The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” is an excellent metaphor for life. Life truly is a bittersweet symphony. A cacophony of positives and negatives, highs and lows, successes and failures. Romances, friendships, professional and personal goals are just this, bittersweet. Bitter when we experience the hardships associated with love and loss, or setbacks; and sweet when we achieve our goals, find true love, earn a promotion or land our dream job. Life really is bittersweet…but that is what makes it worth living.
A disproportionate amount of people in the world remain stuck in limbo, simply going through the motions. Working jobs to pay the bills, raise a family or pay down debts with little to no passion for what we engage in. Mediocre relationships in which one, or both partners receive less than deserved, are under appreciated, or stick together simply because it is comfortable. Life is defined by the challenges we experience, and the outcome of our choices. Obstacles arise on our paths to happiness. Question is, can we overcome them?
Despite feeling lost in limbo, these moments in life are crucial to construction our symphonic masterpiece. Those menial relationships? Lessons. Falling in love yet experiencing failure due to a personal issue yet to be defeated? Another lesson classified by the sweetness of being in love and the bitterness that follows heart break. Dead end jobs teach us to pursue our passions and build character. All of these obstacles, daunting tasks, heartache, feeling lost, are the ingredients necessary to create a life worth living.
Classic composers created beautiful symphonies, evoking emotion within listeners as means of describing their own feelings through music. Symphonic themes ranged from the terror and majesty of nature, to heartbreak and personal struggle. Similar to life, right? Symphonies consist of five main components: an introduction, exposition, the developmental phase, recapitulation and finally, the coda. Symphonies are reminiscent of how humans experience the stages of life.
The introduction begins in childhood. We are presented with the realities of life, slowly become more self-aware, and begin to construct an idea of the world. During this time, we ask questions, feign innocence and are extremely egotistical. Despite being inquisitive , it is much too early for any child to fully digest and process what is going on within. Children act out to seek attention, are often times repulsed by the opposite sex and prefer to live inside their own personal bubble, free from the realities associated with growing up.
In our early-late teens, we begin to codify the knowledge acquired in childhood, and develop our sense of self. Teens experience a cacophony of emotions characterized by love, a desire/need to fit in with society, and are generally ill equipped to process all the changes going on. This can be described as the exposition stage, or “a comprehensive description and explanation of an idea or theory.” At this point in our lives, we began to question our surroundings, moved beyond our egotistical state of mind and absorbed the realities of life. Those realities being an expectation to succeed, construct a plan and discover our own identity.
In high school, I struggled to fit in myself. In fact, for a brief time, I dressed in baggy jean shorts, jerseys, high top Jordan sneakers and collected a variety of different colored vans shoes in an attempt to fit the trend at my high school: the hyphy movement made popular by the Pack, E-40, Mistah F.A.B. and other Bay Area hip hop artists. I wasn’t thinking for myself, but rather developing an identity I felt would help me fit in with my peers. I’ve since moved on from that phase. Glad that’s over.
As we continue to age, and transition to our early/mid-20’s, the ideas formed as teenagers come under scrutiny. Scrutiny from deep within our own minds. In our youth, theories, belief systems and ideas are constantly changing. We bounce from one trend to the next. This period can be classified as the developmental phase–a period of tension and unrest as we wrestle with solidifying our personal beliefs. Themes are altered and manipulated. Generally, by this time, we have a decent understanding of who we are and what we want out of life. Well, an idea, at the very least. The people we prefer to associate with, partner preference, and life goals have shifted from mere dreams, to works in progress.
For the majority of us, our late 20’s and early 30’s combine the final two stages of life’s symphony: recapitulation and the coda, or final movement. We have weeded out the negatives in our lives, constructed a life plan and understand what we want in a life partner. The recapitulation period focuses on our internal belief systems. Theories come to fruition in reality; opinions about ourselves and those around us become fact; and the themes and struggles we face in our early 20’s consolidate into a singular worldview. There is a sense of stability.
Finally, we reach the coda. The coda reinforces the four movements involved in our life symphony. We settle down, start a family, achieve our hopes, dreams and goals, and find peace within ourselves. Childhood fantasies are extinct; teenage angst has transformed into adult contentment; the struggles we faced in young adulthood to tabulate our internal beliefs are solidified; and our developmental period is in full bloom. We have reached the climax of our musical cacophony. Inner peace is rare, and beautiful.
This technical model is far from a perfect description of how life pans out. Many of us remain in the exposition phase for much longer. Often times the developmental period drags on and on, and in rare cases takes us well into our 40s. Point is, our lives are a masterpiece. A masterpiece defined by successes, failures, setbacks, achievements, love, loss, pain, agony, bitterness, contentment, angst, bliss and happiness. It’s a bittersweet symphony. Perhaps it’s time we recognized that. It’s okay to be stuck just as much as it’s okay to be moving forward. All we have control over is the outcome, and everything that happens in between are stepping stones to creating our masterpiece. I’m a work in progress, how about you? We are all modern day Mozart’s and Beethoven’s, constructing our own narrative, our personal symphony. We just label it as life.