At the moment I can’t seem to get away from thinking about the barriers people erect against their own intrinsic desires, and I find myself returning to this idea constantly as I write and think and observe the people around me. What I see, mostly, is the main barrier to people’s happiness is themselves.
I’m fascinated by the excuses people make for not going after their dreams. Partly, I think, because it took me so long to work out how to get there myself, and with some useful hindsight I can see how much I’ve learnt about my identity from dissecting the cultural, institutional, familial and personal influences that kept me from seeing the bigger picture of my passions for so long.
Many people accuse this kind of thinking as arrogant, self-absorbed, narcissistic, etc (especially in some circles), and several of my friends and family have said or implied as much to me. But this indicates just another reason people don’t pursue personal fulfilment — because they don’t want to be (or don’t want to be seen to be) the sort of person who thinks deeply about their own desires.
It’s funny because in truth the people who do have the gumption/gall/hubris/chutzpah to go after their dreams are often far more generous, open-minded, bold and accepting than those who don’t. In fact, you find the opposite of these accusations is true — that the more you have the courage to contemplate and understand and be yourself, the more outward-focused and open-hearted you become.
This week Leonardo DiCaprio won his first Oscar, despite being unanimously one of the most lauded and appreciated living actors of our generation (and being nominated five other times). At one point the comment was made (about his part in The Revenant) that he gets Oscar-worthy roles every year, suggesting that it should be easy for him to achieve success because of luck or chance or some kind of unnamable preferential treatment toward him (what people call ‘privilege’ these days).
This bemuses me. Because if you’ve ever seen him act his ass off, like in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape — when he delivered an Oscar-nominated performance as a mentally disabled teenager — or get his angst around Baz Luhrmann’s vision of Romeo in 1996’s Romeo + Juliet, then you’d agree he’s been deserving of this award for at least twenty years.
What, then, has he had to sacrifice to get to where he is today? Certainly it takes some vastly fortitudinous combination of humility and passion to so publicly and persistently pursue a career in a cutthroat and capricious business. Yes, he earns the dollars, but then we are the ones who pay him, after all. We, the consumers, are the ones who’ve made the film industry as lucrative as it is today. So who are we to point at him and say it’s easy for you because you are rich/white/male/talented/lucky/American?
Again this sounds definitively like yet another self-justifying accusation that keeps us from turning the lens on ourselves, more content to wonder why he should have such great success instead of working out why we don’t.
The answers to this question may hurt, stirring up grief over lost time, lost opportunities, the road not taken, and so on. But then this starts to sound like yet another excuse for not just getting off our ass and going after something.
And when you put aside all your excuses, what’s left?
The rest of your life.