(Being another excerpt from the as-yet-unpublished The Self-Help Book)
“One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead.”
Oscar Wilde said that many, many years ago.
Consider those words: “One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead.” Does that sentiment sound at all familiar? Remind you of anyone? Hint: take a look in a mirror.
When meeting someone for the first time, once the introductions are out of the way, the first question asked is invariably “So, what do you do?” Personally, my answer is “I’m a musician.” I’ve been making music since I was thirteen years old, a full year before I started working, and while I have walked away from any number of jobs without batting the proverbial eye, to stop making music is something that’s never crossed my mind.
“Are you in a band? Is that how you make your living?”
“So, then, what do you do? ”
What my new best friend is after is a quick and easy way for him or her to determine just where I fit into the grand scheme of things, how much respect I’m due, and if I pose any kind of threat, all of which they will deduce from what I do to pay the bills. Is it just me, or is that a more than somewhat cynical and even insulting approach to interpersonal relationships?
Imagine, if you will, a patio party on a warm summer evening. The introductions have been made and – let’s call him Ron – Ron asks his new best friend, “So, what do you do?”
“I’m the Son of God.”
“No, really: what do you do?”
“Um, well . . . some call me the son of the carpenter.”
“Really? That’s great. I’ve been thinking of adding a deck . . .”
And you know that’s how it works. He could walk across the swimming pool, restock the bar with micro-brews and demure yet surprisingly inexpensive domestic wines, and Ron would nudge the person next to him and say, “He’s a carpenter. A regular wizard with wood. Gonna build a deck for me.”
How do you define who you are? To paraphrase Louis Jordan, “Is you is or is you ain’t your job?” It’s a simple question, one which shouldn’t require any thought. You either are or you aren’t. If the answer is “yes” or if you have to think about it, skip ahead to the next chapter. There’s nothing to be done for you here for, as the venerable Swami Rheeva once said, “As swift as thought is, there are times when none is needed.”
Times are hard. Unemployment is on the rise. Jobs that pay well, that have comprehensive health benefits that won’t bleed you dry or penalize you for using them and that don’t keep you up nights worrying if you’ll be laid off the next time Wall Street flinches are getting fewer and farther between. More and more people are having to do whatever it takes to get by, regardless of their employment history, training, or education. But now let’s say you had been a local office manager for a nationwide auto insurance firm who, due to an “unfortunate but necessary restructuring,” was given the bum’s rush and now find yourself holding down a work space in a twenty-four hour call center, for a quarter of your former salary, with laughable health benefits, fielding telephone calls from raving lunatics who know only that whatever is wrong in their life is your fault. You don’t have a career, pal, all you have is a job. Do you still want to define who you are by what you do? Like I said, it’s a simple question.
So, who are you? How do you see yourself ? These are the first questions you will have to answer before making any move, so take your time.
You will notice the lack of a third question, the time-honored “How do others see you?” which has somehow managed to become more important than the other two questions combined. I can’t tell you why this should be so, simply because I don’t really know, anymore than I know why “Amazing Grace” has become a graveside staple (it certainly wasn’t when I was a kid, and I suspect it began with Mr. Spock’s burial-in-space in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Perhaps, as Swami Rheeva wrote in his celebrated monograph Why? Is A Big Question, some mysteries must ever remain mysteries.
For anyone wondering, the personal breakdown on yours truly is as follows: I’m just a guy from Gold Coast (my old neighborhood), a shameless purveyor of faded dreams and memories, both in story and song. That’s it.
It may take some time to develop or to acquire the clarity of vision and insight I’ve displayed in that self-description. Rome, as most everyone knows, wasn’t built in a day. So here’s a tip which may prove helpful: get some paper and a writing implement (pen, pencil, crayon, whatever) or plant yourself in front of your computer and make a list of who and what you are to the people in your life. Friends, family, co-workers, casual acquaintances. Take your time. Put some thought into it and be, as they say, brutally frank. When you’ve finished, take a break. Go watch some television, go for a drive, have a snack. Left-over Chinese food is always good (cold, not reheated).
When you return to your piece of paper or computer, make a (brutally frank) assessment of who and what you are or would be to yourself. Again, take your time and when you’ve finished, take a break. Another one? Yes. Brutally frank assessments can really take it out of you. Take the rest of the day off if you like, even two or three days, however long you need to put some distance between what you’ve written and the third and final step.
With steps one and two behind you, all that’s left is to compare (A) who and what you are to other people with (B) who and what you are or would be to yourself. Anything in (A) that conflicts with what’s in (B) either needs to be modified or 86’d. Isn’t that easy? It’s no big deal, nothing lifted from my doctoral thesis, merely a variation on Occam’s Razor which states that all other things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the best answer. Now, to those who would say “That’s not how it’s done! Therapy! Hugs! Blah – Blah!,” I would ask “And why the hell not?” Granted, none of the radio or television networks have me on their list of Glib And Camera-Friendly Experts and my crackerjack staff is certainly not in the middle of intense negotiations for my own show, but that doesn’t mean this three step plan couldn’t work for someone. And hey, it’s only a suggestion, so lighten up.
“Whatever works is Heaven sent. Nothing else matters.”
Copyright 2013 by William Parker