What does it take to be a person of character? We examine Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘If-.’ The guide for all chasing a dream.
The art is in the controversy. The thing no one else wants to say out loud, even when it comes to our dreams.
When you play it safe, you are following. When you aim to shock, you are pandering. Art also lies in the complete acceptance of the truth. Those moments when your heart skips when you combine the pleasant actualities of life with its dark realities, that is when you have made something worth honest reflection and attention. The work becomes not about the artist but the experience of the audience. This Rudyard Kipling, as evidenced in his poem, the “White Man’s Burden.” And for this piece, his paragon, “If-.”
Think of your dream, one that requires laborious work. If you don’t have a dream, make one up. Ponder how it would make you feel to have everything you have ever wanted. Amazing right? Wrong. That is not the story of a dream, at least not mine.
A dream from my experience is the most difficult of life’s challenges. It is an adventure of doubt, sacrifice, hard work, resilience, positivity, self-awareness, yadi yadi yada. Everyone that attempts a dream says the same thing, in their way. Why is it then that we tend to focus only on the glory of it? Kipling doesn’t.
In his poem ‘if-‘, he embraces that our dreams are not about the things we end up having. They are always about who you end up becoming. They are the hard mission of human character.
From the beginning he explains the mindset it takes to achieve a dream, at least it sounds like that, until the very end. Ultimately for the brilliant writer, this is a story about what it takes “to be a man.”
We are enraptured as Kipling tells two stories in one, showing us that they are inseparable. To achieve a dream, and to be one’s best, are two journeys that happen on the same road. But we must begin firstly with self-awareness. Be mindful.
If- opens with a bunch of Ifs:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
Do not be swayed. Right away you must be genuine to the best of you. No matter what. Being true to who we are, acting on our individual principles, is our sacred freedom and ultimate responsibility. Kipling will leave a lingering, in his poem, that this is perpetual self-actualization.
In this piece, Kipling intends to connect with your deepest ego, the one that you lose sight of behind a dense fog of thoughts, emotions and the chaos of life. He gives us something to hold on to.
Most of us are swept away by everyday happenings. We have bills to pay, friends think our ideas are idiotic, and our families say we have made poor decisions. We go with the madness, as opposed to accepting distractions as only distractions while maintaining our character. Do not give in.
Your dream is not a battle against the world. It is an internal struggle that you can and must conquer. Along the way, you will need to be patient. You will have to endure with goodness of heart.
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
You must succeed in resisting the waves of what you loathe as much as you do those you enjoy. Be humble and remain grounded.
Underpinning his interpretation of your grand success is your self-awareness and the acceptance of your role. Hence, he forces self-reflection. Every line of this poem compels the dreamer to compare himself to the standards set before him. We find ourself asking, “am I doing this now and can I?
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
Once you begin chasing a dream, you are addicted to it. No one is going to send you to rehab, but a bunch of people are going to offer advice. Some are going to sell you guidance, but it ends up being simple. The key is that same detachment of eastern philosophy that will serve you best. Dream and do because you enjoy what you are doing, not for the fame, money, and status at the end of it.
Go where the work takes you as opposed to forcing what must come next. Learn from failures and them. While in turn appreciating victories and knowing what made them so. You must become a person, living the principles of this poem and not a victim of what happens as a result of its practice. Admittedly, we are human, and this is no easy feat.
People will laugh when you fail. They will say they knew it all along, that you should have listened to them. Let them talk. You will question your choices. Examine them and figure a different way forward.
Your dream will test you. At your core must be the resolution to keep on despite the very worst of circumstances imaginable.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
Keep going, with the right attitude.
A dream is not a random scatter plot of dots you must connect. It is simply a straight road of mountains and hills, mounds of strenuous surprises, which stand between you and your destination. Many moments will present you with gigantic hurdles. You must strap up, ready for an arduous climb. Some mountains will tower over others, some rockier. It will be painful to look up knowing you are starting afresh on a new worrisome ascent. Climb anyway. You will reach the top, with creativity and a reliance on the things you already learned. But on your descent, know that you cannot see far and that there will be more to demand you rise.
You must be ready to fight, risk it all and start over. Keep on, the end of your tribulations is not going anywhere.
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
With determination, keep quiet and work, for the sake of your very best.
The universe is not an instrument capable of withstanding unbreakable will. It is indifferent to your intentions whatever they may be. Even Hitler stayed in prison determined to do evil and had his way.
At some point, you must be steadfast in your decision, that nothing will have you stuck in between where you began and everything you ever want. There will be moments when you feel like giving up, when you have nothing left, you must keep working even when your will is all that remains. Hold on.
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
Earlier I mentioned that a dream is not about the things you end up with, but who you become. Kipling reminds us that, I am too focused on the end. Your dream will begin and is achieved at this very moment, IF you can become a person of stoicism, persistence, and integrity.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Your dream never stops being about the hard work, and the maximum optimization of your time. Kipling reserves all the things you already knew for the end. In his honesty, he has fully prepared us. He reassures us:
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
On the journey of our dreams, we are free to choose the way of our path but we ought to follow the laws set aside for our existence. They are legitimate, consistent and undeniable as are the rules of nature. Kipling is writing to you, the ordinance for attaining all your earthly desires.
IF you can heed this poem, you will achieve your dream and:
you’ll be a Man, my son!
Kipling encapsulates perfectly my philosophy of life and what it means to be alive, our purpose. For the ideal man chases and becomes the end product of his dreams.
Thus, in your hard adventure, I remind you, hold on.
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