“To be nobody but yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you somebody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. — e.e. Cummings”
So, what do you do?
Classic question, isn’t it? Whenever someone asks me this question, I always feel compelled to answer with the thing I’m doing at the time that is giving me money. Right now, to give an example, I’m a mountaineer, before that, I owned a brewery, so I described myself as an entrepreneur. It’s understandable, people have an almost “from fabric” framework in which they fit you in their minds. It’s just too difficult to take the time to know every one they meet really well. So it’s way easier to think of people as doctors, lawyers, bums, cousins, ah, lovely prejudices.
But as Cummings well remarks, to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you be somebody else, is, and will be the hardest fight of your life.
But Cummings is right, why do our stories need to be constrained to what we do for a living? It’s like having a big label on our foreheads that says I am this, I am that.
Even though human beings are immensely complicated.
“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” ― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Think about your father, or your coworker, are you aware of all their relationships? Everything that makes them sad, happy, angry? Their hobbies? Their Netflix feed? All their secrets? It’s true, we are an profound mystery to each other.
So, who decides who you are? Who is going to tell your story? Yourself? Your diploma? The answer you give to this question has profound consequences on how the way you see life itself.
We are “story” creatures. The world is one big chaos. The information on the world is so vast that you can only hope to process a small part of it. But that is good, because much of that information is irrelevant, at least to you. You only need so much information to make your way in the world and you do so by making up stories. You are a character in other people’s lives as they are characters in yours.
Let me tell you a quick story.
My father has a construction company. One time, he was working in a psychiatric hospital because they needed to built another wing and make some general changes. So one day when he arrived to the hospital as he walked through security and into the hallway that lead to administration, he saw a doctor approaching towards him, serious manner but friendly nonetheless. My father had never seen him so he introduced himself and greeted him, the doctor did the same. The doctor began to ask my father about the construction work and telling him that they were going to need a second bathroom on the hallway and another corridor and a lot more things. My father was confused as that was not at all what he had talked about with the administration, so he walked with him for a while. After about half an hour of rambling, another doctor, whom my father knew, came in laughing his ass off. Apparently, the “doctor” my father was speaking to was just a patient that had stolen a coat.
Interesting isn’t it?
If anyone asks you, what do you do? And you respond that you are a drug dealer, trust me, if you have enough conviction, they will believe you. For a story to be true, at least in the head of somebody else, you just need one thing. Belief.
The same is applicable to you of course. You want a new story, create it, edit yourself. You are not constrained to what society wants you to be, you can decide what your story is or will be all about.
“First say to yourself what you would be;
and then do what you have to do.”
In fact, it is of fundamental importance for you to choose your own story and not let it be dictated by other people. Here’s why.
Howard Campbell Jr. is an american spy created by Kurt Vonnegut’s in his book Mother night. In the book, he becomes the voice of the Nazi regime in the radio. Ostensibly, he is praising and inspiring the Reich followers and spreading the Nazi propaganda, but in fact, he is sending coded messages to the allies back to the United States. But, while doing so, he arrives to a dilemma. It seems that his “fake” inspirational messages are motivating and inspiring more the enemy than his labor of assisting the allies. He became, paradoxically, a Nazi supporter without wanting to. The moral of Vonnegut is the following.
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Kurt Vonnegut
So what are you pretending to be? What is your day like? How much of your story is done by yourself and in how much of it you’ve just kind of fallen into?
The counter story is the one of Don Quixote.
If you want to be a knight, act like a knight
Whatever you decide to be, it’s as simple as beginning, it’s as simple as believing the story you want to create. Please my friend, do so. There are far too many normal jobs out there, craft your own hey?
If you ought to be a writer, write. – Epictetus
a great complement to this read: How to Start
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