My experience of life is that over a period you build up an immunity to the things you regularly engage with or use. It’s well known that we are acquiring an immunity to antibiotics, for example. I’ve now acquired an immunity to coffee and vegemite. The coffee must be stronger now to have the same impact as when I was younger, and where once I’d scrape vegemite on my toast in the prescribed manner, I now slather it on to get the same hit. It even applies to sex, more or less. It’s not quite an immunity – I still get a kick from it – but the familiar ways have become a tad boring and the adventurous more alluring. Keeping it new has a great appeal.
It applies to work to. I’ve been motivated most of my working life. Notwithstanding the story I told yesterday, my self-expectation has always been that I would push myself. Push to do more and be more. I set standards of performance and conduct that I proudly measured myself against. I wanted responsibility and authority. I wanted it as a matter of course, wanted it because it seemed more interesting, and wanted it because I saw the only way to go was up. It was a mindset that created opportunities and drove performance. For many years it worked, and it was both satisfying and fun.
Not everyone was as driven as I was, and back in the day I always found that surprising. It was like setting off climbing a mountain and pitching camp or turning back before the peak. What was the sense in that? There’s still more to climb. Still a flag to plant. And then, more mountains to climb. I couldn’t stop halfway there.
That is still in me. I haven’t lost that urge, but I’ve become jaded by the act of climbing. In a way, I’ve acquired a kind of immunity to the exercise.
I speak to friends who feel similar to me. They never started off as ambitious as me, and so the difference for them is less. Still, I understand it. I wondered if it was a part of getting older. Certainly, I could understand a family man feeling that way because he has other, more important priorities. And his life is full, he doesn’t need to validate anything.
That’s very true, but the common theme is a sense of professional staleness. It’s all so familiar. The same old routines, the same old tropes. You become cynical by incompetence, opportunism and politics. When once you might have waved it off, or used it to spur you on, now it is weary justification of your disinterest. You do your job and you go home.
I’ve always resisted that, and even today I’m more stubborn and hard-nosed than any of my friends – but I know the feeling. It’s something I’ve forced myself to come to terms with because I felt my pride was driving me to be someone I no longer really was. There was a disconnect in me for that reason. I’m a lot happier now because I have accepted who I am and can be that person without shame. I am but me, and true only to myself.
Acceptance has made me easier. I understand the old things have no power over me. There is still something in me ready to leap at the opportunity, but it can’t be any old opportunity. As with sex, it must be new and adventurous. I can take on the world, or work in my corner – it’s the bland middle I have no truck with.
What is left is someone immune to the temptations that once lured me on. I hope that makes me wiser; it certainly makes me more seasoned. I am freer now because I’m not toeing any expectation of self, except to be true. And in being true I am liberated. I say what I think. I do what I believe. I am dismissive of the small. I have perspective. I hope to keep it.