Outgrowing (others and yourself)
This morning I woke up at 6:40 with a few thoughts in mind. I wanted to sleep a bit more, but I knew I no longer could. So, I got up to write this post.
For context: I’ve always felt a push towards learning and bettering myself. And that sounds to me like a pretty decent definition of personal growth.
This process inherently depends on what you mean by bettering. But we can all agree that to compare something, you need something else to compare it with.
Whom do you compare yourself with?
My attitude has always been to look upon remarkable people I can learn from.
That’s humbling, all the more so in the era of information (overload). But that’s also the mindset of most remarkable people, and virtually all the ones I admire.
After all, as many understood throughout history, standing on the shoulders of giants is what enables technological progress – or any kind of progress, really.
One could always do better
I often see people doing great things, only to underplay their role in it. Ok, that may be self-mockery, like Tim Minchin’s too-long speech at WAAPA. Or not.
When your measure against the best of the best, or even just the very best you could have done, it’s only normal to feel like you’ve done nothing special.
That’s not humblebragging: it’s extremely harsh, brutally honest self-criticism.
Granted, highly competent people don’t need to belittle themselves or others. But obsessing over details helped them grow to become experts, so that now they’re able to see shortcomings which most people hardly even notice.
It’s another shade of the Curse of knowledge, if you will.
One of my morning thoughts was “I’ve outgrown most of my peers” – whoah! It sounded to me just like what an elitist, snobbish, pretentious prick would say.
Except, I’m none of that at all. I may be a liar, a pig, an idiot, an elitist, snobbish, pretentious prick, but I am not a porn star!
(Yes, I’m paraphrasing Abe. For reference, check out “Homer is not a communist” on YouTube or The Simpsons episode “Simpson Tide” from Season 9 on Wikiquote.)
So, my next thought was “how arrogant of me” – ‘cause I’m well aware of being, in the eyes of society at large, the epitome of a nobody who achieved nothing.
As an example, let’s take the aforementioned Tim Minchin. While he might be a wanker, at the very least he’s a world-class wanker. I am a mere wanker, instead.
Or, well, “I am but a humble galactic hitchhiker” – as I’d rather put it.
(Because, unluckily enough, “science-obsessed, uber-rhymey polemicist pianist singer satirist wanker” was already taken by Tim. And I don’t play the piano.)
Anyhow, digressions aside, why am I mentioning all this?
I’m tempted to answer “because I’m a wanker” – but I won’t. And I just did. Shit.
Seriously, though, for once I tried to take a different point of view. Instead of comparing myself with great people, I compared myself with… just people.
I will spare you the uninteresting details, which by the way would be inevitably tied to my own environment, filters of reality, and current level of growth.
The point I am trying to make is basically just another variant of the well-known “it’s lonely at the top” saying. And here’s what I wanted to share with you.
[There is] a quote I’ve read a few years back that stuck with me ever since. I forgot the source and the exact wording, but the gist of it was that personal growth can potentially make you feel more isolated, i.e. the wiser you become, the fewest people you can truly communicate with. I instantly agreed, but I also think it’s still worth it because what we lose in breadth we make up for in depth.
That’s me quoting myself trying to quote a quote whose author I forgot.
(Hey, I’d been warning everyone about this “quotes about quotes” mindfuckery since my first post. I’m glad I’ve finally got to show you a real-world case.)
By the way, I thought Emil Cioran could have written something to that effect (and that degree of melancholy), but I was never able to track the source down.
For the curious, my own quote comes from a mail with a friend. We were talking about fitting in, mostly with people, specifically after much travelling around.
Back in the beginning of this post, I quickly moved from comparing something with something else to comparing someone with someone else.
That may (or may not) be a tad unfair, since each person is unique. But there’s really no reason why the point of comparison should be external.
Comparing yourself with yourself can hopefully prevent you from behaving like an elitist, snobbish, pretentious prick or feeling like a worthless, shitty, tiny speck.
Even so, there may be a few rubs.
Time, for one. As you go on, you change. For better or for worse: you do get more experienced, but you also get dangerously closer to organic decay.
Either way, it’s not perfectly fair to compare your current self with your old self.
“So what?” – Miles Davis promptly objected at this point – “Let’s just not do that. Let’s only compare ourselves with our current selves!!!”
First of all: Miles, what the hell are you doing here? Second: for heaven’s sake, take it easy on the exclams! And third: there’s yet another rub, methinks.
When you compare yourself with yourself, you can easily set the bar too high or too low. Who’s to say where that bar ought to be? It’s arbitrary, if not unfair.
After paving the road until now, I can finally make explicit my main point, which so far was only fleetingly hinted at: life is a game you play by your own rules.
You’re dealt a few cards, but then it’s up to you to set their worth. And you may very well make it a winning (or loosing) hand, regardless of how you even play it.
So, does it really make any sense to compare yourself with anything at all?
Maybe yes, maybe not. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to. We can still use benchmarks, perhaps because we find it useful, or simply because we want to.
Indeed, I wish I’ll keep on outgrowing myself. And I wish the same to you.
All I want to say is, life is good. Everything just is. It’s you who decide how it is.
And that doesn’t mean there’s no reasons to grow, but only that there’s no need.
You don’t have be perfect. You already are. Everything is.