I really do not know what sparked that kind of thinking. It could be the recently ending year that swiftly went by and all the incidents that occurred that tempted me into thinking about what I have accomplished so far, or rather thinking about my life in general, could be! Well that, in turn, led me into thinking about how my self-assessment has radically changed from how it was less than a decade ago. I started talking to myself and analyzing like the good old days and comparing myself now to whom I was years ago and, just like that, I came up with a theory and here it goes.
During our hectic and draining adolescent years (for us as well as our families) we tend to think of ourselves as the center of the universe; we define ourselves in terms of how others see us, treat us and whether they admire us, ignore us or are intimidated by us. Our self-image is greatly affected and -at times- defined through external forces and that is usually why it is warped -an image of what others think and rarely reflecting who we are. We become so self-absorbed that we fall into patterns of self-admiration, in case we represent that stereotype of people who are always surrounded by a group of admirers who are constantly feeding their ego, or a pattern of self-sympathy and self-martyrdom with the more romantic stereotype who always feel “betrayed” by their friends and that’s just their permanent state of mind; that they do more for others than they ever receive. We tend to consider any form of self-care performed by others as selfish. Despite my hatred towards absolutism, this seems to be almost always the case with adolescents, at least the ones who are not too high on recreational drugs.
We don’t all move on from that phase; some of us are just perpetual teenagers, unable to define themselves without the validation of others. You can always identify those sum by their constant talk of how unfaithful/selfish/neglectful/hurting other people in their lives -namely family, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends- are, which is understandable since “others” grow up and flee from their whirlpool of constant drama. They barely take responsibility for how life has become and blame others for their misfortunes. Basically, they are eternal victims!
Another phase starts with the ending of our school years, another selfish phase sets in but with more sense into it. We start practically thinking about the future and start having serious concerns about “our place within the world”. Our enhanced self-image developed during adolescence essentially dictates that. While some of us strive to maintain the image and keep it alive, others work hard on changing it, to themselves and to the rest of the world. In most cases; the theme of this phase is : ME, Myself and I.
This phase is extremely important, in my opinion, mainly because we start viewing ourselves via assessing our capabilities and in the light of the surrounding environment, may it be, political, economical or geographical. Unlike our romantic views as adolescents, we start making smart plans for the future and start working on them. Lured into the brutal world of competition and individualism, our entire world revolves around self-actualization and creating self- glory. That is -of course- before coming face to face with the harsh reality that is our world. I consider the quality of handling this phase is of extreme importance as this is when we truly invest in ourselves; skills, knowledge and personal experiences as well as learning priceless social skills. This is also when we give up some bad habits as procrastination and gaining some new bad ones such as workaholism. People who waste the years most suitable for the this phase -typically college years and early employment- and spend them in a haze among friends, rarely make up for them.
Again not all of us grow out of this phase. Some of us take it with them into adulthood and into their grey years. I am sure you have seen them; egotistical workaholics who can not work in teams and have little or no social life to speak of. They spend their years thinking of how to improve themselves and by themselves I mean their status in society; social and financial. This, I consider is another face to the same adolescent coin that defines itself through the opinions -in this case impressions- of others. But for those who ultimately grow out of this phase, they reach the phase that is nearest and dearest to my heart; the reason why we have been placed on Earth!
After spending years -thirty or more- thinking only about ourselves, comparing and competing with others, we finally rise above! We reach a moment of epiphany when we realize that this is not what life is truly about, that we no longer care if we are the smartest, richest or the most admired person in the room, that life is not a perpetual phase of hectic preparation of a school reunion where we are all made to show up and show off, that life is not measured by a set of endpoints that we have to reach before a certain age and that we own a set of qualities that are far more valuable and essential than our qualifications or set of technical skills. We, eventually, realize that our true worth is essentially defined by how helpful we are to others, how our existence is of value to our fellow man, how kind-hearted, how willing to extend a helping hand, how our very own existence is a blessing to human kind, what our absence entails and presence provides. Few, though, are blessed to grow to resent the deeply rooted, however foreign, western market values that lead some to spend lives running a never ending marathon chasing a hypothetical finish line that is only preceded by their grave. The problem is that while giving up the bloody competitive lifestyle is a moral imperative, giving up conscientious hard work is not, not even close. We hear about people giving up their corporate jobs to spend their years wandering off and traveling around. And while this is priceless to the person’s soul -for a certain period of time- I don’t see what it does to the rest of the world. It is definitely great to have less ruthless people derived only by their own benefits, but it is still of little or no importance to have kind, generous people who do nothing or very little to the world. Those people are essential in resisting the do or die culture of our age, they are much needed to attenuate the me me me voice. So if they all retreat into a life of solitude to preserve their precious inner peace, we are only left with sharks. We can not have a world of wanderers living off tree leaves and rainwater. We need to have more of those people in the market creating job opportunities that won’t lead their employees to suicide or death beds. We need them to provide the world with what is essential without sucking blood. While it is kind and generous to help that blind man cross that street and I bet it seems fulfilling, it is unbelievably essential, altruistic and satisfying to provide medical attention for the poor and sick, to build houses for the homeless or victims of natural disasters, to extend water pipes to those remote villages; all of which could be done by technical skills that are wasted if you are living the life of a wanderer, swearing off all modernity, or if you are sitting on a desk doing a mundane job not caring about competition but not creating something or restructuring a system with a main aim of making people’s lives easier, mistakenly thinking of of your serenity as public good.