Our life is an endless sequence of undying efforts we put forth in a struggle to please others. In other words – much of what we do, we do to please others. We modify our behavior to subconsciously please our friends and relatives, we also do it to please those we don’t know (nor do they know us) but come across in our day to day lives, and we also perpetually strive to please those we haven’t even (nor ever will) come into contact with:
- we struggle to pay our bills on time to please credit rating agencies
- we struggle to eat healthy so we can improve our physique because then we will be perceived as more attractive by others
- we struggle to earn good money so we can live in a house, drive in a car, wear latest fashion that will make the heads of others turn
- we struggle to write interesting blog posts, twitter updates, facebook profiles because we want others to subscribe, comment, follow, brown-nose, circle-jerk, or otherwise become parts of our network of admirers
Here’s the kicker – most people are so obsessed with pleasing others, they find little time to please themselves (and I’m not referring to sexual self-gratification). Dedication to pleasing others seems to have become the life’s mission of the many of us. It’s become an obsession, a purpose, a meaning of life. We are judged by and gain social status based on how many people we impress throughout our journeys through life. The “what would people say?” is the very question that, whether consciously or subconsciously, pops into our minds and becomes the determining factor of the course of our actions.
I could also put it this way: we live our lives by responding to external demands in an anticipation of external rewards, such as acceptance, status or security, all the while sacrificing our internal needs. Instead of striving to be the best we can be, we act in response to seemingly urgent demands from external sources. The time, that precious commodity we have only a limited supply of is thus taken away from us to belong to somebody else by our own doing.
1 – Take the First Step in Faith…
My journey to rejuvenated self awareness and self realization started when I reached my personal spiritual awakening and began to question the purpose of dedicating the best days of my life to work. The idea of working for the man while I’m young, strong, healthy and fit seemed as absurd as the idea of putting off the fun things this life has to offer until I retire – aka until I’m old and wrinkly and unable to do half the things I can do now. The latter became even more absurd when I realized that one may not even live long enough to reach their retirement age, in which case all they would have experienced during their journey on the planet Earth is work. Just how must it feel when your time to reap the benefits of lifetime dedication to work never comes to be?
2 – Don’t Stop After Your First Step…
I set myself free from the clutches of corporate slavery and started to roam the Earth a free man. But the journey didn’t end there. As I found out soon after, there was more to self realization than freedom from corporate lifestyle. A major next step in my personal growth came to be with a realization that I was a slave to gadgets. What is freedom from one set of shackles good for if you slip into a different set right after? The outcome is the same – you are a slave – only this time your shackles have cute paintings on them. The knowledge I have gained from this experience was – if it dictates your life – you’re enslaved to it, even if it’s something you enjoy and would voluntarily go for.
It was the same type of feeling I felt when I started hating photography even though I loved it my whole life. When surviving as a professional photographer became tough and I had to take gigs I did not enjoy, it was taking the fun away from the whole thing and I hated every minute of it. But as soon as I left pro photography and started taking pictures as a hobby, capturing only what I had genuine passion for, the love and joy for photography came instantly back.
3 – It Gets Worse
Then came the challenge from hell. I was able to set myself free from corporate slavery and gadget entrapment, but having gotten this far – further than most people do – I couldn’t just stop there. I had to poke where it really hurt. There was still one set of shackles and this set holds grip so tight and snug, its existence is not admitted to, not even by the most self realized individuals. It’s the internet.
We the generation of today are so addicted to the internet, it’s not an addiction anymore. It’s part of our daily lives. Everything is on the web, is controlled by the web and is determined by the web. It only gets worse if you’re a person like me who makes his living on the internet. When you’re at that point, then internet gets to decide your every next step. Running an online based business requires one to be constantly on line. Monitoring traffic, responding to online requests, moderating comments, looking for security holes, patching security holes, analyzing server logs, tweaking server settings to improve performance, optimizing database structures, upgrading to stay on top and writing fresh content are just a few of the daily tasks a webmaster has to go through on the daily basis. And that only scratches the surface. It’s the tip of the iceberg the highly competitive world of webmastering represents.
Because of that, despite my apparent freedom from corporate slavery and gadget entrapment, I could not consider freeing myself from the internet as my whole life depended on it. Worse yet, the idea that the internet could be a set of shackles I have not identified yet was not even admitted in my mind. Afterall, how could internet, a tool that makes our lives what they are, be ever considered a tool of enslavement?
Yet that is exactly what it is. For example – while on my tour through Asia, I could not consider a trip to Myanmar because of scarce availability of the internet and heavy censorship throughout the country. If I found myself unable to access any of my sites, I would be unable to monitor them. As a result, if there was a malicious activity on any of the sites, I would be unable to respond before it wreaked complete havoc on the server. And the stress of living with the possibility that there could be something undesired going on with my sites while I’m unable to check and see whether my concerns are founded or not would drive me insane. Hence, a trip to Myanmar was a no option.
Willing to admit to it or not, considering how far I got with my journey of self awareness, it was only a question of time before the shackles the internet represented were identified and ultimately admitted to as such. I’m still not free from this set, but success to every mission begins with giving the problem a name, calling it for what it really is, admitting that it is in fact a problem regardless of how difficult this admission is to make, and if you’re able to do just that, you’re off to a good start. The rest is about putting thoughts into actions but action is what would never come to be unless you square up with it on the mental level first.
The Curse of Pleasing Others
It took me two years to thoroughly identify and admit to each of these sets of shackles. Two I was able to successfully shake off, third I’m still dealing with and as the struggle rages on, I came to understand what really was behind all this. It’s the struggle to please others. It’s the very thing I mentioned right at the beginning of this article. This constant struggle to please others so we can feel relevant is what makes us so selfish. It’s what destroyed true community spirits and replaced them with faux community life we know today.
One would have to visit remote tribes that live far away from civilization to see what community spirits mean. Elsewhere it has long been dead. When you see the hunters leaving the village for a day to hunt, gatherers leaving for a different part of the forest to gather wild edibles, those who are sick or injured staying in the village along with those who look after the fire, bake bread or weave baskets that would be traded off with other tribes. At the end of the day, each bit of food the village as a whole produced is put together so everybody can eat. Hunters don’t just hunt for themselves and their families. They hunt for the village. Bakers don’t just bake for themselves and their families, they bake for the village. Everything is shared – work and food. And when whole village is fed, they gather round to celebrate another day of good life together – as a community.
In cases like these, where real community spirits still exist, people don’t do things to please others. Hunters don’t go hunting to show off that the buck they took down was bigger than one their neighbor got. They don’t put fragrant aftershave on to appeal to women late at night. They don’t need to build their house taller than their neighbors’ – because they are a community. They don’t do things to please others, they do it to survive. Their way of life may seem savage to us, but when you get past this narrowminded point of view (most people never get there in their whole lives), you’ll see that they make far more sense than us.
Granted, one could bring up an argument that without the struggle to please others, we would not have progressed as a civilization. And it is true. People train to be good at sports to show off, and they invent things for the same very purpose. If it wasn’t for this insatiable greed and selfishness, people would retain the community spirit and with it, would lose the desire to get more admiration than their neighbor. Nothing pisses an individual off more than success of their neighbor. The hatred this feeling evokes drives a desire to steal that spotlight off for themselves. Some do it by getting more creative, some by backstabbing, but they all have the same common denominators – zero community spirit with surplus of greed.
It is also important to distinguish between a real community spirit and fake community involvement as we see in modern societies today. People get rewards for their “community involvement” – you could even find lawyers who offer legal advice “pro bono” yet the real reason why these people got involved in the community in the first place was… out of selfish greed. It’s because they knew people were watching and they knew it would be noticed, hence they did it. It was once again a case of doing things to please others. In other words, it’s an engagement in activities one would not do if there was absolutely nobody to see them.
Are You Living to Please Others?
Imagine a scenario from a cataclysmic movie comes true and whole civilization is wiped out with you being the sole survivor. Imagine you look out of the window and there is absolutely nobody out there. You walk outside and keep walking for days on end and there is no one but you. Would you bother putting a make up on and dying your hair before heading out? How about this scenario:
Being a girl and the only survivor of a major cataclysmic event you stumble across a chest. You are happy to have found it cause you could use some clothes and shoes before cold of the night takes over and blisters on your feet get too painful. In one of the compartments you find really sexy high heels, shiny latex miniskirt and ripped up tank top held together with safety pins. In another you find manly looking coveralls, rubber boots and checkered flannel work shirt. Which set would you take to keep fed and hydrated? Which set would you take if no catastrophic event took place and there would be people out there the same way they are now?
One more time with the catastrophic event scenario – if you found a notepad and a pen and decided to keep a journal, would your journal entries be the same as your facebook updates today? Go back to your facebook, twitter, blog or whatever else you use and read the last 5 entries you’ve made. Read them now after you have just read my article about the curse of pleasing other and see if you can reflect on yourself and find yourself in it. Have you written them in a way so as to earn extra brownie points from your peers you anticipated to read it? It takes a strong person to see forest for the trees. Are you her or him?
Do not confuse genuine compassion of one human being towards another with selfish desire to drive up one’s ego by pleasing others. They are not the same thing. They are only parts of the same spectrum, but are at exact opposites of it.
We, the men and women of the 21st century grow up completely disconnected from our inner selves. We have lost the ability to speak to our souls and understand what dwells within us. Instead of looking for our place on the planet Earth, we look for attention. Instead of discovering our purpose in life, we live to show off. We dedicate more time and effort establishing our social status than we do anything else. What we choose to wear, what we choose to say, what we choose to write about, where we choose to go or what we choose to do – we do it, admittedly or not, with foremost interest in boosting our own image in the eyes of others.
It is all about the struggle to please the society, because we have come to believe that the society will reward us by recognizing our “contribution” to it. We want admirers, we want fans, we want our name to be in a newspaper or on a TV screen. We want people to talk about us and most of all – we want them to envy us. We are not interested in things that may advance us independently, on a personal level, unless we get a chance to show it off and gain media coverage while we’re at it.
You don’t see people retracting to the wilderness to live as hermits in order to gain closeness with nature and a better understanding of their place in the awareness. You only sometimes hear about them because if they do something like that, they do it as an attempt to gain fame. To them, albeit claimed as a primary reason of their move, the potential of inner personal development by taking the step is secondary to the social status a “sacrifice” of this type would reward them with.
Finding someone who wouldn’t desire the public to gasp for the air when they hear their story is nigh impossible in this day and age. Those who take steps that appear to have been taken with intentions to grow as individuals take them with loud announcements to the world via internet or other media. I truly find it hard to accept that a person who keeps posting Twitter updates once every hour about his journey to self discovery is merely interested in finding his place in life.
To rephrase – all we seem to care about is our social status. We do things to please others and want everything we do to be seen. Screw inner growth if we can’t brag about what it took us to get where we are and how we struggled to pull it off. We desire nothing more than to be envied. We want it so much we determine the steps we take based on the likelihood and the amount of envy we get in return. We want a job others will envy, we want to drive a car others will envy, we want to have a body others will envy, we want to have done something others would wish to have done before us. It’s falsehood in disguise. We think we are advancing in lives, but all we’re doing is pleasing others. By doing so, we’re letting others to dictate our lives as the directions we choose, we choose based on what social status they would reward us with. We have lost touch with our inner selves and become, in simple terms, strangers to our own souls.
This is what pleasing others, disguised as a journey to self discovery looks like.