“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” – Marcus Arelius
San Francisco – It was a long train ride to work, a wave of people aboard, and a very scenic route. I was exhausted, having already walked 20 minutes from home to the train station with no breakfast. My energy level was low. Did I drink coffee? No, maybe I should have, I have been constantly told it boosts energy level by coffee-addict friends. I always tell them to stop kidding because it is psychological. I don’t drink coffee, yet I am always high on energy. This morning, however, felt very different for me.
As I sat and processed my thoughts, the meditation of my mind wandered about and evoked an intense feeling of excitement for what I felt would be a successful year ahead. While I felt this rush of adrenaline, I was suspended by sudden thoughts of shame, fear, and anxiety. I immediately plugged in my earphones and played “Only Time” by Enya. This decision, apparently, was a bad idea. The song played on, “Who can say where the road goes, Where the day flows, only time.” I overthink, sometimes… or most times… whatever! But while the song could have meant something simple, I expanded my thoughts to every emotional, logical and philosophical stretch to encompass my mood.
I encountered Enya only a few days ago on the dinner table with my roommates. Xavier, a Spanish dude, played her songs as we all sat and listened. I thought the songs were touching, filled with a spark of connection and emotions, and I could use it for meditation. And, uhhhhmmmm… the shower? It sparks a deeper sense of connection. I asked Xavier who the artist was. “An-ya,” he told me in heavily accented English. Apparently, my struggle to understand was clear so he wrote down her name.
Enya, born as Eithne Ni Bhraonain, is an Irish songwriter, recording artist and producer and has been active since the 1980s. She has won four Grammys, sold a reported 80 million albums worldwide and has amassed a fortune of £91 million ($119 million). She has never had a tour for any of her albums nor collaborated with any other artist. Enya declined singing Titanic’s theme song in 1997, and her song, May It Be was used as The Lords of the Rings’ theme song in 2001. Together, her songs have been featured 71 times in films. With these achievements, why ain’t this lady famous? Why am I just noticing her song for the first time? I thought maybe it’s because she’s an old singer, but Enya is still around, keeping her privacy. Her apparent lack of fame has had a lot to do with her success and consistent impact.
A few weeks ago, my friend, James Okina, and I agreed that contemporary pop culture does not usually favor the people who can demonstrate the true meaning of their talents, while being themselves, and have the most impact. Pop culture undermines a societal value system of honesty, integrity, and genuineness (and other important general values); it robs people of being authentic by subscribing to certain standards. You ought to live and act in a certain way, even indecently, to attract fame, likes, and hype.
But like Enya, staying true to yourself and style does not inhibit you from achieving in your field — success is subjective.
In an interview with The Irish Times in 2015 before the launch of her eighth album, Dark Sky Island, she is quoted as saying, “I was really excited about the music – and therefore, I asked questions about the interviews and the promotion that I was doing. I’d say, ‘what does this entail? Does it focus on the music? Or is it going to make me more famous?’. And sometimes, when it was more focused on me, I actually would refuse, because I didn’t feel the necessity. I wasn’t looking for fame; it was more the success that I enjoyed.”
“Fame is but the breath of people, and that often unwholesome.” – Jean Jacque Rousseau
Earlier that morning in my shower, I had an epiphany on how to navigate a long-standing idea of mine. “The multiplying effects of these ideas would be amazing,” I exclaimed! I was excited. This is the exact same excitement I share every time I come up with an interesting idea and concept- most times in the shower. But it all ends with the last drop of water I wipe off my body. As for that morning, I took my excitement out of the shower, on the train, celebrating results I hadn’t achieved. It was good, “that’s how you know you’ll do it, when the excitement is extended,” I thought.
Minutes into my train ride, I bade my joy farewell, having to realize all the reasons why my idea will end up being a piece of shit. I did not think I was ready to lose myself by subscribing to the set standards we ought to meet to be qualified for the benefits that come with what we venture into. In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brene Brown wrote, “We all are terrified at the prospect of feeling joyful.” I felt that!
In a world that mostly rewards people arbitrarily—not for who they truly are—but for what they portray themselves to be, it is difficult not to be swayed. Even more unfortunate is how we have incompletely materialized the measure of success by the number of awards you win, countries you’ve traveled to, money you have in your bank account, elections you’ve won, followers, likes and other measures, regardless of what means we achieve them through. Everyone “must” be successful, according to these standards, so we do the most to attract them.
In my shower, I demonstrate my true self,;the person the world does not truly know. In a carefree way, I cry, I laugh, I express genuine emotions and thought processing, I dance and sing — all of the things that, when I do outside my shower, I am more conscious and I checkmate my actions. Sometimes I wonder, these speeches I give in the shower, the spoken words I perform, the writings and books concepts I develop, the songs I think about writing, the projects I have envisioned, what if I executed them in the real world? How can I can genuinely express myself in the many ways that I want and remain authentic? I cannot give myself these answers and therefore, I have not given myself the time to be creative and expressive, thereby denying myself from using my talent. I have been cheating on the people who deserve the impact, with myself and the four walls and all within, in the shower.
We all fear failure in some way, which is not entirely bad, but I also fear success. I am afraid of the responsibilities that come with being successful, and how much you lose yourself and live in a controlled, less-free way, not genuinely expressing who you truly are, in a lot of ways. For Enya, she has consistently protected her privacy for three decades, not allowing personal fame or success get in the way of her true self and her career. When she is not out to launch another album after a few years of break, she spends her time in her 1997-purchased Victorian castle built in 1840, and lives a life where she does not have to account for every action or moment. She does live performances intermittently over the years and that is it.
For me, I often wonder how I can grind and be successful, create impact and still allow myself to be who I am without dilution from society. How can I emulate the attributes of Enya in my field, defining my own measure of success — not being susceptible to society’s existing measures of success that could get to my head, or falling prey to failing that it gets to my heart? What would it mean to experience growth and true meaning without losing meaningful relationships, deep connections, and still have a sense of belonging? These questions bother me, and leave me deep-thinking every single time. Perhaps that is why I am always aware and energetic without coffee. And while I process these thoughts and find my answers, you should know that I cheat, in the shower.
Authored by Wainright Acquoi
Featured picture by Isha