Monday, April 29, 2013

The Darker Root of Craving Greatness

Now, you know this blog is dedicated to the many aspects of optimizing yourself from many different angles, from specific self-improvement practices to avoiding certain pitfalls, or how to deal with external things such as hostile people. One thing I've seldom shared, however, is the darker aspect to the motivation I have to the subject. As a rule I don't think it's usually well to determine to improve yourself purely to avoid negative consequences, but witnessing and tasting what they're like offers a provocative contrast to drive you from that direction.

The reason why this blog is called *A Giant Doing* is because it focuses on the substance of the good thinking and practices that leads to one becoming a giant in whatever form, and the title is modeled after my favorite quote by Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone: "A giant is as a giant does." In fact, it's my favorite phrase, period.

It resonated deeply with me because the vast majority of the people I stayed around with in my youth were so focused on appearances ("a giant is as [it appears]") that they utterly sacrificed the substance of, well, everything. People were more concerned in casting the right images to other people than of those images actually fitting reality.

For instance, two people may be in a horrible, miserable relationships with each other, but out in public try to present themselves as people who get along and truly value each other. In sight of others they try to make it look like they have a good relationship, when in private it's absolute hell and misery neither of them chooses to quit.

This continual daily and lifelong mode of sacrifice led to the greatest array of wasted lives and misery I have ever seen. Let me say that it's one thing to hear the words that someone has "ruined" their life than it is to actually see it in person. Reading the words, for me, brings forth the image of a teenage girl throwing a tantrum about not being allowed to go to a party, stomping up the stairs and fuming that her parents are "ruining" her life, which none of us would take seriously. When you see someone in old age, however, who has wiled away their life obsessed with appearances, sacrificing their only chance at happy relationships, a satisfying career . . . anything worthwhile in life . . . it brings a disgusting feeling to your stomach.

You see how they panic from week to week to make use of their time in cleaning and improving themselves before lapsing back into months-long idleness of watching television and napping. You see how their birthdays make them so upset that each instance makes them deeply depressed -- and it's hard to remember their birthday anyhow, since they so direly refuse to acknowledge its date. You see how as they get older this hysteria over increasing amounts of wasted time gets worse and worse, and their anguish just gets more in the way of adopting healthy solutions.

Once they pass that mark where they cannot make up for their losses -- where their habits of mental anguish are demonically set in, and they cannot build a happy life afterward -- and there's not much time left -- you feel awed. A "ruined life" no longer brings forth an image of pouting teenagers slamming doors, but rather of this person, a person who literally did it.

In knowing a person for so long who lived like this and became deceased, their death makes the point even deeper. In passing you realize that every point of their life is now definitive, never to be added to or changed by altered behavior in older age. By passing, their book of life is totally finished, permanently. Scoping over their known and finalized history, it's shocking to observe the components, misery, and year-by-year suffering of a literally ruined life. All that wasted potential, happiness, possibility . . .

But beyond that, in knowing what the components of a ruined life look like and how hard it is to change in old age makes these kinds of people disturbing to observe. They've reached that point of no return where they could hardly make up for loss time if they started now, and would have hardly made any progress by the time their book is finished, too.

And again, it's directly observing that anguish that makes the point so sharp, whereas reading it in print only does so much. These kinds of people taught me their lifestyle, and to a degree I too can comprehend their anguish, in wasting my own youth in playing video games. There's nothing wrong with the habit itself, but rather with the time I spent and why. Before I sold my collection I was sick on how much had time had been lost to artifacts I was eventually felt okay selling for a small sum of money -- not at all worthwhile memories -- and how uncomfortable I was with myself for not accumulating any achievements as the candles on my birthday cake increased too. I'm still very young . . . but it's never too early to fathom how finite life is.

Sorting through memories, the thought of the ways the remainder living wastrels is uncomforting, and some memories make me want to cry. All the denials of vices, the idle ability, not trying hard to gain anything worthwhile, drifting in life without milestones, all towards the same end result of wishing they had more time they did have, and simply did not use it.

When I broke out of these patterns it led to a rather healthy addiction to virtue. It was almost breathtaking how much better living well in contrast is. I was an odd kid: Once I learned how to do a task for myself, I instantly hated anyone else doing it for me. Whereas I depended on my parent for years to do my laundry, the instant I learned how to do it I couldn't stand anyone touching my laundry except me. Same for cooking, cleaning, organizing the cupboards, paying bills, and indefinitely on.

I had the opportunity to live by myself in my junior year of high school when my parent temporarily moved to Florida, and it was about in that year that I instantly became an adult. Less than a day after their departure I was simply possessed to totally clean and reorganize the house, and maintained my cleaning habits all the way through their absence. While still not paying for myself, I instantly changed my grocery habits and shopped differently, and vastly changed my eating habits. Every area of my life changed.

As the years went on into my later teenagedom, self-dependence was intoxicating. Doing everything for myself was addicting, and it eventually gave way to my self-improvement spree, when I found how how good and happy it made me feel to continual enhance my character into new fields, to get better and more self-reliable.

Having both the comparison and contrast of lifestyles, and seeing the end results of other people's bad decisions are my big motivator. I needn't age as a wastrel to know first-hand how painful it is to waste your time; I already got a shortcut to feeling that way, by mimicking the lifestyle of wastrels in my youth and feeling like them accordingly. I also needn't intellectualize in a detached fashion on how good it is for you to tend well in improving your powers, for I've experienced firsthand how remarkable life feels -- how in control and content you feel -- by controlling your fate and abilities. And without firsthand experience I needn't guess the results of wasting your life: I've witnessed directly people who have, the anguish they experienced, and how permanent that waste was once they died.

Keeping these memories in mind is like having a mild siren's song in front of you towards glory and a devil's pitchfork prodding you from behind. At front and moving forward a self-made heaven can be yours; from the back, and moving backwards, also the possibility of a self-made hell. Having both sides of the experiences keeps my eyes wide open on how I'm living my life, day-to-day. I may not live perfectly, but no portion of me is unaware of the full stakes and potential rewards at play here.

It was through the most intensive self-improvement portion of my life that the whole concept of self-improvement became a keystone. Taking control of your fate and your powers is the key to controlling your happiness and maximizing it. Not drifting through life, nor focusing on how you appear to others. Only worrying about yourself, and the substance of your being, what a giant does.

This is, for the most part, why I created this blog. The keys of personal greatness are knowable, and it's an entertaining intellectual journey to examine all the ways you can get there, from physical practices to simple ideas to accept. But there's also the pitfalls and follies to avoid, such as traps in depression or setting up goals impractically. More frustratingly and of most concern, there's also the external obstacles to get around, such as hostile people who may try to impede your habits and achievements, or how to stay emotionally resilient through repeated failures caused by outside circumstances.

It's important to know about the substance of greatness, for there is no greater human consideration than how well one's time is spent. I intend to spend my time well, look over happy memories over birthday candles, and be satisfied with my allotment when the book closes on me too, eventually.

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