I expect things are going to get better in the new year. Especially (if you read my last post about entrepreneurism), for folks who seize the opportunity to start new businesses. However, things may only get better for those who embrace a clear-eyed view of hard truths and who exhibit a toughness of resolve even greater than we were forced to muster during the first two years of the pandemic. In other words, things can get better, but they will not be easier. The years of sleepwalking our way to success provided by the abundance created by prior generations is over.
Our arrival in this world and our departure from it are moments that, for the vast majority of us, are solo events. No one comes with us and no one leaves with us. In the intervening years, we struggle to forge relationships to form families, businesses, organizations, and communities to sate the innate urge to procreate and to enjoy the benefits of belonging. If we are honest with ourselves, of the many effects of the last two years of the pandemic we have realized that the old feel-good trope, “we are all in this together” has proven to be a bell ringing in the wilderness of anxiety, loss, and grief that usually goes unheard. The hard truth is that regardless of how much we extol the virtues of human connection, these last two years have delivered the harsh reality of how frail those connections really are; of how the promise of humanity has been impaled on the rocks of selfish cowardice.
The American myth of “We the people” forming a more perfect union has entered a downward spiral from which it may never recover. Virtuous individualism that binds us as a community has given way to malignant narcissism that is eating the flesh of magnanimity at a voracious rate. Our nation’s political leaders have pursued this carnivorous practice with reckless abandon. There exists a tenet in all world religions that holds we must fall into the abyss before we can summon the courage to support hope in a manner which manifests the promise of a better life. Perhaps that is what is at hand here. However, today we continue to choose hate and shame and violence over the common good. Our better angels have swapped their wings for devil’s horns. If this continues, before too long we will all be, as the image above depicts, dancing alone.
I am fortunate to have built a big life, or at least big enough. That is the socially acceptable version—anchored by humility—of the description of my life; ascribing my success to good fortune. But the truth for me (as surely it is for you), is that I have had both good fortune and bad. In fact, bad fortune is assured for all of us. Suffering is a certainty. Good fortune is created by our persistence to live our life on our own terms. It is born more from willpower than circumstance. Joy is hard won. The honest version of my claim of a “big life” is that I am the reason I built a big life. I tell people I have been lucky to convey a sense of humility, but to a greater extent the truth is I made my luck happen. Acknowledging this truth is critical to surviving and prospering in the new year and the next years. As the Latin proverb, Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat, reminds us: fortune favors the brave.
Our safety, security, and success in the future will only be assured by our individual strength of character, our intelligence, and our willingness to do hard work. The kumbaya “we’re all in this together” trope is just happy horseshit. I recognize that sounds harsh, but hard truths are often hard to take.
Personal thriving—of body, mind, and spirit—begins with accepting the certainty of suffering then taking the risk to summon all your will and resources to endure the consequences with the aim of turning those consequences into benefits that produce fulfillment and joy. No other person or entity will make this happen for you. We can hope for the love and support of others along the way, but we are truly lucky if we receive it. If you have had such support, count your blessings.
In my experience, love and support was promised as a silent quid pro quo to achieve the concealed aim of the faux supporter: to steal away a piece of my winnings. To dine and dash and then claim they were chased from the restaurant by a villainous chef. Claiming victimhood as a path to vindication for bad behavior is as popular today as it is immoral. It is a twisted remnant of the age of abundance we are now departing. It is the essence of selfish cowardice. It is the practice of losers. Betrayal by those who pledged their love and support is the hardest truth I have had to endure in my life. I wish it on no one.
A related hard truth is that once you do achieve success, very few people (if any) will be happy for you. Many, many will claim they are happy and offer you high-fives. Then, they will work to undermine your future success once they fail to take a piece of your success for their own account. These are the silent parasites in our midst and will visit you in many forms from family members to friends to those offering professional support (attorneys, accountants, etc.) to every charitable organization you have never heard of. You will be very popular, and the adulation you receive (with the exception of those who genuinely love you) will be as phony as a Trump tan.
Cynical? Perhaps. But, as one who prides himself on seeing things as they are rather than as I might wish them to be, I cannot allow myself to ignore a mountain of evidence. To be clear, the deceits I have endured in my life are probably no greater than yours, although a big life does also make you a big target. Denying the occurrence of such deceits, or allowing them to be styled as benign events devoid of malicious intent (rather than calling them out for what they are) produces a festering bile that will eat you from the inside, out. This is the poison of injustice. And, denying or ignoring these events allows the offender to offend again, which creates new victims and accelerates societal decline. One must be brave with hard truths if virtue is to be retained, which is the most foundational asset of all.
In 2022 and beyond, we must grant ourselves the arrogance of confidence in our hard truths if we are to survive and prosper. We must be cautious—on the edge of miserly—with whom we convey our trust. I acknowledge the popular argument that vulnerability equates to bravery, but it can also be just foolish. It can leave you violated beyond repair by those who would rather steal your big life than do the hard work of building their own. Today, a preponderance of deceits has caused betrayal to become its own pandemic; more insidious than any viral variant known to humankind.
Pick your music and dance—alone or together. But, be careful where you step. And, always know where every exit is in the dancehall. We have entered an era where our prosperity and well-being will be subject to threats heretofore considered unimaginable in recent history. This trend is well underway. We must meet those challenges with our eyes wide open to the light of hard truths and meet the world with a sense of steely fortitude. Our descent into the abyss may be a necessary prerequisite to the re-birth of hope, but the ladder of hard truths is most certainly our only way out.