In an earlier post, Mortality 101, I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life making the most valuable contributions to the world that I could make. What were they? How would I go about finding them?
Self-referentially, the most important thing I could do at the moment was to figure out the most important thing I could do. But what then?
I had been talking with John on our way to Wallingford, CT to see Jordan Peterson. John gave me several suggestions. One: ask people. He was right to suggest that. My inclination would have been to try and figure it out on my own. Two: write about my experience. We’re all going to have to ask those same questions, sooner or later, he said. So what you learn can help other people. Not a bad idea. So here I am taking his advice.
Peterson was an amazing speaker and what he said was something I needed to hear. I was looking for direction. A goal. An ideal. And he said this:
The problem with an ideal [is this] if you have an ideal, that’s great, because it gives you something to strive for. Because the fact is that if you have something to strive for—thank God for that! Because if you don’t have anything to strive for you don’t have any meaning in your life. And so you absolutely need a moral hierarchy, otherwise you don’t have any direction in your life. But the price you pay for that ideal, that goal, is your own insufficiency.
That was exactly the problem. I could have easy goals or ambitious goals. If I chose easy goals—ones that I could accomplish fairly easily—then I’d have the satisfaction of reaching my stupid little goal. If I chose ambitious goals I’d probably never reach the goal—which might be OK—but I’d have the satisfaction of working on something important.
But I’d also realize my own insufficiency. The greater the goal the more important it was to work on it, but the greater the intensity of my own insufficiency.
.>And then to deal with that insufficiency you have to take on responsibility in proportion to the magnitude of the goal. And that can be absolutely terrifying.
And it was. Because I had inklings of what I wanted to do, and thinking about it filled me with anxiety.
If you are ambitiously responsible and if you have a noble ideal set out ahead of you, then the first thing you’re going to realize is that you’re insufficient in all sorts of terrible ways. And that’s a blow, not only a blow from the perspective of— a word I hate—self-esteem but also means you have a tremendous responsibility to take on. And maybe you don’t want that.
And that’s where I am right now.