I was watching football last night, pondering the success of the men on the field, the coaches on the sidelines, the owners watching the game (Jerry Jones, in particular). I shared some preliminary thoughts with a close circle of friends on Google+.
I was wondering what the difference was between successful people and the average person, like myself. I have dreams, and am very goal-oriented, but I'm 26 years old and have achieved nothing particularly special in my life. I am very proud of overcoming as much of my anxiety as I have (I'm capable of driving a car by myself now!), and I have, I feel, a very successful relationship with my girlfriend, who is now teaching—following her own dreams. I am also, I think, successful in my spiritual endeavors.
But my success with anxiety, my lover, and my spirituality are intangible successes. I feel not a wince of self-consciousness about them, or doubt, but let's face it, anyone could say I have achieved nothing because they cannot see that success. I can't hang these things on the wall, they haven't earned me money. You know?
My girlfriend on the other hand has a full-time job, has a Masters degree, and can, when asked, show tangible success.
And so could all of the people I saw at the game last night between the Giants and Cowboys. From the owners to the coaches to the players to the guys in the booth and the people running the cameras. They were all part of something incredible.
I won't bullshit you, I think I'm part of something incredible. From my point of view I am an extension of the Cosmos, and you can't be part of anything bigger than that. But if I divorce myself from my philosophy for a moment, I'm just a guy who sits home most days trying to make it as a writer, who still has panic attacks, hasn't learned to speak Spanish in five years of trying, and is still too hung up on his own fears to even try to get back into the workforce.
From a humanity's perspective, I'm not really helping push my society along, I'm a spectator. Success in any field depends heavily upon what one does for other people as well as what a person can achieve personally in terms of honors and money, and the two are often tied together. That's why some of the richest people in the world have also changed the world more than anyone else. Think of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, or Sam Walton (though I won't add his kids to the list).
Last night I summed it up simply as “I have spent most of my time and energy just trying to keep myself sane, and have had little time or energy for professional pursuits.”
In other words it's very difficult to get a degree, or hold down a job, when your brain is a chaotic mess. Most of my goals in the last ten years have centered around figuring out how to just be me. It's impossible sometimes to be anything for anyone else when we can't be anything for ourselves.
I think a lot of people share this experience. I think that is why a lot of people never “amount to anything” in life. We end up on drugs, we end up raising kids we never really intended to have (at such a young age), we end up stuck in jobs we never wanted to work because we got backhanded by life, down and out right out of the gate.
I knew a lot of kids from high school that hit a dead end in life early on simply because they didn't have structure in their lives. They had no one to guide them. They had to focus more on their next meal and to find a place to sleep than whether or not they were going to get an A+ in a college class, let alone how best to invest their paycheck.
Sure, I've had easy stretches in life when my most difficult decisions were First-World problems. And in those times I felt like I was doing something important. I had a job, my bills were covered, and I could move up in the world. I had worked myself into an assistant manager's position at one time in my early twenties.
But that never lasted because I hadn't built a solid enough base to build my emotional mind on. I broke down under the stress and it wasn't long before I was battling up hill just to drag myself out of bed.
Success is a luxury. It's a luxury afforded to those who have their “shit together.” My hat is off to anyone who can balance emotional upheaval and outward success, those who can get through college with an anxiety disorder, or who can keep a family together while under the rock of depression, or who can work their way up in their profession while dealing with things like ADD or PTSD, or any other form of severe mental anguish.
Most people can't.
Most of us have to take care of ourselves before we can even begin to deal with what society needs from us.
And society does need things from us. In order for society to function smoothly, for it to have its shit together, it needs good people in professional fields. It needs doctors, teachers, firemen. It also needs people to serve coffee and stock shelves and pick up garbage.
In the game last night the camera crew were just as important as the quarterbacks, because everyone made the game work out. If part of the game wasn't there, none of the rest of the game would be possible. The owners, the players, the coaches, the equipment crew, the guys from NBC, they all made last night happen.
They were all successful.
Success doesn't mean being the richest or the smartest. It means being part of something—anything—that helps society function.
And I'm not saying many of those people weren't going through problems in their personal lives, because who doesn't?
But many of us are stuck. We're stuck in places we don't want to be. We're stuck in mindsets that aren't helping us get anywhere. We're embroiled in doubt and negativity, or mental anguish like anxiety and depression.
Hopefully soon I will go from taking care of myself to helping everyone else. But the question in my mind now is “How?” In what way can I serve? And how can I do so if I can't take care of myself?
And should I wait until I'm taken care of to help take care of others?
Of course these questions don't help me, really. The only answer is to simply get out there and do something. Start.
Start looking for a job. Start going to college. Start looking for little opportunities to lend a helping hand. Maybe I am closer to being able to do this than many other people are. Maybe I'm not. But in the end it doesn't really matter, because I won't know until I get out there and try.