CC Issue 12 / Reflections

How I learned to stop worrying and love the banquet

I feel a little bit odd about what I’m going to write below, because as far as I can tell, it might very well be a pretty localized problem that afflicts only those that have the luxury to even consider it. But then again, it might actually be an element of the human heart that’s worth exploring…

On a few occasions when I’ve met fellow alumni of my college and we start talking about what we’re doing in work, the conversation has somehow steered towards having “blinders”–of how they felt it best to tune out what peers have been doing, lest their own endeavors pale in comparison to the illustrious and prosperous timelines of those peers. Earnings power comes up, commonly, but so does scientific achievement, family life, freedom to explore the world and whatnot.

The wise part of our brains should, I think, recognize that these thoughts of theirs are fruitless: that they carry that little, annoying tinge of self-loathing endemic to the rat race and its hypercompetitiveness, that notion that those who are not champions are losers, and that the top of the mountain is the most natural and pleasant place to reside. The wiser part of our brains has perhaps already seen the research on keeping up with the Joneses, that someone who lives in the best house in a crappy neighborhood is probably feeling better than the person who owns the crappiest house in the best neighborhood in the world. And let me venture to say that putting on those blinders, making a conscious effort not to see those shining stars is a rational response.

I don’t think it’s the best one, though. It won’t address that little tinge of impurity in your heart, won’t protect you from that time you actually find out some fantastic person from your same class year is moving in next door, making it impossible for you to have those blinders…won’t protect you if that person is your brother, and you find that the family blessing’s destined for him, or that the best coat has gone to him. The blinders really don’t help in situations like that. There’s something in the immature heart that seems unbridled in its hunger for the biggest prize, the biggest idol…as if one’s accomplishments only hold meaning when they result in the big ribbon that says you’re at the top of the pack.

I said at the start that I can’t tell if this is just a localized problem…whether it only exists in hypercompetitive worlds where everybody got told that they’re unusually equipped to pursue the world’s greatest opportunities…where the very gravitas of knowing that those realms were once possible directly confers a sense of failure upon them for having carved out a path that might be considered…pedestrian. But by now, if you suspect that this particular discomfort is holding me captive right now, you’re right. So rather than stand on a pulpit and preach its evils, let’s explore that discomfort and call it out for the insidious burrower that it is, no?

I’m fortunate enough that, having turned 29 just a week ago, I’ve crossed paths with classmates that now head up digital media conglomerates, get appointed to boards of multibillion conglomerates, are set for life for having built your favorite internet sites, or have just managed to build something interesting enough to get it sold off. If I stop there, like I perhaps have in the past, I’d be an idiot. Because I’ve also crossed paths with classmates who have lost family members, been hit by deep bouts of depression that threw them off their original career track, who’ve been afflicted with rare diseases that essentially put their lives and careers on hold for five years, or discovered what the expiration date on their lives will be. For every rocketship I dare peg myself against, I know two that I’d want to help fix up and get back to the launchpad that they deserve.

And the reality is that I think it better to leave those blinders off, lest I, by trying to block off the realm that feeds me lies through my insecurities, also end up blocking off the realms where I am called to serve, where I’m actually called to have meaning. As I get older, that meddling feeling is weaker in its ability to hold me. And it’s kind of frustrating to admit that it actually still has a little bit of that power (or at least enough that I feel motivated to combat it with the power of written wisdoms, anyway). But I’m looking forward to those days when I can indeed see what I own, what I accomplish for the thimble of foam that it is, so that I can place my full focus on what I am called to be, on truly coming alive, and in the good news that makes that freedom possible.

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