As the Olympics present us with a parade of astonishing human achievements, we are reminded time and again that excellence demands you to be unreasonably unhappy with yourself to agonizing extremes. The Olympic games do not officially call you a loser for being the forth fastest person in the world, but that is the implication of the accolades. In just about every sport, the difference in actual accomplishment between the first place and the forth place are so small, it seems unfair at times that a chance mistake spanning a thousandth of a second can make your score nose dive to eleventh place.
It is mind boggling that these amazing people have been honing their skills to such a degree, that they have to be disappointed to be the eleventh best in the world. In any other profession, eleventh best in the world is the pinnacle of achievement.
Excellence is the result of dissatisfaction with one self. In the field of writing, only the most incompetent believe themselves to be great writers. Truly good writers are always dissatisfied with their own abilities, and they constantly aspire to be better.
I have stated before that a “real job” is a job where you can be paid a living wage for being “good enough”. Freelance writing, like acting, dancing, and singing, is often not considered a “real job” by many people because there is no bottom bar that certifies income, much less stability. Plumbing is a “real job” because you can be a certified plumber after a bare minimum apprenticeship. You still have a long way to go before you can be counted as one of the best, but you can start to get paid. Even then, of course, only those who are dissatisfied with their skills as plumbers ever improve.
Dissatisfaction with one’s performance is often considered unhealthy. A midlife crises is usually attributed to a sense of deadlock in how much one can achieve in the remaining future. If you keep beating on yourself and focusing on your shortcomings, someone will sooner or later tell you to cheer up. Be positive, they invariably say.
There is a fine line between being dissatisfied with yourself and being negative. You do not want to be negative, but you do not want to be complacent either. You have to constantly identify your shortcomings and focus on improving them. That is not really negative, but it is not entirely happy.
Perhaps the trick is to be unhappy and positive at the same time. It is a balancing act. If you fall off, you could get caught in writer’s block or worse; alcoholism, drug abuse, or major depression. But it is not always so dire, because the effort to improve is a challenging puzzle. There is a certain enjoyment to it that draws you in. You have to let the enthusiasm drive you, but still remain dissatisfied.
When you lose balance and fall off, remember that it is like falling off a bicycle. It is not the end of the world for you. It was a precarious balancing act to begin with. Try to understand that you must get back on the enthusiasm/dissatisfaction balance. It gets easier if you can see that balancing act in perspective.