When we first had Latin at school, 7th grade or so, I absolutely loved it. I ate that shit up. All others were like Meh, but I devoured it. Latin homework was always the thing I looked forward to doing. I learned all the vocabulary and delved into the grammar. The subject was utterly fascinating to me.
Predictably, I got very good grades. I was by far the best student in Latin. I was so good that when we had a translation exam, I wrote two different, ehm, let’s call them interpretations and passed one around secretly for the others to copy, which led to a funny situation once or twice, because the interpretations I passed around were always my second choices and not the ideal translations.
Now, here’s a short overview over the grade system in Germany. We have grades ranging from 1 to 6, 1 being the best. They are titled like this:
- Very Good
You usually need at least a 4 on average to pass the school year. In Latin, I always had a stellar 1.
Now, I was generally a good student and by the end of that year, I was proposed to change to a different school that would be more challenging.
When I started out at the new school, with it came a switch to a new Latin textbook, based on a different textbook series that I had learned from.
Suddenly, there was a lot of vocabulary I didn’t know and some grammar I didn’t understand. It was different enough for me to fall to something like a grade 3, I think.
And once that happened, I suddenly lost all the drive. I was utterly disappointed and felt useless about myself. Formerly I had been the best student and now I was average at best. I realized it would be extremely hard to reach the same level of proficiency with the new textbook as I had with the old one.
Now, had I originally started with the other textbook, I am sure I would have been just as good with it. But catching up with an entire year of knowledge?
Well, let’s just say I gave up and lost all my love for the subject.
I think it’s because somewhere along the way, I had forgotten how much I loved the language and had fallen in love with being the best Latin student instead. My love for the subject transformed into a love for validation. In a sense, my love became hollow. And once I no longer got the validation, the love was gone.
And by the end of the 10th school year, I almost failed to graduate due to Latin, with a 4, borderline 5, grade.
Is passion always in the service for others?
Now, one interpretation of the whole thing could be that we as humans are ultimately what some call social creatures. That validation and doing something selflessly for the community is more important to us than evil selfish interest.
But personally I think it was insecurity that was partly already a very strong component in my personality and that school managed to reinforce.
I have experienced this a couple times in my life with other hobbies of mine. I have experienced it with photography, video production and music.
The moment I started getting validation for what I did, something always changed. It was as if the love of the subject was no longer my own, but suddenly belonged to my teachers/critics and I was merely a slave tasked with fulfilling their expectations about my performance in the subject.
As a result, I always became less self-driven, less motivated, less creative and my work became robotic and boring. I even lost the joy in doing it.
In fact, weirdly, what kept me going was not the joy itself I had experienced at the beginning. It was the memory of that joy. I thought: Well I loved doing this and had great joy with it. Surely I still love doing it and still find joy in it.
But that joy had come organically, from giving myself to the subject and the subject giving itself to me, without obligations, without expectations. There was a flow, a relationship, a mutual seduction. But once I learned I could get validation from doing it, it shifted. Suddenly, there were expectations. I could no longer innocently give myself to the subject, as my head was filled with other people’s ideas about how I should go after that passion of mine.
And the relationship would turn into a process. The passion would turn into a pursuit of a goal I did not really care about, but did not dare not caring about.
And so, whenever I would have an intuitive idea, my mind would respond: Is that the right way to do it? Will that give me the same validation from others as before?
This paralyzed me to the extent that I was more or less rendered unable to even act on any creative impulse. I had ideas, but whenever an idea came up, I immediately scrutinized and killed it.
In a strange way, I had a terrible fear of disappointing those who formerly praised me. How weird! I thought: Well, my last work brought them joy and now they expect to get that joy again and I mustn’t disappoint them.
The pursuit of uniqueness
Maybe this is why many famous artists end up doing one good thing and then spend the rest of their career copying that first good thing, getting more boring and predictable with every time.
So ironically, the more your try to get that validation, the less you actually get it. Like game, eh?
Now, as I said, I don’t think this is necessarily the fault of those people. They meant well by validating me. But my insecurity made it impossible for me to just accept praise and then move on with my passion.
In recent years, this has actually led me to hating praise. Yes, I hate praise. I don’t want people telling me I did something well. Why? Because I want the thing to still to belong to me. I don’t want my love for something to become a slave to those who liked my work.
So what did my brain come up with as a solution? Something very strange. Whenever someone praises me, I immediately think to myself: Okay, I did something wrong. I don’t want anyone to openly agree with me, as then this expression no longer belongs to myself.
So whenever someone would agree with something I wholeheartedly embraced before, I would then reject that thing just because someone agreed with it. As if … if there is someone wielding that idea with more confidence than I, I can no longer wield it with confidence. So I need to change. I need to become more special. More unique. More abstract and more otherworldly weird to the point that nobody will be able to fully agree with me anymore.
As in the quote by Groucho Marx:
I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.
The moment someone accepts me as I am, I lose my identity and my ideas about a subject (and myself) start conforming to other people’s ideas about this subject. And that I cannot allow. As if, once someone agrees with me, I can no longer think freely, as it could mean that this agreement could break. So it’s better to break the agreement deliberately.
Well, I guess I’ll get over this when I become more confident in myself. But then, I kinda see it in others too, if to a lesser extent. People who love photography start being obsessed with following the rules, criticizing everything through the lens of some abstract ideals that are not even their own. They lose their creative spark.
Rule-followers with hubris
I also once used to do concert videos for bands. Since I needed many camera operators, I asked some other guys to help me out. And whom did I ask? Professionals? No. I asked guys who never had anything much to do with video. And guess what? Their work would be cool. Unpredictable, but at the same time organic and real. Meanwhile, whenever I worked with someone who considered himself a professional or considered videos as his job, I was usually disappointed. Their work was boring. It was technically good, it followed the rules, but it was soulless. Those people would become obsessed with doing accurate lighting, pulling the focus correctly, etc etc. They would get so caught up in technicalities that they would completely forget that they are doing creative work that requires them to be in the moment.
And those people, often students of film, would tell me how my procedure was incorrect. How I needed to do this or that differently, because that is how they learned it. They would tell me I can’t just use multiple cameras to film something if I don’t have a timecode generator to synchronize all cameras. Meanwhile, I simply synchronized all videos by their audio waveform. The result was perfect, and yet they would say you can’t do that.
And I would look at those people and think to myself: Wtf dude. You haven’t produced any cool video of value in your life and you never had a real passion about the subject, and yet you are the one telling me how to do it because you took a class?
So it’s not just game, dear friends, that is affected by analysis paralysis. It’s a real thing that pervades every aspect of life. Once you start being obsessed with how to do it right is the moment you stop doing cool work, or in the very least, you lose the joy you once had doing it.
But now of course, me telling someone You need to be more creative is in itself totally contra-productive, making my protest against rule-following lead to another form of rule-following. So whenever I worked with someone in video, I never told them how to do it. I told them: Do it how it feels right to you.
The most authentic work doesn’t come from telling people to be authentic. It comes from telling them to do as they wish to do it. Hell, I mean, maybe even rule following can lead to authentic results, right? How could a rule-follower be authentic if he pretended not to care about rules? And surely there are shades of grey and even healthy combinations between a rule follower and a so-called authentic person.
Actually, I am lying. I did give them instructions – I told them to not shut off the camera while filming.
Hey, funnily, regarding game. I once telephoned with a girl I was into. I started jerking off while speaking with her and told her so. She told me to tell her what I am imagining. And she told me: You can’t do it wrong. Gotta say it was a pretty hard struggle for me to be honest and I was so anxious in fact I almost lost my boner and my voice became dry and robotic while I forced myself to tell her what I imagined doing to her. But I did my best, heh. She ended up saying I had been more honest than most men, considering it was the first time I did that. And that’s me being as fucked up as I am, with all those crippling fears. Funny how it can be a challenge to be yourself.
Btw, here’s the last concert video I ever filmed, back in 2011. I never had a formal education in video.