The Truth About Lying: How to stop only seeing value in yourself when you succeed
You are lying on your back in your bed, with a laptop heating up your stomach. It is 12:31 AM. You are writing a two-page essay about Sisyphus and the boulder he can never push over the hill–this deceitful king who outsmarted death and was punished by the torture of repeating a mundane task for all eternity, with no real gain. You need to do the revisions now, the deadline is that afternoon. You haven’t slept properly in what feels like forever. You’re on your second cup of coffee: don’t want to overdo it tonight.
So, you want to be an achiever?
You take a pause. You scroll through your social media. You come across alumni, your seniors, juniors, and peers. They all hold up their little certificates, their little medals. You type out congratulatory comments.
So, you want to be an achiever?
Their photos start to move, staring directly at you, as if they see you. This message was meant for you alone, and something inside you hears their whisper:
“So, you want to be an achiever?
Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: we are all liars.”
Then, the liars hold up their little medals and certificates. They say their little speeches with proud smiles plastered on their faces, until the scenes stop moving, and they are once again two-dimensional and silent… only evidential support now. Only proof of what once was, as if to say, “look at me, I am who you were able to reach once, I am who you ought to be, I am the most of what you are.”
And you believe it because you think to yourself, “what else are we but collections of the things we’ve accomplished? What else makes up what we are but our goals? The things we’ve worked towards achieving, the things we are proud of reaching?”
In fact, there are worse things, shallow things, to base our value off of, like the way we look, the amount of followers we get, the amount of money we have–so isn’t it only right to base our value on something deeper? On our achievements?
It’s easy to convince yourself that your success equates to your value. After all, what we do plays a significant role in shaping our lives and who we are. However, when we start to believe we aren’t worthwhile when we don’t achieve the success we’ve been working towards, it can be soul-crushing to the point where any failure, no matter how small, can start to feel cataclysmic.
When we equate achievement with success, and then equate success with happiness, we create a cycle of constant striving that can leave us feeling empty and unfulfilled. The goalpost will always move farther and farther away from you the closer you get to it. The boulder that Sisyphus pushes up the hill will always fall back down.
There is no correct answer. They will tell you that “all you need is work-life balance”, but that isn’t quite true. You can have great work-life balance and still feel valueless when you don’t succeed. There is no formula for unlearning the disdain you feel when you fail to reach your goals, but it is good to remember two things:
One, Meditate on what you can’t offer.
You will want to believe that who ‘you’ are, your inherent value, is in what you can offer, prove, and achieve. After all, isn’t that what the world has been telling you from the start? But strip all that away, and who are you? Are you happy with this ‘you’? Do not ask this question to the liars, most will not know what to say. But the few who do will tell you that the key is to see value in yourself unconditionally, in the same way you would see value in somebody you love.
Two, They didn’t get there alone.
You will want to prove yourself worthy, that you are purely self-made in your success. You will see your past achievements and convince yourself that these are evidence that you can take it on your own. But the liars’ self-made pedestals of success are built from the support of others, the liars’ most powerful speeches are stitched-together words that had tumbled past the lips of people in their lives, the shimmer in the liars’ gold medals are reflected in the eyes of the people they’ve loved.
But, here’s the hot-lipped truth of it all: success is as much a drug as anything else. You’ll start to crave it as much as a teenage boy craves to play video games on the day of an oral research defense. It’ll start to eat away at you like the thought of stalking the current girlfriend of an ex eats away at a teenage girl. One day, you’ll awake and you’ll realize: you only feel valuable when you succeed.
So you’ll start to work towards it, and you will succeed, eventually. You will reach your goals and be proud of yourself. You will stand on that stage and linger. You will bask in the applause. You will love how they love you. You will see how you inspire them, how they compare themselves to you, how you make them envious. It will make you feel powerful, and you will convince yourself that you can replicate this, that this can be achieved again, only bigger, and bolder, and farther than you have ever taken it before… so you begin to work towards it once more.
And so, once again, the boulder runs down the hill. Sisyphus runs after it; eager to push it back, farther up the top.
The liars will all tell you that it’s worth it, and to an extent, perhaps it is, but don’t take my word for it.
I might be lying.