This is not a post about you not wanting success bad enough. It’s not about beating you down because if you really wanted success you’d already have it. It sort of, kind of has to do with defining what success means to you, but that is only a small part of it.
Charlie Chaplin once said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” When I look back at my elementary years, teen years and at the close of my twenties, I have at least three examples that validate Chaplin’s quote. This is the basis of my statement that neither you nor I want success.
The truth is, we want to get what we want. We also want to get things that we didn’t know we’d want. We also want to get the things that we didn’t want once upon a time but in hindsight we’re glad that we got. We also want to get the things that we abhor because they either set us up for what we want or turn out to be more suitable than what we wanted. Finally, we also want to get rid of the things we wanted and received because they were not what we expected.
Some may read that last paragraph and think, “How is that not success?” Besides the first notion, all the others involve us getting things that we don’t want. Getting what we don’t want is hardly ever considered successful. We call those failures. We feel bad when those things happen. We may later reappropriate it as a stepping stone to what we wanted or again, when in retrospect, we see how our failure was actually a great opportunity.
However, it goes further than this. If I lived a life where I got everything I wanted, that’s what most if not all of us would call a successful life. But because I was ignorant about tons of things in life, my successes would lead to suffering. There were many opportunities, stuff, jobs, friends, girls and lifestyles that I wanted but in the long-shot I can see how disastrous things would’ve concluded.
Success can be loosely defined as getting what you want, but I’ve gotten what I wanted before and felt like the biggest loser at the end. When I tried to find the silver lining, I found it and it read, “There was a reason you had to work so hard to get this. It’s because you weren’t supposed to get it. You aren’t even able to sustain it!”
But on the other hand, there are times when we do need to work hard in order to achieve what we desire, and it doesn’t bite us in the butt at the end of the day. Chaplin is right and life is funny when you watch it with the right lens.
Furthermore, if we were to assume that one received success after success after success without suffering at all, life would be mundane. It is the ups and downs that make life interesting. To paraphrase Alan Watts, no one wants a song with no dynamism. It makes for a boring song that no one wants to listen to. We daydream about knocking out success after success but we don’t actually want that.
We play our video games on hard or go for the risky girl or guy because we may lose or get our heart broken. Sometimes we go for the risky girl or guy because we think they’re safe (read: familiar) but that’s another story.
No one wants to listen to a song with no dynamism. And no one wants to live a life without dynamism either. I can’t say I love metal because it’s aggressive and not appreciate aggression in life. It’s not a bad thing! I experience it as bad because I learnt it was bad, but metal made it safe and palatable because it wasn’t real. But it was real! How else could I have experienced it in the songs?
When I listen to indie music and get swept up in the sadness, it’s beautiful. But it’s only beautiful because I accepted it and how it made me feel. When I first had the pleasure to listen to these genres and others, I had to learn to embrace it and welcome what I felt, just like we all had to do when we realised that our greatest fears and the feelings that appeared turned out to be exactly what we needed.
So if you’re feeling like a failure, realise that this is what you want. It’ll be super hard to do (trust me, I know) but what will help is to look back at the earlier decades of your life, at the successes, the successes that turned out to be failures, the failures that led to what you wanted and the failures that made you realise that you didn’t want what you thought you wanted, and have a laugh.