For a while now, especially the last 2+ years, I’ve felt something was “off” in my life. I’ve felt like most days were a grind, that there was something missing from my life, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Most days I’m somewhere between happy and sad; more like numb. I can’t go back to one specific incident that changed things either. It’s been more of a slow, gradual deterioration. I’ve felt myself sinking deeper and deeper into a morass, the shape and form of which I cannot clearly identify.
Reading The Fountainhead may have helped give me some insight into what’s been happening.
One big part of my life was tied up into my job, the one I lost about a year ago. Prior to losing it, I had become increasingly frustrated there. Why? It felt like I was pushing a string up hill. The culture at the place I used to work was well known for two specific themes: passive-aggressiveness combined with the need for consensus. In a company where we all knew job cuts were coming, most everybody was running for cover. I never fit in there. These words of The Fountainhead took me back to my old job:
“…there is no substitute for competence.
That, precisely, is the deadliness of second-handers. They have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They’re concerned only with people. They don’t ask: ‘Is this true?’ They ask: ‘Is this what others think is true?’ Not to judge, but to repeat. Not to do, but give the impression of doing. Not creation, but show. Not ability, but friendship. Not merit, but pull. What would happen to the world without those who do, think, work, produce? Those are the egotists. You don’t think through another’s brain and you don’t work through another’s hands…
…That’s what stopped me whenever I faced a committee. Men without an ego. Opinion without a rational process. Motion without brakes or motor. Power without responsibility. The second-hander acts, but the source of his actions is scattered in every other living person. It’s everywhere and nowhere and you can’t reason with him. He’s not open to reason. You can’t speak to him–he can’t hear. You’re tried by an empty bench…”
I can’t say how many times I felt frustrated at my old job…that I couldn’t get my ideas across, that nobody was listening.
I think part of my slow deterioration, specifically related to the job, was a resignation of my individual sense of self to the collective. I stopped fighting the fight. I’ve always thought that losing that job was the best thing that could have happened to me, but I could never quite figure out why. Perhaps it’s more clear now.
Another thing that contributed to my funk, ironically, was this blog. When I started this thing, I was so focused on writing things that other people would want to read. I essentially got away from writing what I liked (or what was inside me) in favor of trying to impress others. This part of The Fountainhead resonated:
“Look at everyone around us. You’ve wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it…He’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men. He’s not really struggling even for material wealth, but for the second-hander’s delusion–prestige. A stamp of approval, not his own. He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has succeeded. He can’t say about a single thing: ‘This is what I wanted because I wanted it, not because it made my neighbors gape at me.’ Then he wonders why he’s unhappy.”
The point is, I compromised my own sense of self for prestige, for a stamp of approval from others.
At home, it was the same sort of thing. I started to worry more and more about what I thought my wife and kids wanted or needed. To seek opportunities to make their lives easier, at the expense of my own life. This despite the fact that they never asked for that kind of help, nor did they need it.
Where am I going with all this?
As I read The Fountainhead, I started to understand that for the past few years I had started to live like a second-hander. I had sacrificed my wants and desires for things that were outside of me. I had placed too much of my sense of self outside of my control. It wasn’t intentional, it wasn’t for any ill-conceived purpose, I wasn’t even really aware that it was happening. But the net result was that I had lost the joy that comes from living a life that meets my needs, first and foremost.
And so I plan to be more selfish.
Selfish in the sense of The Fountainhead–that I am a creator, an achiever. My first duty is to myself, to create things that fully express my talents and abilities. I am bound to nothing else. I cannot be affected, positively or negatively, by what anyone thinks of me. The prime concern is living in a way that’s congruent with my best self. That’s it.
If anything, this will improve my relationships at home and everywhere else. Why? Because I won’t be seeking approval from those relationships. My self-esteem won’t be on the line. I’m no longer concerned what anyone thinks of me. The only thing that matters is what I think of myself.
“In all proper relationships there is no sacrifice of anyone to anyone…Men exchange their work by free, mutual consent to mutual advantage when their personal interests agree and they both desire the exchange. If they do not desire it, they are not forced to deal with each other. They seek further.”
I expect that I will slim down my relationships, focusing only on those that fulfill the quote above.
I’m not sure I fully grasp some of the concepts that I’m writing about here.
But I do have a strong feeling that the “morass” I described at the beginning of this post, that pit that I’ve been sinking deeper into, has a source in my evaporating self-esteem. Or perhaps more precisely, my increasing willingness to sacrifice my own sense of self and self-respect for something that was outside of me.
“This country…was based on a man’s right to the pursuit of happiness. His own happiness. Not anyone else’s. A private, personal, selfish motive.”
Count me in.