My late grandfather once owned a plumbing business. During that time, he had promotional plastic key chains made up that were molded to look like toilet seats. Along with his business name and contact information, each toilet seat proclaimed his business was “Tops for Bottoms.”
I still think that’s funny. And I got thinking of it again the other day, when I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, where references to the “top” and the “bottom” both came up.
During the program, the two hosts were discussing the potential merits, or drawbacks, of taking on a professional role of significant leadership and heavy responsibility, and why anyone would want such a job. Offered as a consideration against it, one of the hosts quipped, “It’s lonely at the top.”
Almost immediately, the other responded with, “Yeah, but it’s a long way up from the bottom.”
Tops and Bottoms.
My conclusion? Both are somewhat correct, but it’s the thought of an existence of a top and bottom at all that serves an example of how, in much of North American culture at least (and in my opinion), we’ve got it all wrong. We want to slap labels on everything, including ourselves, so as to define our lives as one thing or the other. We are constantly comparing ourselves to, and hinging our contentment on, how we stack up versus other people. We view these out-of-context comparisons as barometers of success or failure, allowing us to gauge how close we are to reaching the “top,” and how far we’d need to fall to hit “bottom.”
All too often, when we do finally hit the heights to which we’d originally aspired, be it a new job or a new car or a fancy house or even entering into a relationship, we end up disappointed and deflated after but a short while.
Lonely at the top.
I have been in leadership roles. And it can be lonely, if you allow it to be. But even when you’re at the “top” of your specific set of criteria, as an achievement-oriented person, you’re also keenly aware that there are many others well above you yet. And so, though you may indeed feel as if you’re at the top, you may feel lonely because of it and burdened from the emotional weight you bear. You may also be exhausted by the thought of how far you’ve yet to go to reach the heights – or acquire the things – achieved by so many others.
I now realize that I’ve spent far too much of my life thinking, “If this, then that” will transpire and make everything better once it’s occurred (whatever “this” or “that” happen to be). After a few decades, I finally began to understand that, no matter where I was or what I’d achieved, I was always there, with all my evolving thoughts, feelings and emotions with me. There was no magic answer. There is no “there.”
I realized there was no such thing as “the top.” And yet, I still chase after it.
Conversely, I’ve been down, at home and at work, as just about anyone else has at one point or another. And when you feel you’ve hit “bottom,” it can feel overwhelming to work your way back up, so much so that you rarely stop to ask, “Back up to what?” And, “What for?” It could be, and likely is, that you’re just fine exactly as you are.
What really is the “bottom” anyway? It could be ten different things to ten different people. And even when I reached what I would consider the furthest depths of my own personal cellar, I still had a safe place to stay, family and friends who loved me, food to eat and time to reflect.
Not so bad. In fact, it was appealingly simple. And yet I’m scared to go back to it.
Ironically, I’ve always found what I consider to be “bottom” to be a catalyst for new beginnings and new learning. It’s ironic because I’ve often had the exact same – initially hollow and empty – feeling each time I’ve reached “the top” (i.e., fulfilled a goal or some kind of achievement).
Thinking back again on my grandpa, he worked hard, loved his family, and by just about anyone’s standards of measuring the “top” or “bottom, ” would likely have fallen somewhere in the middle. And yet, I don’t think he took any regrets with him when his time came. As evidenced by his clever key chains, he knew how to do his work and live his life and have fun at both. We should all do as well.
It may be lonely at the top. It very well could be a long way up from the bottom. The truth is, you’re likely not contending with either. You are where you are. And that’s exactly where you’re supposed to be. May as well enjoy it.
After all, as grandpa’s old “Tops for Bottoms” toilet key chain reminds us, whether you think you’re at the top or on the bottom, or en route one way or the other, we’re all still going to end up getting flushed.