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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Beyond the Self Part 2

 Performance plays a big part in our society today. As noted yesterday, excellence - be it in the classroom, on the athletic field, or in business - is a big deal. Everyone seems to focus on some aspect of what it takes to be #1 at whatever you do...because being #1 means you're somebody! This "failure is not an option" attitude can drive people in a positive way to reach for the top, but it can also make them despair if they feel the standards are too lofty and thus unattainable. Then it becomes easiest to simply not try at all. After all, it's a shame to fail these days - at anything - and who wants to go through that?
 I'm an idealistic person and, for many years, I tried to reach goals set for me by others and those I set for myself...perfectly. The problem was, I rarely found success because I was too focused on what wrong in the process. Thus, by always concentrating on the places where I let those expectations down, I began to personalize the results: I am the problem; I am a failure. I felt like nothing I ever did was good enough. Whether in my piano lessons or in my education, any inability to achieve absolute perfection was a wound to be sense of self-worth. It got to the point where even positive criticism from others was taken as negative. Simply put, I didn't want to fail but, in my mind, that's all I ever did. So I quit. I stopped giving life my full effort. 
 Interestingly enough, Jean Twenge, author of the book Generation Me, points out that this mentality is another characteristic of GenMe: the belief that there is no point in trying. She adds that the modern generation is so used to the message that "you can be anything you want to be," it is seen as reason for quitting when there is a breakdown in the pursuit of achievement...either through the lack of tools, experience, or opportunity. This also produces a lack of vision in some aspects - because, these defeated people think, how could one person, who feels like a failure, make any positive change in the world? It's easier to say, whatever, and give up. After all, if you're not at the top, whats the use of trying to get there? 
 Living in this culture produces as certain amount of anxiety: every time we walk outside, the thought crosses our minds - are we good enough for "them"? Do I measure up to "their" standards? Will this maybe be the time "they" finally accept me?
These questions cause us to feel insecure and, often, this comes out in one of two ways:

1. Control - We try to grab hold of our situation and attempt to do something about it. We promise to come up with the right answer, the perfect wardrobe, the right look. If we just keep working at this, we know we'll get it right. Time will help us eventually win over our doubters. The right job will open up, the right "significant other" will come along, the right everything will happen. It's only up to us to change our way of life, and it will all come together.

2. Withdrawal and Passivity - Rather than try to control our life and circumstances, we just pull back and think, "So I'm a worthless bunch of nothing who cares!" In so doing, we then invite and allow other's criticism to come right into our lives..."I'm your doormat; walk all over me if you wish. I don't matter anyway." We withdraw from relationships and from the connections that give us meaning. 

Either approach, however, doesn't prove to be a lasting fix. The feelings of insecurity persist, and we can never allow ourselves to feel safe and at ease. We are forever on guard because, in our minds, nobody can be trusted. Everyone is suspect. 
 The truth is that all of our self-centered thoughts, our constant need for perfection and elite performance, our desire for validation, the false expectations that are placed upon us by the culture in which we live - they're all broken light. They are fragmented reality. Because, contrary to God's original plan - that mankind derive its meaning from its Creator - our society looks to man as the source of all knowledge, affirmation, and success. Thus, we become the ones who define each other...not a Higher Authority. Only ourselves. 
 As we have become increasingly more self-oriented, we have lost the higher things that once made the foundation of one's identity - things like faith, family traditions, social morals, relationships, and...most importantly...God. There are still glimmers of light that prove we haven't totally abandoned these roots, yet the light is clearly broken and weak. All of the things that tell us, "you only need this, and you'll have the good life," seem to have come up short. And we find we're still asking the same questions. While we sit in our darkness on the other side of the door, we wonder: is this really all there is? Or could there be something more...something waiting to be discovered on the outer side of the door?