Growing old can make you nostalgic and melancholic, it’s no wonder that growing-old millennials are bringing back the music and aesthetics from their young years, the 2000s, home of pioneering reality tv, rising fast fashion and declining MTV. Revival, as always, can be painfully delightful, or delightly painful, you choose. But above sentimentality, looking back and analyzing the culture in which our whole generation grew up is quite insightful and I think we can learn a lot from doing the work of deconstructing the culture we have been raised with.
Research in neuroscience shows that music from our teenage and young years defines our identity in a very special way, in case you wondered why we listen to the same old songs when we need to comfort ourself. The music we loved while growing up is very efficient in reminding us who we are and most people listens to old hits to soothe themselves when they feel down. Music memory has a healing potential, but sometimes counterproductive – it’s like drugs: it depends what one makes of them. It sometimes can provide relax, answers and insight on ourselves, which is always appreciated, but it can sometimes entertain stagnation.
“Chill out, what you yelling for?” Complicated and the Culture of Authenticity
My upcoming birthday is a trigger to scrutinize my own life achievements, but also question the whole concept of « achievement ». At 15, my main goals were having perfectly straight hair at any time & be the weirdest kid at school. At thirty, the general achievements one is pressured into are a successful career & a family life.
Most people set goals for themselves to find meaning in life, and when I think about it, I wonder why. I mean, why are we so obsessed with achieving goals? The other living species seem fine with the eat-sleep-reproduct-repeat routine, so why we’d have to go and make things so complicated?
Would we have “goals” and want to achieve things if everybody around us was ok with chilling as a lifestyle? And aren’t we going to question that achieving western/globalized lifestyle goals is massively contributing to the destruction of our living habitat? Wouldn’t it be better if we achieved less and just be more?
What if the need to achieve was nothing but toxic peer pressure that’s going on since too long?anonymous at a bar
Gaga and the Authenticity Paradox
Sometimes I wonder if our ancestors the cave folks used to party all night long, dance high on shroomsies and tell jokes around the bonfire, then sleep until noon the day after. I try to picture my primitive self being hangover, complaining : « Fuck picking berries! Today I’ma do nothing. Bitch deserve a good rest. ». It conforts me, thinking they might have been as reckless and inconsistent with their routine as I am.
Adele posted on Instagram that she relies on « routine and consistency to feel safe » and that she always has. I so cannot relate: I rely on constant change and chaos, to feel just unconfortable enough to function as I always have. Everytime I reach a form of quiet stability, I must fuck it up somehow. Maybe, settling down and get one’s shit together is a reasonable achievement to work on, but a part of me resists to the idea, probably because I am an artist and to me “settle down” sounds like killing your inner child with your bare hands… but maybe it’s not that. What if it’s my inner rebellious teenager who tries to keep me from evolving because she is scared to grow the fuck up?
I always envied those people who seemed to be so determined towards their long term goals since high school. Not being able to choose a career early in life and having a 45 sec attention span didn’t help me with long term planning. It’s very frustrating, given the competitive environment in which we live. It’s ok when you’re twenty, but society doesn’t seem to look favorably at chaotic neutral people my age, living in a constant work in progress. That gives me anxiety. Also, I feel we’re drowning in a sea of unrealistic narratives of Success and How to reach it. There is a cultural clash between the philosophers of Authenticity and the scholars of Doing Whatever It Takes.
Everybody can feel like a failure some days, but the feeling can become chronic if we think we can’t reach the goals we set for ourselves without sacrificing our Authentic Self. Learning about the Authenticity Paradox can help.
Research on leadership shows that career advances require leaving our comfort zone, but guess what? Leaving the comfort zone tends to trigger an instinct to protect identity, so when we feel unsure of ourselves, we tend to retreat to familiar behavior, which has its limits, so we get stuck there. It’s a defense mechanism aimed to reduce stress, but as it is unconscious, it can be a form of self-sabotage.
I’ve already said that the music you love in your teenage years tells a lot about who you are now. Now I think of all the desperate misfit music I have been listening to when I was fourteen, the self-destructive lyrics I so have been identifying to: how can they serve me today? What lesson could they teach me about myself and what’s my next step from there. Is my idea of authenticity serving myself? And what’s the best strategy: transparency or bluffing? What’s your take?
Average against the Machine
Some people fear spiders, other snakes, and I confess that all my life, I’ve been scared of being average. If you put way too much pressure on your stupid self, please raise your hand! I know I’m not alone and you have all my empathy. Everyone has their own story about why they put so much pressure on themselves.
So many people feel they have to prove the world they’re worthy of living by succeeding at being the best at something. When you bathe in contemporary Performance Culture, you end up assuming that personal value depends on achievements. Unless one choses to live in isolation, don’t we all live in a competitive society with a culture of supposed “meritocracy” (which is kind of toxic, too)? We too often feel we’re not enough.
The problem with Storytelling
Storytelling is a marketing tool and an anxiety-inducing self-narrative style. I think the world needs to stop treating the human experience as a product and adopt other less toxic, more critical ways to analyze success and achievements. It’s a very INFJ thing to say, but the whole success paradigm needs to be burnt to the ground, or maybe just balanced a little. We need more intelligent narrative genres that encourages the idea that life is more complex than “starting from the bottom, now we here” (I love you no matter what, Drake). An ordinary life should not be advertised as the worst thing that can happen to you.
Despite what I’ve just said about starting from the bottom and going somewhere, I think we have healthier narratives in hip-hop culture than in enterpreneurship culture. I’m for the promotion of the Realistic Struggle Tale as a more positive approach to success.
Storytelling and the Culture of Meritocracy make us think that everything depends on us, so when we fail we tend to attribute all the responsibility to ourself. “Everything happens for a reason”, but sometimes the reason is just privilege, luck, bad luck, randomness of circumstances.
How can you be perceived as authentic in a society where you must follow a strict set of rules to be accepted and respected? How can you be yourself, pursue your own goals and feel comfortable in your skin when you know which situations are respectable and those who are not? How can you express yourself, develop yourself, feel good about yourself, manifest your dreams, achieve things when you are stuck in painful situations, with illness, with poverty, with personal issues? How can you be authentic in this world with everybody? How can you be authentic with your boss? Your clients? Your mom? How can you behave as the same person with different people with different cultural backgrounds and positions in power dynamics?
Be yourself may seem obvious and easy advice. It turns out it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. I guess life is not easy, but at least we have 00s pop music, the decade that saw us growing up in this complex world, as a consolation prize.
Thanks for coming to my birthday TED Talk.