Achievement is a Bondage

Albert Camus said, "An achievement is a bondage. It obliges one to another achievement." As he is my second favorite existential philosopher, I am obliged to try to understand this. It seems clear and equivocating.

If we achieve a "something," then what? MORE, of course! Is it ever over? Or more pertinent, is it ever enough? In our Western culture, it is easy as pie to see what he means, isn't it? We strive for a Cadillac only to find that when we get it, we really desire a Corvette. Upon the acquisition of the 'Vette, we want the Benz. And so on and so forth. Even at the Maserati level, we will ask ourselves about the Ferrari.

We often joke about this very phenomenon, but seldom do we extricate ourselves from it. At first blush, you may be disinclined to agree with Camus. I was. Our weight room mentality has little tolerance for this kind of unhinging from achievement. We can ALWAYS try to lift one more pound. And we do!

But it is just as easy to see this as a "sickness" trapping us into a Sisyphus-like endless cycle of achievements. The pointlessness of it all! But what should we expect from the existentialists?! We can only reasonably guess they would give us the absurd. So what can I do with this idea?

Camus is warning us to avoid the trap of endless achievement which binds us to ever more achievements.. all pointless as he views it. And can you argue? What if you DO achieve a 500-pound bench? There is only ONE OPTION OPEN TO YOU. Right? Obvious to all weightlifters is option A: to try for 505. But that means accepting the trap and trying to feign freedom. It's like asking a man serving a life sentence about his incarceration and him replying," I WANT to be here." That ex post facto offering is not very convincing. And it is also a lie.

So then, if I don't want to be bound to having the burden of achievement upon achievement forever, what is our escape... THAT STILL MIGHT ALLOW ME TO IMPROVE MYSELF? Camus' axioms are put to the nth on purpose. But this one really shook me. I LOVE to achieve stuff! But I can sense that he is correct about the grip it has on me. So I must admit both that I love to achieve stuff and I value my freedom.

I have thought much, and although I can offer no escape, I have found my own way to cope. For me, the secret lies in RELEASING the achievements. I am only bound to them (and by them) if I refuse to let them go. If I persist in holding to them as if they WERE ABLE TO DEFINE ME, then they don't really bind me as much as it is I that clench on to them. The confinement and shackle come from my own insistence that "I must keep this achievement because it is WHO I AM."

For me, the trap is sprung by letting go of the achievement and simply moving on. Yes, perhaps toward another achievement, but not entirely. Just to move on down the road without collecting "trophies."

Yes, moving from 500 to 505, but not because I am trying to achieve it. It is just along the way to where I am going. 505 isn't an achievement so much as it is a gate that I must pass through to get stronger. It is the amassing of strength that I want and 505 and 510 and 550 and 605 are just along my PATH. By focusing on the PATH and moving down it, I can still increase my bench press numbers. But my escape is to release them immediately and just get busy getting stronger.

Here is an essential point: I can stay free if I don't carry my achievements around with me. They are burdensome! Especially the longer you are in the game. Why carry them on your back everywhere you go? I suspect that we are tempted to do this because we don't REALLY KNOW WHO WE WOULD BE if not for all those achievements we have rung up! We CHOOSE to define ourselves by them. And more so, the greater the win!

But there are countless stories of Olympic gold medalists who become drug addicts and alcoholics and sadly, commit suicide when they can't climb any higher. The wheel has come off the rails. They are all the way to the top of the flagpole. There is nowhere left to climb. They were trapped by defining themselves by achievements. They did not know who they were or could be without them. They did not learn to release themselves from their accomplishments and when there was no higher level, life was not worth living anymore. I was shocked to find out how ordinary suicide was among Olympians.

But I think that's exactly what Camus was warning us about. He was not saying we should try NOT TO ACHIEVE THINGS as much as he was hinting to the caveat.

My own resolution is to keep MOVING to where you want to go. But don't pick up hitchhikers along the way. This has another clear benefit. By releasing each "achievement" as we undergo them, then they do NOT compel us to continue whatsoever. If we CHOOSE to go further down that road, fine. But it is OUR CHOICE. Not a compulsion from the need to achieve something to know who we are. We do not define ourselves by what we achieve. Therefore we have no need to accumulate another trophy to prove it.

We just go on to bench 505 because it is ON OUR CHOSEN PATH. But precisely because we have chosen it, we are FREE to abandon it at any time. We can choose another path. Our life then is free. I do not have to stay on a road that I discover two years in is not going to where I want to end up. You are free to go. But not if you WON'T LET GO OF ALL YOUR PRECIOUS ACHIEVEMENTS THAT YOU RACKED UP ON THIS PATH! It is never the "achievements" that bind us. It is our stubbornness.

This is the best I have to offer at this time. I have A LOT more thinking to do on this. I love progression and advancement and seeing myself grow. But I don't think that I must give that joy up to heed Camus. I just can't carry it all around. All the joy, progress, advancement and achievement can still be there. We experience it fully. After all, you benched more this year than last (hopefully).

The process is the same. It's what we love about the iron. But if we attach ourselves to it, it is never-ending. At least for most of us. And if you do happen to win the gold? Well, woe to you! That could be the real end!

Believe me, there is life after lifting. And it will be far easier to discover it if you aren't carrying a heavy load of stuff you did. I'm not saying forget them; I'm saying don't count on them to tell you who you are.

If you can't tell me who you are without telling me anything about your accomplishments, Camus was talking about you!

NONATTACHMENT!

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