Last Tuesday I wrote about our tendency to take pride in our shortcomings, and some people took issue with that. Rather, because I failed to communicate clearly, they came to the belief that I was advocating two things which I am not:
1. We should only take pride in our successes.
2. If we don’t conform to a certain ideal, then we are failures.
I want to briefly disprove that first point, but more importantly is the second point, and the issue of choice.
Pride in our success
Should we only take pride in our successes? No! Certainly, we should be proud of our accomplishments so long as we are not bordering on hubris, but that does not mean we should never be proud of our failures. If you’ll recall, I was advocating against a very particular type of pride: pride which prevents us from taking further action toward our goals. We should not allow our brains to convince us that a failure is a success just so that we can stop trying.
We should be proud, though, of any failure which results from a genuine attempt. If you go wakeboarding, if you try your best but you don’t succeed, be proud that you had the courage to face your fear. You need that bit of pride in order to make another attempt. We should always try, try again, and a certain amount of pride concerning our failures will ensure that we do. So no, don’t be proud only of your successes. Be proud of your genuine failures as well.
Conforming to the norm
Then there’s the other point. Are we failures because we don’t conform to some social norm? No! In fact, if we conform in opposition to our own values, that is one of the basest forms of failure which we could ever achieve.
(Though, keep in mind that values change. Sometimes we are wrong. We should never stick to our guns only because they are ours.)
The issue here was with the examples I gave. Should you feel like a failure if you want to have an office job? Should you feel like a failure if you want to be single? No, and no. The issue here is with choice. If you choose to stay in a job because you’re afraid to quit, like I did, that is a different scenario altogether from choosing to stay in a job because that’s truly what you want to do. And if you want to stay single, stay single! Just be sure that it is something you want, and that you’re not just taking pride in your failure.
We are on a journey to become the best us possible. We all have different values—the choices that we make and the ultimate outcome which results from all of those choices is going to be different. The one thing which must be the same for all of us is that we step back and evaluate whether those choices are being motivated by fear. If they are, we need to take action.
An earlier time
Before my high school career was over, I would top out at 295 pounds. I wore my jeans several sizes too small, unwilling to admit how out of control my weight had gotten. I would cut my fingers on the zippers just trying to get dressed in the morning.
At school, in those classrooms with the desks which were attached rigidly to the chair, I would cringe at the tight fit. Once I made it to a seat, I dreaded having to get up for any reason and squeeze my way awkwardly between my classmates.
I did what any other kid does in that set of circumstances: I donned a black t-shirt and gave myself a mohawk.
It was a message to any would-be bullies or assholes: “My life’s bad enough. Don’t fuck with me.”
There’s no arguing that I was different from my classmates. I was at least two, or maybe three of them, combined. But the issue is that I was not actively choosing this path for my life. I had no interest in fetishizing obesity. If I had said “I’m beautiful just the way I am,” it would have been a lie. That person was sick. Mentally, they were unhappy. Physically they were unfit, plagued by a host of minor ailments, and at risk of developing diabetes.
As I graduated high school and started looking toward college, I knew I wanted to get my weight and health under control. I got the crazy idea that I would walk the twenty miles from my house to my friend’s house.
No big deal, right? It’s just walking. You just have to put one foot in front of the other. It’s not even strenuous. Makes absolutely no difference whether you do two miles or twenty.
Yeah. Fourteen miles later, out of water, and my legs on fire, I lucked across a construction site in the middle of the winding rural road I was walking down. One of the workers came to my rescue–after I unsuccessfully attempted to hitch a ride–and drove me the remaining six miles into town. Good thing, as I was mere moments away from dropping dead. I gave her a Blockbuster gift card I had in my wallet, lacking cash, but wanting to give her something to show my gratitude.
I didn’t stop walking though. I mean, for the next few days, bedridden and blistered, I sure as hell didn’t do any walking. But I healed, and I soon found myself at college. I signed up for way too many ethics classes, I became vegetarian out of guilt and fear for my own health, I became vegan two weeks later, and all the while I walked everywhere.
At one point I was walking 10 miles a day.
Then I started working at the university’s farm.
The pounds steadily melted away. The muscle, still slight, was at least noticeable. Even a belt couldn’t keep my now far-too-large pants about my waist. People who took classes with me in the fall came up and asked me about my weight loss in the spring. By the time sophomore year rolled around, I was a much healthier 205 pounds.
I had made a choice. I wanted to be a better me, and I wasn’t going to let fear of failure prevent me from getting there.
Of course, this just barely scratches the surface. My weight loss journey doesn’t end here, and it wasn’t without setbacks. But that’s a story for a different day.
The real point is that I didn’t resolve to just being overweight. I didn’t tell people that I was just big boned, or lie and say that I had a thyroid problem. I didn’t make excuses because I didn’t need to find contentment with my situation. I was going to change and I didn’t want to let myself off the hook so soon.
ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ. The unexamined life is not worth living. What we need to do, daily, is look deep within and ask if we’re letting ourselves off the hook for living a life which is not aligned with our values. If you find that you are, don’t wait until tomorrow. Do something now. Even if you fail, you can be proud of making a genuine attempt. You’re already light years ahead of everyone around you.
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