Extreme pressure can turn a lump of coal into a flawless diamond, or a perfectly average person into a complete basket case.
Why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves in situations of extreme stress or pressure? Sure, sometimes these situations just happen, but many times, we are the architects of our own demise. Hoisted by our own petard, as the edumacated might say (though likely they have absolutely no idea what a petard is, and whether being hoisted by it would be a particularly painful and embarrrassing experience – kinda like a wedgie, or merely just an embarrassment, like accidentally going into the ladies washroom and being caught with your pants down, so to speak).
Whatever, we frequently make the rods for our own backs, and then flagellate ourselves with this same rod. Our desire, ambition, drive and motivation; all are driven through some inner desire for betterment, or just possibly by that green eyed monster of Avarice. And what’s worse; we instill this into our kids from day 1 – pushing little Johnny into the hockey program with an eye on the NHL and million dollar contracts, or putting little Jasmine into every single program available so we can re-live our childhood ambitions by proxy.
The younger generations are able to wear rose tinted glasses as they imagine their futures. We wore them too; we ripped them off the faces of the older folks who were too busy telling us to wait, and thus getting in the way of our progress. And now it’s our turn to pass the glasses on, we rese what the world looks like without any filtering. With the benefits of unimpeded hindsight we can see the journey we all took, and the journey our offspring are now taking. And we can only watch as these bright young things, all full of the vim and vigour of youth stoke up on exciting visions of career goals and success. They have the stamina of youth to fuel the hungry engine of ambition as they strive to do it better, do it faster, just fucking DO IT, then move on and move up. They climb over each other, treading on fingers and heads to be in line for the next big project, the next ‘opportunity’ to prove their worth and get the next step toward the corner office and ‘success’.
Eventually, most will realise that the ladder is actually a circle, and that every step up they take turns the wheel a step further. The faster they run, the faster the ladder moves beneath them. Eventually, they will realise they are actually in a hamster wheel, spinning the wheel faster and faster but not actually going anywhere. But until that dawning of the realisation, the pressures to succeed are huge, and largely self-created. But before this realisation they will run faster and faster, push harder and harder. Until each bigger job, each promotion, each step up to the next rung of the ladder squeezes them just a little more. And in the process too many will squeeze out room for the things that really matter like friends, family and experiences – those things that make us thankful to be alive, young and healthy. Maslow’s hierarchy calls these the self-actualization moments. I call them the moments we truly realise we are alive in this world
This past weekend we were at a show in Halifax, all about tourism and the Atlantic Canadian lifestyle. Invariably there are craftspeople at these shows. Incredible craftspeople, making the most beautiful products. And I am always in awe of these people and their life choice to avoid that hamster wheel and the pressures we career junkies put ourselves under. Sure, they might not make six figure salaries, but they are making something much more valuable – they are enlivening people’s lives with a thing of beauty, and they are giving those career junkies something to spend their hard earned cash on, after all.
I will give a nod and a link here to my own brother who largely eschewed the paper tiger of career and made his own path through life. Along the way he created many beautiful products, some of which sold, some of which flopped. Right now, he’s landed on a product which is quirky, fun and innovative. You could do worse than pop on over to Tinkuleles.com and browse through his fun Ukuleles made from recycled tins and hardwood. He takes a large tin – candies, biscuits, lunch pail – all work. He then creates the neck from recycled hardwood, adds the frets, keys, strings aetc and creates a funky and functional ukelele – the funnest string instrument ever! I had meant to write a longer post on Tinkulelies for my T post but then my own ‘Under Pressure’ moment inspired my Time post and the moment was lost.
And so as my career path begins a slow wind-down, like the hands of an under wound watch, I’m looking at the creative side of life. Words are my thing (as I hope you can tell) and I want to believe I can have some fun and make some folks laugh a little, cry a little, maybe light a few fires of passion, just so long as I don’t make the mistake of pressurising myself into a new career, full of the same old frustrations and self-imposed ambitions.
We all crave success in one form or another – recognition from others whether spiritual, financial, physical or emotional. I implore you to be mindful not to pay too high a price for that success in the currency of broken dreams, broken hearts and lost opportunity.
Under Pressure is my U posting for A to Z Challenge 2015.