You Are Where You’re Supposed to Be
Dealing with idealizations surrounding us and leaning into choice
While in line for a coffee this week, I overhear a conversation between a young man in front of me and the also young barista:
It’s called Designing Your Life. They have a TED talk, it’s good. You should check it out. Says the customer to the barista. He continues.
They talk about alternative versions of you that you can try and explore. The young man then pulls out his phone to show the cover of the talk. Coffee is served. He kindly moves aside, giving me room to order, while their conversation momentarily pauses.
I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation guys. I really like this TED you mentioned, and actually recommend their book of the same name, too. I say to the customer, who opens a smile, raising his eyebrow. I continue.
I work with Life Design, and this book was one of my inspirations when I started. I clarify as I introduce myself to the barista, who then takes center stage.
Yeah, I was sharing with him (the other customer) that I have a feeling inside of me that tells me I can be more. That I could be somewhere else making things. What if being here (as a barista) I’m missing out on other possibilities?
Looking me in the eye, he solemnly ponders.
Do you get what I’m saying?
Who hasn’t asked themselves this question? How many times haven’t I wondered about where I was, about what I was doing, about the direction my life was taking. How many times haven’t I felt like a spectator of a movie when I truly wanted to be the protagonist?
Discomforts such as this one, beautifully, genuinely and vulnerably shared by the barista, are ever more present in this day and age. Needless to go into the already relentlessly researched FOMO (fear of missing out), as well as its close companion, the endless horizon of possibilities life in the 21st Century has become. Right?
But what can be more paradoxical then having all choices in the world and still feel imprisoned by your own thoughts and feelings?
Enters the field of the imaginary.
In the Psychoanalysis of French mastermind Jacques Lacan, the field of the Imaginary is one of three interwoven circles making what is known as our subjectivity, or the innate individual traits, characteristics, views and parlance each of us present. The other two, the Symbolic and the Real, will be gently saved for future articles.
Simply put (if there’s anything like it in Lacan), the Imaginary is a field originated with what he coined as Mirror Phase, or the first moment when we look at ourselves on a mirror acknowledge: That is me?
Nonetheless, the Imaginary hosts numerous other domains. The domain of identifications and the familiar-yet-commonly-misinterpreted narcissistic drives are two of them. In the latter, a peculiar vein leads to what could otherwise be described as ideals and idealizations that I hold or live by.
Together, these ideals and idealizations shape up the Ideal-I (term coined by Freud), which essentially comprises everything that I would like to have been, according to others. It’s everything that I would want to be seen as and known for, in accordance with the larger frame the culture around me presents.
The idealization of I. Tricky territory.
In one way, idealizations are an essential part of our psyche’s structure because it is in pursuit of this ideal me that I develop myself. It is what gets me up in the morning, what fuels my other drives.
However, ideals are, by definition, unattainable. They are the very finishing lines that we keep on pushing further away everytime we’re close to them. While the root answer to why we do that might be worth more than you think, let’s just say for now that we simply don’t want to end the race. Because if we do, what’s left then?
You might be wondering how this theoretical digression links back to the barista.
Well, his fear of missing out is part of this larger notion meaning “what’s is out there must be better than what’s in here.” It is indeed an idealization he holds, without being aware that it’s a “project” impossible to be concluded. We never meet our ideals, because we redefine what they are all the time.
Another critical component in his reflection was a short, quick, subtle expression that we often say and hear: what if.
In an era where innovation and creativity are (possibly) at all-time highs, never what if’s were this encouraged. Certainly, a key prompt to get us out of mundane, predictable, and habitual mindsets and results.
I’d argue, instead, that falling prey to what if’s can paranoiacally spin us in endless loops of not uncertainty, but eternal dissatisfaction.
How to cope with this?
Exploring alternatives is always enriching. Especially when we have a deep sense that we might not belong where we are at the present moment. How do I know when to trust “this sense”? Collect data. Research yourself.
Still, I would encourage a reframing this “not belonging where I am” moment, and nourish a perspective out of it.
Rationally, we are where we are in life. Period.
It’s easy to look back, connect the dots and wonder, complain, and ‘what if’ ourselves. What makes it hard for us to know or choose is precisely the fact that, in the present moment, we have little data about ourselves and a ton of ego grips splitting us apart. We get stuck with competing commitments inside of us.
We can only gauge our trajectory looking in hindsight — because “to gauge” is a reflective mental exercise. It’s predicated on the past.
The present moment is a different story. I personally try to be conscious about that whether I have numerous choices around me, and might sometimes idealize one (or all) of them, I remember myself of how good it is to have choices in the first place.
I try to get clear that every choice leaves aside residual alternatives that I have decided to discard. For that reason, as long as I choose, I’ll always be missing out on something. And I’d rather miss out than not having the liberty of choice.
One last thing worth mentioning is that this linearity of life, as a perception we build from the sequence of moments we live every single second can be very delusional. It may mislead us to see life as a coherent movie plot, where things should happen according to a certain standard (also known as our culture).
The reality, says Lacan, is what we extract from the Real to make our narratives livable. As human beings, we are the ones who attribute meaning to everything around us, and only we, and not anyone else, can call as coherent (or not) the “sequence” of our choices.
Since gauging is past-oriented, use it to your advantage in the now. What is essential in the present is not to fear what we might be missing out on, but to lean into the horizon of possibilities we can gratefully see.