So, I saw Bloc Party live last night, for the first time in all the years I’ve loved them. No big deal. Just a long-standing dream fulfilled. Whatevs. I didn’t cry or anything. I didn’t.
But quite apart from the euphoria of seeing one of my all-time favourite bands jumping around right in front of me, I was struck by how very, very beautiful is Mr. Kele Okereke. Not just the superficial kind of beautiful – although, let’s face it, he’s doin’ alright – but the kind that comes from someone who is completely in their element.
I don’t know what’s better than watching someone do the thing they love and absolutely nail it. He was, as the song goes, “on fire”. (Last fan-geek Bloc Party reference, I SWEAR.) The man swarmed around the stage, pulled the audience into his hand and held them there, strutted and kicked and spun, and utterly charmed the pants off the mosh pit. Right at the top of the second encore, if he had declared, “Alright Brisbane, let’s march on the city,” damn it, we would have.
It could have been the strobe lights, or the smoke machine, or the wild cheering of the crowd as Kele urged them to “dance, you fuckers”, but it seemed like light was shooting right out of him. This is the guy who music magazines tell me is “incredibly shy”. Well, maybe around music journalists, but not on stage. The stage was clearly his zone, and he was inhabiting every bit of it.
As always when watching people like that, I found myself hoping I could live in my “zone”. Ken Robinson (good old Sir Ken) talks about this in his book The Element (2009). Basically, his premise is that everyone has a particular talent, something that excites them and fires them and will bring them great success. Their element. But, unfortunately, with the education system set up the way it is, people are taught to ignore their passions and to waste their talents. Highly successful people are usually people who paid attention to their passions – instead of listening to the naysayers – and made full use of their special quirks and abilities.
It’s easy to say, “Yeah, right – chase your dreams, champ. Great advice. Oprah, etc.” But the more I think about it, the more I wonder, why wouldn’t we follow our passions? What if our passions are very specific signposts from our intuition (or subconscious, or a higher power, or anything you want to use to describe the ethereal cloak that hangs between us and all the things we can’t figure out)? When we meet someone we’re attracted to, we know it because we feel it. I think we feel a similar tug when we encounter our ideal occupation – something that makes us feel right. Like the first time I found out about poetry slams, or the first time Paul McCartney held a guitar, or the first time the internet saw Jennifer Lawrence.
If I have a special ability that I’m great at and makes my life more fun and can be developed without struggle because I love spending time on it, then WHY THE HECK wouldn’t I devote my energies towards that? The argument made by educational institutions (and a whole lot of parents) would be: because you need to make money. Otherwise, your life will be hard (and fair enough, money helps things along somewhat) and you will make other people’s lives hard, too. You’ll be a miserable drain on society, or something of that nature.
That argument is bullshit, frankly, because it is predicated on the assumption that particular occupations can guarantee you success; if you follow the path correctly and work hard, you will achieve a “good life”. This is rubbish. Not to quote motivational Facebook statuses here, but there are no guarantees in life. Your life will probably be hard whether you finish law school and get a clerkship, or quit and take up the piano. Life: hard. Sorry, kids. But I think that’s because we’re not here to bounce along and try to “get all the bananas” (Donkey Kong? Anyone?). Life’s not like the closed circuit of a video game universe, where you can win the highest score as long as you know all the correct combinations. I think we, as a society, have made a mistake, and gone along thinking that life is about getting the most comfort possible.
I think life is actually about learning. And learning new things – about ourselves, about others, about reality – is rarely comfortable. Fun, challenging, satisfying? Yep. But not comfortable.
Was Kele completely at ease when he was on stage performing last night? He’d be the only one who knows, but I would guess, probably not. Someone who is one hundred per cent comfortable doesn’t work that hard at excellence. They don’t push themselves further. But someone who’s living in their element? Well.
They make the sky run with starlight.