On Eating Bitter

“If you really want to screw someone, pay them a compliment.” ― me

GoodJobCompliments feed the ego and make the compliment-ee feel good.  In turn, they also make the compliment-er feel good about making the compliment-ee feel good.  But what actually results from our happy, overstuffed, corpulent egos meeting the cold, agnostic reality that binds us all?  Cognitive dissonance.

You’ve been told all your life how smart you are, how much potential you have, what great things you’re destined for. Perhaps you even believe it.  You’re a polyglot, a polymath, you’ve served your country, earned advanced degrees, seen some of the world, you play a musical instrument, and you have an IQ of over 150.  Congratulations.  Really.  These are not bad things.

But, when you (and all that goes with you) find yourself broke, unfulfilled, unhappy, and working your ass off for barely minimum wage, you start to question reality itself.  Is this how life was “supposed” to turn out?  Eventually, this questioning turns in on itself and the real culprit behind this injustice: you.

Surely, you are the real problem, right?  Actually, no.

The cognitive dissonance (i.e., bullshit) you’ve been swimming in your entire life has programmed you in ways that don’t jibe with reality.  It’s like trying to run FORTRAN on your iPhone.  It’s kind of a cool idea (in a certain nerdy sorta way), but ultimately… iOS responds with, “FOR-WHAT???”  Lest you start to question your programming skills, you need to realize that it’s just the wrong environment for that particular syntax.  In less nerdy terms, you’ve been indoctrinated by less-than-helpful BS to thrive in a BS-only reality.  The fact that you’ve come to believe the bullshit is actually the problem.

To be sure, self esteem is important, but it must be real.  It must be earned.  Unrealistic compliments, no matter how well intentioned, can ultimately serve to fuck you in the long run reality game.  Thunder is fine, but if Thor didn’t have lightning to back it up, he’d be nothing but fart gas in the wind.

Allow me to share a favorite quote with you:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On!’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
― Calvin Coolidge

The Japanese and Chinese cultures both have proverbs related to this.

Japanese: 苦有れば楽有りku areba raku ari. I’ve seen translations ranging from “No cross, no crown” to “No sweat, no sweet” to “No pain, no gain.”  None of these, in my opinion, cuts it.  I would prefer to translate it (a bit more literally) as “Without hardship, there can be no comfort.” Another similar proverb I like is: 良薬は口に苦しryōyaku ha kuchi ni nigashi or “Good medicine is bitter in the mouth.”

Chinese: 吃点苦chī diǎn kǔEat Bitter.  Short.  Simple.  (Not so) sweet.

Eat your turkey and counting your blessings on this Day of Thanksgiving.  But also consider having a side order of bitter.

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  • Learning doesn’t always hurt, but it’s not comfortable. In fact, I think if you’re comfortable, you’re probably NOT learning (that’s a chapter in one of my upcoming books) much at all. You’re a teacher, so I presume you’re well-versed in concepts of Affective Filter and Zone of Proximal Development. Too little stress doesn’t work, nor does too much. You need just the right amount. (And sometimes, a little external help.)

    Expectations are a pain in the ass. In my own life, my path has almost never gone exactly where I expected or wanted. Nor have I learned the lessons I thought I might. But they’re all useful. And we’re going where we’re going, even if we don’t exactly know where that is (yet).

  • ahickpoet

    Learning hurts. Or, as someone I usually prefer not to think about often used to put it, pain is the greatest teacher.

    What I find more interesting are the points earlier in the post about compliments and expectations. From early childhood I have lived with great expectations, and from an external perspective, compared to most people, it would appear I have achieved a great deal. The painful lesson at this point is that it is not necessarily what I set out to achieve, and given the expectations, has perhaps still not been enough. Perhaps that’s okay. I am now learning that sometimes the expectations are the problem.