For Mental Health Monday this week, we bring you a guest blog piece by the very talented Harlequin Grim, where he explores our obsession with comparing ourselves to others.
Perspective is important. In fact, perspective is everything. It’s strong enough to convince scores of soldiers to hack one another to pieces, and contrastingly, to help somebody find peace, strength, and courage amongst bedlam and tragedy.
And there are degrees of perspectives. Some between good and ill, others realistic and completely delusional. Just the other day, I heard one in conversation that shook me. It reminded me of a mental blockade that still crops up every few weeks. For brevity and melodrama’s sake, I have come to call this perspective:
The ‘Titan Syndrome’
Like any malady, we’re going to dig into curing it.
From our first conscious memories, we are given examples of humanity’s highest performers and most lauded successes. The famous, noteworthy, and exceptional are given places on TV, in daily conversation, and are referenced in every sphere of culture, everything from the most basic sport to the many mentally strenuous intellectual facets of academia. While we grow up and earn our first humbling blows in early adulthood, as if only to salt the wound, we may come to see that we, ourselves, and those around us are amongst the ‘mundane’ or, and this is the word that I often hear, ‘normal’. Someone might have even informed us implicitly. Therefore, we feel separate from those who pop up in magazines and documentaries. They, like J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman, are titans. But we … we’re just normal.
There seems to be this notion that people such as Shakespeare, Poe, Hemingway, Murakami, or any talents from any respective field, are creatures who, since the moment of their birth, have existed outside monotony, drudgery, and the challenges of day-to-day human life. Quite naturally, we apply adjectives and language when we speak of them which seems to imply that these figures, (either historical or modern examples), are demigods sharing their brilliance. It almost seems that their success is a natural progression of their development, as if it was fated or simply ‘meant’ to happen because, well, they aren’t normal.
This thinking is dangerous. It enforces the narrative that our passions and ambitions are simply not ‘meant’ to amount to anything to that degree of success, or that, should we face obstacles, challenges, and doubt once we embrace such a lifestyle, that we simply aren’t individuals cut out for fighting against it all.
This topic is difficult to approach because it is easy to misinterpret. It may seem that I am undermining the notable figures or even their contributions. Quite the opposite, I want to highlight the groundwork and foundation of their success, the finer points that are critical pieces to any artist or entrepreneur’s toolkit, but more importantly, I want to …
bash in that delusion that you are not born under the right stars to pursue your ambitions. This is the most refined bullshit.
Work ethic, passion, strength, inspiration, courage, and persistence are not attributes that anybody is born with. They are developed. It is your responsibility and your decision alone to coax their flames to life.
If we can get up early to work for our day job, we can apply that same alarm clock for our passion.
If we can work for eight hours on something we despise, we can apply one hour, at least, towards something we love. (Yes, even if we’re a bit exhausted.)
If we can sacrifice our happiness to take care of responsibilities regarding others, we can sacrifice some of our generosity towards our social groups and instead apply it to our own time.
Consistent, daily practice regarding our craft must begin small. If an hour a day sounds difficult, then, can we imagine fifteen minutes? You may be thinking to yourself, “But Harlequin, don’t be an idiot, of course I’ve already spent fifteen minutes here and there on my craft.”
Then it’s plausible to consider thirty minutes a day. And, if that goes well, how’s about forty-five? An hour? With a break and an reward to encourage you, how’s about two?
Day by day. Hour by hour. These small victories lead to the fantastic achievement that we so often hear about. They are not done in single, broad strokes of eight or twelve-hour genius. They are done throughout the intensity of daily commitments and lives. We must focus on small achievements, on small victories, to stay sane. Every day is a possibility for success. It may not make the front page of The New York Times, but if it helps you be a more vibrant, inspired, and fulfilled individual who knows they are not wasting their mortality, by every last star in the sky, it is worth it.
Proof in Poe’s Pudding
Edgar Allan Poe is the epitome of perfect examples for my stance. Now, a figurehead for dark romanticism and the leading proponent of that genre, he is thusly a ‘titan’ in history’s eyes. However, during his time, he saw hardly a pay check for his brilliance, and just before the peak of his fame, which was fairly little at the time, he had nights where he was breaking up furniture in his apartment in order to have firewood to keep him warm. In fact, throughout his entire life, he saw little comfort nor reward for his efforts. It was largely accomplished from the commitment and resolve from his own spirit.
I wonder what sort of excuses crossed his head. Do you think the notion of being too ‘normal’ was a contributing factor as he penned Annabel Lee or The Tell-Tale Heart?
Can you imagine how the culture of literature would have been if Poe thought to himself one dreary day with a sigh:
“Oh, I’m just so normal, and unlike all those great artists before me,” and despaired so much that he decided never to write? Or, further yet, that he got halfway through his works and, upon finding little success, decided never to pen The Raven because he decided he simply didn’t ‘have it’. My sides are cracking.
It’s ludicrous to think that the traits needed to lead passionate, invigorating, and inspiring lives are allotted genetically rather than garnered, cultivated, and forged throughout our daily lives. It is even more amusing to think that we need popularity or financial claims in order to sculpt this perspective; I would argue that the happiness of an inspired life starts once we decide to cultivate such an individual, rather than when we are rewarded for the results.
That is not to say it is easy or dreamy once we begin to accept ourselves as potential harbourers of our own titanous achievements.
There is a reason why these figures and people amongst us seem ‘different’ all the while struggling with the same financial, emotional, and psychological roadblocks that we come upon. When we look up at those titans, we see them at their brightest, most dazzling moments. We see the reward but none of the journey. It’s no large wonder that we perceive a disparity.
When we examine our own lives with scrutiny, we focus on the challenges and obstacles and so little of the rewards, achievements, and the blissful happiness we often see in the prosperity of others. We see us spilling coffee in the morning and cursing at our dog when our temper has run short from missing a payment. How unromantic. But the fact of that matter is, those titans are just like ‘us’. In fact, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Being human comes with a lot of ups and downs. The more ambitious we are, the more grit we face. It doesn’t get more glamorous, only more inspiring.
The nature of our journeys is always chaotic. Should we start on this path to crafting a more disciplined and determined personality, it is vital that we recognise that any failures, missteps, or challenges along the way are not indicators of our lesser nature, rather signs that we are growing into that which we set out to be.
With the right perspective, setback and achievement become synonymous incentives.
Sitting in the shadow of giants before us, it’s difficult to consider the notion that we can thrive in the challenges of life as they have, to fight and grow and inspire as they have, but perhaps a bigger pill to swallow is that idea that, should we get to our feet and stand beside them, our shadow might grow just as large.
Thanks to Harlequin for this excellent blog piece which fits perfectly in our Mental Health Monday series. You can read more about him and by him on his website here.