I’ve been thinking about writing this for a while but honestly, I’ve never really had the words to say to do it justice.
I’ve gone on long runs with sentences flying through my head like mini planets, orbiting in rhythm, and me trying to make sense of them but getting to the end, chugging some water, and my point disappearing into the gravity of what’s next on my daily agenda. I’ve been swirling the cereal bowl of my brain looking for sense in the mealy remains but not really finding anything but nonsensical leftovers.
Up until this moment, it’s always been abstract ingredients. But today, despite the sad circumstances and also because of them, I’m ready to offer up some food for thought.
If you’ve read anything I’ve written before this, then you know I’m a big believer in following your arrow. Going after what makes you happy, at all costs, no matter what. Doing that one thing that wakes you up in the morning and makes you lose sleep thinking about at night. Drumming solo, walking alone, a living breathing 80’s pop ballad in search of your own purpose. Dream on, brotha.
I’m an advocate for living the dream. For starting at the bottom, and arriving. To getting there. That’s why we’re alive right??
Now it’s there I hesitate. It’s after you reach there. It’s after you reach the world’s version of success.
And as time goes on, I’m beginning to think I don’t know what success looks like anymore. The dream seems to send itself straight into debt and rehab more often than not and I’m just running around mostly wondering if being happy and being successful are even the same thing.
If accomplishing your dreams means you lose all sense of self along the way, is that really success at all?
Very simply.. your dreams, for what price?
Several years ago, I caught Bieber Fever. Yes. True. I believed in the kid in purple, who started on the steps of a church playing guitar for anyone who’d listen. I believed in his earnest passion, his dedication to his talent. I believed he deserved to win big. To make it. To get there. I believed in Justin Bieber mostly because I saw myself in him. That desire to win, that steadfast sincere belief that someday he’d get there.
And he did.
But the cute, approachable, passionate Justin Bieber of 5 years ago, is long gone. In his place is a snotty, rude, entitled creation of a machine that we designed. However, as predicted, Bieber is extremely successful. At just 20 years old, his net worth is 130 Million. He also has the highest selling single in US history and the world record for three No.1 US and UK albums before the age of 18.
Several months ago, Phillip Seymour Hoffman died in his apartment of an accidental drug overdose. The actor was found dead on his bathroom floor after mixing heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines and amphetamines. Hoffman was nominated for an Academy Awards four times over the course of his life and won an Oscar for best actor in 2006. His estimated worth was around 35 million upon his death.
And finally, yesterday, one of the most talented and by all accounts, “successful” comic geniuses of our time committed suicide alone in his home. Robin Williams battled severe depression, addiction, and several divorces before he ended his life. He was 63.
Three different men. All wildly successful by societal standards; all troubled souls on an individual scale.
You can argue success doesn’t always lead to above. It can be humble and respectful, understated and modest.
But truthfully, who gets to the top of their mountain and whispers, well guys I made it. Time to go back down now and fulfill a quiet life on a suburban cul-de-sac with my neighbor Jedediah who likes to grill things and race his moped while his wife is shopping at Kohls.
Hello! If social media taught me anything, it’s that people don’t even need to be actually successful to pretend they have all their shit together. Screw keeping up with the Jones, we are the Jones! Keep up with us bitches!
So it’s not shocking when you do actually “make it” that keeping up appearances, and appearing as if you have it all together becomes ten-fold. You’re only as cool, as rich, as nonchalant, as funny, as successful as you appear to be. You are a facade of your own self.
And that’s the basis of my struggle here. To understand the very foundation of what success means to me. Seeing those lives play out once one achieves those dreams. How it often leads to cruelty, addiction, divorce, bankruptcy, loneliness, and so cold you can see your own breath unhappiness. How you make it to the top of your mountain and yell and yell and yell for people to look at what you’ve accomplished but then you realize, no one’s even listening anymore. And so you tumble-down.
And often, you don’t even care at that point if anyone’s going to stop you.
I don’t know if there is an answer here. I don’t know if it’s possible to pin point a time when the tables turn and your own prosperity pivots on you. All I know is that it’s heart-breaking to see what success does to many people. How it changes them. How we’ve come to expect drug overdoses, suicides, rehab stints, and messy divorces as a side-effect of achieving and living the dream.
Honestly, very simply, it makes me wonder what exactly I’m chasing and why on earth I’m even chasing it.
I’m running down a dream, and I hope when I get there, I respect and revere the path I took to get to the top. That every once in a while, I stop, reevaluate and remember why I do what I do.
That life is precious, fragile, and above all, short.
Don’t waste it.
We’re sorry we lost you to the dream, Mr. Williams. You will be dearly missed.