This article continues as part of my reflections after a series of discussions had with my favorite Pre-Intermediate English student in Prague.
Back when it was first being constructed, the Eiffel Tower got a lot of shit.
A half-built factory pipe, a carcass waiting to be fleshed out… a hole-riddled suppository described French novelist and art critic Joris-Karl Huysmans.
This mast of iron gymnasium apparatus, incomplete, confused, and deformed said French poet and novelist François Coppée.
Everybody was hating on it- artists, intellectuals, and industrial voices all piled it on. Gustave Eiffel was sweating through his top hat, probably.
By the time it was about 2/3 complete, the general opinion on the tower began to change. By the time it was completed in 1889, the excitement was real. People were down with the Eiffel Tower.
And as we all know… the rest is history. The Eiffel Tower may be the most recognizable landmark in the world. That hole-riddled suppository and deformed iron gymnasium made it big.
As my student and I discussed this criticism, as well as the criticism of other famous architecture that’s created waves throughout history, the conversation naturally made its way to human nature.
It wasn’t long before I realized I’d have another Medium article topic on my hands.
Anyone who’s ever tried to change some architecture within themselves has hit a wall of resistance. Resistance comes in strong from the little voice in our heads that tells us no, we’re not good enough. Our inner critic shows up and does its best to try to keep us safe. It also comes from external sources… when other people see us trying to improve ourselves, it can make them uncomfortable.
A few years ago, I told my parents I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. They kind of laughed and my Dad asked me why I wanted to that. Well, because I did. I was questioned a bit and I felt some tension. It almost made me not want to learn it, since I was going to get so much shit for it.
About a year later, what does my Dad do? He’s asking for a guitar for Christmas because he wants to learn it. Who knew.
Even being aware that external criticism shouldn’t bother us, it does. The saying sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me is a nice playground response to bullies. But in the real world it’s kinda bullshit, because words hurt. We avoid going for what we want not because of fear of physical danger but because of fear of what people will say. We are governed more by emotion than logic.
We resist that which threatens our identity. After coming across this concept, Mark Manson’s Law of Avoidance in his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, I’ve found it to be a theory which exists for anyone I’ve ever known who’s tried to change themselves. Even if it’s a positive thing. If you’ve ever heard someone say don’t be afraid of success, that’s what they were talking about.
Trying to change yourself, in the form of a diet, exercise, new lifestyle, becoming a musician, etc. is hard. It requires discomfort, which causes most people to quit as soon as something gets difficult. If you’ve ever dabbled in something, or 150 things like I have, you’ll know what I mean.
The excitement of trying something new can keep you going for a while but without a strong why you’re doing what you’re doing, you will not keep it going by relying on raw, (finite) willpower. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
So should you even bother trying to change? What does changing even mean?
We get wrapped up in the idea of who we are. People use phrases like I’m trying to find myself. We enjoy the idea of conveniently packaging ourselves and others into an identity that can be easily unpacked at a moment’s notice.
The thing that’s hard to remember is that we don’t have to live within these boxes. If you’re a shy person, you can go talk to someone new without experiencing an identity crisis. There’s nothing that defines what you can and can’t do.
The desire to change yourself comes from the bottomless, unfulfillable wish to have what you don’t. Basketball players want to be rappers. Rappers want to be basketball players. People who seem to have it all are often the ones who have the most problems behind the curtain.
When I can’t decide between two similar items at the grocery store, as soon as I put one in my basket and the other back on the shelf, I almost instantly feel attracted to the one I just put back. Being aware of this desire only helps a small amount.
Besides wanting what we don’t have, we always tend to want more. More pleasure, more good feelings, a better life. There’s some force inside us as a species that keeps us moving forward. If we didn’t have that, we’d still be roaming the savannas, killing our own food, and wearing loincloths.
So what if the Eiffel Tower had been scrapped, or worse… never been constructed in the first place? Would Paris be what it is today?
Where would people take selfies? And where would people take those obnoxious jumping pictures?
Paris would still be great. Just different. And maybe known for something else. Besides that, who knows. It doesn’t matter, because it didn’t happen. No use spending my precious calories moving my fingers to speculate what could have been, because it wasn’t.
To close, I would like to leave you with the words of (fittingly) French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
As humans, we are programmed to constantly want more. Taking a conscious moment to want less can give you at least some brief moments of peace and remind you that you already have everything you need.
Edwards, Phil. “The Eiffel Tower Debuted 126 Years Ago. It Nearly Tore Paris Apart.” Vox, Vox, 31 Mar. 2015, www.vox.com/2015/3/31/8314115/when-the-eiffel-tower-opened-to-the-public.