Somehow in my youth I came to the understanding that having a big library indicated intelligence, meant that the owner was smart and filled with knowledge. Growing up I always had a full bookshelf handy, stuffed with the various fantasy or science fiction novels that entertained me in my off-hours. I was loathe to throw any away or donate them, for reasons I couldn’t as a teen put into words.
It was years after college when I finally came to the realization of why I had spent my life around books – I don’t just mean as a reader, but as a collector. Moving into my own place I had two full cases filled to the brim, whether books from my college courses, the same fiction novels from my youth, or plenty of other works I wanted to read but hadn’t gotten around to yet. Some people complimented me on the collection, and it pleased me to see this overwhelming collection of the written word at my disposal.
The realization I eventually came to was that I don’t consider myself smart or well-read, and never have. I associated having a large personal library with both of these qualities, and so in some effort to convince the world (read: myself) of my own value, I collected seemingly unending volumes, even if I hadn’t actually gotten around to reading all of them.
A friend of mine praised my breakthrough, and asked what I was going to do with the newfound knowledge, if anything – I am a master at not changing habits even in the face of mounting evidence that I should. I told her I was going to get rid of books. Over the course of an afternoon I loaded box after box with old books, some of which I carried with me for two decades, having only been read the first time, into my car and donated them to the local library and used book stores.
It didn’t feel particularly good to get rid of all those works, especially when I looked at the (seemingly) empty bookshelves. Something my friend told me many years ago sticks with me to this day: “growth is uncomfortable – be uncomfortable!” The books I really want to keep now full about two shelves, instead of two whole units, and though there are other volumes I may be holding onto for sentimental reasons, I can point to each and say why they remain in my collection.
Did throwing out those books make me feel smarter or more capable? Not in the least. What it was, however, was an opportunity I took to remove an uncomfortable crutch from my daily life, a support that had long outlived any potential usefulness, and had come to just add stress to my daily existence.
Over the last five+ years I’ve gone through a long period of trying to remove the extraneous from my life, whether prompted by internal desires or external stimuli, and trying to actually face the world as I am, not as I fear I am. It’s not an easy process, and true to my friends words, it’s often quite uncomfortable.
The goal, however, is growth, and I hope that every week I can look back and see some positive change, at least in a small part. That’s one of the major reasons I write these entries, both to record my story and to see actual progress over time.