I have a lot of ideas. Some of them good ones. I’ll get started down the path to developing one, maybe even turning it into a thriving business, and somewhere get derailed and left in a gully beside the path sure that some competing idea is better, or the original idea had some philosophical flaw making it of little positive benefit to the people I wished to serve. I’m experiencing that right now.
I’m working on an organization with the goal of getting people with mental illness whom are not working back into competitive employment and off of restrictive benefits. I did it, and I have a pretty good plan to help others do the same. The benefits of work are irrefutable and the independence work can lead to can heal much of the poor self-image that plagues so many with mental illness. Few really want to be totally dependent, at least financially, on a system that only requires that they remain sick. Most would rather be productive, and rewarded for it.
But then I start thinking. What about the nature of work and how it may bring about or aggravate the very symptoms which make up an illness? Anhedonia and the identification of specific mental illnesses are products of the industrial revolution. Sure mental illness existed before mechanized labor, but the lack of self-sufficiency in the modern world led many to question the value and worth of all this stuff we’re producing, why we have to keep growing, and what we’ve lost in the name of vitality and individual agency along the way.
This reasoning is curious, coming from someone who respects capitalism and enjoys watching Bloomberg, but this morning it nags me as I consider that maybe those of us with mental illness have some insight into the soul-killing flaws many find in our present economic system. Not only are we trapped in a system that values a certain level of conformity (depending on what we do and where we work), but we’re even in treatment in a system that only thrives if we stay ill, alienated, and unsuccessful. The inertia sets in as I pretend to develop this great insight and I don’t follow up on my present plans, and destroy any chance of reaching my dream of social enterprise, giving, coaching, and succeeding. See, that’s how it goes all too often, and I fall back into failure.
Perhaps this failure is indicative of some great insight that should be played out, a la Foucault. But I’ve read that and I didn’t subscribe to that. I believe in self-determination through self-discipline, and I think, in a free market, all who strive can thrive. Mental illness poses unique and sometimes seemly insurmountable challenges, but there are countless examples of people who have overcome and lead productive, significant lives. Perhaps most important, I have a wife and a daughter who need me to be consistent, bills that have to be paid, and health that must be maintained. Deep thought, contradictory ideas, and always questioning assumptions can be great sources of inspiration, but it can all lead to inertia that flattens the joy in the simple pleasures of a life well lived. And inertia can turn certain success into sure failure.
So I set aside time for contemplation and allow my thoughts to wander as I practice. But usually I notice they are false and unrelated to the challenges I truly face. These thoughts can provide insight, so I allow for them. But they can also lead to great doubt, insecurity, and anxiety. Or I discover grandiosity that can yield inspiration or the same negative effects. Practice helps me sort it all out and stay on the path that has proven successful. Yes, there’s benefit in taking some time to question the things one is most sure of. That’s how we reinforce or hone our ideas. But the greater, more challenging practice is doing the work that moves one forward. Inspiration, perspiration, and all that stuff. There’s a joy in the simple, and great pleasure in meaningful work. Success takes many forms, but usually comes from consistently practicing something. Greatness is the successive application of small efforts. Inertia and failure are easy traps to fall into, but the work it takes to defeat them is a reward in itself. And liberty, freedom, and influence cannot be achieved without the work.