With all the disruptions and upheavals in daily life, the fears and anxieties of isolation and of looking bad, it’s always tempting to find a place – anyplace – where one can feel comfortable and secure, where one belongs. We are all social creatures and seeking out a group that offers validation can be an incredibly powerful motivator for behavior. The problem with that kind of pursuit, though, is that it’s all too possible to get caught up with the wrong crowd. By that I don’t mean a law-breaking, rock-throwing, breaking-into-someone’s car kind of crowd. I simply mean the kind of crowd that doesn’t really work with where you happen to be in life (other than by offering that very human need for validation).
The comfort and security that comes from validation are powerful motivators but unless one is also at peace with one’s own life (irrespective of what others have to say), the benefits of others’ approval is almost like putting lipstick on a pig. It may look good; it may seem to work well on the outside and to others who are watching. And you can occasionally think you’ve done well simply because, as the saying goes, everybody’s looking out for you.
But an undercurrent of uncertainty may still plaque you, if other aspects of your life are not in balance. At that point, you may realize that the security of social validation can be a kind of prison, offering something attractive but at the same time paralyzing you from doing what you need to do to find personal self-fulfillment.
The Pursuit of Self-Fulfillment
Self-fulfillment, or knowing exactly what you want to do in life, can exact a heavy toll if you choose to pursue it. No matter where you happen to be in life–a recent college graduate, such as Carl Daniels in Green Bay Outsiders, a middle-aged professional who begins to doubt the career he or she has chosen, or someone such as a housewife, an adult child or even a parent who realizes they’ve fallen into a role set continuously over the years by someone else–it can be daunting to one day realize all the trappings of one’s current existence and decide to change path.
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Everything changes when that happens–relationships with friends, family, even oneself. Doubt creeps in. You begin to wonder if you’ve gone mad or what the likelihood is that you’ll succeed in reaching some goal that still may seem like some far-away fantasy. You question the costs as well as the benefits. You may feel as though you’re selfish or needlessly isolating yourself from those who care for you.
Not everyone listens to the beat of their own heart or to the whisper of the inner voice that talks when they lie awake at night in bed. Not everyone pays attention to the dream that chronically places itself in one’s heart and head, an enticement to break free and just go. When you find a group or a place where you can simply stand still and exist, you have found an invitation to comfort, security and safety. You have found a socially acceptable, approved and accepted “place” in the grand scheme of things.
Certainly, there are benefits. In the conversations we have and the plans we make with our colleagues our friends, we find shared values, goals and dreams. We aspire, dream and pursue together and form a collective life. It is a wonderful, peaceful distraction. We belong. We are not alone.
The challenge, however, is the haunting specter of self-denial, which exacts a toll, the awareness of other dreams and goals, and the inner battle you fight with yourself, struggling to find the kind of courage that will one day make you decide, yes, you will go that way, not this way, that shared goals are wonderful but still fall short, and that yes, you will throw all else to the winds. Of all the pains to experience in the world, one of the greatest is not to have pursued one’s calling. That pain is often realized years if not decades later as one reaps the benefits and blessings of comfort.
As the artist Pablo Picasso once famously said about his decision to not hold back: “My mother said if you became a soldier, you will be a general. If I became a monk, you’ll be the pope. Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Pablo Picasso.”
The Meaning of Self-Fulfillment
The pursuit of being you is a path laid with corpses and the disappointments of others. It is a path where courage and fear struggle with every step, where self-doubt remains rampant. It is a path of occasional victories that are the most clean and true you will ever experience in life, as well as the inevitable catastrophes that can flood one’s mind with the certainty that one is truly on the path to ultimate failure, and nothing more.
And even the prize at the journey’s end can be a bittersweet one for the knowledge of all one has paid out and given up, for all one has denied in turning against that comfortable and secure existence. The pursuit of self-fulfillment is a hard path though it may occasionally look attractive. In the end, we will never know the result of our labors if we don’t head down that road. In the end, if you don’t head down that road, you will never know what it means to be you.
Have you ever sacrificed some kind of comfort to pursue a personal dream or ambition? Did you believe it was worth it? Or was the price too high? Leave a comment below.