I find that as I get older, my biggest challenge is getting somewhere in life while retaining some semblance of my principles.
Not too long ago, I had the old idealist’s existential crisis of one day realizing that, seemingly, everything in life involves compromise. For example, my distaste for marriage and having children may complicate finding a long-lasting relationship. Or I may not be able to find completely socially redeeming employment that pays acceptably. Such complications may pose an impediment to my happiness. And I want happiness, don’t I?
A fatalism gripped me: if ideals will only complicate and hamper my life, is it perhaps natural to abandon them? And am I therefore, to any degree, more or less predestined to do so? And is this somehow permission to let it happen? Perhaps, if I find the right woman, or the right grass-fed beef distributor, or the right Democrat….I could just….let that principle go….go away….away from me….
In a way, part of this is true: I am disarmed somewhat in life, and disadvantaged, by having principles (I don’t call them ideals anymore). Where another person would act or speak without hesitation, I might require a moment. This has led to lapses in my self-esteem, to feelings of being inferior, and even to occasional bouts of insecurity bordering on paranoia, that I was being judged harshly by those I sought to emulate in their decisiveness and seeming clarity of thought.
In reality, 99% of them hadn’t manifested one iota of harsh judgment for me, except perhaps for my self-deprecation, because the simple fact is that people don’t really pay as much attention to each other casually, or at the workplace, or among society at stores and restaurants, et cetera, as I pay to myself. I was leveling judgments at myself.
By that same token, no one is going to tell me how great I am or how righteous my principles are. Only I can do that; only I can self-affirm and self-determine their role in my life to the extent that they actively empower me to act and speak up, not stifle me. I don’t want to lose my principles; I want to assert them and effect positive change from them. While it may be harder now, I know it will be worth it if it results in positive change. To this end, Project Alpha emerged.
In order to produce concrete goals, without which I should have no hope of success, I made a poster to reflect upon every day:
Each one of these sentences summarizes a necessary component of becoming Alpha. Note that I did not actually list my principles themselves; I know them all pretty well by heart. Rather, I want to remove the sense of disarmament that comes with having principles; to counter the urge to compromise them because it would “easier” (except for my conscience); to reinforce myself, that I am educated, intelligent, capable, and that I should believe in myself. Rather than proceeding with insecurity and fear and Betaness as I so often do, I should act confidently and assertively, and this will bring me success.
To explore even more, I made lists of characteristics that define “Who I am” and “what I want,” et cetera, one for each sentence.
Below in italics is the list pertaining to “You Know Who You Are.” The first group, “Reinforcing,” consists of aspects of myself that complement or help me, or that I should be proud of. In desiring confidence and strength (Alphaness) as a person, it is easy to malign characteristics that much of society considers weak, soft, or otherwise undesirable. But I know who I am by experience, and to a large extent, I accept who I am. I don’t seek to mold my character to suit the status quo; I want to shake up the status quo to suit me, and be molded by me, while empowering others. That, to me, is central to Alphaness.
The second group, “Undermining,” are tendencies of mine that seem to have a definitively negative effect on my development, and diminish feelings of strength and capability in the midst of a cold, uncaring society. Seeing that I only just recently realized that the world doesn’t care if I die in a fire (common hyperbole on my part), a subsequent realization is that only I can give myself strength. No one else can give it to me. By that same token, only I can divest myself of weakness by trying to remove those problematic characteristics, not because society tells me they are problematic, but because I have seen them produce negative results time and time again, and leave me disarmed.
The third group, “Neutral,” are those characteristics that don’t seem to fit into the other two categories, but that I have also witnessed as being part of “who I am.” “Areas of Improvement” consists of habits that seem to further undermine my feelings of confidence and capability, and “Solutions” is, of course, ways of addressing those “areas of improvement.”
YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.
Compassionate. Helpful. Loyal. Generous. Patient. Strong. Thoughtful. Brave. Intelligent. Kind. Feminist. Reflective. Friendly. Warm. Disciplined. Vegetarian. Ethical. Principled. Loving. Complex. Unconventional. Artistic. Sweet. Emotional. Sensitive. Hard-working. Activist.
Fearful. Sad. Yearning. Congested. Paranoid. Lost. Addictive. Tired. Unfocused. Sense of inability. Conflicted. Overthinking. Assumes worst of self.
Neutral: Theoretical. Cautious. Proper. Assumes best of others.
*Areas of improvement: Self-effacing. Boosting other people confidence but not my own. Overly concerned with anticipating conflict. Too fidgety, often perhaps because no chairs are suited to my height.
*Solutions: Be more focused. Be less fidgety; stand up more. Respond to positive outcomes with an understanding that I contributed to them. Maintain situational awareness, but not at the expense of maintaining calm.
With each sentence on the poster, there is a list of “What I Want,” “What I Need,” and so on, along with “Areas of Improvement” and “Solutions.” Now, I have a concrete document to refer to, to update and add to. To some extent, I have taken an inventory of the value of who I am: it is everything written on these lists.
Naturally, making a list for “You Know What You Want” entailed really thinking about what I do, in fact, want out of life. It was difficult; some of it is general, some more specific. I consider it ongoing, and subject to change. Here is the contents of that list:
YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT.
To work in the labor struggle. Radio show. Rock band. Apartment with music room AND workout room. To become a true revolutionary socialist. TO EMBRACE CHALLENGES, not sink from them. Write another novel. To find a few women with whom I share a mutual suitedness. Finish pamphlet. Write more political writing. TO OVERCOME FEAR OF REJECTION.
*Areas of Improvement: Issues with resolve. Fear of adversity.
*Solutions: Directly address these issues in interactions with others.
The next step, as indicated, is to turn this self-affirmation and validation into actions, confident, strong, and assertive.
The poster may constitute merely a set of slogans, but I must say, reading it everyday like a mantra actually helps. As I said earlier, when you traverse life with concrete principles and ideas, it is harder to function than when you skate about without a thought or concern. You have to remember what is important to you; no one else will. No one else cares.
Here is another visual component to aid in my effort. You probably can’t read it; it is a certificate listing the virtues of Alphaness. It says, over and over:
I keep the certificate on my wall over my bed. I also have a small version, which I carry with me sometimes:
On the back, I have written two useful quotes. The first is from my father, and the second one is attributed to James Hetfield of Metallica.
This may all seem painfully therapy-like, or touchy-feely. It is certainly narcissistic in a lot of ways. And I have had a lot of therapy in my life. But I hope to do more than survive in this life; I don’t want to lose myself. I don’t want to be cowed by the “powers-that-be,” that seek to diminish people’s sense of right and wrong, using a “pursuit of happiness” as the carrot, and social alienation (at best) as the stick. And I have been cowed by them; I have felt the pull of an easier life, devoid of conscience.
And I don’t fetishize individuality. I don’t believe my principles or the things I think, say, or do are “original.” I don’t think that’s what defines Alphaness or self-determination. Moreover, I think it’s easier to be effective without such manufactured concerns. Nor is leadership always a telltale characteristic of Alphaness; although being able to lead is important, I can be an Alpha and follow as well as be a leader, as long as I am effective and passionate. But I will not be defined by anything that seeks to define me. That I will not accept.
If you were sent stumbling through life not knowing why you’re unhappy, or if you handily accepted the compromises or disowned your principles the day you had “children to take care of,” and gave up on what you believed in for a shot at “happiness,” only to look back and see unfulfilled potential and the same injustices and inequities of the world still pissing you off, as you now occupy the seemingly safe position of “bystander,” I can say to you that knowing yourself a little better earlier on might’ve been helpful to you, not to mention to the world. I believe our society programs us, especially men, to reject the emotional self-reflection necessary to cultivate what I am talking about. I am lucky to have had the ability and time required to do so.
To me, feelings are essential to Alphaness. There are no two ways about it. If a sensitive person wants to change the world, he or she must learn to be strong enough to withstand the abuse that will be rained down upon her, and in fact to become stronger by it. Without sensitive people, the world is brutal and harsh. The answer is not to desensitize them, or let them desensitize themselves. To me, this is a kind of castration.
Rather, such a person must divest himself or herself of the impulse to doubt the value of his principles, the correctness of his outlooks, or his inner strength, and wholeheartedly reject any doctrine that says, “life is unfair, so deal with it.” It is by billions of people silently “dealing with it” that it remains unfair. A true Alpha person recognizes this, and rather than conform to it and have all his goals and hopes and dreams and principles defined for him, he resists it as best he can, and for as long as he can, in whatever ways he can, and speaks of it and acts on it until the world itself is compromised, by the movement he or she helped build.
“Discipline is tough for a guy who is a rebel.” -Jonathan Winters