I woke up this morning thinking about the band The National. In particular I was thinking about the lead singer Matt Berninger and I was imagining the various events in his life. I saw him checking into his nice hotel room after a large concert in Hollywood, California. I saw him greeting various fans that had been waiting for him. I saw him hanging out in his room with a large smile on his face. I saw him thinking to himself “so this is what it feels like to reach this place.”
“This place” is what most people would call success. I do not think of this form of success so much in the financial sense all though financial reward often goes along with it. Instead I think of “this place” as the kind of success that most people long for in their lives. It is the success of being able to be seen by the world in a very similar way that you see your self. This may be a confusing explanation for some so let me try and simplify things a bit.
You see, I feel the reason why we idealize and idolize rock stars, actors, actresses and other artists and writers is because they get to do something that most of regular people do not get to do. They get to be exactly who they are and get paid for it. Matt Berninger, for example, does not have to go off to a job where he must play the role of a graphic designer or psychotherapist to the best of his ability so that he can make a living. He does not have to be something that he is not inorder to get paid. He does not have to be seen by other people as being a graphic designer or a psychotherapist even though who he feels like he really is on the inside is a musician and a poet. His success is that he gets to be seen by the world exactly as he sees himself. Maybe its not so perfectly black and white but you get my point. I am sure that there are few things that Matt Berninger would rather do for a job than make music and write poetry and have thousands of people acknowledge him and his work.
I got out of bed this morning and went to make some tea. I thought about what I need to do today and a slight depression came over me. I tried to remind myself to remain present and stay focused on the breath. To be with “what is” without judging it. The idea that I had to work for a few hours, take the dogs for a walk, read, eat, find something to do and spend time cleaning the house just did not seem as engaging or satisfying as I imagine Matt Berningers plans for the day would be.
Now I realize envy is a trap and I am not envying the lifestyle of Matt Berninger over mine (who knows what it really feels like to be him). Well maybe there is a tinge of envy but what I am acknowledging is that life must feel very different on the inside when you get to be exactly who you are on the outside. When the world acknowledges (and pays) you for being exactly who you want to be. And is this not what a mid-life crisis really is? Reaching a certain point in your life and realizing that things have not turned out exactly how you imagined they would? Realizing that how everyone else sees you is not how you see yourself? I think it is. I think a mid-life crisis is born out of the cracks that occur when a person becomes fractured in their life. When they have to try as hard as they can to be something that they are not (in order to make a living).
Granted, such is life in the modern world. This is the fate of most men and women. We don’t have to contend with the massive poverty that exists in India or the political nightmares that exist in Palestine, Syria and Eypt but we do have to live with this feeling of a fracture inside of our souls. The nature of contemporary capitalist society is that the individual must be able to generate a moderate profit if they are going to have a decent quality of life. If they do not have the ability to generate profit than they are either homeless, a vagabond, a loser or even worse- a total failure who is dependent on others ability to generate profit. Most people are terrified of suffering these potential consequences of staying true to who you really are so somewhere along their lives journey they make compromises. They settle for second or third best. The degree to which a person settles determines the degree to which a person experiences a mid-life crisis. I suppose it even determines the degree to which you will envy the kind of life someone like Matt Berninger gets to live.
Am I experiencing a mid-life crisis? Probably not. Would I like it if my life was filled with more acknowledgment from others for being the person I imagined myself becoming in my twenties? Probably so. Would I be happier if my work life felt like it reflected my inner life more? Maybe so. What I do know for certain is that change is the fundamental nature of reality. All things are always in a process of continual change. Nothing stays the same- not even my ideas about who I am. So do I continue to hang on to a past that may not have worked out as I would have liked it to or can I move into the present moment of my life embracing the change that shapes everything? I suppose this is what Shakespeare may have meant when he wrote:
“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to?”