • constantly telling others about how many interesting projects they’re working on

These symptoms (a highly unscientific list, to be sure) illustrate the main problem: internal unhappiness, not innate maliciousness. The reason this type of person likes to talk about his projects in a somewhat condescending way is not to make you feel worse, but to convince you (and therefore themselves) that he has something going on.

And that’s the sad part; the real desperation of this state of being is the perpetual–almost manic–search for something to be interested in. All these projects, all the accomplishments (degrees, promotions, home projects, etc.)–they’re all hollow experiments designed to hopefully light a spark of identity.

But nothing happens.

They move from project to project hoping to find something that they’re passionate about, but in the end they just end up bored and more depressed/angry/ashamed that nothing interests them.

They’re often accomplished and talented–even more than those who they try to show off for–but they yearn for something more basic–to simply have something pulling them towards action, based on passion.

The Cause

As I mentioned, I think the cause is somehow linked to the South (or at least correlated with it somehow), and I have a theory on the variable. I think it has something to do with limited exposure to creative, intellectual, and/or artistic stimuli growing up.

I think the more exposed one was to reading, science, language, art, and other creative outlets as a child, the more likely he is to grow up seeking to fulfill those interests for his entire life. But if those fires were never started, then you can bring as much wood as you can find later in life and nothing will burn.

That’s why I think it seems to have happened less with my friends from California; I think there’s such a thriving geek culture out there (in the main cities anyway) that the environment ingrains passions and interests in creative pursuits early on, and this simply continues throughout life. In other words, the creative/passionate fires are started early, and they never go out.

The Solution

So I am asking for help from those who may know people like this, or may even be someone who’s grappled with this in the past and conquered it.

My initial thoughts are that the way to fix it is to mimic the exploration of youth in a culture like that of the Bay Area in California. In other words, make the required changes in one’s life that would allow you him to read many books, play many games (role-playing especially), and hang out with people who are similarly driven.

The idea being that we simply try and light the fires now rather than assuming they can never be lit–or, even worse, continually bringing wood to a place that isn’t warm.

Anyway, I would really like to hear thoughts on the topic. I desperately want to help those who are grappling with this.


  1. The reason I only talk about guys in this post is because I think there are other, more powerful dynamics affecting the mental health (and identity definition) of women—both in the South and elsewhere—and I think it’s a subject for another post.

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