I was just thinking about how awesome my daughter is. But then I realized that maybe I was doing a disservice by telling her too often how proud I am of all the things she does or writes or says.
I’ve always been a cheerleader type for the people around me. I show my love by expressing my appreciation for who they are and what they do, no matter how subtle or seemingly mundane. Maybe they think I’m easily impressed; maybe they’re grateful someone took the time to notice them and not tell them they amount to nothing in life like some others probably have.
But not all acts of intended kindness are the right prescription for everyone. For some, kindness can be a cruelty.
In the case of praise in my own life, others may have been the ones easily impressed — at least enough to get on the Honor Roll, a raise, maybe an occasional certificate of appreciation. Sometimes I even got the girl, or saw glimpses of jealousy — another form of praise, though ill-intentioned.
But for some of us, praise doesn’t inspire. It tells us we’re good enough, when in fact we haven’t begun to fight. Over my lifetime, praise and admiration were NOT the wind beneath my wings. Instead, it took the wind from my sails. Being above adequate took virtually no effort on my part in most things. Coasting was good enough.
Bragging? That’s one way I sin from this. But the biggest toll on my life is the vice of sloth.
From one perspective, I am willing to work hard to achieve, but then stop when I get to the point of being praiseworthy. It almost never means giving 100%, or anywhere close. I don’t push the envelope, because the average person’s envelope is smaller and that is their object of comparison.
And then I think of all the manipulations that are done in the form of praise. Many modern groups, such as many MLM sales organizations and “self-improvement” courses, create relatively low standards sold as something life-shatteringly amazing, and then lock in their customers and cultists with all sorts of certifications, titles, and love-bombing affirmations that aren’t worth a dime in the real world. The reason such infinitesimal numbers of people in these groups ever achieve anything past their purposely incomparable goal posts is because they already think they “made it”. They’ve “arrived”. They are now gods, masters of their own destinies — at least in their own minds, because that’s what they’re told. And it sells.
But back to myself. I’ve faught the notion that I’m lazy, mostly a gesture to prove my mother wrong. But I’ve always suspected, there’s some truth in it, not just an inner nagging of doubt to be overcome. On one hand, I’ve achieved a lot in whatever I’ve done. In another, I know I slacked a lot and could have chosen not to in those very same arenas.
The oddest thing about it all is that I control the level of difficulty in the various games in life, and I suspect other do as well. I find myself setting up obstacles to make work, play, or even life harder than it has to be. I want a challenge. But instead of stretching out to meet greater achievements, I bring hardship unnecessarily upon myself to make smaller goals more satisfying.
I see this in my friends and customers as well. They focus on all the reasons various solutions won’t work instead of the ones that will. And sometimes they are the same ones! We handicap ourselves by choice at every turn because we can’t accept that a praiseworthy achievement should be too easy. It just doesn’t feel right.
It doesn’t feel right. I’m over 40 years old, and I could have potentially written books, become wealthy, famous, whatever. But it feels more right to impress a few people with an article, live in a modest house that my friends think is a mansion, and just pay the bills to where people think of me as having “arrived”. I’ve excelled at contentment, but is it the Contentment spoken of by sages of old? Can I continue my preferred lack of materialism without employing it as the excuse by which I have no carrot at the end of my stick?
That doesn’t feel right either. It is not quite Zen’s molten ball I cannot swallow nor spit out, but an earthy version of it.
And what of my daughter? Don’t children rarely do more than expected, avoiding consequence of getting under an arbitrary mark? Don’t we all stop once we can either get by or receive enough token recognition to not be perceived as beneath our peers?
Perhaps this is what separates the herd from the ones who are really successful — not ability, and certainly not intentions, but the perseverance of doing their best, the habit of which ironically discourages the luxury of self-satisfaction. These are the people who should credit themselves when they make their millions or attain a high awareness of consciousness, only keeping a company or course in their life out of familiarity and not necessity.
This is also why it is said that a man’s income can be determined by the average income of the company he keeps. Smokers befriend smokers, and the socially disenfranchised befriend those like them to avoid their own possibly larger envelope. They mutually embrace a “support” system of affirmers — enablers — giving them praise for being a slightly larger fish in whatever puddle or pond they find comfort staying in.
My plan — and you are welcome to borrow it — is to become more than intellectually cognizant of these factors in my life, but experientially aware. It’s time for me to put the pen (keyboard) down and take a heart-felt tour of this aspect of my life, consciously applying the above frame of reference.
And if you have never met me online or in the real world personally, and are reading this article, it’s a clue I may have been successful.