Being Great is Miserable

The chances of changing the world are slim. If you want to try, go for it. But the result might be guilt and misery.

Regret from setting too lofty of goals is what tends to happen if those goals are unachievable. In a society where more is never enough we tend to aim for the fences every time. Baseball is more realistic than the fans. If you are hitting 30% of the time you are doing very well for yourself. Try that with any other activity. See you in the unemployment line.

Barry Schwartz argued that maximizing our goals and desires can make us miserable. At some point we have to bring it down a level and find out what “good enough” is.

In both evangelical and progressive Christianity nothing for me was every good enough. The standards I applied to myself and the standards pushed on me from others were hard.

As a progressive, I never felt I was as socially conscious as I could be. I was never as aware of my white, male privilege as I needed to be. I was never a stronger advocate of the Other.

As an evangelical, I was never quite as theologically correct as I needed to be. I never witnessed enough. At one point I felt I simply questioned Calvinism too much! I hated Contemporary Christian Music but always felt a social pressure to buy a CD of it or a t-shirt to display my Christian awesomeness.

In both cases I was a maximizer. If I did not so what I thought was right, I felt like shit. Now, part of this was my own doing. My feelings were likely not the facts of the situation. But feelings don’t happen in a vacuum. That social pressure was real.

I have felt guilty about not changing the world or “being great” since those days. I have come to the conclusion that I was only feeling lousy about not changing the world because I was being selfish. I was stuck in that spot up until I read a brilliant little passage yesterday morning.

I don’t have to be great. I just need to do the best I can, with what I have, where I am. Huh. That easy? Yes.

You ask, “Must one do something?” Of course one must! And do whatever comes along – in your circle of friends and in your surroundings – and believe that this is and will be your real work. More will not be demanded of you. It is a great misconception to think, whether for the sake of heaven or, as the modernists put it, to “make one’s mark on humanity,” that one must undertake great, reverberating tasks. Not at all. It is necessary only to do everything according to the commandments of God. Just what exactly? Nothing in particular – only those things that present themselves to everyone in the circumstances of life, those things which are required by the everyday things we encounter. – St. Theophan the Recluse, Letter to a Young Girl. B#18.

All I have to do is cheerfully to do something that is good and helpful to those who come into my path. That won’t make me miserable. I might actually feel pretty damn good doing it.


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