The myth that rules us all
It’s getting louder. The knot in my stomach fastens another notch. Thoughts reverberating in my head feedback into overdrive. My attempts to center myself are broken by the whip crack of an unrelenting master. I try to go to sleep anyway. I toss. I turn. Desperately seeking reprieve I try to zone in on my breath once more. Breathe in, breathe out. I feel myself relax a little. As soon as my mind congratulates itself, the next wave crashes over. It’s going to be a long night. Life in the age of anxiety.
I think back to the awkward sixteen year old version of myself. The fantasy tabletop gaming kid. The maths kid. The kid who hadn't talked to a girl, much less kissed one. The kid, who, without a hint of irony wanted to grow up to be a rockstar. I used to tell myself I was loner. That beyond my small group of friends I was okay with being introverted. Preferred it that way. It was a lie. I was lonely. The rockstar fantasy was my way of escaping that reality.
A decade or so later I'm a bit older and wiser. I've come to terms with my lack of rock and roll stardom. I’ve kissed a girl, several in fact. I’ve found a passionate calling I can turn into a career and make good money from. I have a sense of who I am and my value to world. And yet the fantasy is alive and well: The rockstar programmer. The maverick entrepreneur. The outlier. The most successful version of me: a person who’s reached the pinnacle. The world knows his name and they admire him for it. The guy with the perfect wife on his arm, they never fight and the sex is always great. His home is a loft apartment in the trendiest cosmopolitan city. He travels the world and lives a textbook life of awesome adventure.
I've fallen prey to the myth. We all have.
The myth likes to perpetuate the notion that when we have it all we will want for nothing. We believe it will feed our desperate hunger for connection, shower us with love and make us feel wholesome. Give us a place to belong and feel like we're actually worth a damn. We believe it will make us, in a word, happy. So we swallow the myth whole, we toil and labour under its great edifice. And we make sure we let the whole world know what offers we’re making at its alter. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. My life is better than yours. To show the cracks and admit you might be miserable is to lose. Shun the nonbeliever!
People like to romanticise a different time. They develop a nostalgic fervour for the past. “Things used to be so much better then.” No they weren’t. By almost every account from poverty to health to war to human rights things are better now for statistically more people than they ever were. People also like to worship the future, technology will save us! Well, the future is already upon us. In my lifetime I have witnessed the birth of a technology every bit as monumental as the printing press or the steam engine.
Did it feel revolutionary? Maybe to begin with. Then we adjusted and normalised. When my internet gets slow and I have to wait for Facebook to load? Profanities ensue. That the internet delivered wirelessly to a smartphone is pure magic to anyone alive before my birth matters not. Technology can do nothing to save us from the condition we call humanity. The solution is not to look at the world around us for answers, but to look within ourselves.
I often ask myself why I'm even on Facebook? Simple truth is I'm addicted. I dream of making a big dramatic exit and deleting my account. I don't do it because I tell myself I need it for work. And yet, I know part of the reason is the fear that I'll miss out on human connection; connection I feel the need to jealously guard. Knowing what you had for lunch with your recently wedded husband on your amazing honeymoon? Better than not knowing at all. Even if I had to wade through “16 of the most trite, banal and totally unremarkable facts that didn’t even slightly blow me away” to get there.
I imagine some readers will by now have painted a picture of me as a miserable asshole. “Everything is shit, life sucks”. Buckle up or get the fuck out they might say. It’s okay, I've thought that about a lot of people too. Post rationalization is easier than vulnerability. Hell, they might even be right. The other day I came across an interesting question which I'll paraphrase:
Who would you be if you didn’t need money or attention? (source)
The scary thing is I don't know the answer to that. And I'd like to start being more honest about it. This is home to seven billion people, seven billion different stories — all of them human. For all our technology there is so little about the human experience and how to carry yourself when you feel like you're coming up short.
I'm struggling to find a way to conclude this article, to tie a pretty little bow around it. To say “dear reader, don't worry everything is going to be alright”. But I feel to do so would be trivialising the magnitude of the abyss gnawing away at many of us. So maybe that’s where it starts, stating that life is imperfect and that’s okay. At the back of my head I know I'm secretly hoping this article will resonate with those near me. Spark conversations about the things I think we should be talking about. Bring me someone to connect with. Someone to belong with.
That’s the hardest part.