You Can’t Be Everything You Want

William_James_b1842cOur good old friend William James, esteemed Harvard psychologist from the 1800s and early 1900s, drops some essential truth here about life. I think Brant Bjork and him would have gotten along pretty well if they had lunch together, because he’s basically saying the same thing as Bjork does in “Blue Demon”:

“I am often confronted by the necessity of standing by one of my empirical selves and relinquishing the rest. Not that I would not, if I could, be… a great athlete and make a million a year… a bon vivant and a lady-killer, as well as a philosopher, a philanthropist … and saint. But the thing is simply impossible.
“The millionaire’s work would run counter to the saint’s; the bon-vivant and the philanthropist would trip each other up; the philosopher and the lady-killer could not well keep house in the same tenement of clay. Such different characters may conceivably, at the outset of life, be alike possible for a man. But to make any one of them actual, the rest must more or less be suppressed.
“So the seeker of his truest, strongest, deepest self must review the list carefully and pick out one on which to stake his salvation. All other selves thereupon become unreal, but the fortunes of this chosen self are real. Its failures are real failures, its triumphs real triumphs, carrying shame and gladness with them.” 

So, if you choose to focus your efforts on becoming a successful musician then you won’t have the time to also get good enough at baseball or computer programming to become successful. It’s important to realize this so that we don’t get down on ourselves for not living up to either impossible standards we’ve set for ourselves or what other people expect from us. Just choose one thing and get amazing at it.

The same concept can be applied to romantic relationships. If you choose to commit to the girl with the nice smile and the dreads who’s into skateboarding then you better not also think you can get with the brunette who was kind to you at the cafe (unless you’ve been clear with the first girl that neither of you are going to be monogamous).

A mature man recognizes this and grieves the loss of other options on his own, or possibly with the help of other male friends or family members by talking it out, but the bottom line is that this life is not about getting everything you want. It’s about figuring out what you value, aligning your choices with those values, and then learning to let go of the rest, without hesitation, fear or sadness. Very hard to do, but that’s the goal.

Both Brant Bjork and William James are telling us something important: Pick a road, pick a self. Don’t think too much about it. Then focus as much of your energy as you can on developing this self and don’t obsess about whether you’ve chosen the correct one.

Ultimately, no matter who you choose to be, you will find meaning and growth if you allow yourself to let go of obsessing about the gap between what you think you deserve and what you ended up doing. You deserve nothing except unconditional love from your parents, guys. You earn the rest. Go kick ass.


About Ben Keeler

Ben is the founder of YMN, a former teacher and coach, and an unabashed baseball fanatic. Go Nats!

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