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Saturation Point

There is a price to be paid for believing in people before they give you reason to believe in them. That price extracts a toll that demands your contribution during the days when they see little reason to believe in themselves. It often results from years of betrayal or failed expectations, until eventually the way the world treated them became the definition of how they viewed themselves, and how they viewed you.

I’ve witnessed first hand how some rise to the challenge simply because they know that there is someone that believes that they can, while others recede and don’t even try because they know that there is no one that cares about the outcome either way. This resonates with me personally as well. I dropped out of school because no one noticed that I was uninterested and barely in school for a large portion of the year in the eleventh grade. So dropping out in the twelfth grade was an easy decision that went unchallenged. I didn’t particularly find it liberating or depressing. It just was that way, and at the time, the consequences were irrelevant. All that mattered was that no one noticed, so I had no reason to care either.

But that only lasted to a point. The complacency and lack of ambition annoyed me. It annoyed me because it felt like there was something missing. Something beyond the token of having completed school, or needing a job others would respect. That something was a need to be consequential. To make a difference.

Going with the flow never directed the flow. It only ever gave force to something already in motion. Sometimes, like dropping out of school, it felt irrelevant. Whether I was in or out didn’t matter, because the decision I had taken wasn’t a decision that mattered. I therefore gave up on the pursuit of something that seemed inconsequential because the effort to sustain something that I did not see any value in felt burdensome rather than purposeful.

Entering the job market in a menial role also didn’t matter. It was a means to an end. Career goals were not foremost in my mind and I had no intention of changing the world. I simply needed to sustain my basic needs and contribute to those around me within the limited expectations that they had of me. It worked, and human attachment didn’t feature at all.

That set the tone for things to come. At least it did until I realised that I always found a way to improve what I was doing even if improvement was not required. It wasn’t about reinvention, or fixing something that wasn’t broken. It was the excitement of realising that the little I had could do more than was originally intended. Whether it was a subconscious scream for purpose, or merely a frustration at seeing opportunities being wasted when someone could benefit instead, it drove me to constantly improve things without there being reward or recognition attached to it.

Without realising it, that became my overwhelming passion and ultimately defined what I saw as purpose in life. At the time, I did not see it as passion or purpose. It was simply who I was, and still am. But that’s how I perceive it (and me) to be. Anyone not party to that journey of mine simply sees a restless soul that is never satisfied or content with what he has before him. I guess such a view has merit, but it’s the same type of merit that suggests that planting a tree whose shade you will not live to enjoy is a fruitless exercise. Such thinking causes the child to be oblivious to the comforting shade of a tree. When that child discovers the comfort of the shade later in life, they then find themselves compelled to plant a tree whose shade they will never live to enjoy, so that another lifetime is not wasted in acquiring such comfort.

The energy to sustain such a drive for purpose in life is only acquired when the belief in the value it creates is held with conviction. That conviction fades when there is a constant barrage of critiques questioning the motives behind the contribution, rather than appreciating its outcomes or sharing its convictions. Eventually the conviction dulls and is replaced by the weightiness of ingratitude. That is the point at which caring becomes optional and servitude becomes obligatory.

We all have physical constraints and self imposed tolerances. We reach the saturation point of tolerance long before our capacity to contribute has been depleted. It’s easy to lose the essence of who you are in your service to others. A life invested in the upliftment of others often results in an under investment of the self. Like it has been so eloquently stated before, you cannot pour from an empty cup. What’s worse is that the cups that were filled by your investment are rarely willing to look back to see how empty yours had become in filling them.

Reaching saturation point means that the investment in what you saw as purpose starts to weigh you down more than the fulfilment of seeing its fruition lifts you up. It sets in when the contribution is constantly paid forward, but seldom is anything paid back.

[This is an incomplete and rather cryptic thought process, the value of which will escape most, and add yet another weight to the burden of investing in others. Perhaps it is an investment that was never intended to yield returns in this lifetime. Perhaps not.]

Zaid Ismail

Author, life coach, and mental health activist. We need to change the narrative from disorders, illnesses, and survival to accountability, understanding, and thriving.

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