Thursday, March 1, 2012

On Aiming Low

            I am not a person who accepts myself or anyone else giving less than their best effort in any situation, which is why I want to write a defense of underachieving. Together, we’ll see if there are any legitimate holes in that mantra. And I will do my best to keep sarcasm out of it. Ironically, the act of writing this piece is –in and of itself- an act of overachievement. Whaddaya know…

            Life is much too short to spend it stressed and developing stomach ulcers because you have three papers due this week, events and escapades scheduled for the weekend, and various responsibilities heavily sprinkled on top of it all like the cheap off-brand sprinkles ice cream parlors use on your sundae. John Maynard Keynes said it best, “In the long run, we’re all dead.” And since we’re all going to eventually turn into rotting corpses, we might as well enjoy the time we have.
            Think of it this way; there are two things anyone really acquires during his or her life, money and memories. Uncle Sam (or whatever personification of your own State you desire, o reader) takes the money, and Alzheimer’s takes the memories. Viewing one’s existence in this light makes underachiever seem like such a derogatory term. Instead, the underachiever is now someone whose goals are in a different realm. Instead of telling myself, “Well, Body, let’s see how little sleep you really need and how much stuff I can really do,” I tell myself things like, “So, Soul, what do you want to do?”
            To those who rag on the underachievers who coast through school, what’s wrong with that life plan? Of course, the general argument is that we “waste potential” –air quotes- and have so many opportunities before us that are shirked off and ignored because they require effort. I say, why do we have to delay our satisfaction? There’s no reason to get addicted to caffeine and 5 Hour Energy at a young age just to possibly, perhaps, maybe achieve greatness later. Contentment now trumps contentment later. Memories of the good times now trump memories of busy work, sweat, and sleepless nights.
            My pastor told a story once: The captain of a fleet of fishing vessels came to port in the afternoon to unload his nets and saw a poor fisherman sleeping on the roof of his rusting little boat. “Why are you just lying around?” The captain exclaimed, “There are fish to be caught.”
            The man who had been sleeping looked up and asked, “What do you propose I do with the extra fish I catch? I’ve already got enough for my needs.”
            “Why, my friend, sell them at market! Buy a bigger boat and stronger nets. Eventually, you’ll end up like me, the captain of many ships! Then you can bathe in the sun and be proud of your work.”
            “But sir,” the poor fisherman said, “I’m doing that already.”

-Jason Rossiter


  1. I like your point with the captain and the poor fisherman. I think the big difference in their situations is that one has more security, more cushion, than the other. The poor fisherman's catch may be sufficient, but what will he do on the day he has a bad catch or on the day a hurricane destroys his only boat. What if he has no money to fall back on? In my opinion, how hard a person pushes, or overachieves or underachieves, reveals how much fear they have about the future. Is the person willing to accept what comes and work with it (underachiever), or does he feel the need to minimize the upset and control all aspects of life (overachiever)? To sum it up, I think you're totally right that both approaches get you where you want to be, whatever that is. The amount of security may be different though.

  2. That sounds like a wonderful way to put it. It may be that those of us who "overachieve" just want a larger security cushion, a lower risk:reward ratio. Although, that doesn't apply to achievement that doesn't directly affect one's coffers or social status. Writing essays instead of catching up on the list of movies I'm behind on doesn't make my living any more stable.