Andrew W.K. on Growth
Illustration by Tallulah Fontaine
self improvement

Andrew W.K. on Growth

In ways both real and imagined, how you see the world colors what you see in the world.
December 29, 2016, 7:22pm

Given my public "Party" persona, many are surprised or even disappointed to learn I'm not naturally upbeat—that I wasn't born a golden ray of sunshine. Like most of us, I have moods. And for as long as I can remember, I've been almost supernaturally prone to negative emotions. Maintaining a positive outlook has been something I've desperately struggled with. I've never seen myself as a naturally optimistic person, and have instead lived with an almost unshakable sense that all aspects of existence were inherently wrong and trending toward ever-increasing levels of failure, suffering, and darkness. Any effort to see things in a hopeful light, I thought, was naïve or delusional.


But carrying those kinds of feelings—a soul heavy with dread—can take its toll. So over the years, I've made more and more of a rigorous effort to try and sublimate this inner despair that has colored so many of my experiences and perspectives. I do this by finding tiny moments of unquestionable joy and holding on to them tight. Things like music and laughter and inspiring encounters with culture were undeniably uplifting, so I surrounded myself with these things to find small bits of relief and motivation, some pin pricks of light in a vast sea of darkness. These experiences were often fleeting and short-lived, but the impressions they left on me were long-lasting. If I could feel this radiant joy even for a moment, maybe there was a way to hold onto it for longer. Maybe even forever?

Is the glass half full or half empty? This familiar proverbial phrase has always stuck with me, because it says so much in its perfect simplicity. In ways both real and imagined, how you see the world colors what you see in the world. If you see the world positively, that positivity is reflected all around you. You notice the beautiful and appreciate it, and in turn, notice more of it—seek and ye shall find, what you look will show itself to you. In my darkest moments, I'd obsess over this idea of this metaphorical glass and put a tremendous effort to see it (the world) as half full. I was willing a positive outlook from within myself, even when nearly every part of my inner view saw otherwise.


Then inevitably something crushing would dampen my most determined efforts, and make it all too easy to slide back into the shadows, thwarting my rigorous commitment to a positive outlook, and making all my efforts seem absurd and foolish. I'd quickly fall back into familiar, negative thoughts and tell myself I was an idiot for even trying to see life as a beautiful experience. I'd bounce back into believing my efforts to be cheerful were pointless and embarrassing, and that underlying all reality was an unspeakably brutal spirit of malevolent nothingness.

I'd swing from one side of this emotional pendulum to the other, wrestling back-and-forth between despair and hope, clarity and confusion. This, of course, was an exhausting dance, so I began to think about ways to transcend it and jump off this chess-board of duality. There had to be a way to step back, or rise up, and observe this process from an enlightened distance. I needed to find a way to balance these two worlds or risk spending my entire life oscillating between manic highs and devastating lows.

In ways both real and imagined,  how you see the world colors  what you see in the world.

Then, one day, it struck me. I didn't need to see the glass as half full or half empty. Perhaps I could be outrageously happy and grateful that I was able to see the glass at all, and consider its condition in the first place. My outlook from day-to-day didn't need to be the lens through which I judged the world, and even on days where I woke up feeling that all of existence was a struggle, I began to understand that the simple act of getting to exist at all was genuine net positive.

In life, we're given a couple gifts. 1) A physical body that can carry out action in the world 2) Our mind and the thoughts radiating from within it. Those things are outstanding, and just by existing as a human in the universe, it's almost like winning a kind of cosmic lottery, regardless if we had a conscious choice in entering this contest. That thought alone has helped me, and even on days where I see the glass as half empty, I'm eternally grateful that I can pick up that glass and drink from it.


Life is a test to see if you can find a way to embrace and learn from those parts of you inside that would otherwise crush your spirit. We're here to grow, to not be beaten down.

In the end, it's the experience of life itself that is a transcendentally positive thing. The motivation to live beyond just mere survival, to strive to do more than subsist at the minimal possible level, that takes a type of conviction. It takes a real effort. This is more and more what I'm attempting to do, not be beaten down or overwhelmed by the immensity of life, but instead enthralled with it. Rejoice in it, laugh with it, have a dance about it.

We can figure out that we don't have to have it all figured out to still appreciate the experience. We can let the baffling puzzle of life delight us, surprise us, and challenge us. And most of all, we can continuously celebrate the fact that against almost insurmountable odds, we have come into being.

This is what allows me to persevere. Life is never going to be easy, but that doesn't mean it's inherently bad. It's just very intense. And it's our obligation to grow stronger, and more resilient, so we blossom ever more openly into life and face it with a smile.

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