Inferiority, Bitterness, and the Consequence of Living Under Others' Shadows
When I was a boy, my dream was to follow in my dad’s footsteps and join the US air force. He was a twenty-seven year serviceman, had been all-over the world on various tours of duty, and was a Vietnam veteran besides. It was from him that I acquired my thirst for knowledge, balance of temperament, and seeking out the truth rather than letting others sway you just because. So from literally the day I was born this was my singular focus and at no point did I ever waver or consider any other options besides.
Then when I graduated high school and was offered the chance to enlist, I turned it down.
I want to say that I did so because my convictions had changed. I didn’t want to be a part of something involving taking a life and I wasn’t as hell-bent as I had been before about joining. I still do believe that was a part of the reason, but I would also be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid too. That’s a major step, graduating and joining the military for a four-year service commitment. Since then I have went to college, dropped out, and went back and finished it. I have travelled across the country and at times overseas when I could afford it and went on to get my Masters and become a writer, martial artists, and acquire interests in other areas as well.
Yet that all came with struggle: financially I was never and am still not well off. I make enough to get by decently enough and I’m still in the one percentage of the world population that is well off. But when I see my friends or family members doing the things that I only do when I am able to, I can’t help but feel the pull of failure and disappointment in myself and my choices and circumstance. I had tried to do the right thing. Where was my white picket fence when I had done everything ‘right’?
The Burden of Measuring up
I feel that feelings of inferiority are quite common, more so today than they ever have been. Social media has groomed us into posting life activities that highlight how ‘great’ our lives are doing, or to attack others for no reason, but little of our struggles. As human beings, regardless how much we preach about defining our own lives and success, we still by default compare our success based on what we have or who says we have it. Even if you don’t need anybody and you got a successful career, you define it as successful because that was what you were taught by someone else or saw someone else attain. And there is always the pressure of wanting to conform to someone else’s’ standards to gain some form of acceptance.
I read an article a few years ago about how one successful, twitter user was posting pics of her fit body all the time, and then vanished. Year or so later, she came back, saying she left Twitter and social media because the posts were a curtain to hide her own insecurity and how she based her self-worth on how many likes she had. She even went so far as to suck in her stomach before her pictures to hide her natural curves. When she came back however, she rejected these standards and instead would only post pictures of how she naturally looked.
It is a curse of the latter half of the twentieth century: to define our lives by what we did and how we got it rather than by the values that our lives have by themselves. It is the opposite, extreme end of where it was before when our lives were determined by others, for the roles in society and the world we were suppose to play.
This curse takes on many forms: how heavy or fit we are. How much money we make, how many sexual partners we have, how many people watch our YouTube videos and Instagram posts, and so on. All while at the same time boasting of how we don’t need anyone to tell us what to do or how to be.
I don’t think this is hypocrisy though as much as it is a kind of ignorance. The kind of ignorance where the answer is right in front of you but for whatever reason you don’t see it. The consequence of not meeting these expectations varies from depression to people killing each other and suicide, but the underlying feeling seems to be the same: bitterness. Bitterness that we don’t have someone else’s life, or bitterness that the choices we made turned out so poorly. Either way it is a soul crushing experience over time.
"If I have to make proclamations about my liberation to prove that I am liberated, then I am still a slave."
Letting go of Idols
Back to my story, when I came to the realization of how bitter I was becoming, I sought to put a stop to it. I couldn’t do that by denying its existence or by dressing it up with drinks, going out or whatever-the-fuck else I did to not think about it. I acknowledged the feelings and asked myself why I felt this way and if I really did feel like I made the wrong choices in life.
Would my life have been different if I had enlisted all those years ago?
Did I not enlist because I was too scared and just rationalized it to myself as something more normal or abstract?
Was I making choices for the right reasons?
And most importantly, what gave my life meaning and value and where did I learn that definition?
Once I started figuring these out, I started seeing myself become more self-confidant and more at peace with myself. I also started looking for more opportunities to change and take more risks for myself and not because I was trying to match up with someone else. If at any point I achieved one of these goals and I felt a shred of looking over at the other person to see where my success measured up to theirs, then I failed regardless.
If I have to make proclamations about my liberation to prove that I am liberated, then I am still a slave.
I still haven’t totally reach that place of being completely emancipated from making decisions based on others’ lives, but I’m better off than where I was. And I feel like as long as I continue evolving as a person and not as a checklist, it’s been a worthwhile life.
© 2018 Jamal Smith