so that i still want
what i want
once i have it
so that i want to still want
what i want
once i have it
grant me these, o lord
so that i can build something
i won’t be compelled
if that is too much, o lord
if it is my fate
whatever i build
deliver me, o lord
from the discontent
that drives me to build
what i must inevitably destroy
so that i want
my teenage years were, by any red-blooded adolescent standard, blessed — flush with success, whether with girls, money, drugs, fights, or whatever else my little id might have desired.
but, all that success led to the inevitable devaluation of the currency of success.
first, like most people, i found that satisfaction was homeostatic.
no matter what i achieved — and no matter the intense, though brief, heights of euphoria i derived from those achievements — i found that i would soon regress to my historical levels of happiness, contentment, and satisfaction (or, more accurately, lack thereof).
second, though, and more insidiously, the joy of pursuing success began to fade along with the joy of success itself.
life and liberty i still had, but material and social success had begun to come so fast and so easy that not just happiness, but even the pursuit of happiness, had begun to lose its luster.
the thrill of victory had given way to the expectation of victory,
the thrill of the chase had given way to the numbing ennui of a daily commute.
i found myself climbing the steps of a shepard scale, restlessly anticipating the next peak, without stopping to enjoy the climb; inevitably, once i’d reached a higher step, i’d ultimately find it indistinguishable from the previous step.
discontent is a useful mechanism for driving men to achieve their goals.
but what good is discontent when the goals themselves have succumbed to hyperinflation?
i wrote the prayer above at the wise old age of 15, after cracking a book on buddhism and attempting to make sense of the concept of nirvana.
in the sources i read, nirvana was portrayed as total freedom from craving, desire, anger, and other such states of discontent — a total freedom that would extinguish the fires of human suffering described vividly in genesis 3.
this notion provided only cold comfort for me, though, for i saw such “freedom”, such detachment, as the death of the soul itself.
the mathematician paul erdös referred to colleagues who had stopped doing pure mathematics, whether by stopping altogether or even by switching to applied math, as “dead”; i felt the same way about my own drives — if i stopped chasing them in their pure form, whether by losing them altogether (nirvana) or by settling into a more practical routine, i’d be “dead”.
the idea of nirvana resonated with some.
to me, nirvana would be death.
hence, the prayer above.
it’s possible that i’m too much of a horizontal integrator to make things last once i’ve built them. whether this is by natural temperament or by the numbing effect of too much success, too fast, too soon, with too little effort, i’ll never know, but i’ve been keenly aware of it since even before the wise old age of fifteen.
my nirvana, then, would be a return to the pure enjoyment of the chase — and of the explosive satisfaction of capturing elusive prey — without the accompanying, specious desire to break and domesticate that prey, only to release it back into the wild once it has come to depend on me for its survival.
is there such a thing as too much success, too soon, too fast?
in order to feel successful, and to remain motivated to chase success, do we need a certain lack of success in our lives?
if we graph happiness versus actual degree of success, do we get a laffer curve?
**at the time of writing this prayer, i had never heard of the “principle of commitment and consistency” as (later?) popularized by robert cialdini.