Myths and folk tales are historical truths spun out of a community’s lies. This one is from ancient Greece and it goes like this:
So there’s this dude Daedelus, right? Genius, right? And he gets locked up in prison with his kid, a boy named Icarus, right? But there’re like a lot of birds flying around the prison, cos it was on an island in the sea, right…
When I first heard this story, my mind did not go where it was told. It wasn’t pity for Daedelus and son I felt. It was envy. An island where no one could reach you? And not only don’t you ever have to leave, they punish you if you try? I want mine in Lake Bunyoni. But let me not interrupt further.
So, like, Daedelus gathered a shitload of the feathers the birds kept dropping, and, like, he bound the feathers together and made, like, these wings right?
I’m sorry to interrupt again, but this storyteller here, my kinsperson in tale-spinning, how could they miss such an obvious opportunity? Why didn’t they have Daedelus bind the wings together with the bird guano? Then there would be two puns: one from “shitload” and one from “droppings”. But please, go on.
He bound the feathers together with wax, aight? Yeah. There was wax somewhere on the prison island. Then, once they were ready, he put on one pair and gave young Icarus the other pair. And they got up to fly off the island.
But Icarus was a young idiot. He flew too close to the sun, and the sun melted the wax. The feathers were no longer bound together, so they, like, fluttered off him and he fell.
The idea of falling Icarus is a modern meme that has featured in if not inspired songs, movies, books, poems and paintings. In one case a poem about a painting. I probably didn’t even have to tell you the story. It’s in the canon of modern global pop culture.
I think of Icarus when I think of the first year of my unemployment. I think of the feeling of freedom, the wind beneath me, the idiot grin on my face, which was the idiot grin of a flying man who just realised what he is doing and said to himself, “Dude, I can fly.”
I think of falling, too. I think of how long it took Daedelus to gather all those feathers; how long it took him to study the form, shape and the arrangement of the constituent parts of wings; how long he spent watching, taking notes, learning how to fly; how much energy it must have taken for a man with human pectoral muscles and human biceps to flap enough to take off, and how hard it was to start flying.
And how easy it was, how diametrically easy it was to fall.
According to the story, the mechanics of their flight were sound. The materials did their bit. It was user- error.
Confidence is vital if you want to fly. To dare take off requires balls the size and density of boulders. To make wings requires balls like hills. But to actually step off the ledge of the cliff?
How sure Daedelus and Icarus must have been, how firm was their faith in themselves for them to step off the cliff of an island prison, believing that they will not be killing themselves, that they will be freeing themselves? It’s hard to even picture the idea of the concept of the notion that you can step off a ledge and fly. Fly? Flight is the most audacious of our dreams. Only the maddest of us try.
The first vital element of Daedelus’ plan was confidence, the belief that he could do it. Confidence kept dude going through the trial and error processes every invention has to go through before the hands can get it right. Confidence is what he had to generate, and generate enough of, to convince him to put those things on his back and step off land.
Balls the size of Muhavura.
Is confidence a mirage or is it water? Considering how easy it is to be seduced by the shimmering in the distance, only to walk yourself dry chasing it? Or is it confusion? Is it that confidence and cockiness are almost identical, so close in façade that many of us only get to see the difference when it is too late?
Icarus flew thanks to his and his father’s confidence but he fell because of his cockiness. There was that rush that overrode his circumspection, there was a thing that told him, “Ike, you are flying! You are a flying person. You defeated the odds against flying.”
These were true things. But then it said, “You can not fall!” Cockiness is a tricky twin of confidence.
There has to be a balance somewhere, right? There has to be a point on the map, a figure in the equation where we can say, “Apply 4.56 points of conviction against 9.32 of circumspection, balanced against 221.9 caution and that equals the correct amount of confidence.”
A lot of people told me I was a brand. They said the fame I had accumulated from my column would have companies flocking, pun just snuck in there, to my inbox. I do know that all the work I get to do now, I get to do because my clients, employers and customers know how good I am thanks to the newspaper column I wrote for 20 years. But I also know that, while the name gets you into the meeting, you still have to prove yourself before they cut the cheque. They ask for work, not brands.
Maybe I am wrong about this. Maybe if I was confident enough to barge into offices and name my price I would have J Kazoora money. Maybe I am, secretly, at heart, still as shy as I was when I was young. Maybe that is why I see other people taking bold flight while I sit on my balcony contemplating hubris, talking to myself with a keyboard.
Hubris? Another ancient Greek thing. It is when you over-feel yourself, especially when your pride reaches a peak and the downfall is just around the corner.
But what I do know is this: It’s a complicated equation that leads to balance, but balance can be found.
You need to be your first convert, you need to be your own number one fan. You need to believe in what you do with perfect certainty. You need to know it is the shit. Without that Daedelus determination to believe, you don’t get off the ground.
After that, you need doubt. You need suspicion. You need to second-guess and question. You need to listen to yourself who believed in yourself and you need to shoot back questions like, “Really? Are you sure?” and make sure there is a solid answer. Because that is the way to know how far away from the sun you need to be.
And here I am back in the habit of ending long blog posts without a point.