August Wanderings

Ah, the pleasures and perils of mid-August: sweltering afternoons which engender rivulets of perspiration to run down one’s cheek or back; shimmering blue pools with unexpected chilly spots tucked away in the shade; hints of autumn in the occasional spotting of a bright red leaf, or displays of school supplies and shiny, patent leather shoes, and the gradual shifting of the quality of light in the sky.


No doubt due to academic schedules, I consider fall the “real” start of the year, so it always surprises me to realize that, in fact, most of my calendar year efforts are, alas, behind me. It’s a bundle of mixed messages: you believe you’re just ramping up when, in fact, the ball has rolled forward—without you.  Or at least it seems that way from reading online updates or idle chatter of what everyone has been up to; a ceaseless forward progression: trips taken, degrees conferred, promotions made, illnesses overcome, babies birthed.


For me, particularly as I continue to tread water in the job search shallows, I am struck by how efficiently everyone else seems to achieve their goals and live their lives. Of course, intellectually, I know this isn’t the case, but the hustle and bustle that accompanies the final third of the year triggers many of these insecurities.


At what point does the observed progress of one cease to be meaningful to another? I say this not in a hostile way, but in a hopeful, non-comparative tone. I’ve read in books that at some point in adulthood, most wise people consider comparisons meaningless due to the variety of choices, conditions, and factors that influence outcome. But regardless of all this, appraisals and assessments endure. Is this good or bad? Inspiring or debilitating? Is it fair to “pick and choose” how we will react to another’s success or loss? Why is a promotion for one person a well earned achievement that inspires us to try harder, whereas another’s triumph simply proves what a brownnosing manipulator he is?


And what about the question of whether it’s better to be lucky or smart? I know a whole lotta folks who fall into the brilliant category, but never utilized their gifts. Was that their right or merely an example of wasted talent? In contrast, I know others who fell into the honey pot due far more to circumstances than their great contribution to the field. And when we think of them, does this inspire or depress us? Never mind the group that consists of individuals who work hard and are honest but just can’t seem to get a break. Malcolm Gladwell observes in Outliers that there is no need to be an uber genius, you just need to be “smart enough” and in the right place at the right time. How much of life is timing?


Which leads me to wonder about the era we currently face. Honestly, as far as I’m concerned, these times stink—they really do. But they aren’t worse than World War II or the Great Depression. Hell, I doubt any of us would swap our current historical period in order to be a hopeful pioneer lurching along towards Pikes Peak. Now, I recognize that each generation indulges in its own ritual of hand wringing, so it’s fair to guess that this too shall pass, but I didn’t feel that hopeful as I surveyed my fellow citizens in the DC Jury Lounge earlier today. If what I saw there is the grand result of 236 years of this Grand Experiment, well, I’m not confident for the future—and these are the people who showed up! The ones who didn’t bother, they vote, too.


I realize I’ve wandered around a bit in this post, for which I hope you’ll forgive me, but August puts me in that sort of mood. Beginnings and endings all jumbled together. So, if anyone cares to weigh in, what do you think? Is it better to be smart or lucky? When does that magic moment occur where you no longer waste time comparing yourself to others? Or is such an escape even possible?


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2 Responses to “August Wanderings”

  1. Deborah La Gorce Says:

    It is better to be smart enough to know that you are lucky.

  2. grasshopper Says:

    Rivulets! Don’t know when I last came across that word…thank you for using it! 🙂 The comparison dilemma is a difficult one. i doubt that one ever really stops comparing. I think we all do it to varying degrees all the time, often without even realizing it or meaning to. It’s natural, and perhaps also a function of survival–perhaps a mechanism for sanity retention. By making comparisons, we are always keeping ourselves in check–meaning that if we think we’re doing something way off-base from others, it may be time to look at it and thoughtfully determine whether it’s okay, or not. People who society would label as truly “crazy,” don’t seem to have the capacity to self-reflect or compare themselves to another in a healthy way, that would alert them to the fact that their behavior is indeed abnormal. So, I think there is something good in comparisons, to a point. It can help motivate us, or give us inspiration to go after something.
    But, at one point, we also need to realize that we’re all different, and there are many ways to live life…so comparisons can be irrelevant and confusing if we partake in them obsessively. ie, there will always be someone with something more, something less, something better, something worse. Who cares, really?
    I think what’s most important to notice is when in your life you are most apt to make comparisons. I would wager a bet that when all of us are most actively engaged in doing or enjoying something, we’re less likely to be making comparisons, because we’re too busy living. It’s when there isn’t much going on, or we’ve taken time to relax, or we’re unhappy with a situation or how we’re living our life that we start looking around to see what others are doing.

    Conclusion: compare a little, live a lot. 🙂

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