Although most of the people around me are hard working, realistic folks, I’m sure I can’t be the only flaky, artsy type compelled to believe that my Disney-fueled dreams can come true if only someone would ‘discover’ my potential and offer me the opportunity of a lifetime. Anyone else?
I realize I’m publicly confessing that I’m delusional, but I’d like to overcome this; admitting to it is my first step. And I’m wondering; am I a product of the self-esteem, believe-in-your-dreams wave of pop-culture preaching? And also: what can bring some balance to my fruitless, fantasy-based confidence?
In my imagination I’m a delightfully charming combination of Meg Ryan (90s version) and Stephen Colbert (ironically and mischievously speaking). In reality, I’m more like an American Idol reject, having achieved nothing yet hoping for everything. I’ve come to realize that fantasizing about success and working hard for it cannot co-exist within me.
When I savor the fantasy of my success, I am satisfied. It’s brief and it’s false, but when it’s done often enough, it creates a pattern of laziness that’s hard for me to break. And, when I’ve spent myself indulging in all kinds of congratulatory delusions; reality and it’s insistence on hard work, focus and small steps, is practically unbearable, like trying to open your eyes after you’ve accidentally poked one with a stick (not that I’ve done that…).
My desire and motivation have been wasted too many times. So, what can stop me from indulging in success-fantasies when the payoff, though a cheap imitation, is still powerfully seductive? What can get me off this decadent joyride and onto the real journey?
This is where I get annoyed at ‘self-esteem’ being preached as necessary to success. Self-esteem is a by-product of success and I can all too easily fabricate both in my imagination. But there is something that can purify my outlook, that can wash away my delusions, that can keep me steady as I assess the reality of my failings and the distance I’ve yet to cover. It can put me to the test and reveal the truth. It’s simple. It’s plain. It’s a relief every time I’m reminded of it: Humility.
Humility plays the hand it is dealt. It accepts the necessity for doggedness when venturing into the unknown and the undone. Where self-esteem assumes it has what it takes, humility has the guts to ask the question ‘What if I don’t have what it takes?’ And, where self-esteem crumbles into doubt in the face of that question, humility looks purposefully for any possible way to do what it takes. It is willing to crawl even when it sees others walking. It is unperturbed by disparity, derision, discouragement, failure, disgrace, prejudice, or criticism. Because engaging with those things is only egocentric drama superfluous to the real task at hand. (By that, I mean bull crap.)
Alright, maybe I’m the only one passing time imagining my life as a carousel of pats on the back and acceptance speeches, but we all get carried away somehow or other feeling like we’re more than we actually are and ignoring the effort involved in actually becoming what we long for. We fear the action required to make it a reality. And, we can be all too skeptical of humility and its good buddy, contentment. I think we fear that they would see us unselfconsciously eating from dumpsters and living in a van down by the river (or whatever sad version of cluelessness you find most terrifying.) And maybe it would. (But you’d be happy!) But more likely it would allow you the freedom to be who you are and seek what you like without fear or shame. I know I don’t want to pave the road to my own personal hell by living in my imagination any longer, and self-esteem is not a help, it’s a hindrance. It’s really just an overprotective mechanism of my own defensive ego saying; “I shouldn’t have to work this hard,” or “What if I fail?” Humility is the galvanizing voice that replies, “I will try and I know I might fail, but if I survive I will try again.”
Karen Smith is on a quest for personal truth and boundless consciousness. She feels lucky to live with her family in Truemanville. Her column appears bi-weekly in the Amherst News.