Here’s what I want to admit even though it feels uncomfortable to admit: I want a big life. I want greatness. I want big impact.
I’m done lessening my desire. Simplicity sounds like something I should want. But, honestly? I want my life to be stunningly, crazily, stupidly complex.
I too have yearned for a simpler existence, a metaphorical cabin in the woods away from the pressures of modern life. I have downsized and minimized both my physical and emotional needs. But, I look at greatness and I wonder if the greatest thinkers and innovators would have amassed their influence had they tampered down their desire, their ambition, their hunger for something larger than simple pleasures.
Minimalism and the embracing of simple pleasures has permeated our current culture and I get it. I understand the rejection of mass consumption. I understand the need for minimalism and simplicity, to encourage others to question their consumptive habits. But, I find that too much of minimalism is paradoxically too much of a good thing.
I think it’s completely okay to want things, to chase after experiences beyond sitting in nature staring at a tree. For example, I think being in nature is wonderful, but it’s not going to satisfy a hunger for a Big Life. I love the idea of purging your possessions, but I don’t love the idea of shaming others because they want to experience physical success. Perhaps minimalism is a great ground zero to begin again from, but I am hesitant about staying there, about building a home in small desires.
When minimalism and the pursuit of simple turns into a weird competition of who can want the least, the point has been missed. Since when did it become trendy to tamp down desire to the least amount possible?
In my experience, downsizing my ambition, wants, needs, desires has always been a product of fear. The lower my expectations, the less room for disappointment, failure, struggle. If I can make my wants small enough to achieve them with ease, then I will never suffer.
I will also never strive, achieve, impact.
That’s a dangerous game to play with yourself because what seems virtuous can also seem a lot like making yourself small enough to bow down to fear. While I am against blind consumption, I am also against the idea that we should make our lives as small as possible, to never strive, to stop dreaming of impact and change.
Giving up on high expectations looks an awful lot like giving up on yourself.
Because the truth is that it’s scary to dream. It’s scary to risk disappointment and failure and the possibility of finding out that your dream may not be your future. But, we all inherently understand that great things usually are born from great risk. If we are given just one life, why would we ever want to make our wants and desires and needs so small? Why would we want to simplify ourselves down when we can live in the messy and beautiful world of complexity?
I understand the desire to simplify and it seems legitimate. It seems like a good idea to stop striving and to be present enough to enjoy what is now and happening and here. I do not advocate that anyone trade on their present misery for a future payoff. But, I don’t know that present gratefulness should ever cause complacency.
While I thought simplicity and less expectations and less desire would bring me more gratefulness, all it really did was leave me nothing to look forward to, nothing at all ahead in my life to work toward. Life is long and dreams keep you alive and purposeful. Simplifying my life down to being grateful for just the smallest things improved my state of mind in some ways, but overall brought me a sense that no future joy was available, that if this is the best there is, then why keep going? Why do nothing but maintain?
Yet, we are not built for maintenance. If we were, our world would not have progressed. We would not be innovating or improving. We would simply be existing. This world does not need more mindless consumption, that is for sure. But we do need more hope, more people brazen enough to believe that there is always more impact, more work that needs to be done to bring a better world.
Make your wants small if that’s your desire. But, if it’s out of fear, that’s a slippery slope. Because if you’re trying to fit yourself into a smaller life in order to avoid the risk of trying, then how satisfied can you really be? If the pursuit of simplicity is born from a panicked need for easy, then I would reassess. Is that what you want from your one life? To want less in order to try less?