Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Achievement & Fear

On January 16th, in Creative Rehab, Andrea Balt posed the question: ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’

She then went on to ask further, “Is it somehow our greatness that we fear?’

     Here is the heralded response to that question by  poet Marianne Williamson:
             'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
        Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
          It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us….'

 And here is my more humble take on it:

When I was growing up, before video games and the internet, playgrounds were our Mecca and basketball our religion.

At this time, Julius Irving (or Dr. J) was universally acclaimed to be the greatest basketball player on the planet. 

I recall watching him interviewed following a game in which he almost single-handedly led his team to victory. The interviewer asked Dr. J: ‘How does it feel to be expected to be great each time you step onto the court?’

I’ll never forget his answer. ‘It’s an honor and I’m lucky. I think it’s a lot harder to do a job when you are not expected to be your best.’

Therein lies the dilemma of modern humankind: we are descended, have evolved from, the greatest hunters and gatherers. They had the most immediate reason and best yardstick for achieving and measuring greatness: if you weren’t great at it, you didn’t survive.

Fast-forward to tedious factory work or sitting in an office cubicle all day. As Julius said, ‘That’s hard.’

But I think; actually, I know, that it becomes more nuanced and complex when it comes to making a living through some form of personal creative expression. You may or may not be acknowledged for your achievements in your lifetime. Stop creating silly visualizations of a world with you as  its celebrated epicenter and deal with reality. Think Vincent Van Gogh if you need to.

One reason for this state of affairs is that it is easier to calculate your value, and be acknowledged for it, if you are delivering things to society that are essential to its survival:  food, clothing, housing, and the like. Or if you have a skill that can be measured by observation to be superior to all others in that field: say, in athletics, science, business, medicine or entertainment.

But if your modus operandi in this world is personal creative expression, then you better be able to learn how to develop an inner calculator for gauging the quality of your work and, even more important to your health and well-being,  for evaluating your self-worth.

And I think that this is where the concept of a fear of our own greatness or achievement comes in to play. It is natural for anyone who thinks or feels that they have created something of significant value to their culture to want to be acknowledged for it, and at the same time be afraid that they will not. 

There’s a simple and natural response to this: disappointment. But the human mind, emotions and psyche are not simple and often don’t  react in ways that seem natural. Especially if one puts years of their life into a project, and all that goes with it.

This is a dilemma that has been especially challenging for artists, and has caused so many of us to go off the rails – when disappointment derails into self-doubt, self-hatred, self-destruction and (Bye!). Perhaps we just need someone to say to us that it's okay to strive, to achieve greatness, or not; but to be acknowledged at least for the effort.

It is.

Now let's say it to ourselves.