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I’d like to say that this idea, the attempt to live up to an ideal which you conjure for yourself, is a simple one.
It seems like it should be relatively easy, but I’m finding as I amble my way down this path that it isn’t as straight as it seems. I think the reasons for this are that the perception of what the title above suggests is seen as the mirror image of what it really means.
Let me explain.
The phrase “live up your own ideal” has two main components. The first being the act of living up to something, and the second being the thing of which you’re supposed to live up towards; an ideal. Not just any ideal, but your ideal. Your ideal Self. Now, as self-explanatory as that seems, we take for granted that this statement is read in the order it presents itself. We see first that we are supposed to live up to something, and only secondarily do we think of the latter half. People focus on how they live before they fully understand to what standard they are living.
Their ideal becomes allusive and fleeting. It presents itself and changes when their backs are turned, although, they keep living in ways that they think run parallel to a standard they can’t even pinpoint. It’s the reason one’s interests change so often, why their sense of character or style, mannerisms or opinions, behaviors, and beliefs seem to evolve in sometimes very unexpected ways. You can chalk this up to the natural physical and mental progression of our lives because we are obviously going to change as we age from child to adult, but you can also make the point that the constant changing occurs because a large percentage of people grow up without an exact ideal to live towards. Of course, there are people out there who know what they want to do for the rest of their lives at seven years old, but we can’t all be prepubescent astronauts.
The reason our sense of being changes so often as we grow is that our ideal is also always changing. As we come of age, it’s hard to zero in on what an ideal even is, let alone be able to choose one that suits us.
This sounds like I’m building a case against myself by making it seem like it’s impossible for us to create an ideal for ourselves because it seems to be ever-updating as we age. If that was true, then the winning argument would end up leaning towards placing your concept of an ideal for yourself into the hands of an outside source, be it through religion, or your government, or simply the biased opinions of your parents who can’t help but influence your future behavior merely by being present. I don’t think this is the case though. I think I may have fudged the formula by a variable or two.
You see, to me, the ideal should be focused on first, before the means of getting there presents itself. What I think I got wrong and what I literally started to course-correct as I wrote these words, is that I’m starting to believe that we may start our lives seeing the means as justifying the ends, but that’s only because our ends are still hazy and aren’t fully-formed.
Most of the time, young people don’t know what their ends are, and since it isn’t concrete, any means they take could potentially be the right ones. It’s why we experiment and test ourselves and do so many risky and reckless things when we’re younger. The world is a laboratory and we mix and match the potions of our experiences together to see what works and what doesn’t. In this sense, the means justify the ends because, as I said, our ends aren’t defined.
At a certain point in our lives though, everything flips. With experience comes wisdom, and the right kinds of experiences lend themselves to their own brand of wisdom depending on what experience it may be. Everyone has these moments in their lives when all of a sudden there’s a perspective switch. Suddenly you don’t relate to the self you once were in the same way. Like remembering yourself as a child or a nervous middle-schooler. You can vaguely remember the things that filled your naïve world with so much concern and mystery, but being older, you can no longer relate to the inflated tribulations of a pre-teen. This leap is harder to make when we’re older.
Our mentality doesn’t change so quickly as adults. Years can go by in the same state of mind without even realizing how routine things have become. It’s usually in moments of huge amounts of stress or nature’s lottery wreaking havoc in your life — may be through a financial crippling or the death of a loved one — that one’s world can do a complete 180. I posit that the opposite can yield the same result. When one’s life becomes so mundane, so trivial and predictable that it appears as if one’s mental capacities have flat-lined into a zombie state, it is at this time as well that a healthy and anxious mind can recede so far into this doldrum of existence that they condense like a collapsing star under the weight of its own bored mass. And since there isn’t any more room to sink into, they inevitably unleash a torrent of expression by way of creating the drastic changes in their life which stem from the core of their being. Be it drastically quitting a soul-sucking job or telling a particular person who wronged them to fuck off, or really anything that allows them to feel the cracking of shackles of which they felt a slave to.
In either case, that is the shift.
That is the moment our minds decide to stop letting the means justify the ends due to a lack of clarity. It’s then we can begin the process of crystallizing an end for ourselves. We begin to avert the temptation to become overly influenced by others and start seeing our own end. We clean the mirror of our perception to clearly see our own ideal.
Once we can manage to articulate to ourselves what our own ideal would actually be, then we get to go back and decide by what means we will take to get there. We let our ends now justify our means.
We start off by letting experience shape not us but shape our tools of perception. When we aren’t old enough to know better, all we do know is the more input the better. The more experience and knowledge we gather, the more tools we acquire to be better able to formulate an ideal in the future. At that point in time, the ideal will always be in flux, but once the right tools have been collected and the means/ends switch-up occurs, we can finally start down a true path of self-actualization. You then have your end — your ideal. You see the person you want to be and the life you want to live. Your means will be justified as you will be on a chosen path and know where it ends, or at least, where you wish for it to end.
The problem is when people think they’ve solved the mystery of their own ideal, but are still wrong. This is ultimately because they aren’t being honest with themselves. Many people are born and bred to know exactly what they are going to be, and they spend the majority of their lives living up to that standard. In another sense, the interests of a person may lead them to assume that their own ideal lies at the end of mastering said interest, but these are both due to ideals that stem from outside sources. Early-age influence or the pull of mastering craftsmanship both originate outside the self. A true ideal is not weighed down by the concerns of the outside world. Not that the outside world should be ignored, just that the process of self-actualization can only come from within, the material world being secondary.
Once we can clearly see our own true ideal, we can then rise to the challenge of fully understanding ourselves.
And once we have mastered ourselves, we can then begin to shape our world.