The Illusion of Success
Previously entitled “Success Wasn’t What I Thought It Would Be: Thoughts in the Wake of Robin Williams’ Death”
Author’s Note: This is perhaps one of the rawest blog posts I’ve ever released. I let it sit for a day before posting, thinking I would re-read it and clean it up a bit. However, I decided not to do that. I decided not to re-read this before posting, because I know that if I do, I will probably change a lot of it. When it comes to topics of this nature, we just need to get over ourselves and let our hearts bleed — put all that we feel to words and let them free with no regrets. So here it is. Thanks for being a part of this experiment (which is really what this entire blog is, now that I stop and think about it). ~ Jared
I was driving along the Eastern Shore of Maryland when I first heard the news that Robin Williams had committed suicide. It didn’t seem real at first. Five days later, it still feels like a bad dream.
I saw a post online where a certain person was releasing a blanket rebuke for our caring more about movie stars we don’t know than the “real” people in our lives. And while I understood where this person was coming from, I don’t think that is what’s really going on here. There’s something deeper happening beneath the surface.
So what is happening? Why does Robin Williams death move us so deeply? Why do we care so much about someone we’ve never met, when there are people dying every day, all around us? I can’t claim to have any answers for these questions, but perhaps I can provide language to what I feel is going on below the surface.
I think the reason why Robin Williams’ untimely death effects us so deeply is because it brings to the surface the haunting question, “What about us?”
If someone as famous and successful and incredibly kind and caring as Robin Williams can suffer from terrible depression that results in them taking their own life, what will become of us? This may seem a bit out there for some, but it’s a question I keep asking myself. Because if it can happen to Robin Williams, it can happen to any of us.
I’ve achieved a relatively high amount of success in my life at a young age. I’ve had people stare me in the face and tell me they wish there life would come together like mine. I cringe when I hear these things. Oh, if only you knew. I’m not trying to devalue myself or hide my accomplishments to display a facade of false humility. The truth is, I really do love myself, and I feel pretty secure in who I am most times. But every time I conquer another mountain, every time I check off a long-awaited goal, it never really quite feels like I thought it would. The melody of success is sweet for a moment, but it quickly begins to fade. Yesterday’s ceiling quickly becomes today’s floor, as I’m pushed forward by a desire to accomplish more. I got what I wanted, but it wasn’t the music to my soul that I thought it would be. I may look successful from the outside, but inside, I tell myself something like, “Okay, I’ve done that now. What next?”
I can’t help but wonder if this is how Robin Williams felt at times.
We all wear the same flesh and blood. We all experience the same struggle. Our individual stories may be different, but when we take away our titles, houses, and cars, we’re all a bunch of broken people searching for something to fill our emptiness. I am a Christian, but as I journey on in my relationship with Jesus, I have found that He doesn’t totally fill my emptiness. Gone are the seemingly endless seasons of depression, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel hopeless at times; the moments where I feel whole and complete don’t overlap at every point.
This might be bad theology, but more than attempting to explain a theology, I’m sharing my experience. Your story may be that you continually feel satisfied in Jesus. Perhaps that is your reality, or perhaps it is merely an illusion. But even if you are one of those who could honestly say you feel whole and complete, you still brush up against the same broken world as the rest of us, you still bend, you still break, and you’ve still got the scars that tell the stories of a thousand broken dreams. The only difference is, you’ve learned how to dream again and never quit; you’ve learned how to cling tightly to hope and never let go.
I am learning these things, but I still have a long way to go. I have bigger dreams than those I am walking in right now, and overall, I feel like my moving toward those dreams is more about who I was created to be than my trying to find something to fill my emptiness. I’ve realized that I can’t wait until my life is pretty and perfect, until I feel whole and complete to pursue some things. Sometimes this is necessary, but there are other times when you need to go after a dream while you’re still bleeding from the last attempt. You’ve cleaned yourself up a bit, I’m sure, but you still feel an inner emptiness gnawing away at you, whether you are a person or faith or not. As I said, I don’t have a theology for this, but I have found that following Jesus is more about having a continually available connection to hope than it is never feeling brokenness again. I think sometimes we focus too much on our own personal happiness, when Jesus is looking at us and saying, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). The pain we experience today is only temporary, but that doesn’t mean we are to exempt ourselves from experiencing it.
It seems that I have gotten way off track from Robin Williams, but perhaps I have stumbled on to the reason why his death haunts us as much as it does. There are many things I see in his story that parallel my own, and that scares me. Not that I’m battling depression, more along the lines that I’m beginning to experience what it feels like to get things you thought you wanted and still fall asleep at night wondering if you’re loved at all. Perspective seems to evade us all more often than not, as we navigate our way through life and try to make sense of the stories that we were born into, the stories we’re currently living, and the stories we long to write in the future.
If Robin Williams could gather us all around right now, I think he would tell us to know that success is not all that it seems. I think he would want us to know that it’s possible to be the most popular person in a room and feel totally alone. I think he would want us to know that these dark sides of our souls are a part of what it means to be human, that our brokenness isn’t something we have to hide or be ashamed of. I think he would want us to know that it’s okay to not be okay, even if we’re living the life we thought we wanted, that it’s okay to reach out for those that we love, to pull them close and ask them to remind us why we stay in the fight, why we keep pressing on when all hope seems lost. I think he would want us to know that it’s okay that we don’t understand all of this or what is going on inside of us, that it’s okay to struggle to make sense of this crazy world we’ve been dropped into. Most importantly, I think he would want us to know that there will be moments when we finally reach those mountaintops and see that the things we want most were there all along in the low and familiar places, that those were the things that matter the most, that we are to cling tightly to those things and never let then go.
In my own life, I have climbed many mountains, and I will climb many more in the years to come. But I will keep filed in the back of my mind to not put too much faith in what I may find on those mountaintops. I will remind myself to chase after things that are worth chasing, while at the same time sitting back and letting life surprise me with it’s timely mysteries that make Heaven feel a little closer to earth. In those moments, I may not always feel like the pieces of my life have fallen perfectly into place, but I will be reminded of how deeply I am loved, and that will be enough.