There are a lot of things I am not, which sometimes bothers me. I’m not, economically speaking a very successful author – not a best seller for my publisher, not a big name in my field. I’m one of those people who goes in to make up the bulk of a movement, the crest of a wave someone else will ride on to far more glorious effect. History is full of us. We provide momentum for movements, we underpin change but individually, we are entirely forgettable.
Like a lot of people, I fret about how other people see me. I fret about issues of success, and status. For me this often includes a fair amount of angst over not being intellectual enough. It’s not been an easy process for me, coming to terms with the facts here. It’s been evident for a lot of years that at no point would I go back to formal study. I can’t afford it and I do not think I could take the pressure. The more I watch those who can, and the more I read, the more evident it is to me that I just don’t have the right kind of mind for this sort of thing. I don’t have the discipline, or much inclination to cultivate it.
The desire to be able to do this, or be seen as a certain sort of person has everything to do, in my case, with a desire to be taken seriously, and that’s really all there is to it. I associate academic status with credibility, and being taken seriously, which in turn would seem to validate the process of writing, and the time spent on it. Fame and money have similar, validating potential. There’s an illusion in here about achieving the kind of status that would stop the people who habitually put me down from doing that, but I’ve started to notice that anything I achieve seems to cause a devaluing of the thing in certain quarters, not an improved valuing of me. There are games I do not get to win.
It’s a very easy game to play with yourself, too. Set up a distant goal, a really tricky hoop to jump through, a magic point of achievement that will validate you. When I get there, then I will be ok. Then they will accept me and take me seriously and be nicer to me. Then I won’t have to feel all the put downs and humiliations I’ve been lugging around for all this time. Get the right job, achieve the right income level, raise the perfect child, become massively famous, save the world… And somehow all you ever get to do is run, not arrive.
Most of us will not be wildly successful, heroic, wealthy, famous or important in any of the ways we might want to be. It does not help that we have a culture where celebrity is some kind of holy grail, and ‘ordinary’ is tantamount to an insult. We prioritise the feats of the few whose names we can remember, and the vast majority of people, slogging away as best they can, are slightly invisible.
Spiritual paths will often tell us that we shouldn’t care about these things – fame, wealth, status etc are trappings of the world, traps, dead ends. Pulled by this in one direction and by massive cultural pressure to strive and feel like a failure in the other, the results can be untidy to say the least. If I’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that ‘you shouldn’t feel this way’ is the least helpful advice. I also wonder, because I’m cynical, what exactly to make of people who are making a lot of money and achieving fame as spiritual leaders and gurus who cheerfully dole out the message that the rest of us should focus on our spiritual lives and not worry about all the things they have accumulated. That can just create a new set of status goals, as you strive to be the best Druid, do the most meditation, have the best wand, or whatever becomes the substitute.
I should not worry about wealth, fame, power or worldly status because the famous guru I just paid a lot of money to said so?
We all seek validation, one way or another. We all measure ourselves. I wonder if the answer might be to support each other in finding some better and more available yardsticks, praising each other for what we can do, for what goes well, for modest success, and taking down the impossible goal posts for each other, so as to come up with a more sane culture.