A person's maximum of performance may be like working for the highest mark at schools that ask not only for mastery of material but additional display of top effort. Such is not a universal but a relative demand: one's maximum always that outlying buoy, the lengths of swimming, however long, always just to the point of near muscle failure and knockout by the waves. The headache of gasping not through lack of inner peace, but the circumstances of the kind of life that is always at Outward Bound. Perhaps.
Here I work towards addressing the mindset that is prepared to fight for something, even if one knows that there are stronger candidates in the world, whether they are immediately visible or not. Perhaps one gave up the fighting mindset when one left the fast lane, never imagining one would wear war paint again, preferring the no frills well on the peasant's hill to the piscine de luxe of yesteryear. At least the former requires no contact with social climbers - out of breath for reasons other than character building.
And in this new scenario, one is not fighting to be recognised as the best, but merely to retain one's position. It is a whole new kind of fighting: perseverance. It's that story by Liu Sola where she prepares to sing a well-paying concert in memory of her boyfriend's Search for the King of Singers, which takes him to the primitive mountain people, where she is scratched by trees and dirty from the confused walking - herself "a lump of chaos" on a plane as she realises the concert makes sense because it is really the only way she knows how to help her boyfriend, even if she feels that the songs she sings are inferior. As she organises the concert, she first meets in a plush hotel lobby the kind of people who put money first. So there she is, Sola, somewhere between the world of ideals and the practical one called getting by, not feeling at home in either, but travelling back and forth between both.
"Our ancestors have left us a legacy: Light winds on the river,/ Moonlight on the mountain,/ These, and these only, are for your use,/ Take them freely, they are always there. But we've handed back to our ancestors this treasure we've been endowed with by our Maker. Only money is real. In Mimi's words: you need money to keep the light wind on the river and the moonlight on the mountain."
But it isn't money that Sola fights for, but a tiny piece of relevance in this world, dedicating as best she can her work to that which she deems far superior. This is not the fight for mediocrity but the fight of aspiration and the attempt.
It is hard to fight if one feels that one is at a place of indeterminacy. I take solace from this paragraph in a post by Patrick Kurp: "Thomas and Larkin claim as their own the intermediate places in the heart, where despair and exultation coexist. To dismiss them as 'depressing' is to read with one eye, at most. I find encouragement in their best lines. They hearten me. They suggest we persevere, but without resorting to rah-rah speeches."
Thence, we may indeed persevere without the "rah-rah speeches": after all, the word persevere is connected to severity. To be strict with oneself in life situations that are not to one's liking, or even of one's making, being circumstantial.
If we are pulled, like Sola, between world and ideal, it is enough to turn to Seneca, Letters 52.1-2 via: "What is it, Lucilius, that drags us in one direction when we're pushing in the other, that forces us to a place we want to withdraw from? What wrestles with our soul and doesn't let us will something once and for all? We drift among different plans; we desire nothing freely, nothing completely, nothing for all time. ... No one by himself is strong enough to escape; another must lend a hand, another must pull us out."
There are times that, thanks to objective confirmation by friends, call for the "strictness of life" and this is what I now think to be the parameter of adulthood, which not all adults reach; it certainly does not call for sophomoric cheering - the word sophomoric possibly being a folk etymology meaning "wise and foolish" which rather nicely sums up the youthful spirit which is not without wisdom but lacks the severity that binds the will to a fight that may not be won, strictus, the bitter and harsh austeros that a Balkan poet I know from world lit explains is necessary to life: "None yet e'er drank a honey'd draught. Unmixed with cup of bitter gall, And cup of gall for honey equally doth call, That so, the mixture one may easier drink."