Recently I purchased a book online from Amazon, who generously reminded me that “customers who bought this item also viewed the following” (or words to that effect), before exposing me to a spread of other books I had never heard of. Just in case I might be tempted, you know. Or realize the book I was specifically looking for and therefore knew I wanted might somehow leave me lacking. It turns out the only edition still in print was the Indian one, and it would take a whole month to ship, so after completing payment I went online to see if I could find any other material by the author to keep me entertained in the meantime. While doing this I stumbled upon a video of actor Jim Carrey’s acceptance speech at the 2016 Golden Globes. This is what he said:
“Thank you, I am two time Golden Globe winner Jim Carrey. You know (pause) when I go to sleep at night, I’m not just a guy going to sleep. I’m two-time Golden Globe winner Jim Carrey, going to get some well needed shut-eye. And when I dream I don’t just dream any old dream. No sir! (pause for audience laughter) I dream about being three time Golden Globe winning actor Jim Carrey. Because then I would be enough. It would finally be true, and I could stop this, this terrible search.”
I love the wry humour and tongue-in-cheek tone, but it struck me that my online shopping experience was not such a bad metaphor for life, and that much of my own life had been geared to adding to my cart, so that I would be enough. The reason Amazon’s tactics (and those of all other online retailers) work, is that the human mind can easily be convinced that more goodies are out there: “Hmm, I actually could use one of those,” it thinks, and so, “Add to cart.” Or we order something nice, and something pops up that we realize would look great with it – add to cart. Now we don’t all dream of Golden Globes or public recognition, but there seems to be a pathological human tendency to want to acquire, in order to be more. For some it’s material possessions, but for many it’s a whole range of achievements or skills. “What if I could have actually done that?” is a good one to start with, I think. What if I could have written a book? Add to cart. What if I could have actually cycled round the world? Add to cart. What if I could already be fluent in three languages? What if I could play the digeridoo like the busker in the underground? Add to cart. What if my CV looked like I’d achieved ten times more in half the time? I’ll take it. Embellishing one’s record is another good one perhaps – what if instead of wasting a decade at that soul destroying job, I’d taken time out to travel South America? What if I’d started my own business? By this time I’d be fully my own boss! Or what if I’d started a company that had impacted the whole country, or maybe the world? “Entrepreneur of the decade”? – add to cart. And the cart gets bigger to accommodate ever bulkier fantasies.
I think most of us see through the futility of all this sooner or later, often when the pursuit of an adequate – maybe even impeccable – self has become exhausting, when repeated addition to ourselves has fallen short of our expectations. But conditioning is powerful, the urge is stubborn. Things get more nuanced – what if I could feel I’m doing a better job raising my children, be more like the other Dads at their school? Add ‘better Dad’ to cart. What if I could feel more legitimate offering my professional services even though I know others out there doing the same job are more experienced or competent than I am? Add ‘the more authentic professional’. But moving from the base to the more subtle is a start.
Ultimately perhaps, we’ll no longer dream of our metaphorical third Golden Globe. We’ll just see through the dream that anything could possibly add to, or enhance, the essence of who we already are.