Hi, I'm Levi.
I'm twenty-six years old, and I am intimidated.
It's amazing how as soon as someone gives you an opportunity to do something, or lead something, or voice something, all of the gun barrels filled with reasons why you shouldn't - all of the inadequacies and the inconsistencies and the failures and the yeah-I-really-don't-know-what-I'm-talking-abouts - empty their bullets into your brain.
Yesterday, I took my wife and my mom to see Ron Howard's Into The Heart Of The Sea. It flopped at the Box Office, but I liked it more than the critics did.
There's a section of the film where Herman Melville is interviewing a survivor of The Essex as to how he was able to stay alive during the weeks following their shipwreck, and he begins to weep at the thought of voicing a secret that has condemned him since. Melville says that there is freedom in letting those secrets go, and begins to tell his own:
"I am not a good writer."
"I fear that someone else could tell the story better than me..."
He feared what his contemporary at the time - Nathaniel Hawthorne - may think of him. He feared failure. His comparisons threatened to defeat him. He felt like a fraud. It was like someone put my brain into Melville's head.
What struck me about the man is the way he pushed forward anyway. The way he could have created a template from the relative success of his first novel and stuck to what he knew, or the way he could have modeled his next venture after the successes of others before him (the ones he was likely intimidated by).
I've been on an Ed Catmull kick, and here's what Pixar's president has to say about it:
"Fear makes people reach for certainty and stability - neither of which guarantee the safety they imply... Success makes you wearier than ever of failure, so you retreat, content to repeat what you have done before. They stay on the side of the known."
In my life, I think there's an important correlation here between the willingness to risk and the idol of comfort. Or the want for validation. Fear becomes paralysis.
The cliché goes that comparisons are the thieves of joy, but it's a cliché for a reason.
What's fascinating about trying to jimmy-rig creation according to what's been successful in fear of missing out on the praise of others, is that we end up missing out on the praise of others because our fear left us settling for less than we could have made. There are a thousand bands who put out phenomenal first albums because of the way audiences connected with the difference in their sound, only to lose us when the sophomore dropped like the rest of whatever "success" sounds like. They settled for the norm to ensure safety, only to find their safety threatened by our shrugs at mediocrity.
What's also fascinating is that "the praise of others" is not a significant enough end to strive for. What others? How many others? What happens when you don't have all the others clapping beneath your self-erected pedestal?
It'd be so tight to end this blog post by dropping a one-liner-bomb on you, like, "I just want the praise of One Other welcoming me as a good and faithful servant." Come on - that'd be awesome. And it is true, too. In part. It's a part of what I want. But as simultaneously saint and sinner, I also find myself wanting a bunch of other things that fuel the way I log into Twitter and look at everything as a competition.
It is simply not that.
I hope that truth can be freeing for us. Success has to look different in a kingdom economy where the last become first, and where foolishness is wisdom, and where humility is celebrated and pride is opposed, and where everything is flipped upside down on the gospel's counterintuitive head.
I fear because I still want to claim my boasts as my own. They are not my own. I grow anxious with comparisons because I still want to compete with the next man. We're usually on the same team.
When you are not competing, you are free to be who you are.
Let yourself be broken and rebuilt. Let perfect love cast out your fear. Let repentance be all of life. Let childlikeness define you like it did before you cared about affection outside of the arms of your father. Let yourself be wrapped up in the identity of Christ and let him remind you that you have nothing to prove and let him inspire creativity and life that flows not from fear, but from freedom.
And pray for me, that I would hear my own words.