I want to be a person who doesn’t care about success.
Success is such an incentive for so many of our actions, but definitions of success hinge on fleeting concerns with which the world supplies us. We are told something matters, and so it does. It matters externally, and yet we strive to adhere to this external standard with the notion that it may make us happy if we meet it.
Most of these ideas of success revolve around the concept of control: of being able to control one’s own fate and steering it in the desired direction. Success conjures up images of responsibility and hard work, of unceasing effort and a refusal to accept one’s limitations as the farthest extent that one can go to achieve the pinnacle of all their hopes and dreams (or what they have been told should be their hopes and dreams).
How are you feeling today?
It’s a question we ask often. It’s a question we think about often. How do you feel? How am I feeling? Feelings of sadness or anger or worry. We are happy or joyful or filled with future fear. We feel so much. Too much. Too deeply.
Feelings are fickle. They swirl and brood and weigh upon our minds. But they do not last. They never last. The feelings flee before long; they fade in the face of new feelings… new emotions taking their place.
And yet feelings affect us profoundly. These temporary flights of fancy can shake us to our very core. Why? Why do feelings have such power? I have been thinking about this lately. Feelings aren’t always negative. Sometimes their power is harnessed for goodness and beauty. Feelings of happiness and warmth may overflow and lead us to be loving and kind. But do we have any control over when we feel happy? Do we control our feelings or do our feelings control us?
What do we have? What do we have, really, when it’s all taken away? What is left? What remains in the ruins of the things that once were ours but now elude our grasp?
The thought is daunting. The idea that the world on which we lean and the things around which our lives are built are temporary. Fleeting. They will pass. Not just things but people. Feelings. Thoughts. Moments. Dreams and hopes. Disheartening perhaps. That’s what it is. Peeling back the outer layers is painful, and what’s more, it exposes the shell underneath. For that is all that’s left. This tiny forlorn shell that is self. All we really have and all we are.
I’m not trying to be unnecessarily negative. I’m not trying to be realistic either. This tiny shell to me is full of hope. In fact, this shell is truth. It is not hollow and it cannot be shaken or broken down. When all the cloaks which cover it are stripped away, the shell can be stripped down no further.
When we enter the world, awareness sets in. A sense of the other is eternally present, an internalized gaze directed towards us from those capable of judgement and praise. The significance lies not in the fact that we are being seen, but in the knowledge that we are being seen and how this affects our own actions.
Our current culture emphasizes visibility in all aspects of life. Social media actively promotes the constant display of private, everyday activities. Perception is everything. There seems to be an unstated assumption that unless something is documented, it doesn’t matter; that unless something is shared, it has no worth. Actions begin to gain value for how they can be shown to others, rather than for the carrying out of the actions themselves.
Does this heightened awareness influence our behaviour? I would argue that it alters our intentions and expression of self quite profoundly. Our intentions are what direct our path; they are the foundation and motivation behind our actions. So what happens when thoughts of external reactions begin to seep into our plans and decision-making processes? What happens when we set out to do something with the knowledge of how it will make us appear?
The hardest thing in life is learning to be your own person. The world proclaims the glory of the self-made man, of the almighty individual. We learn that life is something you must do alone, that who you are is less important than what you make of it, and that this outcome is entirely dependent on your own merits and efforts.
No wonder self-discovery is so difficult. What a horrible place to live: beneath the pressure and the condemning whispers, beneath our own weaknesses, since our merits and efforts inevitably lead to failure. I am afraid to become this kind of person, because I know alone I am not enough. But learning to be your own person does not involve overcoming this fear of individuality; it involves turning to the source of our true identity and individuality.
It’s highly unlikely any of us have been spared that moment of rejection: of loneliness and deep-seated disappointment when someone we trusted lets us down. Life has certain inevitabilities, and sadly, I think this is one of them. We are all too human to repay or be repaid entirely for our own trust or another’s trust in us. However, I think there is something to be said for our role in who lets us down and how they do so.
A lot of life is spent looking for others who will understand us, or at least take the time to try. In my opinion, this is one of our most deeply felt human needs: the need to be understood. We all want someone to listen to our hopes and fears and feelings, to see us truly as we are.
At the same time, we often don’t want to talk. I know there have been many occasions when my response to the generic “how are you?” query is “fine,” when I’ve been anything but. I want to be seen, and yet I shrink away from the light if it might expose my weaknesses. A paradox of sorts. Maybe it’s because I’m not comfortable with generic. Maybe none of us are comfortable with generic, with shallow, surface level interactions, even though we often pursue and produce them.
Writing a novel is a lot like life.
I’ve realized this, or at least it’s been coming to me slowly, as I work on my latest book. The idea seemed to float through my mind months ago, but then it was only several strands… unconnected, undefined. It began to play out in my thoughts, becoming clearer and more colourful as imagined situations took shape. Before long, I was excited, ready to begin on what I already knew to be a lengthy and arduous journey.
Perhaps what I’m saying is that life is that journey. We don’t have the power to plan out our lives like a writer who structures the plot carefully around their action. We really don’t have much control at all. But we do have dreams. Our minds flit to possibilities that are endlessly appealing, and imaginations are often unbridled. We see the way we want our life to be and expect it to fit within our mould.
You’ll never be happy if you keep comparing yourself to others.
I know that you know that. But it’s so hard to live, isn’t it? It’s so hard to escape from the mindset that being different equals inadequacy, that not doing what the world says you should do means you are wrong and misguided.
Stop listening to the voices. Stop listening to the pressures that speak in the night, the ones that tell you that you are not enough, that you are a failure who has chosen poorly. You are forging your own path. No one else can come there with you, because they are not you. But there is a reason, a reason for every step. Please believe me.
I have never been the kind of person who is eager to spark conflict or garner hostility. I suppose most people don’t deliberately create confrontation, but I’m not referring to a disposition merely not inclined to seeking ill will. In my case, it might be more accurately described as avoidance.
Perhaps it’s due to overthinking. Does everyone exhaust all the gruesome possibilities of unfavourable reactions from others? For every actual conversation, my mind fabricates many more divergent paths, unpleasant outcomes that will surely arise if I say something to ruffle the feathers of my companion.
What should I say? What will she think if I say that? She might be upset. I think she might be mad
at me. Oh no! I said it. I can’t tell if she’s mad at me now. She might be offended. What is she thinking about me now?
Sometimes reason responds quite succinctly: Why do you care?