Updated: May 4, 2021
by Fifi Mondello, Founding Member, The Brilliant Foundation
Theodore Roosevelt famously said - “Comparison is the thief of joy". And yet, comparison seems to be the basis upon which modern life is built. Social media bombards us with images of how our lives “should” be – how we should look, what we should wear, what car we should drive and what handbag we should be carrying. And yet these seductive glimpses into the life we could have – the life that is waiting at the end of a checkout (real or virtual) – leave us feeling empty, unfulfilled and with a sense of having failed. We constantly compare ourselves with others, who invariably seem to be living better, more exciting and more successful lives than we are.
This pervasive sense of dissatisfaction has been highlighted by the current state of the world, but has the global pandemic been the wake-up call that it should have been?
It seems to me that we have lost sight of what is authentic and what is truly important and have instead bought into the lie that the more stuff (and status) we have, the happier we’ll be.
It was this realisation that 13 years ago led me to the decision to walk away from a promising career as a corporate lawyer and instead listen to the truth that was in my heart.
After graduating as Valedictorian of my year and with First Class Honours in Law, I strolled straight into a job in a large national law firm. I was naïve and idealistic and had no idea of what lay ahead of me. I worked relentlessly hard – the days and nights were long, working weekends was par for the course and at first, I just accepted the terms of the job and knuckled down and did what was apparently necessary. I had no time for family, friends or pleasure.
After eight years, the nature of the profession took its toll. By that stage, I had been promoted to Senior Associate (the level below Partner) and was considered to be on the partnership track. I was good at my job, but I hated it. A naturally optimistic, animated and happy person, I had become angry, depressed and despondent. The astronomical stress levels resulted in insomnia and anxiety and I was constantly in tears. The thing that struck me the most was that nobody in the Institution seemed to care – as long as the work was being done and hours were being billed, that was all that mattered.
I started to see the moral vacuum for what it was and was scared that I was becoming a part of it. I realised I wasn’t living an authentic life and that all the money in the world wasn’t worth what I was enduring. Ultimately, it took me several years to finally make the decision to walk away and stop denying who I really was.
Fundamentally and elementally, I have an artistic soul. I am a Creator. My life has been steeped in music, theatre and dance. I have been on the stage since I was a small child and performing – particularly singing - has always been my great love and a warm and reassuring constant throughout my life (while studying Law, I also completed an Arts degree with a major in Theatre Studies). I started dance lessons when I was 3, piano when I was 5, speech and drama lessons at 8, formal singing lessons as a teen. I have written volumes of poetry, essays and songs. I always wanted to be a singer and performer in general, but I never thought it was a realistic dream.
Somewhere along the line I was convinced, partly by myself, that I should pursue the life that was “expected” of someone like me – someone with my grades, intelligence and aptitude for learning. A life that would be financially lucrative and with a status that was befitting of someone with my abilities, and which certainly made me a Poster Girl for children of immigrants (my parents were both born in Sicily, but that’s another story).
Over the past 13 years, I have learnt a lot of very valuable lessons. I took the leap off the treadmill and followed the road less travelled and am now living a simpler, more honest, authentic and happy life. I feel extremely grateful and privileged to be able to live my passion. Every time I am booked for a gig, every time I get up on that stage, every time I get to perform a show I’ve written, or somebody casts me in a show they’ve written, every time I sing to a warm, appreciative audience, every single time I get to do what I love – I say thank you.
There is a certain tendency to devalue Art, to say that Art is not work. This is a stunning failure to understand and recognise the value of Art in our society. A society without Art is culturally, spiritually and emotionally bereft. Art enriches our existence, helps us make sense of this thing we call life and has the power to change our world for the better.
Living an artistic life requires a certain amount of grit and determination. There is constant rejection, self-doubt, regular bouts of impostor syndrome. Hours of work and devotion in the face of constant uncertainty. There is also a lot of vulnerability – you are constantly laying yourself bare for your audience. Artists are often perceived as vain and egotistical, but the reality is, what we do isn’t about us, it’s about our audience. If I can impart something to a person sitting in that audience – make them feel something, connect with them or touch them in some way, make their own personal journey or their inner struggles easier, bring them joy, then that is the best reward.
With each passing year, I’ve learnt to be humbler, less judgmental, more patient and empathetic and also a lot easier on myself. I’ve realised that I am my own, harshest critic and the reality is that, more often than not, the way people perceive us is completely different to (and more positive than) how we perceive ourselves. I try not to fall into the comparison trap and measure myself against others. Sometimes our egos motivate us and inform our decisions, whereas instead we need to live our own unique lives, be true to ourselves, travel our own paths and be brave enough to do something different.
I’ve certainly learnt the importance of refusing to conform, of standing up for what you believe in and, more importantly, standing up for others. Instead of hiding in a cocoon of privilege, we should take notice of other people’s suffering and do our own small part to try and make the world a better place, rather than engaging in a never-ending competition with those we perceive as better off than us. Jealousy is a pointless, wasted emotion and uses up energy that could be better applied to more important pursuits. You never really know what’s going on in someone’s life and beneath the veneer of a charmed life, you may find real pain and suffering. People are often hiding their battles, drowning in unnecessary shame and fearful of persecution and condemnation. In a gentler world, we would be honest about what we’re going through, instead of trying to pretend everything is ok all the time and perpetuating a lie that becomes a self-imposed prison.
Part of the problem is that kindness is an undervalued commodity. People can be so cruel, especially behind the shield of a device. Ironically, I’ve seen so much abuse and ill will that has come out of the events of the past year or so. Instead, we should always try and put ourselves in other people’s shoes, rather than engage in aggressive attacks. Kindness and compassion are always a better response than anger and vitriol, accusations and recriminations.
And so, I continue to learn and grow, succeed and fail, stumble and conquer. Sometimes I still have to quell that negative and naughty voice in my head, inciting rebellions against hard-fought peace and harmony. I thought I’d have it all figured out by now, but I don’t and that’s ok. Life continues to surprise, challenge and sometimes - just sometimes - delight me. And in those quiet moments, when I sit and catch my breath, I reflect on everything I have to be thankful for and, well, there is nothing in the world that compares to that.
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