It’s been a long time since I’ve felt any sense of composure about me. I constantly feel as if I’m on the edge of finding that elusive balance, but each time I flirt with that notion I find myself immersed in yet another challenge or another initiative that is almost always self-imposed. Despite this, I’m not at odds with myself or my life even though it sounds or feels like I am at times. There appears to be a subtle but important difference that has emerged in the way I deal with adversity these days. On many previous occasions I resolved to be principled before being strategic, always assuming that the one negated the other, and as a result I found myself jobless on two occasions, and divorced on three.
But I now seem to have an awkward balance between principles and strategy. Awkward because it doesn’t feel like something I’m ready to embrace just yet, even though I know that it’s better than the absolutist approach I adopted before. There’s a tinge of insanity that always lurks just beneath the surface spawned by the absence of fatherly guidance in my life. My life has never been garnished with a healthy dose of mentors, coaches, or the wisdom of an older generation directly passed down to me. At every major intersection I found myself standing alone and trying to decipher the road signs without the help of a guide or manual, with only an innate sense of spirituality and resilience that has been my companion throughout my life, and a keen sense of observation that helped me to glean some wisdom from the actions of the elders that I was sometimes exposed to.
It’s difficult to explain, but the reality is that I’ve never had the benefit of a father, or a fatherly figure to refer to in times of growth or opportunity that threatened to launch me into a new phase of my life, even though I had a father until well into my adult years. My emergence from teenage naivety into my early adult years was driven by passion and purpose, with a burdensome sense of responsibility guiding my choices, always using the rights that others had over me as my guiding lights. Doing right by them always enjoyed a priority higher than satisfying my own needs, but in that I’ve found much fulfilment and resolve, as well as inspiration.
It still didn’t make the difficult decisions any easier, or the mistakes any less grave. I wrought destruction at times when I thought I was acting selflessly, but in fact my idealism misguided me to the point of stupidity, resulting in much regret. The regret always set me back a couple of years at a time whenever the consequences of my idealism overwhelmed my sense of purpose which always extinguished any sense of passion that may have been left in me. It’s these same feelings of anxiousness and restlessness that inspired the never-to-be-delivered letter that I once wrote to my daughters.
I pray that you never will understand some of what I’m going through, some of what I feel, or some of what I think…because to understand you would need to experience what I’ve experienced. And I wouldn’t want you to feel the pain and the anguish that I’ve felt that made me feel, see and think the way I do. Although it’s the same pain and anguish that has given me this appreciation for life, for a smile on a stranger’s face, or for the chirping of the birds. My wish is for you to learn from my experiences and the experiences of others because there’s so much more to life than the opportunity to make your own mistakes.
The only way you can cheat time is to learn from the accumulated wisdom of generations past. But if you insist on learning it all yourself, know that you’ll never learn more than anyone who has lived only a single lifetime without any wisdom to draw on. Know that your pain and your anguish will be unnecessary, and know that your life would only ever be half-lived, if even that. So instead I pray that you are able to cheat time, acquire a wisdom beyond what you may inherit, and give your children more than what you had to cheat time with. And if you do this, know that you have achieved more than any human being can be expected to achieve in a single lifetime. This is the only path to immortality that I know.
I wonder if they’ll ever appreciate the sentiments and sincerity in that should they ever come across it at an age when it may hold some relevance in their lives. But this is not a post about them, or what I yearn for them. It’s a post about the insanity that, being a constant in my life, allows me a sense of composure that robs me of rest, or ease. I find myself unable to remain still for long enough to appreciate the peace that exists at the tips of my fingers. That peace, that composure, is out of reach. The soul that guides the outstretched fingers remains distracted by the noise and the clutter of trying to live a life well lived, finding only turbulence and upheaval in a world full of people desperate to find silence. I’m not so unique in my desire to acquire what everyone else wants, but the path that each of us travel to arrive at this restless point is so vastly different that comparing notes would always be a futile exercise.
10 responses to “Composed Insanity”
Lol – you have a talent for reading in between the lines!
It’s not the accolade I covet – it is the ease with which PhD will allow me to cruise through a career in a world full of people who are deluded enough to put weight on academic pursuits albeit experience or insight. I am sure you know where I am coming from…
Thank you for your vote of confidence – I concur (modesty is not my forte!) 😉
Btw – if and when your daughters read your letter, I hope (and know) they (will) sense the depth of passion and integrity it stems from.
Thank you…I have to agree with you, at least in part. Navigating your way through the ridiculous standards set in the corporate world becomes much easier if you have those accolades. I learnt that the hard way, but yet I persist in my obstinacy. Perhaps one day I’ll get an honorary degree of sorts and then I’ll be ‘accepted’ as a fellow intellectual as well. 😐
Or not! Something tells me you take pride in not wanting “recognition” – you are far too comfortable in your own skin to lose your obstinacy!
Seems I’m not the only one that has a knack for reading between the lines around here. 🙂
What’s funny is that you just described a-conflict vs c-conflict (and I can sense you cringing at stereotyping your expression! sorry!) – I teach my students to focus on c-conflict and focus away from the personal conflicts. I hear those who can’t – teach – so thus I teach what I don’t practice! 😛 A few weeks ago, I made an observation about someone very close – that she didn’t distance herself – she merely withdraws. My question to you is – do you disengage as in truly distance yourself – or do you simply withdraw, in that it still matters but your behavior and all external mannerisms display detachment. I am just curious.
I thought I was the one that was doing the psycho-analysis around here? You’re upsetting the order of things! 🙁
I think it was a bit of both. Previously, when I made a choice to disengage, I would genuinely disengage. I would be convinced that my reason to do so was sound, and I was able to completely switch off any interest in the matter or person from that point forward. More recently, and specifically with regards to the incident I alluded to in my post, I’m leaning more towards appearing disengaged, rather than genuinely feeling that way. I’m not quite sure what to make of it yet. Overall I think it’s a positive development for me to be able to maintain a professional relationship despite the personal dimension being strained/soured. That wasn’t something I did before. I was always an extremist in that way because if the personal side of the relationship soured, that would bring into question the sincerity and integrity of every other interaction.
When I started responding to this comment of yours, I was inclined to believe that perhaps my level of self-confidence is waning, hence me finding it difficult to be so resolute now. However, I think it’s more a case of my confidence in my professional abilities having increased which makes me able to rely on my ability to navigate the politics and sensitivities in a professional relationship more skilfully without relying on a personal rapport to support it.
I’m curious now. What do you teach and to what audience?
Organization Behavior and Principles of Management – to undergrad (BA) students…I rely upon part-time teaching to keep sane, otherwise I fear the 10 hour routine days of the corporate world will deaden me! At any rate, the business world is a far cry from my passion of Philosophy/Theology. I was in a PhD program but withdrew for personal reasons…three years later, I am wondering whether PhD is worthwhile – or do I want to devote myself to my own ways of pursuing knowledge, regardless of not acquiring the professional tag.
As per your response – it might well be that your confidence in your professional abilities account for your shift in reliance off personal relationships (at least at work) – but it could just be that you have gotten better at handling duality…not sure that’s a virtue – a skill it definitely is! 😉
I shall ignore that subtle suggestion that this newly acquired skill of mine is in fact a vice. Which it probably is. 🙂 I guess my other philosophy of treating arrogant people with arrogance is kind of comforting when I have to adopt that (in)sincere façade in order to maintain a working relationship with people that I would otherwise despise.
I don’t have much admiration for academic pursuits (as I’m sure you noticed already), although I do admire the tenacity and perseverance of people that do apply themselves in that way. I just think that some degrees can be a real waste of time. The topic you teach is what I am very passionate about, albeit from a more practical standpoint, given that my perspectives and ‘education’ has been acquired through hands-on experience as I worked my way up the corporate ladder. You strike me as someone that would easily be able to further your pursuit of knowledge in any area that you’re passionate about without a need to do so formally. So I guess it really does depend on how much you’re coveting the acronym, huh? 😉
I am still waiting to hear more about the so-called balance you have been able to strike between principles and strategy. Not sure whether that is ever truly possible – or if possible, desirable. Although, in all honesty, I myself have come up with compensating skills to lead an apparently functional life – but I often wonder what good is a life full of sanity – if insanity is the true calling? 🙂
And who’s to say that insanity in all its glory is not just as generous, just as responsible, just as conscientious…look at yourself – it looks pretty darn good to me!
You didn’t just call me insane, did you? That’s a privilege I reserve for myself, thank you very much! 🙂
And you noticed my unfinished thought process. 🙁 That balance is still very difficult for me to articulate at this point. I used to be very resolute when I made decisions in the past, especially when it came to consciously wanting to disengage. The moment I made the decision, I would be completely detached and uninterested, and almost nothing could shake that resolve. Of course that was because I believed that I was acting out of principle. I made a similar decision recently to disengage from a somewhat toxic professional relationship at the office, and I’ve found that I keep engaging despite my decision to disengage, which is weird. However, now that I think of it, what I did manage to do more effectively this time (so far anyway) is that I managed to disengage from the personal side of the relationship despite having invested heavily in that, and now I continue to engage professionally only. But even in that there are strange nuances that I’m still trying to understand, and I promise to share my thoughts as soon as I’m able to put my finger on it. 🙂