The Paradox of being “Somebody”
Life is confusing.
At least, it can be.
I think a major question is how we confront two “truths” which seem to be in conflict.
For example, on one hand, we have this desire to be “somebody.” Or, perhaps, more accurately, a desire not to be nobody (i.e., nothing).
But we also have a conflicting desire not to be phony; to be “ourselves.”
Let’s start with e.e. cummings:
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
I relate to this quote.
For much of my life, I feel like I’ve been swimming against a strong current of expectations, social conditioning and the like.
Never married. No kids. No real career. No home.
I’ve done things… differently. I’ve valued experiences over things. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on workshops, retreats and trainings so that I could add tools to the proverbial toolbox of becoming myself.
Two master’s degrees… certifications.
Translation: I’m educated af.
And along with that education/trainings have come some internalized expectations: to be something.
I’ve always been acting on borrowed time. I’m like a long-term investment–a long, long long long term investment–that has yet to pay dividends.
Many people have invested in me, believed in me, loaned me resources… all because they believed that I would one day walk my own talk.
Well, guess what?
It hasn’t happened.
By all accounts, I’m a failure.
Or… as I call it, a fledgling adult.
My potential has gone wasted.
And that’s when we get to the second part of this paradox:
does it really matter?
In a recent interview, actor Jim Carrey said, “When you wake up in the morning and feel like ‘I’m the Universe,’ you don’t have to reach for the stars.”
He goes on, “We’re all trying to add things to ourselves, so that we can finally define ourselves, and everybody will get us, and they’ll go, ‘ok, this is what you are,’ and if you actually get there, you will find that it’s so empty that you’ll realize that it’s really not what it’s about.”
It’s an interesting question.
And I think it also points to why we’re struggling so much as a country right now with respect to BLM and identity politics. We’re horrible at handling paradox.
Because it’s confusing! We’re hard-wired to survive. And that which causes temporary paralysis–as paradox often does–is not helpful in an evolutionary sense.
To our brains, it’s literally a life-or-death situation.
In this particular paradox, I’ve spent my whole life (up until now) trying to be somebody. My identity has been wrapped up in giving a good ROI on other people’s emotional, physical, financial and time-based investments.
I wanted to be successful. I wanted to make a difference. But as I discussed in a previous post, I also don’t want to become a hamster running on a stationary wheel… to nowhere.
I’ve succeeded in not being owned by society, but I’ve failed in making a major mark upon it–mine–via my attempt at radical selfhood.
And this is where life has led me. To the second part of the paradox: giving up.
That’s the implication of Jim Carrey’s words about waking up as the Universe and no longer having to reach for the stars.
If you’re the Universe, you include the stars. You have access to everything, so you don’t really have to go out and get–or do–anything.
It all magically comes to you!
Now, taken literally, alone, we would have to wonder if anything would ever get accomplished if we fully lived Jim’s pov.
And that’s the rub. Neither statement, lived to the extreme, is enough. We’d be completely out of balance.
If we live as if we are in sole control of our destiny, we are like Icarus soaring to the heavens, only to have our wings burned by the sun, and subsequently crashing into the ocean below.
And isn’t this what happens over and over to our “stars?”
Our entertainers and “personalities” rise up to startling heights–only to crash down to Earth. (And, strangely, we take perverse pleasure in it all.)
And then become… merely human.
But if nothing matters–if we are ‘nothing,’ as Carrey intimates–we may end up playing life too safe. We may be the ship that never leaves the harbor; the first base runner who is so scared of getting thrown out that he won’t step off the bag before the batter swings–for fear of being caught in ‘no man’s land.’
No man’s land.
Neither here nor there.
And isn’t that the scariest place to be.
No solid ground. Nothing firm to hold onto.
It’s like that scene from Gravity, when Sandra Bullock is just floating away into the abyss of deep space.
But, oh, the gifts!
We get to feel truly alive, as energy courses through us.
There are no more blockages. We become like water that keeps finding a way around obstacles, back to the ocean, back… home.
(And quite effortlessly, too.)
I think that’s what Jim Carrey meant. And there is truth there, too!
So, as I embark on this second part of life, I have been more about allowing things to happen than forcing them.
I guess you could say that I’m over-compensating with the second part of the paradox for over-indulging in the first for so many years.
I’m stripping away layers and layers of trying to become someone so that I can discover what’s underneath.
And it just might be nothing.
Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.