“The themes of this book result from years of observing people in my effort to understand why their lives take the directions they do. Some of these people have been men and women of great creative achievement while most, of course, have not…What is it, then, that sets the former part? The answer is, in short, that they invent their own lives, while the others fall into the lockstep of custom, thereby letting society more or less choose their lives for them. This latter approach to life I call “willing slavery.””
Richard Taylor, Restoring Pride
I went on a solo trip this weekend, and realized something you can only realize when you’re alone. I was walking in the woods, trying to take cool pictures and videos for my adventure tours company, and for Instagram, and I realized I had become dependent on Instagram approval.
Everything I saw with my eyes, was seen through “likes” lenses. I wasn’t admiring the things I was seeing for themselves, but for their capacity to give me like and sells. I was disgusted. I decided I was not going to use Instagram but for posting content.
I walked some more and began to appreciate what I was seeing more, the nuances. I began to appreciate how I felt there, it was a good reflective moment for me.
Chasing approval is boring, and damaging for your mental health. Instead of pursuing excellence, you chase applause. Excellence and applause are not the same thing. If you chase applause, you will need to conform to do what society mandates. What is the cool thing, at the moment? Then you’ll do that, because it is what will get you applause.
Becoming good at something is hard. Be it guitar, writing, forming a family, whatever, is hard. Why would you want that? When chasing applause is easier?
Chasing applause shows you the bulletproof way of success. Get the money, get the car, you know the drill. But excellence is something that only you know how to do. It is hard to follow your “star” because you have to give permission to yourself of becoming something great.
“There is the inexplicable factor that we live precisely today, when we had infinite time during which to come into existence, that we possess only a brief today during which to show why and to what end we have come into existence precisely now. We are responsible to ourselves for our own existence. One has to take a rather bold and dangerous line with it – especially since, in the best as in the worst cases, we are bound to lose it.”Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations
It is a hard, and heavy realization, to realize that you are responsible for your existence. What are you going to do with it?
To make things easier, let’s think about the two paths that you can take. Those being the path of excellence, or the path of the willing slave.
Let’s talk about the path of the willing slave first. In this path, you are going to pursue applause. If you work hard, you will most likely get the applause you’re looking for, even in small quantities. But no matter how high you go with this type of success, you will still be a slave to the demands that that success requires. You will be a willing slave. You cannot take any pride in that.
The path of excellence, in comparison, will require you to define you own success. Which is hard, at first glance, but not so much once you give a little thought to it. Think about it, I’ll give you my example. I know that I love to explore, nature, and the arts. I am very curious, and I feel best when I am doing something around these ideas. Be it exploring new routes in nature, or writing about the ideas that I’ve read and seen in the world. If I know this, what skill should I cultivate?
Maybe photography and writing? Making stories, so amazing and captivating, that you cannot put down the article or book that I write? There are so many things that I can do.
But I do feel the pull, the pull of applause.
At this very moment, I’m working at my day job. That’s applause. This article is double work. My job gives me money and nice clothing and trips to take cool pictures I can then upload to my Instagram to get more applause.
Writing this gives me excellence. I know that is not the best article in the world. I know that it lacks proper structure (I don’t have as much time), but it gets me a little closer to excellence, in a realm I am creating entirely by myself. And it feels freaking amazing.
So excellence or applause?
“Slaves, even willing slaves, have no place on those paths that can lead to great and sometimes lasting achievement, for the paths themselves are the creations of those who have forged them. To the extent that you embark upon a path handed to you ready-made, you have excluded from yourself, however praiseworthy you may be in the eyes of those who have led you that way, any possibility of achieving an excellence that can be called your own. And this means that you have forfeited any chance for personal excellence. You will have to derive your satisfactions from the applause of others, and this may – indeed, probably will – lead you to applaud yourself, though you really have no right to do so…Epictetus was right: if you say “Master!” from the heart and with feeling – which today would mean, if you kneel, bow, or defer even to someone of immense stature and power – then you are slave even though, perhaps, a rich and blessed slave. Freedom is measured not by what you own, and not by any visible glory that you can claim, but solely by your heeding your own will with respect to what is important to you.”
Richard Taylor, Restoring Pride
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