Shortly before turning 25 years old, and in the few months since, I often compared myself to John Keats who was dead and famous by 25. Or I could compare myself to Zadie Smith or Isaac Asimov, more recent examples of young literature stars. Either way it's quite easy for me to say, "I'm not famous yet and I should be."
Granted, as much as I want to be famous I know that's not exactly my goal, as much as I want to be famous I'd much rather have my greatness recognized by a smaller following; and Soren Kierkegaard, my best model as a writer, didn't publish anything of serious worth and didn't try to until he was 27. By that standard I still have a couple of years and I'm well on track to be published before my 26th birthday, so I win. There are other examples compared to whom I still win. For all that, though, I still can't help thinking that my time is running short. Ok, maybe I'm not going to die anytime soon like Keats did, and maybe I won't even die as early as Kierkegaard at 42--still my time is running short. And that means I must work with serious urgency, which of course causes great anguish.
My friend Alexandra and I often comment on how we are getting older and acknowledging that fact alone urges a sense of urgency. How do we go about balancing that urgency with and anguish with peace and hope? You don't want to get overwhelmed by urgency and then settle into discouragement, hopelessness, and then depression that causes you to give up. But the key is that it is a balancing act: the peace and hope and contentment you need to keep your sanity cannot overtake the urgency and anguish that drives you. In fact, the urgency and anguish should make up more than half of your being and your working spirit.
Urgency because, if you have anything worth writing or painting, you do indeed have a limited amount of time to do it all; anguish because, if you have anything worth writing or painting, you wonder if you'll get it all done and you wonder if anyone will actually appreciate it: thus you do your best to make your work perfection. These are the elements necessary to fulfill one's potential of greatness. Nothing less is good enough.
I write this because I'm tired of being told that I'm too hard on myself, both with my writing and with my life. I see greatness in myself yet I am not now exhibiting or living that greatness--anguish; I see greatness in myself yet I have not done anything--urgency. How, then, am I supposed to not be hard on myself? Do you want me to settle for mediocrity? Pah! Since I can now see my greatness in and ahead of me then I will seek that greatness now. If I turn out not to have greatness within, then so be it, I have been deceiving myself. But there is no sense in waiting or consoling myself just to feel better. No, urgency and anguish must be a part of my being if I am to be a writer, if I am to be a great writer, if I am to be a great person, and thence I will not be satisfied with my life, even in my youth, until my greatness is fulfilled.
This same attitude should be applied by all people, especially people of faith. Or are you just going to sit there with your choice way of life out of arm's reach?