I rather like that fellow in Brideshead Revisted who always lives as if he were outside looking in, as if life were a great cinema show and he is somehow relegated to a lesser part. So often, I think, it's tempting to see the things we achieve and live as kinds of consolation prizes. "I coulda been a contender", the old TV play goes, and we all contend inside with our own inner things-which-which-we-contend.
A master's degree no longer becomes a complex thing denied to all but a few, but instead is the thing the fellow who kept blowing up his chem lab sees as a "booby prize". Each victory at trial causes one to wonder if the case was not easy from the get-go. One achieves, I imagine, the coveted master's rating, only to realize that despite a world of work one will never be a grandmaster.
I am all for striving and success and ambition. Although humility and grace under pressure matter a lot, I believe that a sense of "right work" can include a sense of striving to get something done. Yet it all transmogrifies--twelve angry jurors of mental guilts within can, if given the case by appropriate submission, serve as relentless judges of one's own conduct and shortcomings.
I think lately about how fortunate my life has been--and how important it is to live the life at hand--and not merely judge myself for not living a different life. I don't really think that absolves me from striving for kindness and a sense of purpose. I think, instead, it frees me to seek both.