On which theatre should you perform and excel?On August 12, 2020 by Usama
We are living in an era where “self-maximization” is the norm. It isn’t enough to be a good pupil, there is still another batch of people who would hold you in regard if only you were better at sports. You might be a good parent but you may be seen as less enlightened than a professor of philosophy who in turn might not be handsome enough to be a regular face on TV.
Growing in a society where everything is put on display and where every step one takes or move one makes is benchmarked against that which is ultimately more desirable is not only unhealthy but is rather a ponzi scheme where every persons attempts at reaching the top only end up making the sinkhole even deeper.
From an early age we are inaugurated into advertising our human resources in order to transform from a nobody into a somebody. We have come to this point through the intersection of among other things 1. an increasing societal complexity – new generations push the frontier of human achievement by immersing themselves in an ever larger body of knowledge, 2. the commodification of the means of self-betterment – it’s okay that you were born “not good enough” since you can buy what you need to be better, and 3. a mainstream culture of individualism and secularism – you get to chose being whoever and whatever you want if you have what it takes.
Within mainstream culture in the twenty-first century there is implied a promise that once the glow of ones magnificience becomes bright enough there awaits a perfect fulfilment once and for all. What is odd is that we have a hard time calling this bluff eventhough we have plenty of experience with the short-livedness of contempt after a goal has been achieved. Instead of learning from previous attempts we usually end up setting new goals with an ambition of entrapping that fickle feeling of success. The only real remedy is to realise that there is no summit to be reached – the hunger for eminence isn’t soothed by large chunks of achievement and appraisal but instead only adjusts ones expectations demanding ever more.
Fortunately most people don’t spend every minute of the day trying to gain appreciation and acknowledgement. Unfortunately however our awareness of the ideals we are failing to live up to might have us feel unsatisfied with the dull obligations that we find ourselves pushing around on a daily basis.
I believe we need to look at things a bit different. I am not saying that we shouldn’t dream big. What I am saying is that dreaming is not free but rather comes at a price. What we rarely consider is that a dream can become so oversized that it might end up getting crushing us under its weight. Trying to make something decent of the life that happens to be ones reality can become extremely tiring if at the same time we are being tugged and screamed at by the demands of our far-fetched dreams. In order for big dreams to come true it usually isn’t enough to have ability, you might need opportunity and if you would happen to get one then the occasion might have appeared at a time when you weren’t adequately prepared. More importantly however, there is almost always a large sacrifice to be made if you decide to trade in what you have for what could be.
Life it turns out is bound by some constrains that make it really difficult to make major changes of orientation once things are heading in a certain direction – if you aren’t close to beating Usain Bolts best pace before you turn 25 then you probably never will succeed. Other constrains may at first sight seem surpassable but are faustian bargains where you gamble with slim chances of success by putting at stake things whose loss would be extremely painful. Yes, you get to dream of becoming a billionaire eventhough you are 30 years old and have no formal education. But you need to take into consideration that almost every person in your shoes who goes “all in” by violently uprooting their current life by for instance relocating to a different country or divorcing their spouse or investing the childrens college-fund in a good “business opportunity” – pretty much all of these people have ruined a decent life while grasping beyond their reach. What people rarely tell you about heroism or the “American dream” is that for every memorable act of bravery there are innumerable unreported acts of stupidity. Not having heard every story of failure skews your assessment of risk so that a “1 in a 1000” success story ends up feeling much more likely than it actually is.
What I believe we need to do more of is replace “self-actualization” by “self-sacrifice”. Instead of just asking ourselves “what can I be more of” we need to ask ourselves more often “who can I be more to”. Who are the people whos lives I need to be a part of?
Apart from the commercialized variants of heroism there is a special type of heroism burried in the plains of everyday life where it lies inaccessible for all but those who are willing to plough the fields regularly. Sometimes the bravest act is chosing not to act on the large public scene. There is a forgotten theatre where excellence is accesible to everyone, a theatre where you will find small morsels of happiness in the meantime while you’re reaching for greatness, that theatre is the one where the audience is made up of people who really appreciate you even as you’re still just trying.
There is a stage for a mother whos cooking is nowhere near world-class but where she nevertheless will be celebrated by her children as the house is filled with the smell of pancakes. The difference between embracing the applause or depreciating ones artistry boils down to ones frame of reference regarding where and to whom your performance matters. There is a deep feeling of transcendence to be found – if one manages to make a lot of the now – once the comforting a sick parent is made into an active choice even as a career opportunity starts drifting out of hand.
Ultimately satisfaction in life is not determined by either the scope or originality of ones achievements – there is almost no achievement that cannot be equalled or superseded. For most people life will probably remain commercially unimpressing with no headlines being made. Still the plain and ubiquitous moments of everyday life can be refined into something truly remarkable once your head stops being clogged by what could have been. There is so much more music to be heard if one is attuned to the rhythm and actively engages its flow. For most people the best life to be found anywhere around is the one were old dreams are re-envisioned in order to crown those unimpressing things that otherwise would have been taken for granted.
About the content
Modern societies are a noisy mess composed of the intersections between a plurality of needs, instincts, desires and hopes. Within this shared space people of all varieties seek ways of settling their differing outlooks – the outcomes are often to the benefit of some and the detriment of others. The texts on this blog are my personal effort of trying to make sense of the friction within human society.