June 7, 2011

Down with Yuppiedom

I'm not an artsy-fartsy type of person.

I know Picasso's a painting genius, but I have to be honest.
I don’t understand his work.

To me, his work is a little weird. Even creepy sometimes.
No offense to Picasso.
I'm pretty sure my lack of aesthetic sense is to blame.
More importantly, I'm pretty sure Picasso wouldn't care if I understand his work or not.

But one thing he said is right up my alley.
And I love him for saying it.

“If you know exactly what you are going to do
then what is the point in doing it?”

Which is really revealing for an artistic retard like me. Because I always thought that great artists' painting-thought-process went a little something like this:

'Wake up.
Have breakfast.
Decide to paint a face of a man playing the violin.
Paint the perfect face of a man perfectly playing the perfect violin.
Sign your name in the bottom right-hand corner.
A million dollars in the bank account.'

But what Mr. Picasso is telling me is that he probably went through the day a little like this:

'Wake up.
Draw a line on a blank canvas.
Hm. Okay.
Have breakfast.
Draw a second line and maybe a couple of curves.
Sleep a while.
Wake up.
Draw a bull and a violin.
Take a shower.
Paint in a horse and a beheaded man.
A few more steps, the details of which I don't quite know about.
If I knew, I wouldn't be wasting time on this blog.
I'd be painting myself a million dollar masterpiece.
And then.
A million dollars in the bank account.'

The point is this. He didn't set out thinking he's going to paint a lady with a bull and a horse and a beheaded man. It came out that way.
The result, coincidentally, was worth a million dollars.
Probably more, but that’s not the point.

When you think about it, isn't this the very antithesis of what we call ambition?

Isn't ambition a goal and an insatiable drive to reach it?

The attainment of that goal and the 'personal fulfillment' it promises becomes the carrot tied to the end of the stick, and we spend all our lives trying to chase it. To motivate us further, we classify this chase as a virtue. The virtue of ambition. 

And its this promise of personal fulfillment that was modified into what is now fairly well-known as the Golden Handcuffs. An 'incentive' program which ensures that the employee earns enough to live a lifestyle that is unsustainable without the current level of income. In the fear of losing his income, and consequently the lifestyle that the employee has come to depend on, he is forced to acquiesce to various types of exploitation and stresses that he would ordinarily  oppose.

Everyone knows it exists.
The corporate big-wigs seem to be proud of hand-cuffing people.
They call it competitive, market level remuneration.
And the suits seem to be proud of being handcuffed.
They are golden after all.

It's okay to work 18 hour days, weekends too, in pursuit of the dangling carrot.
Or miss family get-togethers for work. Actually, it's okay to be smug about working 18 hours days and missing family get-togethers for work. It's a source of self-importance. A euphemism for the fact that you have engagements that are far too important than the mind-numbing, vacuous celebrations that everyone else participates in.  

It's the 'in' thing to do. Yuppiedom is 'all that'.

Selling out to stay afloat: It's called ambition.

So, up until now, I didn't think I was ambitious.
The Golden handcuffs didn't fit me.
They tried. They failed.

I know.
I'm braveheart.

'Ay. Fight, and you may die. Run, and you'll live. At least for a while.
And then, dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to tell our enemies (aka employers) that they may take our lives (aka lifestyles), but they'll never take our freedom!'


But Mister Picasso's changed all that.
My perception of ambition, that is.
We, as a society, have twisted ambition to mean something quite different from what it was probably supposed to mean originally.

Let me illustrate the point with a quote from a book, that I know I should have read, but I didn't.
I'm just using a quote from it.

It's from 'To Kill a Mockingbird':

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.

The 'Me' corollary to this is:

I want you to see what ambition really is, instead of getting the idea that ambition is a yuppie working 20 hour days in a job that he hates but does it for the money. Ambition is when you know you know nothing, but you start anyway. And you give it your best shot. You rarely win. But sometimes you do.

Ordinarily, you would think that the guy who takes on a man with a gun in his hand is an idiot.
But he isn't.
He's courageous.
Hey, I'm not saying it. The book is.

By that logic, the guy that starts to paint on a blank canvas without really knowing what he's going to paint, isn't an idiot. He's ambitious.

The guy who doesn't know a thing about writing poetry, but decides to do it. He's ambitious.

I'm talking about Wystan Hugh Auden. Apparently, during his school days his friend asked him whether he'd ever write poetry. He'd never tried it and that's what he said. But that's when he decided it’s what he wanted to do. Turned out to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.

The guy who studied zoology and then moved to an unknown city where he spent eight months  sleeping on the streets, staying in lofts and sleeping under water tanks of boys' hostels, just to 'do something in films', isn't stupid. He's ambitious.

A critically acclaimed Indian film director and screenwriter whose script had been nominated for an Academy Award (in 2005).
'Just that one film festival and I decided that this is what I want to be a part of'.

I'm not saying I'm going to be as great as them. Even I wouldn't bet on that.
But, if these people can ever teach anyone anything- it's this.

There's a thin line that separates stupidity from ambition.
The day you take the effort to cross over to ambition, you do just that.
You cross over.
If you never try, you always dwell in the former.

Once you realize what you like doing, don't waste another moment of your life on doing anything else.
Don't think about whether you'll make it or not. Don't be worried about being called an idiot.
Take it from me. You get used to it!
Be ambitious.

I sincerely apologize if this post has hurt the sentiments of any Picasso followers.
Any misinterpretation of his words, his paintings or his personality was unintentional and caused by my ignorance and general stupidity.

Mr. Picasso.
Please don't come back to haunt me.
I love you.


A story I read here, as food for thought.

An investment banker stood at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The banker complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The fisherman replied, “Only a little while.”

The banker then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?

The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The banker then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”

The banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, and eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats".

He continued, “And instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would then sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution! You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The fisherman asked, “But how long will this all take?”

To which the banker replied, “Perhaps 15 to 20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the fisherman.

The banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions!”

“Millions. Okay, then what?” wondered the fisherman.

To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Now you have to give the Ivy league MBA some credit. After 15 or 20 years the advantage is that the fisherman would be financially secure. His kids would be financially secure. Maybe their kids would be financially secure. And their kids….
You get the point.

But the downside?
After 15 or 20 years, his kids would have grown up. He would have missed their childhood. He'd be too old to enjoy the strolls with his wife. He'd have diabetes because of the stress and he'd have forgotten to play the guitar. And his friends would have forgotten him.

Are you humming 'Cats in the Cradle' like me?

I can't shake the thought that this post has come out with a little 'holier than thou' sort of feel to it.
This is to confirm: It's not meant to.

Even with this gabfest about what's wrong with the world, I have to keep reminding myself of my own thoughts everyday. For example, every time I meet a yuppie who flashes that sanctimonious smile at me when I tell them what I want to do with my life, it bothers me. Actually, I feel like ripping his head off.

But I don't.

I could go to jail for that.
And I hear they have dirty toilets.
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The Pious Hippie by Ms. Pious Hippie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.