“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 likes and sells.
I felt disgusted.
I decided I was not going to use Instagram anymore but for posting content. No more doomscrolling.
I walked some more and began to appreciate the cool wind on my face, the lovely temperature, and the cracking of the leaves and stones as I walked. I began to appreciate how I felt there, it was a good reflective moment.
It left me thinking.
Chasing approval is boring, and damaging to your mental health as well. Instead of pursuing excellence, you chase applause. Excellence and applause do not fit in the same jar, you must drink from one first (excellence) to then be able to shower yourself with the other (applause).
There are shortcuts for applause, of course. The only thing you have to do is to go with the current of what is “cool” at any given time. It’s kind of a show, a display that people will like. Such as the endless photos of girls on Instagram, no real substance, just a massive booty.
Becoming good at anything is hard. Be it guitar, writing, forming a family, whatever, is hard. Why would you want to go the hard way? When chasing applause is so much easier? Chasing applause shows you the bulletproof way to success.
Chasing applause and admiration also gives you a kind of a “clear set of instructions” on how to live your life. Get the money, get the car, get the girl you know the drill.
But excellence is a way that only you know how to take and that you have to choose for yourself. It is hard to follow your “star” because you have to, first, find it, and then, give yourself permission to follow it.
“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’s a hard punch in the face to realize that you are responsible for your own existence. What are you going to do about 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 (applause for the sake of applause).
Let’s talk about the path of willing slavery 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 grandiose quantities. But no matter how high you get on this road, you will still be a slave to the demands that this “success” requires you to give. You will be a willing slave, and it is hard to achieve pride in this path.
The path of excellence, in comparison, will require you to define your own type of 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, I love nature, and I also love 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, such as I’m doing with this post.
If I know this is kind of what attracts me, a blinking star, if not luminous yet on my horizon, what skills should I cultivate in order to convert that blinking star into a shining sun?
Maybe photography or writing? How about making stories, so amazing and captivating, that you cannot put down the article or book I write? There are so many things that I could be doing.
But I do feel the pull, the pull of applause.
It’s nice to be admired by your friends and random people on the internet. That’s the reason why I walk in the woods, and instead of letting myself merge with the experience and take it all in, I walk thinking about the best location for an Instagram pic. I wouldn’t even call it photography.
Writing this provides me with excellence. I know that is not the best article in the world, but it gets me a little closer to excellence, on a road I am paving entirely by myself. And it feels freaking amazing. I feel I’m sharing something meaningful, I feel I’m connecting and making the world a better place, and that feeling my friend, is just priceless.
So what’s it going to be, 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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