Something to live up to

I’ve just caught up wit the final episode of the most recent season of Mad Men. Something about it made me ache.

Don is near breaking point. His past haunts him. Aspects of his life have spiralled out of control. His daughter despises him. And there’s some self-contempt in him.

In many ways he appears the same in-control Don Draper, still the strong, often brusque personality. But there are signs too. The frequent absences. The reliance on alcohol, and the shaking hand when he tries to give it up. Then there is the unexpected admission to Hershey’s about his past as it becomes too much. He is enveloped in the past he cannot escape – and so he returns to it, as we see in the last scene of the show.

One of the things I always liked about Don Draper is that he is the best. That’s what a lot of people like about him I think. He personifies an ideal. He’s the Madison Avenue creative director admired, respected and occasionally feared. He knows he’s good. That’s a big part of his personality. He’s been driven to become this person in an attempt, we learn throughout the series, to blot out, overcome, or usurp a past he has lied about and is ashamed of. That’s his big, dark secret that he bulldozes by being Don Draper. He’s numero uno, and everything is secondary to that.

Of course, it’s not as easy as that. And that’s why the show is so compelling, and why I relate so closely to it. I don’t have that dark secret. But I have the same desire to be the best, not something close to it. And to partner it I have a bunch of my own flaws I have to attend to. Talented, but complex.

As I sit and watch shows like this thoughts slide through my mind. I find myself conjecturing, wondering, feeling at the same time as things unfold on screen. In shows like Mad Men I see so much that reflects back to me. It’s different things at different times, but put together it adds up to something. Today it was the insight about Don needing to be the best. I understood that. A desire like that becomes an attribute of personality. It’s not just something you are, but something you can’t understand except in that one way. In all honesty I don’t see any other point but trying to be the best. Perhaps that’s easy for me to say. I have the wherewithal to be good. If it’s in my capability to slam dunk, why lay up? Rephrase then. Why would you not what to be the best you can be? What point to life other than that?

That’s all very valid, but to get to the nub of someone like Don Draper, and me, being the best we can be is secondary I think to being the best, full stop. There’s a quantitative measure there. Being an 8 is insufficient. We want to be leaders. 10 is it. We have to be more. You can figure out the fragile psychology of that for yourself.

That’s how I live, strange as it may be given my circumstances. I want to be superior. I say that to people in describing my aspirations and my capabilities, but I say it in lower case. I write it down, how important it is to over-deliver, to do it just as it should be. They’re clichés really, but in my case they’re true. That’s how I feel it. I can’t imagine settling for mediocrity. I want to squeeze every drop out, and I’m confident there’s a lot to be squeezed. You can say it’s ego, and I guess there is a fair dash of it, but it’s ego become philosophy. The overman.

How incongruous it is then, to be in the situation I’m in. Almost a mockery of all that. I swallow that lest I choke on it. I can wallow, or I can go on. I may not be the best now, but I can aspire to return to that again. It feels a part of who I am, or meant to be.

All this goes through my head, much quicker than I’ve written it here, but extrapolating from that starting point, and sensed as much as thought. That’s going through me and I’m watching the show with rapt attention and as I watch wisdom dawns on Don. For all he has, for all his achieved, for all the best he is, he’s failing. It’s moments like that which redeem him as a character, and bind us to him. His life is toxic for all the glitz and approbation. California beckons.

I almost sighed. It hit me, bang. How I knew that. Again. That’s my big mental out. Take off somewhere, reinvent myself, if nothing else works – which seems close to reality. Except I can’t really do that. I’d happily end up in some place like Tokyo or Amsterdam, except it’s unlikely, and doubly so because of the mutt. The best I can contemplate is a place in the bush or by the sea – and it is alluring.

Then it comes at me: have I been pitching myself at the wrong target? Don imagines a different life in the sunshine of the west coast, a smaller office, a new beginning. A break from what has been. That thought lingers in me. My inner eye searches, for wisdom, understanding. Have I led myself down these wrong paths because I could? Am I so competitive that whatever I turn to I need be best, or something like it, even if it is the wrong thing? To date that has been business of some sort. But maybe it shouldn’t be. Question mark. Maybe I’m just throwing myself at this because that’s what I’ve always done; and maybe because of my dad.

I’ve been good, but how many times have I thought that this is not what I’m made for? Though a lot of me gets used up, its always felt as if some of the best parts of me don’t get a look in. One day, I tell myself, and put it out of my mind. Anyway besides, this pays good, when it pays.

So suddenly the whole new leaf as a concept is in my head, like it is for Don. It intoxicates. Maybe I should just read the tea leaves I think, and move on. And if I have to move then to something more in sync with who I am today. I’m torn, but it’s something to think about.

The show ends. I wonder how I’m going to manage the time till the next series. I get up from the couch. I pour myself a Scotch – something of Don has rubbed off on me. I wander into the study to check my email and there I find an unexpected and interesting message. Someone has a proposal for me. They want me to join their association. I’m referred to as a “recognised leader in Business Process Re-Engineering industry in Asia-Pacific”. Hmm, I think. Really? And I’m back to square one.

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