When we’re young, we’re filled with curiosity and wonder. We’re inveterate investigators and determined detectives. We fearlessly explore our worlds and pursue our passions and interests with vigor. Then something happens to us. We slowly learn to distrust our heart’s direction. Over time, we lose touch with those things that were once precious to us.
Some of these we outgrow naturally, like our dream of becoming the first astronaut to visit all the planets in the solar system or my personal childhood dream of becoming Vanilla Ice. However, our most honest and innate inclinations are seldom renounced because we outgrow them. They’re renounced because of pressure.
There’s so much pressure on us to value what the masses value. Many of us get anxious if what we value doesn’t match the values of society. Instead of taking the risk of appearing different, many of us repress our heart’s desire in favor of the feelings of safety and security that come with abiding by the status quo.
The older we get, the more pressure we feel to conform because that’s what everyone else is doing. By the time we’re eighteen, people are already telling us to make up our minds about what we want (Truth is, if most of us had our minds made up by that age, we’d be in serious trouble). If our interests don’t have a dollar signs hanging all over them, then we’re told to just grow up and join the real world.
We feel pressured to get a job in a certain industry because we want to live a certain lifestyle. Not only do we feel the pressure to be successful, but we feel the pressure to appear successful to others too. Then we’re hooked. Because once we’ve bought all the things we’re expected to have to keep up with others – the new car, the nice apartment, the credit card – we don’t own those things anymore. Now they own us.
This is better known as the rat race. Or, as was written in the book Fight Club: “Buying things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”
It doesn’t have to be like this. We always have a choice. If we’re resolved to live a life that’s aligned with what is genuinely alive and interesting for us, then we have to be willing to forgo the inessentials. Each of us needs to find out what this means for us.
There’s an old story about two philosophers named Diogenes and Aristippus. Diogenes was eating bread and lentils for supper. He was seen by Aristippus, who lived comfortably by flattering the king. Said Aristippus, “If you would learn to be subservient to the king you would not have to live on lentils.” Replied Diogenes, “If you would learn to live on lentils you would not have to be subservient to the king.”
If we learn to keep our expenses low and focus just on what we need, then we don’t need to subject ourselves to a job or lifestyle that was chosen out of fear of not being enough.
We shouldn’t be ashamed to live below our means. As Austin Kleon wrote, “low overhead + do what you love = happiness.” When we keep our overhead low, which, in this case, means being willing to give up the things we don’t really need, then we’re free to do things we want, create the things we want, and live the life we want.
That change might be uncomfortable, letting go of the need to keep up with other people. However it’s always better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb, than halfway up one you don’t. Besides, nothing is more uncomfortable than a lifetime of regrets.
If we can set aside our desire for luxury, we’ll welcome the change. We’ll find that we have more grit, courage, and perseverance than we give ourselves credit for. We’re human beings for crying out loud. We put a man on the moon. We think we’ll fall apart without our coveted creature comforts, but that’s not true – we’re so much stronger than that.
We doubt ourselves too much. We doubt how intelligent, resourceful, and tough we can be if we need to be. We’re strong enough to stand on our own, we’re creative enough to find our way in the wilderness.
When we stop convincing ourselves that we need wealth, popularity, the nicest clothes, and huge amounts of social media followers to be happy, we’re free to focus on what matters to us, not to anybody else.
There’s no need to succumb to a life of quiet desperation in which we keep asking ourselves, “What if?” We owe it to ourselves to give attention to those things that pique our curiosity, to rediscover those things that once made our cells come alive, to travel to those places that take our breath away.
We owe it ourselves to make the necessary adjustments and changes so we can fall in love with our lives again. We owe it to ourselves to get out of our comfort zones and breathe the free fucking air for once in our lives.
All we need is courage. That courage is already in us, we just have to trust it.
Naturally, there will be some fear; at least initially. Whenever we leave the known, beaten path, we’re bound to be scared for a little while because it seems like we’re taking a big risk. To that I can only quote the late William Arthur Ward who said,
“Risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The people who risk nothing, do nothing, have nothing, are nothing. They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love and live.”
When we’re young, we’re risk takers. We’re highly creative and fiercely intrepid. We’re not concerned with what our lifestyle looks like to others. We’re driven by a potent, creative force that isn’t bound by the stale confines of a pre-written existence. This drive need not leave us in adulthood, so long as we’re willing to live on lentils. Then we won’t need to be subservient to the king. Instead we’ll be subservient to the heart.