Monday, May 23, 2011

The People Who Matter

"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter
and those who matter don't mind."

-- Dr. Seuss

In today's world, it's easy to get caught up in superficiality.

I mean, we live in a land rife with social media, where networking and connections are an integral - and often indispensable - part of our personal and professional lives. In fact, it's not uncommon for the average person to have hundreds - if not thousands - of online "friends" or followers on either Facebook and/or Twitter, respectively.

But does this quantity over quality mentality really make any sense? Are we as individuals really gaining anything (other than meaningless bragging rights) when we establish such loose and virtually nonexistent ties with people whom we, to be perfectly honest, barely know?

I used to think so. Perhaps it's a side effect of living a school and family-centric adolescence, one devoid of close, personal friendships outside of my immediate family, but when I had my so-called awakening in my early 20s, I knew that one of the areas I most needed to work on was my social skills.

So I put myself out there, albeit gradually, and began to go out drinking or just plain old hanging out with friends, co-workers, etc., despite the fact that the activities and their company often left me feeling empty inside. Having consumed varying amounts of alcohol and spending needless cash to do so, I would ultimately return home feeling like I had been bamboozled.

The whole point of my attempts to build a social life was to try and fill that emptiness I felt within, and while I have on occasion managed to conduct close, meaningful conversations with those I consider my friends, it seems that society's general idea of "friendship" relies largely on pointless small talk and artificial incarnations of our true selves, as if socializing is nothing more than the world's most widespread and elaborate costume party.

No one really gets to know the people around them because no one is secure and confident in themselves to drop the charade and be who they truly are. And, with everyone flashing their masks of perfection and unaffectedness, how can we ever hope to achieve those deep connections with people? How can we ever realize our desire to fill that lingering emptiness inside with people in our lives who truly care about us and invoke within us the desire to open ourselves up to them in return?

I've been just as guilty of this as anyone, as I spent at least half of my years on this planet hiding in the shadows... terrified of the judging eyes all around me... simultaneously yearning for their approval and resenting myself for not being more vigilant about seeking it.

So while I half-heartedly attempted to build a social circle in the real world, I settled for what I suspect many other people in a similar position do as well. I relied on the faux-friendships of Facebook, even knowing that the impersonal nature of the medium would not slake my hunger for close relationships.

In my heart, I had only my family and a handful of reliable friends, and this simply wasn't enough.

I can't say if this was caused mostly by my own insecurities or simply the societal pressure to be popular (which usually starts around the time of high school and often stays with us throughout our lives). Whatever the case may be, I was consistently seeking attention online and otherwise... looking for someone... anyone to show they care.

However, as I've grown weary of making attempts to contact and foster friendships with people who showed little to no interest in reciprocating and getting to know me, my perspective has shifted irreversibly to the other side.

And my conclusion now is... I don't need hundreds of "friends." I don't want to establish superficial, substanceless relationships with friends, co-workers, significant others or family members. If I'm going to get to know someone, they're going to get to know me.

Perhaps it's just the fact that time has made me a much wiser man than my younger self, but my time is too valuable to piss away going out drinking, getting caught up in mindless conversation and meeting random strangers who have little relevance to my life and possess no genuine desire to hear my story.
Unlike those people still trapped on that carousel of meaningless relationships and phoniness, I have come to realize that I'm far luckier than they are. Yes, I don't have a thousand "friends" on Facebook. I don't have a million followers on Twitter. Hell, I'm not even the life of the party in my real life.

My gift is far greater. I know - without the shadow of a doubt - who I can count on to be there for me. I know that my infinitely supportive family, my amazing girlfriend and a handful of reliable friends accept and love me for who I am with no reservation. They've seen the good and bad in me and have decided to stick by me.

So, while others might spend their days searching in vain for that sense of belonging, I've had mine all along. Now, it's simply up to me to show appreciation to the people in my life who love me by showing my love in return. They're the only ones I need. In short, they're the people who matter.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Playing for Passion

"Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion."
-- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

It's no mistake that the above quote adorns the wall of the bathroom in my apartment. It seems to me that so many people meander through life so determined on simply surviving... on getting through school, making it to the end of each oncoming work week, even suffering through that awkward family get-together... that they entirely miss the point of life: to live it. I should know. I used to be one of those people.

The truly unfortunate thing about being both socially awkward and a natural introvert is that you spend so much time locked away in the confines of your own mind that the years slip by seemingly without notice.

One minute, you're a carefree 12-year-old devoid of the emotional burdens that cause most people to conduct themselves in a manner totally at odds with their true identity. The next minute, you're in your early 20s, befuddled and confused, wondering where the time went and searching in vain for whatever it is you have to show for it.

The problem - at least, in my case - was a lack of enthusiasm and direction in my life. While I went about my daily activities (school, work, time with family), I had invested little of myself in my own life. In short, I had no passion.

Following the epiphany that accompanied my 21st birthday, I steadily began to take hold of my destiny, and a large part of that was the discovery of my passion for writing. Within two or three years, I began to write advertorials for a local community publication, became an active contributor to my college newspaper and even started this very blog.

Slowly but surely, my life began to take shape, and its the miraculous empowerment of passion that made that possible. Whereas most people may simply strive for surviving their life, I began to hope for something better, a life which I can be proud of. The one I was destined for.

But passion doesn't extend strictly to your professional calling. It's far deeper than that. It's about the people in your life as well, the connections you make. It's about the company you keep at work, with family... friends... even your romantic relationship. It's that feeling you get that everyone and everything in your life is exactly as it should be, and you can't imagine it any other way.

It's about having strong feelings of interconnectedness with the people and places around you and finding an element of excitement in even the most prosaic things you do. Waking up in the morning and feeling like you belong.

For so many years, I spent my life feeling like a stranger in my own skin. I would stop and reflect on who I was, how the world saw me and how I saw the world... and it disgusted me. I knew that I wasn't being true to myself, that I wasn't living the life I should be.

But, like many people currently meandering through their years with little room in their hearts and minds for joy or even amusement, I was too weak and too afraid to change my circumstances.

And therein lies the true tragedy. Because most people caught in this never-ending cycle of disenchantment will never take the time to search within themselves and explore the desires of their heart. Whether crippled by circumstance or fear, they may never be able to confront the difficult questions that plague us all. The big, underlying mystery that underscores each individual's journey.

It's never been "Why are we here?" but rather "Why am I here?" "What makes me the happiest? What is my calling? Who truly holds my heart? What the hell do I want in life?"

Shakespeare once wrote, "All the world's a stage. And all the men and women only players."

Which begs the question: What're you playing for? Without that driving force... without finding where you belong and who you belong with... you're squandering your time in the spotlight.

So, follow my advice, take five and re-evaluate if you're truly giving your all out on that stage. Because, if you're not, the only one you're doing a disservice to... is yourself. You only have one chance to deliver the performance of your life.