Sure, it’s not a pretty thing to say, but I it’s a fairly accurate description of the way life works. Sometimes I think I understand life a little too well. If I knew less about how things work, I think I could be naively-optimistic … even happy. But life does not work that way. You really can’t win. We try to get through each day one step at a time, one project at a time … but that’s just surviving and getting by. I would like to believe that it’s possible to do better than that … but what does it take? It seems like you can give it everything you’ve got … but even then, you’ll never really win. Ever wonder why?
1. “Good enough” is never really good enough
Take work for example – the reality is that you can do your job one of two ways – not good enough, or not fast enough. Your work is always one or the other … and most likely both, but it can’t be neither. If it’s good enough, you probably could have done it faster, and even if it’s done fast, it could always be better. When I am designing something for someone, they always want something amazing … they would like it to be perfect, but they also don’t want it to take time (and not just because they want it done soon, but because they don’t want to pay for time).
2. Doing things better takes additional time & effort, which is always in short supply
Making something nice generally takes time, and realistically I am not one of those people who is able to make masterpieces (even if I have all the time in the world). However, people also don’t want to feel like they are making an unreasonable request. Some try to be kind and understanding, by saying that it does not have to be perfect … but what they say and what they really want or expect are usually two different things. If I don’t want people to be disappointed, my only option is to put in extra work on my own time, under the guise of supposedly enjoying the work for its own sake. But it is important that the knowledge of such extra work be kept secret … which leads to the next problem.
3. Keeping other people happy means hiding your own problems (which is also problematic)
People do not want to be made to feel guilty, and making them feel that way would defeat the purpose of not wanting to disappoint them. So when you go the ‘extra mile’ for someone, you wouldn’t want them to actually know that you went out of your way for them. Likewise, in order to give people what they want, you may need to assist them in the belief that their requests and expectations are perfectly reasonable and “no trouble.” This is what they want to believe, and for a number of people is necessary to keep them feeling good about themselves. I realize that there are (unfortunately) many people in this world who really couldn’t care less about such things (i.e. how other people feel). In fact, it almost seems like it’s more common for people to draw attention to all the little difficulties that come along with doing their work. We all know people who like to go on and on about how hard their life and their job is (and how everyone else must have it so easy) … and what’s worse, some have no qualms about making you feel bad for asking anything of them, even if it’s what they’re paid to do. But these people are called jerks (and let’s face it, if you’re an awful person, you’re already a failure, so let’s not even go there).
4. There’s no pleasing people
So why even try to make people happy anyway? Well, I don’t know … I’m not sure it’s even fundamentally possible, but it seems like the right thing to do would be to at least try. So supposing you’re going try to help people … how easy is it to succeed at that? Unfortunately, people too often fall into one of the following categories: those who are impossible to please (nothing is ever good enough), people who think they want one thing but actually need something completely different, and people who need help but won’t actually let you help them. But sometimes people are happy with what you’ve done for them … right? Well, yes, but any “success” seems to always be negated by one of the other points I have already (or will soon) mention … or is marginalized by the realization that the person can’t actually tell the difference one way or the other (for example, between something done well and something done poorly).
5. Problems with the value of time and work
People want to believe that they themselves work hard, perhaps even harder than most. Everyone wants to feel like their time and work is of value and importance. Unfortunately, the true nature of ‘importance’ is that it is relative. I, like many, would like to believe that there exists ‘true value’ and ‘true happiness’ … that which is inherently so, without the comparison of one state to another … but life in practice is not so pretty. In reality, a person can really only feel ‘important’ when others of relative lesser importance exist. If you work too hard, you will tend to make others “look bad” … and by demanding higher respect for yourself, you necessarily imply that others deserve less. So while it’s probably not the “right” thing to do, I willingly allow & help people to believe that they work harder than I do (whether it be true or not). I also let them believe that I really had “nothing better to do” with my time anyway, and downplay in general the importance of my time and work. But these courses of action produce additional problems (as I said, you can’t win).
6. Concealing difficulties only leads to additional problems
If you have effectively concealed the fact that extra time and effort went into a project, people will get the wrong idea about the true nature of your talents and abilities. Supposing they are even satisfied with the quality of your work after all the extra effort … if they really believe that it was “no trouble,” quick and easy, then they will only expect that much more the next time around. Furthermore, even if the only person you are hurting is yourself, the practice itself is fundamentally deceptive. I don’t want to decieve anyone, and I would not have anyone belive that I am better than I actually am … but it is very difficult, if not impossible to ensure that people have an accurate understanding of your abilities, strengths and faults. For me it has always seemed like very few people ever get close to seeing me accurately – strengths, weaknesses and all (probably my fault, as I am not an open and expressive person by nature). People have a tendency to believe the worst in others, and I guess when that happens to me I’m not as concerned (it of course bothers me, but it is a lesser evil). I don’t like to defend myself, and if people think you are worse than you actually are, they are more likely to be pleasantly surprised later on (which is always better than going down in their estimation). Further, even if they are wrong in their facts, the practical bottom line is not necessarily wrong. Not expecting much from me may lead people to make better decisions that won’t lead to disappointment later on down the road. But this line of reasoning is also problematic.
7. Inaccuracies and the problems with trying to fix them
I don’t believe it is right to force ideas on others or try to presumptuously influence them towards certain ways of thinking … and while I usually don’t correct or manipulate people’s thinking when it comes to the negative views they have about me, I admit that I will try to make them think less of me when I feel their opinion is too high. I know this is not ideal … and then again, I question what would be best. The true ideal would be that everyone somehow saw the true person – good, bad & otherwise – but that’s unrealistic (and though I may be an idealist, I’m also a realist). So which is better – to leave each person completely to their own ideas … to knowingly not correct a person’s thinking, even when you know their ideas are founded on innacurate facts and misunderstandings? … or to attempt and correct their thinking? If it’s better to try and correct their thinking, it seems like the “right” thing would be to do so regardless of whether their thoughts are of an overly negative or postive nature … but again, this is liable to cause more problems.
8. Even with some level of success, the real value of work is questionable at best
As mentioned before, I would like to believe that there exists some work of inherent value and meaning … unfortunately, such things (if they exist) are almost certainly not in my field of work, and in today’s society seem to be of minimal importance. I believe that the things of real importance and value in life are such things as people’s intentions – their inner person, including thoughts, motives and ideals, the positive expression of these fundamental values, and meaningful interpersonal relationships. For me (as a person who interacts poorly on a social level), I am almost certain to failing in this respect. Further, as a graphic designer, I am not exactly in a position to have a major positive or meaningful impact on someone’s life on account of my work. After all, even if I were to design a really, really amazing poster … it’s still a just a stupid poster, right? For whatever reason, the things I make are apparently important enough for clients to feel justified in driving me to the breaking point … but without actually being important at all. Another unfortunate circumstance is that ‘effort’ really counts for very little in the world we live in. Ideally, I would like it to mean everything, but if I live in reality – in the world as we know it – I understand that the real measure of value is in results. There is some subjectivity to “success” … but in this world, as a general rule, monetary value paints the picture clearly enough. But of course money isn’t everything … another example of how what people say and how the world really works don’t match up. Pursue money or pursue philanthropy … you can’t really do both, so it’s inevitable that you will be a failure in some respect.
9. Success is elusive
Granted, I have a tendency toward pessimism and seeing the flaws in my own work, but having a critical eye does not mean you are blind to the bottom line. Naturally, even with unrelenting efforts, hits and misses are to be expected in life … and if you tally those up you’ll have a pretty good idea of where you stand. But if I accept the failures as just part of life, is it wrong to expect a few successes as well? If it’s natural for things to sometimes go wrong, even when *shouldn’t* have, what about the so called “happy accidents?” Why is it that these are practically non-existent? Honestly, I am not sure what to think about this … lately it has been recurring as one of my more mentally unsettling thoughts. I want, or need to believe that good things are possible … which as a person who is never 100% sure of anything, this has never really been a problem before … but lately life has seemed less of a random assortment of chance and probabilities .. and more like an entity – a beast with a will of its own. I suppose the argument could be made that I am not viewing things correctly – that it is proper to view some things as successes in relative terms. But is that what they are? Is “it could have been worse” something to celebrate? Should I be happy about something that I worked really hard at, didn’t turn out as well as it probably *should* have, but was still fairly “good”? When more went into something than I got back out of it, can that really be termed a “success”? Of course part of that problem goes back to the issue of concealing how much work went into it – I can’t expect others to evaluate whether something was truly worthwhile if I keep them in the dark. On a superficial level it may be worthwhile for them, but ultimately once I take into account everything I put in, it’s just sad.
10. Success is fleeting
This is just theoretical (as something I don’t really have personal experience with) … but you can judge for yourself on whether it rings true or not. Supposing there is something that could really be called a success … on life’s terms perhaps, however shallow. Is it ever enough? Success one day is gone the next. There is no resting on ones laurels. A good deed one day is quickly forgotten, as if it never happened. Tomorrow you may effectively erase forever all the good you have ever done in your life by one false move. Your hard work or kind actions are swallowed up by others who are likewise struggling to create value in their own lives. Is it hard to understand why people grasp at the few positive fruits in life and try to claim them as being on their own account? It’s wrong, but in a sad way that is more pitiful than anything.