I grew up in Germany, and I was extremely shy from a young age. The only exceptions were my one closest friend whom I met in second grade, and my sister and parents. I was in a carefree social environment because my parents never gave me any chores or responsibilities. Other kids were told to go to church, play some sport, play some musical instrument, clean their rooms, and what not. If I wanted to try something like play a sport, I'd do it for a few weeks, then lose my interest and quit. No one told me I had to do anything.
Even at school we basically just played around the whole time. I don't remember a single lecture in elementary school. Every day, we'd sit in a circle and each person would tell a story about what they did on the weekend or something. Except for me, because I was self-conscious, shy, fearful of all strangers, and didn't want to talk. But no one forced me to, so I didn't have to, and I chose not to (the worst grade one could get for oral communication was 'satisfactory'). The teachers were sometimes up to an hour late, so the boys would play soccer during that time. (I have no recollection of what the girls did.)
My parents bought me anything I wanted. For example, my parents always bought me every single toy I wanted for Christmas, even if my list was quite long. My family loved me unconditionally, even if I acted in ways that nearly everyone would surely consider unacceptably rude or selfish. For example, if I fought my sister physically, such as by pulling her hair, she never fought back, even though she was four years older and clearly much stronger. My sister, by the way, had a rather strict upbringing, because for some reason, my parents demanded a lot from her.
About the only expectation my parents had for me was to excel academically, which I did automatically without any effort.
My family moved to the US when I was eleven. That's when I had an ambition to become a great competitor. It didn't matter in what discipline, as long as it was a significant challenge. That was the time when I started to think about the world. Up until then, I had always assumed that I would be part of it. I believed that anything I didn't understand at the time would become clear to me once I grew older. I think I was around 13 when I realized that there were things about society that simply couldn't be logically justified.
The example that I saw nearly every day was in my mathematics classes. How could people see nothing wrong with the blatantly inefficient scheme of having a teacher lecture in front of a group of students to teach mathematics? I knew enough about school, society, and mathematics that no matter what the facts were that I didn't know, there was simply no reasonable justification.
I can't recollect very well the details of how my ideas developed from that point on because ideas are all abstract, and I didn't write things down until I turned 19. Also, because I had very little contact with people between the ages 11 and 20, I had not developed a language for communicating my ideas to people other than myself. But it is clear that because of the time I devoted to competition, I thought a lot about the topic, and eventually came to realize that competitive principles apply to many more aspects of life then is usually realized.
For example, when two people talk or communicate to one another, there is surprisingly little understanding that occurs. One of the basic reasons is that the ideas that we express essentially compete among themselves. They are selected for based on such factors as (1) how easily the mind can form an association to think of the idea, (2) how frequent the appropriate occasions are for expressing the idea once we think of it, (3) how much attention people give this idea (more attention means it gets reinforced in our minds, so we will think of the idea more frequently), or (4) how positive this attention is. This means that when we say something, the fact that the ideas that we express have competitive traits that make them easy to spread is a significant factor.
Another significant fact I remember is that I viewed life as an ongoing journey or quest toward some purpose or end. I thought of every action and decision I made every minute of my life as potentially affecting the outcome or success of my journey. I clearly had this idea when I was in third grade because every week we were given a writing assignment, which was always the same: to write a story. In my third and fourth grade (it was a combined class because the idea was that third and fourth graders could learn from each other by being in the same class), we were only given weekly assignments instead of individual assignments because the idea was that we should learn to manage our time and decide when to do what ourselves.
So, I ended up writing extremely long stories about a mouse and his group of friends who were on a journey to explore space. I always ended the story with the line 'to be continued' because if there was an end, it would mean that the quest was over and that would take away the reason to continue living. I thought that ending a story was a pessimistic thing to do because it implied that the author had already figured out what there would be in the end. Clearly, as long as we are capable of doubting what we believe to be true, the ultimate end has not yet been attained. Saying, "now the journey is over" was unproductive to me because we should motivate ourselves to continue the journey, which is going on at this very minute, rather than entertain the idea of an end.
To engage in an activity simply for the fun of it did not make any sense to me. That was just a waste of time. Of course, all I did as a child was basically play around for fun, and I did not view that as a waste of time. If someone had told me that I was contradicting myself by assuming that everything had to be for a purpose, I would have thought that my desire to play was simply a human limitation.
As such, the wisest course of action was to try to train myself to achieve optimal productivity, and in my view this did not entail self-denial because self-denial could achieve the exact opposite effect of what I intended, which is to want irrelevant things even more than I presently did. Instead, the way to deal with irrelevant desires was to indulge in them to the point where I would be sick of it. Then, according to my theory, the problem was solved once and for all. I don't know at what age I came up with this way of thinking, but I know for a fact that I freely indulged in everything I wanted.
In Germany, I mostly played computer games or soccer in the garden with my best friend. Alone, I remember spending nearly all my time constructing spacecraft and space stations using Lego blocks. I did not read or listen to music. I did watch some TV, mostly American films translated into German, which were mostly action/adventure. Because of all the free time I had, I was often bored, feeling I wanted someone to play with. In the US, I did not make a new friend, and I remember feeling very lonely and depressed as a result. At the same time, I believed that using my ambition and determination, I should be able to accomplish any goal I set for myself. The only activities I considered relevant and took seriously was training myself for various competitions.
I remember feeling distraught because I hated doing things alone, but I spent all my time alone, and I blamed myself for not having the courage and determination to talk to and interact with others of my age. I think I spent most of my free time agonizing over this for eight years. I don't really remember what I did in my free time, but I think I basically daydreamed the whole time about the future and the times when this period would be over.
I felt extremely frustrated by the fact that I was unable to develop relationships with people, that they had something I did not. I blamed myself for not communicating what I felt and thought to others, and I felt that I was wasting away my time, when I could be using my time to accomplish something. The least I thought I could do was develop my competitive skills, since that did not necessarily involve interacting with others. But when trying to train myself for competitive events, I could not remain motivated for more then two or three weeks at a time, so this only added to the frustration I felt. In high school, I pursued several individual sports, which were running, cycling, martial arts, and weight training. I would always focus on one and use the others for cross-training purposes.
In hindsight, I see things differently because even if I had been able to emulate average or above-average communication skills, I doubt I would have been able to establish a relationship that was based on a common aim or objective, given that I do not consider fun, love, or happiness to be valid objectives in life. I continued to view my lack of communication skills (especially verbal) as a severe handicap that was preventing me from pursuing productive goals up until recently. Right now, I regard it as a weakness, but I am not even sure it would be wise to try to overcome it. There has never been a period of time in my life when I would get up and expect to say more than a few words during the course of the entire day, but if circumstances change, I think it will not be difficult for me to adapt.
I spend most of my free time today thinking and daydreaming. I usually try to think of ideas to communicate to the others. If I ever get tired, or need to take in information to help me think of something, I can read something, listen to music, watch TV, or engage in trivial conversation, but I do none of these things on a regular basis because the purpose is always to change my state of mind, when I feel that I'm becoming uncreative or mechanical.