Enthusiasm is defined as “intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval.” I’d define enthusiasm is a state of mind of which I have plenty. What would life look like without enthusiasm? To me, meager and vegetable-like. Dull. Uninteresting. Uncourageous. Not half as exciting or interesting as it could be. When I analyze my motivations for doing things which are generally considered daring, or even dangerous, I find that the motor that powers the belief in the success of my actions is enthusiasm.
In my wish to learn more about this energizing state of mind, I researched the internet for more insight.Wikipedia states that enthusiasm today is considered to be eager enjoyment, but that originally it meant “inspiration or possession by a divine afflatus or a presence of god.” In ancient times, enthusiasm was belief in divine inspiration, so much that a Syrian sect of the 4th century was known as the Enthusiasts. Socrates considered the inspiration poets have a form of enthusiasm — a godly revelation (as a poet, I won’t argue against this beautiful conception).
The notion ancient civilizations had about the enthusiasm as a religiously inspired state of mind surprised me. Is there some truth to it? Is the burning desire we experience, the ardent interest we have in something, a product of our higher consciousness? It might well be. Enthusiasm keeps us going at most challenging of times.
Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and founder of logotherapy, is a brilliant example of enthusiasm. Frankl had developed his deeply humanistic ideas in the most horrific of all environments — concentrations camps. While incarcerated in Auschwitz and several other camps, Frankl discovered that our mental and spiritual states are independent of what is going on around us. We are the big (and only!) bosses of our thoughts. Only we have the power to navigate the course of our minds. Frankl survived and lived to enjoy great professional and personal successes. He died at the age of 92 — with a smile on his face.
Another enthusiast was born a poor boy with no perspectives in South Africa during apartheid. Throughout his life he was told that he was unworthy, because of the dark color of his skin. He became politically active in his adult life, only to be incarcerated for 25 years on a remote island. When he got out of the prison, he partook in the abolishment of apartheid, and became the first black president of South Africa in history. He even invited his former prison guard to his birthday party. This enthusiast’s name is Nelson Mandela. Mandela, like Frankl, had enthusiasm for his dream that never died. No concentration camp or prison cell could take his dream away. The dream turned into a vision, and a vision turned into reality. Would Frankl and Mandela have survived the challenges life presented them with without enthusiasm? You bet they wouldn’t.
The Pitfall Of Enthusiasm
Enthusiasm is the key to excitement in life. It’s the element that gives us the power to walk over stumbling blocks. But can too much enthusiasm become a stumbling block in itself? Through my life experience, I’ve learned that too much of anything boils up to a distraction. Too much of enthusiasm boils to a fear of missing out on life. Fear of missing out on life turns into fear of loss of freedom, that quickly turns into a start-everything-never-finish-anything life pattern. Many an enthusiast has fallen prey to this life pattern, including myself. The other pitfall I’ve experienced as an enthusiast is the pain of falling into a bucket labeled “disappointment”. If you have dreams you actively pursue, you hope a lot. Hoping a lot inevitably leads to being disappointed a lot — and that’s painful. Disappointments hurt. Disappointments are the big gray elephant in porcelain room that walks over everything, except though the exit door.
I figured out the more I do, the greater are the chances I’ll get disappointed. To find a remedy for my seemingly hopeless inner conflict between hoping and being disappointed, I decided to do the opposite from what I was doing — to stop doing things that were important but could lead to a disappointment (which is just about everything). It didn’t take long before I slipped from activity into passivity. The days became endless — and pointless. I had no high goals to pitch for, and started living like everybody else too — going for second best, and convincing myself that second best makes me happy. I did everything I didn’t want half-heartedly. I did what I secretly wanted to do, half-heartedly as well. I started attending university, but instead of pursuing a career as a lawyer, I wrote poetry. I got myself a minimal wage job. Every day I went to work with the sentence “one day it will be better.” Before I realized I was withering away as my personal second to third best “me,” the meanest of all mental states creeped itself into my head — boredom. My boredom alternated from being bored to tears to being bored to death, every now and then too often for almost a decade.
One day, almost a decade later, I had an epiphany — nothing is as destructive and boring a state as the state of boredom. No disappointment is quarter as hard to bear as feeling bored. When you follow your vision enthusiastically, you get disappointed today, but tomorrow it’s already forgotten, because tomorrow is the day when you get a chance to pitch your ideas to a new audience. The option of pitching and observing the outcome keeps us alive and kicking. Enthusiasm cools the heat of disappointment. Everyday life is a sequence of ideas pitching to other people. Some ideas stick on the wall and get accepted, other ideas fall though, often in heaps. Each pitch is just that — a pitch. It’s not the absolute value of us or our capabilities. Nobody judges the quality of a baseball player by his one single pitch. We judge him by the sum of all his pitches throughout the years. Throw 1000 balls, and surely 5 or 6 will be memorable.
In terms of pursuing a dream, pitching ideas translates to doing everyday something that takes you to your goal. Each step is a baby step, but the sum of all steps will is the walk to realizing your dream. Enthusiasm is the key element in giving us the faith in the possibility of a dream to become reality. Enthusiasm makes us want to get out of the bed in the morning, and jump over hurdles during the day in the persuasion of our dream. But it’s also enthusiasm that can prevent us from reaching our dream when it’s unfocused and unspecified. Enthusiasm needs a target, a goal. It’s like running towards the finish in marathon. Take every side path that presents itself on your course, and you’ll never get to the finish, no matter how good you are. Unfocused enthusiasm lead me to suffer from the Peter Pan Complex — I was afraid of losing my freedom, and because of my fear, I couldn’t stick to any specific goal. Sticking to something meant becoming incarcerated, and incarceration I feared most.
Ironically, what we fear most becomes our reality. I feared loosing my freedom, and I drove myself to loose it. I lost my independence and my self-determination. I was too much in pain from all the disappointments, and I felt that something is wrong with me. I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to provide for myself, and that I would miss out on life by not living it fully. Years later, after I did a whole bunch of jobs and tried out a whole bunch of different lifestyles, I realized that nothing but living my true nature and pursuing my dream makes me feel excitement in life. What made me happy and what made me depressed was simple to figure out — when I did what I felt was right every day, I felt fulfilled. When I didn’t do what I felt was right I was depressed.
Today, I practice a conscious reminder of my clearly defined goals every day in form of gratitude prayers. Every day before going to sleep and after waking up, I thank God for the basics I have: my life, happiness, a warm meal and bed, family, love, friends, creativity, talent, and health (it’s a good way to keep your feet on the ground). After I express my gratitude, I say out loud what I will do tomorrow to reach the goal I’ve set for myself, and I name the goal. Yesterday, I began thanking God for all the hurdles in my life too. Thanks to hurdles, I move forward. Every time an obstacle comes my way, I jump over it. One jump equals 2-3 steps forward. What gives me the power to view obstacles as diving boards is my focused enthusiasm. Enthusiasm gives us faith: faith in ourselves and faith to follow our life path. With faith and goal-oriented enthusiasm, we have the power to turn our dream into a vision, and our vision into reality.