Lately, I have had quite a few things to celebrate: apart from a birthday which turned out to be pretty spectacular in a unique way, there was a world premiere of THE ISLAND BUS, and another one, this time in the form of the Internet launch of Catalysta.org - career catalyst for the common good - and the web docu series DREAM JOB I have been working hard to help create for over a year now, there was a memorial retrospective art exhibition of my late mother's paintings, there is a national premiere coming up, a festival screening in competition and an avant-premiere that is promising to be a wonderful gathering of friends, supporters and total strangers who will join me for the first ever screening of the director's cut of my first ever feature length documentary. In other words, the filmmaker in me had quite a bit of happiness to share and go around.
I like sharing my happiness. I go around like a three-year-old, bouncing up and down, squeaking: "Isn't this wonderful? I am soooo pleased. I really am." An ex-boyfriend likened me to a puppy, he said: "You get so excited and happy - and then sometimes something dampens your mood and you are upset for a bit. But then you bounce up again and run around in circles wagging your tail - figuratively speaking - and are all smiles and happiness again." While I leave the hobby (and studied) psychologists among you to decide what his simile said about our relationship ;) and while the image might not be congruent with the classy, lady-like appearance that another part of me likes to display, a lot of it hits the point.
Yes, I do get excited about my successes and yes, I like sharing that excitement - for one simple and very pure reason: cause it is a great feeling and I want others to participate.
I am not entirely sure how this participation can work, there is no chemical process I could control that transmits my emotions to others, so a bit of empathy and willingness from your side is required. But for sure I do want you to feel happy about this. As happy as I feel. If I could cut my happiness up like a birthday cake and give each of you a slice, I would.
Years of happy experience and being a figurative puppy have taught me that this doesn't always happen the way I imagine it. In fact, one of my strongest childhood memories regarding sharing my happiness about an achievement contained the very opposite reaction.
I was playing with a friend at her house, we were seven (me) and six years old, respectively. We went to the same primary school which for some reason had an extra class reserved for exceptionally gifted children. It was a few extra hours of school every week, so not exactly something any child would look forward to. Yet, as I had discovered, in that class you got to do the really cool stuff cause the students were allowed to choose the topics they wanted to deal with and all those fields I felt thoroughly neglected in my regular education (like theatre, films, Ancient Egypt - yes, sorry, those were my preferences as a seven year old, but I am sure rugby, car engines and photographic mechanics would have made the cut as well) were now in reaching distance. And I had recently been deemed worthy of attending. (The whole process of selection I found deeply suspicious - no doubt influenced by my psychologist and educational expert mother whose ideas of education looked somewhat different, more nourishing than controlling.) But nevertheless, it was a promising achievement - mainly for what it would allow me to experience.
So I told my friend V, not forgetting to add: "I am sure, next year you'll get to do it too!" And I was sure. I totally believed in her capacity to be selected for that stupid class and therefore experience the fun of widening her horizons according to what she liked.
Enter the voice of her mother who was a primary school teacher at another school and had overheard our conversation. She said a single word - but that left me speechless and it has taken about twenty years until I recognised it fully for what it was. All she said was: "Show-off!"
I didn't defend myself. In fact, I didn't even know what I had done wrong. I just went home and let the comment "show-off" sink to the bottom of my consciousness - and ferment there for a few decades.
These days I like recalling the story and I feel a lot of empathy for the mother who wanted to protect her child from the exaggerated expectations and disappointment that "failure" could mean. I feel empathy for the teacher who felt resentment against someone who seemed to effortlessly achieve something and boast about it while she might have struggled with other children and their capacities herself. Yet, non of those feelings justifies spoiling the party of a seven-year-old who was genuinely happy to have the opportunity to occupy herself with something that interested her. By the way, the class turned out not to be that spectacular after all. I don't even remember what we did there. (Or is that maybe just my denial mechanism that was scared of enjoying too much after that dampening comment? ;) Maybe the puppy hadn't leapt up again yet.) In any case, it was a very impressive lesson about the sweet smell of success - and how it can stink like faeces to others.
This morning in my meditation, the same topic came up again. I am on headspace.com's Happiness series at the moment, and the topic is - very fittingly - enjoyment. Our own capacity of enjoying not only our own happy moments but equally the happiness of others.
"Do you genuinely feel happy with them if those around you tell you about something that excites them?", was one of the questions. "And imagine now what it is like if others genuinely share your happiness when you have something great to tell them. And what does it feel like if they are a bit indifferent or maybe even resentful?" Those questions of course provoke the realisation that as much as it is lovely if you have people who can genuinely join your celebration, it is as pleasant for them if you can genuinely enjoy their success. It just makes for more happiness all around. Full stop.
The meditation exercise is designed to enable you to enjoy the success of others as much as you would (and are enjoying) your own. And the funny thing is: once you have learnt to be happy for others, you can also easily get rid of the feeling of guilt if you have something to celebrate yourself. Everyone allows you to celebrate your birthday - it's something we all have, so no fear of anyone being in advantage, heaven forbid. I would suggest that we should start allowing anyone to celebrate anything, every tiny little bit of achievement is worth making a big noise about it.
So here I am telling you while I have lots of things at the moment to worry about, I also have a few wonderful achievements to be grateful and happy and - yes - proud of. I know exactly who those people are who helped with them and they know it, too, I hope, and one of those people was I, myself. So I am celebrating and I invite you all to my party.
Film schools and the film industry with its competitiveness can be pretty daunting places to celebrate success without fearing a stab in the back - or so we are told. But here is what I found: those colleagues I really relate to and whose work interests me happen to be also the ones who seem to be most genuinely happy and excited about others achieving what they had set out to do or even more. So I dare suggest that in order to become really interesting and original filmmakers, we should start loving the success of others as much as our own. That way, we certainly also become happier filmmakers.
Here is to the sweet smell of things well achieved and celebrated! Raise your glass to all of us!
Sibylle, a very happy filmmaker