“The important thing is never to let oneself be guided by the opinion of one’s contemporaries; to continue steadfastly on one’s way without letting oneself be either defeated by failure or diverted by applause.” — Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler was an Austrian composer who’s work is familiar to us whether we know it or not. His Symphony No. 1 in D is the basic tune of “Frère Jacques”, the nursery rhyme embedded in our brains as children. He built his legacy as a conductor and composer in Vienna, a place chock full of legendary conductors and composers, and navigated his career through both anti-semitism and general criticism of his work, which pushed boundaries many weren’t ready for. So in this context, his quote becomes illuminating.
There’s a moment after we’ve tied a shoe or set a sail just so when we look up and begin going where we determined we’d go in our minds just a beat before. It’s that moment of beginning on one’s way, wherever it may bring us, that is transformative. Everything that comes after is a matter of resolve: Do we finish what we started or to let it fall by the wayside and try something else?
Most likely, the worst criticism we face comes from within. Self-doubt, imposter syndrome and fear of failure have destroyed more art than all the critics and book-burning zealots combined. In such moments, we must keep going, one way or another. Easier said than done, of course, but pushing through has a way of building confidence and resilience. We simply learn to ignore the voice inside.
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” — Steven Pressfield
That moment of beginning, of breaking through that Resistance, is a big step in reaching our unlived life. But every step thereafter has its own subsequent Resistance. Put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking across the floor, as the song goes. To reach our potential we must overcome all the external and internal noise that is distracting us from that voice in our head that is telling us quietly, persistently, what we ought to do.
Today we’re beginning something, and continuing other things. Who we once were passed away in that beat. This blog post, like the 1,663 before this one, is another step for me across that proverbial floor, with the character who wrote each long gone. What remains is the sum of each, on the way to becoming something entirely new. Who we become is in so many ways up to us, determined by the choices one makes on one’s way and our steadfast resolve to arrive at what’s next.