Ritual and Ideal

It’s been a busy work stretch for me, but things look to be clearing up a little bit, maybe. Sometimes it’s nice to be occupied and not let the mind wander, but sometimes it’s not. Thoughts have been accumulating in my head, and I hadn’t the time to outlet or arrange them.

Triggers come from everywhere, and it’s strange to gauge the vagaries of one’s own moods. The recent passing of Steve Jobs has been much publicized. I bear no particular love for the guy, although I like many others have a strong respect for his vision and the resulting products of that vision. Over the past few days, I’ve received a link to our commencement address a dozen times. I remember it being good but a bit odd; the thing I remembered most about it was how he said dropping out of college was one of the best things he ever did.

I watched it again today, and it’s hard not to see that stoic arrogance that propelled him to the top. But his recognition and acceptance of death as the prime motivator is what resounded today the most. People have this innate fear of death, and we spend so much effort in our attempts to deny our mortality. Lately, I’ve begun to believe that the definition of growing up is that one truly recognizes one’s own mortality. Regardless of age, this is when youth goes away. Thinkers for ages have stated that the only reason why our actions have any meaning at all is because of the fact that our times here are limited. Meaning is ascribed to our willing choices of actions because we must necessarily forgo other possibilities. This is the only meaning we can give.

A good friend is currently applying to business schools and is probably right now frantically writing those essays. The main essay’s prompt is “What matters most to you, and why?” Which I think is kind of a silly question because what matters most to everyone is, deep down, the exact same thing. You can have any variant of “living life to its fullest” or “friends and family” or “living a just life” or whatever — no one’s going to write “not living life to its fullest.” What it all boils down to is our condition as mortal beings and our reactions to our inevitable deaths. It’s true that some will complacently accept their fates while others will rage against the dying of the light. But to gratuitously quote Regina Spektor:

This is how it works
You’re young until you’re not
You love until you don’t
You try until you can’t
You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath

We want to feel like we do not live our lives in vain, even though we know that there is no external support or validation. So we cling to our little strands of hope: wealth, success, family, love.

Although maybe it’s a good question because it can discrimate those who can articulate abstractions well. Everyone will write about the same underlying concept, but some will write it more brilliantly than others.

I tend to take life at a leisurely pace. The number of hours per day usually suffices for my needs. But lately, with work taking up more and more hours each day, some stresses are showing through. Which lead me to wonder whether my ritual — all those mundane tasks that must be completed day in, day out — could be streamlined in any way. My ideal amount of sleep per night is probably around 8 hours; dipping below 6 hours in any night tends to make me either unhappy or delirious the next day, or both. From waking up until getting to work, it usually takes me a little over an hour, and my commute averages 10 minutes and I don’t eat breakfast at home. During weekdays, I feel like my winding down before bed also takes an hour or two. Checking on the internets, reading a book, listening to some music, or just writing a little takes up quite a swath of time.

My predicament reminds me of Andrew’s response when I asked him if I should try to spend less money: if I’m not budget constrained, why bother? I already max out my 401k and hit my target saving rate, so what’s the point in not spending the money? So it is with time. I’ve constructed a lifestyle that fills up my day, and as long as no new demands are imposed, then there’s no need to (stressfully) prune undoubtedly wasteful habits. But now I’m growing a little restless with my current schedule, and also being generally unhappy with my life’s trajectory (this happens rather frequently).

Rewatching the commencement address reinforced my belief that it is through adversity that we grow. To be blunt, I’ve been able to cruise by for most of my life. Maybe I set my goals a little too low, such that getting into the college of my dreams and then my dream job, were so attainable. Or maybe I just know that if I shoot for the moon, the rocket ship would explode.

It’s always been a constant refrain in my head that the world would be a much better place if I were the stupidest, ugliest, worst, etc. person in the world. Not that I myself would devolve to a lower level, but that everyone else would rise above me. In some small sense, I think right now I live close to that situation: I have tremendous respect for my peers and colleagues at the googs and I feel like I struggle to keep up with them; and it’s humbling and embarrassing how much worse I am in ballet than my classmates. For probably the first time in my life, even when I focus and direct my efforts, I don’t come out ahead of the pack. On one hand, this is heartening because I know that there are better people than me out there and I can learn so much from those with whom I interact daily. On the other hand, what shreds of self confidence I retained after college are slowly disappearing. But what difference does how I feel compare to the overall health of the world? That there are such brilliant and smart, devoted and beautiful people, and that I get the privilege to work with them is worth more than my own neurotic self doubt.

I think I’m finally understanding what I want in a girlfriend: she has to be smarter than me, prettier than me, more artistic than me, and be more compassionate than me. I think the second is practically automatic, and I know many who fit the third and fourth, but the first is a relative rarity. That a girl who has all four would deign to even look in my direction is probably one of the main reasons why I’m still single. Although I do have friends who fit the bill, I think they’re all taken in various states of permanence. This really is one of the areas where I don’t want to settle, so maybe I’ll take my ideals with me to the grave.

3 Replies to “Ritual and Ideal”

  1. “It’s always been a constant refrain in my head that the world would be a much better place if I were the stupidest, ugliest, worst, etc. person in the world. Not that I myself would devolve to a lower level, but that everyone else would rise above me.”
    This reminds me of a story from Frederic Brown: http://books.google.com/books?ei=HHSQTp-FJsrKiQK3_ZHNCA&ct=result&id=2gwPAQAAMAAJ&q=%22satan+screamed%22#search_anchor

    How’re you measuring the intelligence of potential dates?

  2. Also, am surprised to see you think you’ve been cruising. Am curious to see what you’re capable of when fully engaged or what you’d aim at.

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