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It's Better to Lose Yourself

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There are some people who are absolutely perfect and on top of their lives. Like all the right things, know all the right people, seem to go through everything perfectly as if they know all the life lessons without needing to actually to have the experience. Are living what at least appears to be the perfect life. And we can’t know whether these people live a perfect life internally too, as none of us are in their minds. But perhaps they don’t die happy. Perhaps they lose themselves. But maybe they do actually live a perfect life in all ways!

Others of us have to actually learn. You know, he aimed for perfection. He wanted to be the perfect person, yet in trying to be, made the crucial mistake of failing to push himself enough to make a mistake. He tried to have the perfect human interactions, to always say the right things. Never quite opening up enough for anyone to have anything to use against him. Never being cold, always lovely and people generally liked him. He always thought about things a lot, trying to be prepared for everything. Never wanting to slip up or make a mistake. And who can blame him? You can lose a job over anything in this capitalist hellscape.

He really worked quite hard. He seemed to have no family – if he did he never visited or spoke about them. Maybe he called them every Sunday though, that we can’t know. He certainly had no spouse, and didn’t seem to have any particularly close friends. It was as if he was holding everyone at a distance. He never seemed sad though, he definitely looked like he had purpose. His purpose, of course, was his work. Always needing to do a little bit better. Get the payrise. Get the highest score. Meet and exceed his KPIs. Get the promotion.

Sometimes, his coworkers would talk to him about his work ethic. Sometimes they’d talk to him in the elevator, sometimes in the coffee room, sometimes at the bar. Yes, the bar. One has to occasionally go to the bar to maintain a good look amongst coworkers. Can’t seem antisocial. Besides, he sometimes learnt something useful about his coworkers. A weakness. A strength. Something. But his coworkers never learnt anything interesting about him. They would ask “so how’s your personal life?” “Fine, I’m happy with the way everything is for me at the moment.” They’d ask “how come you put so much time and effort into your work? It’s just a job, you know” “I enjoy my work.” Never getting getting anything useful about him. It’s not like they wanted to know anything for strategic reasons, they were just interested in him as a person. Who even is he? The most they got to help them in their quest was the slightly glazed look in his eyes, as if he wasn’t really there. His eyes would sometimes light up when he heard a particularly good joke, or when finding a good solution to a problem, but otherwise he always seemed not quite present. They guessed, or perhaps more hoped, that this light appeared more at home, or when socialising with his other friends they desperately hoped existed, for his sake. However, he did often seem to get way more work done in a day than seemed possible, so probably he was taking his work home, too. Anything to get the payrise, perhaps. Hopefully he at least enjoys the wealth he works so hard to get.

While his coworkers wonder about him, he does enjoy his wealth, to a certain extent. He had a very nice laptop, top of the range, which he did his work on. He had very comfortable furniture and bed, as he couldn’t be very effective when he was uncomfortable or slept badly. He usually had dinner delivered, as then he didn’t have to worry about it. Of course, not always pizza, not even often. Feeling sick would mean he had to take days off work, which he certainly didn’t want to do. And he always bought lunch at work, as bringing it and heating it up would be another distraction to worry about. There were certainly a lot of things he didn’t have to worry about. All that was left was whether he was good enough to be the best; the one to get the payrise, the promotion, the better job.

What people didn’t know about him, is that he wasn’t always like this. He used to have genuine joy in his life, coming from genuine relationships with other people and hobbies. Oh yes, he used to love his friends! While he definitely made some friends at school and university, most of his friends came from his musical endeavours. He used to play the oboe, first in school bands and orchestras, then his city’s youth orchestra, then adding community bands and orchestras. There were no shortage of people asking for oboists in these groups. It was in these places he really bonded with his peers, loosening up when drinking but even in rehearsal break. He balanced his studies with his commitments to orchestra and practicing. He was a pretty good oboist too; did a good amount of practice, did his scales fairly consistently and well, but not perfectly. He didn’t really show many signs of the man he became. The first sign came when applying to university - arguably this is the turning point. While he was studious and got good grades, he certainly wasn’t overly so. School was not the most important thing to him, and neither was music – being a well rounded and happy person was actually his highest priority. Oh how his coworkers would laugh incredulously if they found that out.

In his last year of school, his friends and music teachers all thought he should study music as he showed such great potential. He seemed to also think so, likely did really want to study music as he auditioned for a few places. But as auditions were wrapping up, he wondered, likely by prompting from his parents, whether music study was a good way to spend his time at uni. After all, classical music is hardly the most ludicrous career, and it’s so difficult to get an orchestral job. Perhaps it would be better if he studied something a bit more practical at university. Something he could get a real job with. And so he also applied to universities to do a “real” degree. And while he did get into his dream conservatory, he turned it down. But he hadn’t yet given up music, still playing in youth and community groups, still having lessons to get better. And for most of his degree he was doing very well at balancing these two things along with his part time job and social life. But near the end of his degree, things got harder to balance. He figured it would be difficult to maintain a high level of playing while working hard at the real job he would get; he could already feel it slipping as he worked harder to maintain his studies. And he thought, this is just getting stressful trying to maintain all four of his things and he wasn’t even succeeding, so something has to go.

He gave up playing the oboe. At the end of the year of course, just not auditioning for youth orchestras and giving his community orchestras plenty of notice but still playing in the concerts he committed to. And once he quit oboe, he could see his bank numbers go up, or at least go down less slowly, as the oboe is an expensive instrument with reeds to buy. He didn’t sell the oboe yet though, maybe he’d come back to it once he has a stable job. And so he committed himself to his studies, got by well enough at work, and still had strong relationships with his friends. His grades definitely went up, and that was something he enjoyed seeing. Beating the bellcurve gave him a thrill he’d never really paid much attention to before. He graduated with respectable marks, but not amazing as his earlier attempts had dragged him down. Now out of uni, where would he find the thrill of the bellcurve? He pondered this (not entirely consciously), without coming up with much, until his first performance review. He had done quite well, better than expected, and they were very happy with with him. This gave him the thrill. He also got the thrill when promoted, and applying to new jobs, higher up than his current position, and getting them. And thus was born the man living entirely for his work, trying to live the perfect work life, mostly ignoring life things unrelated to work.

For 20 years he lived with his only real concern being his work. He didn’t have to worry about paying the bills, or eating, or anything about his non-existent children. He didn’t worry about making sure he could play his part well in orchestra, he didn’t even worry about the oboe at all. All he worried about was trying to please his higher-ups enough for them to like him, like him enough to give him the nice things. For them to like him the most so he’d get the nicest things. And really, this was quite stressful. The image of perfection is hard to maintain. Besides, was he happy? It didn’t take a long look inside himself for him to answer that question, and figure out what to do.

He went into work. His coworkers noted that he seemed a little brighter, the light being much more present in his eyes. Went out drinking a little more. When he was home and commuting, he listened to all the pieces he used to love, remembering the music. He hadn’t intentionally listened to music in 20 years, but now he was. He did some research, and acquired the necessary resources. Did all the work he had to.

He died happy. How could he have made the transition from so sad and miserable to happy and carefree? He realised that none of it mattered. Why stress so much when he could just let go, not worry anymore? So he decided to no longer worry. Well, he still worried a little bit. You do have to plan your exit well for it to be good enough. Do the research. But he was no longer lost; he no longer had to compete. And as he put the gun in his mouth, he smiled. He was finally happy. He put the gun in the exact correct spot to ensure instant death, he did do his last bit of homework. He didn’t spend a life of perfectionism on nothing. As he was about to pull the trigger, he smiled, and as he lost consciousness (and his life), he maintained that smile. He had finally found himself, found what mattered, what didn’t, what he was good for.