Why Do I Have to Be Anyone?: My Musings on High Achievement and Cosmic Insignificance

The question on my mind lately is: Why Do I have to Be Anyone? If life is this temporary thing, I wonder how come I’ve spent so much time creating material that will eventually disappear. This isn’t to say that writing itself hasn’t been meaningful for its own sake, but, in some way, it’s taken away as much as it’s given. And this story pervades time.

In the 2014 film, Whiplash, a young, ambitious drummer received tutelage from a legendary but abusive mentor; he wanted, more than anything, to be great. And, his teacher conceived of his methods as justified by their results, even though the majority of them were horrifying. Some of us aspire to greatness, irrespective of the field, hoping that it will solidify our characters and our places in the universe. It’s as though life is only worth living if we’ve achieved something special, if we’re special. But, are we ever really? Isn’t there always a “Yea, but” hidden somewhere within success?

Consider the moments when you achieved something and enjoyed it for about ten minutes. How did it feel before your mind began reminding you of all of the things you weren’t? We read about the hedonic treadmill and how its effects wither in time but rarely know why they do from a cognitive perspective. If our brains are seeking the ultimate proof of our worth (our specialness), and they’re prone to hyper-focusing on flaws, then whatever we achieve will inevitably be discarded. And, when I write ultimate proof, I mean an achievement that fully silences one’s critics and, thus, one’s mind; in essence, certainty.

However, none of us are special, not according to the cosmos. Yet, we try to be. Our minds, as a means of grappling with our fragility and mortality, convince us that we can be, that, somehow, we can reach a metaphysical peak beyond our ephemeral lives, that our names can live forever. And certainty, purportedly, quells that existential terror. But, certainty, is the quest of fools.

As I write this, the hypocrisy isn’t lost on me. In the back of my mind, and in some magical way, I hope my work will outlive me. I hope that my writings will stand as monuments, informing others of my grandness. Yet, I know that my grandness is, and will always be, a myth to ease my loneliness and fear. And, my intense desire to perfect my craft serves those same functions.

In the film, the protagonist, Andrew, eventually ends his relationship with his girlfriend because he views her as a barrier to greatness. In that moment, I remember thinking, why would he give that up if, like the rest of us, he’ll eventually be forgotten? And then recalled that I was doing something similar with my writing. Both of us weren’t able to see the bigger picture, using our delusions for support. In the end, Andrew pursued his vision and reached the pinnacle of his art. Yet, he was isolated and had only his talent to indicate his importance. The film closed before we were able to see what that meant for his life, so we were left to draw our own conclusions.

Andrew didn’t realize what those of us who are like him don’t see: that greatness doesn’t equate with lovability and that the chase for immortality is a form of vanity. And, sometimes, the flaws that slip through the cracks of our grandiose delusions teach us that; they tell us what we’ve known all along: that we’ll always just be human. If specialness and immortality exist, they only do so in another’s eyes.

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