Many people suffer from synthetic attitudes. This state of mind can come from living in a dichotomy between the image you feel obliged to present to the world and what is your true sense of self. It is like the difference between bluster and confidence. Synthetic attitudes, such as that of the Pharisees who continually confronted Jesus, reinforce the emptiness in the soul, rather than turning on the source of living water that could fill it with realness.
Synthetic attitudes abound in our modern culture. It is almost like posturing rather than being real. A simple example would be a positive mental attitude. We are told that to succeed we need a positive mental attitude. So we act positive. However, an inherent positive mental attitude comes from:
Which in turn, breeds confidence and confidence can self-perpetuate until begins to change you into a person with a natural positive mental attitude. I am arguing that a good, positive attitude can be cultivated, given a chance to grow and mature, until it becomes innate. [You cannot just gin up a real positive attitude; a synthetic one on the other hand…]
However, even that eventual innate confidence and positive outlook needs sustaining. You have to develop ways of dealing with the inevitable failures and disappointments that drain your hard-won confidence and positive outlook. You have to learn one of life’s most significant lessons: that individual failures and disappointments are not as important as they initially seem and are actually fundamental to your growth and success. It is only through the cultivation of a certain amount of mental and spiritual “toughness” that we can push through those stumbling blocks and put them behind us. Realizing that the bumps in the road are inevitable and that they do not define you goes a long way to reducing their power when they occur and helps you to move on despite the skinned knees or banged shins. As a Christian, it is significant to remember that Jesus fell three times on the way to Golgotha. However, each time he got up and continued on. Remember, the decision to go to the cross was his, and each time he got up he reaffirmed that decision.
While we know deep down that most things do not turn out how we expect; that most people will fail us at some point, tying our attitudes and confidence to things that are out of our control is a prescription for failure in whatever we do.
When I began as a photographer I had a marvelous mentor. I was in the Air Force, serving in Thailand during the Vietnam conflict, and developed a friendship with another airman who had extensive experience in professional photography, having worked for Life, Look, and other well known magazines. He taught me a very important lesson. He argued that Ansel Adams (known for extensive setup in preparation for the perfect shot) was the exception, that his type of talent was few and far between. Then, while agreeing that skill and talent are necessary prerequisites, he said that as photographers we will discard most of what we shoot, that in the end only about 2% of our images will be better than good enough. The good photographer can produce the good enough almost on cue. However, the great photographs will be found in the 2% results. Shoot a 100 photographs and maybe, if you are good, 2 will be exceptional. If you are not good, you still may get that occasional great shot, but expect it to be .2-.02%. Shoot a thousand and one or two might be exceptional, even by accident.
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that except for rare individuals, the Adams’ and the Mozart’s of the world, most of what we do when we apply ourself falls into the category of good or good enough and that along the way we accumulate a body of excellence that falls within that 2% category (and then only if we have the skill and talent, and exercise the persistent effort). It is hard to accept, but most of what we do, even if we have learned our craft (and this applies to any area of endeavor), will fall into the category of good or good enough and only sometimes will it be great. That applies to photographs, sermons, or bricks being laid.
However, and here’s the rub, mixed in with that ongoing good we consistently produce there will be many, many failures. The key is that when those failures happen, we should not see that as in itself a failure. Instead, we should see it as an expected part of our effort, of life. We will fail. Sometimes it will be our fault, sometimes others will contribute to it, and sometimes it will just happen. However it comes about, it is a normal part of the process of learning, growing, and becoming whatever it is we are trying to be. The key is to let go, to admit to our failures and move on, to not let them distract us from our continuing effort to do well.
That is why forgiveness is so significant, especially as applied to ourselves. It allows us to accept our part of the responsibility for what went wrong, fix it when possible (or just put in place what is necessary to not have it happen again), and move on. We should never allow our failures to define us. But often, part of our failure can be laid at the feet of others, those who did not hold up their end of the bargain for whatever reason. It is only by forgiving them that we free ourselves to continue on. Holding grudges serves no purpose and can mire our future in a cycle of failure as we shift our focus to blaming others, rather than dealing with it and moving on.
So, expect the bumps and bruises, the skinned knees and failed expectations. Accept them, deal with them, and move on. If you do not, you will never see those 2% miracles of greatness emerge from your efforts and you will set the stage for failure becoming the definition of your efforts, rather than one of the steps along the path to succeeding at your endeavors.
May God grant you the grace necessary to approach the life he has planned for you with confidence and a positive attitude and may you accept and move past the inevitable failures with graceful forgiveness. May you be like Paul, keeping your hand to the plow, not looking back, but ever striving forward. May you always be real, never synthetic.