The Beauty of Defeat

Sometimes when things seem like they’re falling apart, they’re actually falling into place. Perspective is most easily lost when we find ourselves lamenting what is slipping away while losing sight of what is heading our way instead. There is no shortage of sentiment or rhetoric regarding the opportunities that dark clouds herald or the silver linings that decorate them, nor is there a shortage of popcorn wisdom that is handed out to pacify the broken hearted. That light at the end of the tunnel is not a train, it’s a sign of life. (I just made that one up!) And so the clichés can go on and on.

The reality of defeat is closer to the opportunities it unlocks rather than the impact it has when our egos take a beating. In that moment of devastation, it’s easy to see the world as a hostile place that has no room for you, but when the air returns to your lungs, and the skies clear, you suddenly see the gaps that you want to fill. The voids that are waiting for your unique contribution, failing which they will remain empty forever. But those voids, those gaps, only become visible again when you return to what you’re passionate about.

I don’t think there is a single soul alive that didn’t at some point believe they could change the world. How we choose to define that world and what we want to change about it is directly related to how much we believe in our ability to influence it. The greater that belief, the bigger our world. It’s sad though to see so many make others their world instead of embracing the world of others. You know, those people whose existence is defined by the admiration and affection of another? They’re the ones that taste true defeat, not because it is a romantic tragedy, but because they’ve defeated themselves long before defeat visited them. But even in that defeat there is beauty.

Beauty is not what we see around us, it’s what we hold within. It’s that internal peace that draws our attention to the beauties that abound, or else all we’ll see are representations of what we don’t deserve, or at least what we believe we don’t deserve. When we fail to accept ourselves, to respect the struggles we face or the resilience we’ve demonstrated, and more than these, when we fail to see the true potential of the value we can offer this world, we’ll be left feeling subdued and deprived. To fill that void of self-worth, we court the acceptance of others. We define ourselves by their validations and we convince ourselves that the way they see us is truly who we are. The moment all that is taken away, we’re left bare and vulnerable. In that moment of apparent defeat, we’re finally forced to see ourselves and others for the reality we’ve been denying for so long. In that is the sweetness of defeat.

Those moments that force us to recalibrate, re-evaluate, or simply to resurrect our fading convictions are the moments that define our appreciation for beauty, for peace, and most importantly, for balance. Without that defeat our inclination to take for granted that which fills the gaps in our lives increases. The goodwill of others is seen as rights, and their willing contribution is assumed to be them just doing their bit to justify their presence in your life. That’s the haughtiness of success.

Defeat is not truly defeat. It’s a moment of pause. It’s a reality check. It’s a forced review of what we incorrectly assumed, and what we took for granted. That’s when things fall into place. That’s when perspective is tempered with reality, and the alignment between purpose, conviction, and ability are strongest. All it needs is a healthy embrace of who you are, and who you’re not. Unfortunately, in such a distracted world, we tend to know more about others than we know about ourselves, which makes it inevitable that we’re more likely to feel denied than we are to feel blessed. Perhaps that is the root of the violence and aggression we see in the world. Too many demanding significance and over compensating for it with wealth and power, while still feeling incomplete.

Those voids. Focus on those voids, and the rest will fall into place as a matter of natural consequence. Alas, that requires trust. And so begins another vicious cycle of self-deprecation.

Letter to My Daughters

This is something I wrote a while back, but was reminded of it today. It still remains true, but has since taken on a much broader meaning for me. These sentiments are true not just for those that I may leave behind, but for everyone I encounter in the time that I’m here. In this there is some irony, because one of the goals of my life used to be a need to be understood. That need no longer resonates with me. I have since shifted towards the need to understand instead.

I’ve found myself intrigued and disarmed far too often in trying to understand the bizarre behaviour I witness in many I come into contact with. Those that recede when the sincerity of our relationship becomes too raw, or those that overwhelm when the intensity of their confidence crowds their common sense. The antics of human nature will never fully be comprehended, but similar to the pursuit of perfection, just because the ultimate goal is unattainable does not mean the pursuit should be abandoned.

As with every endeavour, the beauty lies not in the destination, but in the journey to get there. Indeed, too many have deemed themselves to be failures when they fell short of their destination, and in the process discarded all the value and beauty they accumulated to that point. I’m quite certain that the sum total of the journey will most often outweigh the reward of the goal. But I digress, so here are the words I was reminded of today.

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.

This is why you can’t judge me

Ok, that title is deliberately dramatic because this is generally a dramatic topic. After sneering at the fandom around the Myers Briggs personality tests I finally decided to take it myself, if for no reason other than the fact that I was curious to know how I would be defined. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that out of three of the four dimensions, they could not define me. I’ve sat amused for a long time watching people trying to determine their personality types based on this test, but was not so amused when they started judging others based on the same info. So I had a quiet chuckle at the thought of their facial expressions when they discovered that they still had no credible basis against which to judge me.

Out of the sixteen possible personality types, I ended up with a result that says that I could be either of eight of them. Scrolling through the eight options I could easily relate to each of them, which I guess adds to the credibility of the test, but denies answers to those that would wish to have me defined in a way that makes interactions more predictable. However, self-indulgence aside, the most important realisation for me was the fact that in the one dimension where I was defined, I realised that by implication it is the one dimension in which I do not have sufficient balance.

The report indicated that my scores were ‘borderline’ in the three dimensions of extravert versus introvert, feeler versus thinker, and judger versus perceiver. I interpret these outcomes as suggesting that I am adaptable or balanced relative to the norm. The dimension where I’m not balanced is where they identify my strengths or preferences as being intuitive rather than sensing. This is true. I’m often focused on the patterns of behaviour, or the sequence of events that hint at possible future outcomes, and so end up being rather insensitive to the emotional investments that others have made. When patterns are the focus, the immediate emotional impact is easy to ignore. There is relevance in understanding emotional responses, but most often I resign it to a waste of time that doesn’t change the outcome of what we’re faced with. I guess that’s the proof that I lack balance in this dimension.

I wonder if others that have taken the test view their results in the same way? I wonder how many realise that it is merely an indication of preferences of behavior in their current state, and does not necessarily define who they are, or who they will be? Do they realise the difference between preference of behaviour versus subconscious predisposition and the important state of mindfulness that determines our awareness of the two? Too few appear to use it as a tool for reflection and growth, while most use it to determine their fit in relationships or groups; or worse they use it to measure the worth of others.

The problem with people that don’t fit the molds of society is that they don’t easily fit anywhere in society either. It also means that they are often misunderstood in intent, and would therefore be assumed to be something other than what they are or intend to be. (Cue violins and harps.) No, that’s not my attempt at being sensitive, it’s more an observation of a reality that many like me face, while most feel justified in their judgemental attitude towards people like me. In other words, anyone that doesn’t fit their preferred models are automatically shunned or avoided. Unfortunately, because the number of people that break the mold are the minority, the pervasive ignorance of the majority results in the devaluation of the contribution of those that are best positioned to contribute something unique. It’s that uniqueness of contribution that drives the world forward, while the collusion of the majority serve as nothing more than a preservation of the status quo, or often even results in a degradation of the current state that we find ourselves in.

For its entertainment value, here’s the summary of my test results:

  • May be an Extravert or an Introvert
  • Intuitive, not Sensing
  • May be a  Feeler or a Thinker
  • May be a Judger or a Perceiver

Due to the number of inconclusive responses above, I was listed to have 8 possible personality types. These include:

  • ENFJ – The Teacher
  • ENFP – The Champion
  • ENTJ – The Commander
  • ENTP – The Visionary
  • INFJ – The Counselor
  • INFP – The Healer
  • INTJ – The Mastermind
  • INTP – The Architect

Details of each of the above can be found on the Truist website that I linked to at the beginning of this article. I’m curious to know if any of you may have an opinion on whether or not any of the above is easily recognisable through my writing? Or perhaps even share your thoughts on your experiences with this personality test, and how it may have shaped your perspectives, or interactions with others?

Restless

“I would rather have responsibilities between the gaps, rather than gaps between the responsibilities. The proverbial glass is half empty for me not because I don’t see it as half full, but simply because I know I’ve drunk more than most from it. I don’t want my glass to be half full. In fact, I don’t want a glass. I don’t want convention. Nor do I want routine or safe choices. I want to know that I am living and not just going through the motions pretending that doing something better today than I did it yesterday, which was better than I did it the day before, is sufficient fulfilment for my life. I need more than that. I need to look in someone’s eyes and see it confused and restless because I challenged them to think. Because I challenged them to work those gaps and move beyond the routine.

Those gaps. They’re so damn elusive because when I get them, I’m usually taking a breather to recover from the demands of the routine. I must break the cycle. This cycle of seeming sanity has robbed me of the essence of what it pretends to be. Sanity is not the prevalence of order, nor is it the prevalence of function. It’s simply, by society’s standards, the presence of conformance. Conformance has killed many a creative soul, and destroyed many a great idea. More than this, conformance has destroyed the me I used to smile at. It’s time to break the cycle of sanity. For verily, as has been said already, a sane man, when compared to an insane society, must appear insane. But I think JG Ballard said it best when he said, “In a totally sane society, madness is the only freedom.”

Zaid Ismail

Reinvention

Reinvention is probably the most daunting aspect of life. It’s that moment when I find myself in a space that I’ve outgrown without having a new space that I’ve grown into. It’s a scene I’m familiar with. Along with most cycles, and there have been many, comes the reality of having to discard expensive relationships and adopting new ones. The more cycles I go through, the more exhausting the reinvention process becomes. The exhaustion, which I believe is quite closely related to my tolerance levels, suggests that perhaps I have not fully discarded some of the remnants of those relationships that have proven to be toxic.

In discarding something, if traces remain, it must imply that it has not been fully discarded. I think the same is true for relationships. If I fully discard it, there won’t be any unexpected moments of yearning, or wistfulness. The ones I fully discard will leave my mind until something external reminds me of them. Even then, that reminder serves as nothing more than a recollection of events without any feelings of regret or subdued anticipation. They hold no link to the present life that I live. However, I’ve found that the ones that I didn’t fully discard are the ones I recall in moments of present betrayal. When I’m feeling weak or being deliberately self-loathing, I use those remnants to draw parallels between the betrayals in order to convince myself that it must be something about me that caused them to treat me that way. Those moments of self-loathing fades quickly to reveal that it’s not a sincere reflection. Instead, I’ve found that I do that in the hope of restraining myself from embracing such relationships again because the more we convince ourselves we’re not worthy, the less likely we’ll be to embrace new realities.

My passion to embrace life dictates that such restraint only lasts for as long as the pain of the betrayal lingers. It’s not long before life starts tugging at my heartstrings, nudging me back to reality while I hesitantly push ahead, occasionally looking over my shoulder as if to reassure myself that the decision I needed to make was made with good reason, and with good intent. Sometimes, just sometimes looking back hoping to discover that I was wrong to give up on those relationships just yet, but rarely finding such reason to back track.

I’ve learnt that holding on to relationships, most often not romantic ones, in the hope of still realising the potential and the beauty that I know is possible from that relationship taxes me more intensely than any cost it bears on them, People expect too little from themselves, while I always see more. Fighting for someone to rise above their decaying state often leaves me with the stench of such decay while they assimilate and thrive in surroundings that echo their weaknesses, which they interpret as strength, while they erode on the inside knowing that they’re hiding from the greatness they desire for themselves.

Reinvention is based on the innate need to thrive in the face of adversity. It’s a courageous statement made by those that will not be put down, nor kept down. Those that choose to reinvent themselves are the ones that don’t allow life to define them. They define life. It takes an obstinacy of spirit, and a disregard for the contempt of the meek, when we abandon the failures they wish to savour, because it is all that offers them significance, while the rest of us choose to be significant for more than just feigned attempts at living. Each time we rise to face a new challenge we know that there are thousands waiting patiently to see the outcome before they commit. They are the opportunists that associate with power and success and delude themselves into believing that they yield it.

Realising the futility of their superficial minds makes it easy to disregard their taunts when we fail, because even in failure we have tasted more success than those that live safely and insincerely.

P.S. There is an arrogance that has crept into my writing over the years. Sometimes I feel a need to retract and clarify, in the hope that I won’t be seen in ways that I despise in others. However, I believe that in a world where individuality has resulted in an isolation of spirit, it’s more important to be bold and face potential humiliation, than to be safe and amicable and leave no imprint on this world in the very short time we have here. Besides, humiliation is only so if I care about the opinions of the spineless. I don’t.

The Ebb and Flow of Mediocrity

I’ve often found myself considering restraint in sharing my knowledge with some, because of the ridiculous assumption that in doing so, I may render myself redundant. But then I started considering previous times when I did share such knowledge and noticed how few embraced it. It’s really simple, this whole leadership thing. Take accountability for who you are, and lead by example. If you have the conviction, it will hold you in good stead, if you don’t, you’ll be a victim. Based on the simplicity of it all, I assumed that it would be readily adopted by most, given how sincerely everyone chants about their desire to rise above their circumstances. I’ve since discovered that those chants are hollow. It’s the quiet conviction that is evident only in action that holds any truth these days.

The vast majority are so secure in celebrating their struggles, that they refuse to grasp a reality without it. They’ve chosen to be defined by their struggles. The rest of the meek look up to them as martyrs fighting the good fight, but refusing to see the self-deprecating behavior that keeps them firmly in that cycle because recognising such behaviour will inevitably lead to a self-realisation that will shake their world. I would never have believed that success was so daunting to so many if I didn’t witness it first hand. But it can’t be success, can it? I mean, everyone spends their lives trying to be successful in some way or another, so perhaps it’s their definition of success, the subconscious definition that needs to be questioned.

I think too many of us define a reality of success that is different to our dream of success. We create goals that are based on ideal outcomes, and then look around to see our less-than-ideal circumstances, and resign those goals to being mere ideals and therefore unattainable. Then we focus on what is realistically achievable based on our current circumstances, measure that against our past successes, and calibrate our expectations of success against that. Little do we realise that in so doing, we have just defined mediocrity, and lost sight of true success. So what is true success then?

I think true success is where our ideals meet with our convictions, so that we find ourselves creating the circumstances we need to achieve the idealistic goals that we desire. However, this demands a healthy ego, and an equally healthy passion driven by purpose. The one without the other is a recipe for humiliation. The ego is needed to establish the conviction that convinces us that we are capable, while the purpose driven passion is what keeps us focused on the outcome we set out to achieve. Again, sounds simple enough, yet so many still get it wrong. Why?

The answer to that question, I believe, is easier than most would like to accept. It’s not the fear of success that holds us back, but the fear of accountability. Letting go of a struggle that has come to define who we are inevitably leaves us wanting when that struggle no longer holds true. And in there lies the ebb and flow of mediocrity. Some go through a lifetime redefining that struggle in order to ensure that it always holds relevance, while just a few shrug off the stigma of their struggles and choose to reinvent themselves as many times as is needed to get closer to the ideals of their dreams.

The world is full of meekness clothed in aggression and pompous displays of trophies. When such is the prevailing reality, it stands to reason that those with purpose will be scorned as dreamers who will amount to nothing, until they do, followed by the masses swaying to celebrate the triumphs that they themselves scorned to begin with. Success by association is the food for the masses. It gives more people purpose than purpose itself.

Contemplating this leaves a distinctly bitter after taste about the state of this world I find myself in. The difficulty of not being one of the masses in a society that has polarized towards group thinking and collective accountability, is that finding your success can be an intensely lonely path, leaving any subsequent embrace in the face of success deprived of sincerity.

Just Be

I watched her from afar as she presented her story, projecting a tone of confidence, and a polished appearance. Well, at least as polished as her awkward physique would allow. Everyone else was focused intently on what she was saying, how it was being pitched, and what was in it for them. Mesmerised by her ability to sell concepts that they all knew existed, but not many could articulate. It was her gift, the gift of the gab that allowed her to win political favour without appointment. But the incompleteness of her expression revealed more than the content of her story. That smile that was supposed to exude confidence didn’t fully reach her eyes, because her eyes were not party to the conversation between her mind and her lips. Her eyes were probing. Darting around the room looking for the affirmation that she needed to believe that she was being recognised.

The recognition she needed was not academic. It was what was needed to complete that smile. To smile without hesitance, or express without restraint. Never knowing if she had arrived, or if she was still fighting to be part of their journey, it left her incomplete. Each notch higher in the rungs that stretched out before her only taunted her insecurity that she hid so well. But her poise didn’t hide it. Nor did her eyes. As much as those eyes were the windows to her soul, it was also the windows to her insincerity spawned by her insecurity. Deep seated betrayals in the recesses of her childhood, played out in the anger of her adolescent years, emphasised by the rebelliousness of her young adult life when her rage could finally be financed, followed by the deep regrets of wasted years of venting left an incomplete smile in even her resilient soul. But it’s the same resilience that finally gave way to frustrations that eventually eroded the principles that all that rage fought to establish, or to oppose, simply because of the need for validation. That need to be socially acceptable, or professionally celebrated.

There’s an awkwardness that I sense when I’m around people that are seeking approval or validation. Their presence feels contaminated. They sway with the presence of authority, or the absence of it. It’s like being left to wander in the desert mustering the spirit each time a mirage presents itself on the horizon, and suddenly surrendering your spirit the moment the mirage reveals itself for what it is. I think we arrive at moments in our lives when we forget that it’s what the mirage represents that we are seeking, and not the mirage itself. Eventually reality fuses with our dreams and determining the difference between the two becomes more difficult. The only hope to awaken from such a fused state is to arrive at the mirage so that we may be rudely awoken by the fact that it was not really what we set out to achieve.

Some arrive at this point and feel a sense of futility. Often, the realization that so much of life has passed, and so little remains, leaves them feeling overwhelmed and disenchanted. This further entrenches the sense of betrayal they carried around with them since their early years turning them into manipulative brutes who seek to gain disproportionately from every encounter without apology or conscience. Others that pursued such dreams with sincerity or conviction, when faced with this realization, may be derailed for a while. Such moments of derailment will be opportunity for reflection, and hopefully renewed conviction. Fortunately, the former are not great in numbers, but unfortunately neither are the latter. The vast majority that reach this point find themselves disillusioned and deflated. They lay waste to a lifetime of struggle and perseverance lamenting their failure while refusing to place themselves in harm’s way again. They recede from the fight and choose to survive until they are no longer required to live.

I’ve witnessed and experienced first hand the betrayal at the hands of those that have spent their lives enraged by having been betrayed. Each time I found myself recalibrating my expectations, and more importantly my search for purpose. Each time my purpose gained more clarity and my convictions needed more energy to sustain. That’s not as contradictory as it sounds. With each cycle of renewed effort after a betrayal, we have that much more that we need to push aside for us to remain focused on our goals. It becomes that much easier to succumb and join the masses that we could not sway. The boulder grows bigger while the ascent steeper. With such an inevitable end, it stands to reason that we must meet our final moments feeling spent, without an ounce left to give.

I therefore cannot understand the rationale that drives so many to be someone other than who they wish to be. I think we all set out to change the world when we’re naïve about the egos that drive it. As we grow familiar with these egosystems, we resolve to break them up so that the wholesomeness of our philosophies can take hold instead. When we realize that the egosystems are larger than our best efforts, we may assume to instead work from within to undermine the structures that we could not change from the outside. Few succeed, while the rest of us surrender and become whores to the system.

Just be who you are, without apology, and the world will accept or reject you the same way they will even if you were to try to appease them. At least that way, you won’t waste a lot of life in trying to secure acceptance or validation from a race that is born into distraction and consumption.