The idea of achievement is a fickle and fragile thing. You can sometimes feel you are riding high, that you’ve slain your inner demons, shed your ‘loser’ self-image, and found the way of working that both fulfils yourself and impresses others. And yet all of this can quickly dissipate too. Worse, it can all – under scrutiny, or when subjected to external, other, and different criteria – look delusory.

At such times, perhaps all we can do is ‘keep calm and carry on’ – as the cliche goes; hold tight to our remaining or core belief and if, as a result of our collapsing confidence we are not sure which way to turn, then at least know to just wait, try to avoid doing anything that might be the wrong thing to do, taking no road rather than the wrong road chosen in panic.

Ultimately, we will need to move on, at the same time as returning to or relocating that priceless belief that seems to warm us as well as excite and confirm our long history of adventures, trials and tortures. After all, as well as; and above and beyond the individual and collective works that we manage to make (and making surely is important to what we are discussing here), it is our way, our method, our style etc. – all of which is unique to us, something we have often found and lost, often glimpsed barely, and just occasionally held confidently in our grip; all of that is what we are. and want to be, and aim to fulfil and share – that is to say it is our HOW as much as our WHAT; it is our WAY as much as our THIS and THIS, our THIS and THAT.

Unanticipated life-changes, against which we have no defence; people who treat us with surprising ignorance and crudity (that, in our perception may even amount to cruelty) can knock us off our metaphorical horse or (equally metaphorical) pedestal. But great beauty and the formidable excellence of others can also lay us low, forcing us to reassess the quality of our work. Sometimes, it seems to me, that we have to simply admit that we have not achieved all that we had hoped; that what we have made – of a work, of our work as a whole, or of our life – is, honestly, and after all, just 50%, 60 % or 70% of what we have so often felt capable – IF ONLY this or that unanticipated factor were not such an obstacle to reaching the heights we feel within us, and which we now and then catch sight of in our work.

Probably, we should resign ourselves to this syndrome, and find within it that great modesty we always and also hear in the voices of those whom we consider, and who are popularly regarded as ‘great’. Yes, their ’embarrassment’ whenever lauded in public, may be part polite shamming (it often looks like a mixed emotion), but surely none of us ever consistently achieves that 110% excellence of which we generally dream. In fact, there may be odd times when we temporarily over-achieve, perhaps momentarily reaching our 135%, and therefore locating something within our thoughts or works of which we are not in control, with which we are unfamiliar, and which is therefore not always helpful. This ‘queers the pitch’ of our aspirations, making what we are aiming for unquantifiable after all, and even something towards which it may be unwise to ‘aim’.

Ultimately, it is best to not look too long elsewhere and at others, but to absorb as much as we can of beauty and greatness found in the world, in ‘little’ things and in ‘little’ people as much as in ‘great’ things and ‘great’ people. We do have a primary duty to kindly nurture the self, to congratulate and take pride in ourselves, and indeed to calmly carry on while always, artfully, and never too harshly, monitoring our own achievements and our our own standards; gently guiding and pulling ourselves along as best we can, and letting others, and simply letting time, in the end, be the ultimate judge of all our truly unquantifiable ‘achievements’.


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