I believe that anyone can go from nothing to something. But I also know this is possible only if we are brave enough, at every crucial moment, to come to terms with our infinite process of becoming. Once we accept that we are in a state of constant transformation, we can transform into someone better. I have found that it is typically at this crossroads that we take pride in our weaknesses, find comfort in our limited strengths– that they start becoming who we are more permanently. Seneca once addressed this paradox in his epitome, On the Shortness of Life, by stating it this way:
“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and immortals in all that you desire.”
Perhaps we begin seeing our fears less permanently today. Unfortunately, we can all recall aspects of ourselves or someone we may know who maintains a sense of identity from their flaws. “I am just a bad test-taker”, “I have trouble focusing”, “I struggle with commitment”, “I just have no self-discipline”, “it’s that sweet tooth of mine”… typically followed by the worst of all sayings, “That’s just the way it is.” If only we peeked ever so slightly into the abyss of history or an old high school yearbook– we could recognize that the way it is never was anything, really.
Surely there are many reasons why we tell ourselves this story…
It feels good. It it lets us off the hook, allowing us to circumvent the guilt we feel for being mediocre. Which we all feel in some aspect of our life from time to time. There are times when we are killing the game in one way and we are down in a ditch somewhere else, but we shouldn’t make excuses for our shortcomings or even go as far as to make them permanent parts of our identity. Expecting failure grants us the comfort of being right when we don’t get what we want.
Mark Twain put it like this, “It’s better to be an optimist who is sometimes wrong than a pessimist who is always right.”
Our fear is impermanent, so it might as well be faith.
Imagine you are on the beach and you are tasked with building a sandcastle of any kind. Now, you know the tide will rise and take the castle away much later in the evening. Knowing this, what sort of design do you build? Do you have fun and make a magnificent design? Or do you build something small and insignificant?
Whether you choose magnificence or mediocrity, it will be washed away.
Now this is not an original play on the old adages of “castles made of sand”. However, there is something we can do that is uniquely human and profoundly impactful to the world. We can choose to build the magnificent castle anyways. With artful design and creativity. One that inspires others on the beach. One that lasts in memory.
Our lives are not much different. Surely you can live a safe and conservative life. But there are no laughs to be had in that, there are no lessons to be learned, no memories made, no story worth telling.
I think that our immortality lies in the decision we make at these trivial crossroads: The choice whether to live trivially, or triumphantly in spite. Whether we choose faith over fear, magnificence over mediocrity, triumph over triviality.