If, in search of the meaning of life, we have the courage to look beyond religion, beyond society, beyond all other cultural constructs, where else can we expect to find meaning but in the mirror?
A sense of expectation is something that unites us all from birth. An expectation of greatness.
It’s usually around the age of five or six that we experience a moment when we first become aware of this expectation. It might be the moment you bring home your first report card, to either congratulations or disappointment. It might be that moment you’re on the soccer field, take your first shot at goal, and hear the cheers or groans that follow. In that moment, the precedent is set.
As time moves on, you start to define your own expectations, in the face of rising obstacles. Perhaps you’re the bullied student who hopes to become class valedictorian. The aspiring artist who’s told she’ll never amount to anything because she got a D+ in maths. The swim champ who missed too many training sessions because of problems at home.
The demon called Reality soon appears upon their shoulder, and whispers in their ear, “why are you so surprised? Not everyone can be great. There’s nothing wrong with settling”. And so they divert from the path.
But others stay true, others like you, and are showered with praise, encouragement, and respect.
You graduate school, pursue your passion, and find work that you love. It’s not easy, and it never gets easier, but it’s everything you strived so hard for.
Then everything changes.
Suddenly, it’s wrong to celebrate your achievements, to reflect on your hard work, on everything you’ve given up, on everything you now have in return.
They call you many things in derision, but all these spiteful words imply your guilty of exhibiting a single emotion: pride.
These words are barbed. They’re designed to hurt. And they do. They make us feel guilty, vain, conceited.
Because some old book of Middle Eastern tales tells us it is a sin; in fact, the greatest of all sins? Because the jealous tell us it is wrong to be who we are with such voracity and at such volumes that it is hard to ignore them?
Consider another take, a belief formed from one of the greatest minds in all of recorded history: Aristotle.
“Now the man is thought to be proud who thinks himself worthy of great things, being worthy of them; for he who does so beyond his deserts is a fool, but no virtuous man is foolish or silly. The proud man, then, is the man we have described. For he who is worthy of little and thinks himself worthy of little is temperate, but not proud; for pride implies greatness, as beauty implies a good-sized body, and little people may be neat and well-proportioned but cannot be beautiful.”
“Pride, then, seems to be a sort of crown of the virtues; for it makes them more powerful, and it is not found without them. Therefore it is hard to be truly proud; for it is impossible without nobility and goodness of character.”
True pride is not a corruption of greatness, but a mark of it. Own it; let it serve as a reminder that you have no reason to doubt what you have achieved and who you have become, no matter what others may say.
Inspire it in others. The people who will help you and celebrate you are the people on their own quest to greatness.
You are strong. You are courageous. You are great. And you deserve to feel good about that.