I know I started this reflection over a year ago, but it drives me nuts not to actually finish things so I’m going to try to finish it by the end of this week.
As a reminder, the following is an excerpt from “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann:
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
These stanzas feel like they go together as they deal with work and money, or what an ancient Greek may have prayed to Hermes for. “Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.” Anyone with Impostor Syndrome needs this post-it noted to every flat surface of their home — including me. In case you don’t know, Impostor Syndrome is a mindset where an individual finds great difficulty accepting and internalizing their own accomplishments. It can affect men and women, but is more pervasive in females. Even Meryl Streep and Maya Angelou battle that feeling of self-doubt when you wonder how long people will go on believing you’re any good at _____________, that you’re really a fraud.
It’s important to acknowledge when you are awesome, though! There are so many steps on the road to achievement, that frauds are usually found out long before the recognition is actually given. I also think that besides acknowledging your accomplishments, its also important to take credit for them graciously. So when you receive a compliment for a job well done, don’t tell the complimenter all the ways it could have been better. Say “Thank you” and move on. I have striven to adopt this for some time now, and I think I’m getting much better. The reason to do it is two-fold. One, it’s polite. Adding a “but” to someone’s compliment is like questioning their judgement to their face. No one likes that. Two, it forces you to really enjoy your accomplishment as the poem suggests. It doesn’t hurt to bathe in a little admiration every now and then.
I find the next bit of the sentence “. . .as well as your plans” to be pertinent especially to young people as they decided what to do with their adult lives. I think we’ve all had an idea or a dream that we dared to share with someone only to have them throw it on the ground and stomp on it like a little bug. I was unceremoniously told I wasn’t smart enough to be a math major (the degree on my wall disagrees). I know other people with similar experiences, and all of them are going to be amazing at whatever they choose. It’s because choice makes such a huge impact on success. While you can be successful at something you hate, it is very hard to be completely unsuccessful at something that inspires you to pursue it passionately (I’m guessing musical/theatrical/sports dreams may be the exception to this?).
The last bit of Stanza 3 has me flip-flopping. On one hand, that sort of thinking leads people to stay in bad, unhealthy work environments. They think, “I should be grateful that I have a job and just take what I get.” On the other hand, to have the opportunity to be industrious, feel the security of self-sufficiency, and simultaneously benefit the greater world is something valid to appreciate about your circumstance in life. So the solution must be in the entirety of that stanza. As long as your profession allows you to enjoy your accomplishments, keep your interest and attention on it. If you are expected to depreciate yourself, then reconsider how great of a “possession” your job actually is.
I’m going to sum up the first sentence of the fourth stanza as: Be an informed consumer/investor.
The juicy bit of Stanza 4 is the second half: “But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.” Could there be any more truth in this?!
The first responders to the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001, the volunteers that drove to New York over days to help in whatever way they could, and the good-hearted people who are always lending a hand after natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes all show us that a hero does not need to wear a cape and tights (Edna Mode advises against the cape in any case). There are a myriad of ways that people demonstrate their kindness and sense of community, including holding doors and elevators at the office.
These may not be the deepest stanza of entire poem, but they still contain valuable messages for advancing any goals we may have for peace with ourselves and our world.