The Next Thing I Make Will Be the End of Me
the shaky ladder to perfection

There’s always this lingering pressure when posting things online for the next thing that you make to be better. Always one-upping ourselves, always having the next thing to be more relevant, more inspiring, more eloquent, more whatever.

As a result, it may lead to not creating anything at all. To lock ourselves into a corner. Stumbling once means that the peak has been defined, and now it’s a downward slope. For some, the solution is just to stop there and never create anything again. We already created what others deem to be our best work, so what’s the point?

The relevant saying compare yourself to who you were yesterday as a maxim for self-improvement seems good at first, but the more I’ve experienced life and struggled with its many ups and downs, I realized that I hate it. I hate that statement. It’s not conducive to how humans live.

You’re not always worse off yesterday. Sometimes the you from yesterday was better than who you are today. Then what? Now there’s great dissonance: you’ve lowered expectations to where you’re only comparing with yourself, and yet you failed at that. You compare yourself to yourself and found that you were worse off than yourself—a conundrum, a paradox, and yet completely true, and completely valid.

Take athletes as an example: they peak around their early to mid twenties, and by the time they hit their thirties it becomes clear that their physical capabilities cannot compare to who they were years ago. If such an athlete is insecure about such a thing, then there would be no end to their misery—each passing day is a testament to the disintegration of their identity and their livelihood. Their mind may try to put itself above biology, but their decaying body has the final word.

With each compliment, with each push from people to “keep going”, there’s this build-up of pressure to not stumble, to not trip. Every step must be going upwards. And in due time, these expectations force us to a breaking point. We want perfection, and others want perfection from us, but we cannot handle it, so there's this catastophic release of pressure that shows itself through explosive acts of self-sabotage. It should no longer be surprising, then, when some celebrity or another gets into some sort of scandal, gets into some sort of mess that rallies many a people against them. It can really make a person stupid.

But really, is it stupidity, or is it a cry for help, a plea that demands people to treat them as a human being, who can (and will) make mistakes? Who has opinions that may go against the grain—a person which, if most people got to know personally, will see that they’re completely different to how they were portrayed? They could’ve kept it to themselves, but in people wanting them to maintain perfection, to be without blemish, there’s this nagging desire to rebel against identifying as a person who they are not—to not identify as a being that they cannot emulate.

In deifying people, in treating them as gods, we elect them for a position that they themselves are not capable for. It’s not the first time that someone, who was a completely stable individual in obscurity, goes absolutely insane when met with great praise and worship, and dragged to the center stage. They may start acting in ways that even they thought wasn’t possible.

Whose fault is it then: the one who was elected, or those who elected them? It's safe to say that both are a possible cause to the problem—one in their pride thinks that they're fit for the position, and the many think that this person is worthy to take it. But it's not to say that all of those who were elected necessarily wanted to be elected; some people are thrust into office unwillingly and are utterly pulverised by the great responsibility dropped onto them.

This reminds me of a particular quote that Seneca mentioned in Letters on Ethics: when Alexander the Great was struck by an arrow to his leg during a siege, he was forced to leave, and said:

“Everyone swears that I am a son of Jupiter, but this wound cries out that I am human.”

Letter 59.12

In trying to uphold a standard of perfection, what becomes evident is ironically our capacity to fail, and to not be perfect. People in their hubris want to be called a god, but they get struck down, not by their blasphemy, but by their complete and utter inability to admit that they are not capable of such a thing. It’s not the cosmos raining down terror upon them, telling them that they’re not capable—it’s their own humanity that testifies of their inability. Our humanity reminds us that we are not fit for such a role. We betray ourselves in the quest to transcend who we are.

Coming back to posting our work online: to some people, publicizing our work online is thought to be a declaration that we know what we are doing, that we are credible, and that the work we spit out meets certain standards. Anything less than that is met with great disdain—almost like a stain against society. But there ought to be push back there.

The Internet is not for companies, movie producers, and the like—it’s for everyone. It’s not like television in the past where few shows are ever broadcast, and it’s only the ones that succeed monetarily that can sustain production for a great length. There’s people of every kind—beginners, amateurs, and professionals. And you will see good work, and you will see heaps of garbage. At this point, I realize that to complain about such a thing is to complain about humanity as a whole. We may create something good, and other times we defecate straight into the toilet. Everyone does, including you. Even the finest dishes created by the greatest chefs eventually turned into a spoiled mess, or when consumed, become a steaming pile of crap.

This is all for me to say that it’s okay to fail—it’s okay for your work to not be better than the one preceding it. To uphold the standard that the next thing will be better than the last is simply unsustainable. The human life and creation is not set in a play with five acts, where there’s a peak in the climax, and then trails off towards the resolution with no hope in getting out of it; it’s more of a mountain range, with many dips and many peaks. Many triumphs, and many catastrophes.

A downward slope isn’t a sign of the end, but rather may be the precursor to another peak. Or it may not. That simply how it is, and you shouldn’t be led to believe otherwise, because if the former is true—that there is one peak and one peak alone—I’m afraid that a majority of people have already passed it.

…including me.

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