I don’t know about you, but nearly every day I go to work, by the evening, I have kind of a headache and general dead feeling. Malaise?
When you’re asleep at the wheel, merely going through the motions of life, following the steps in the appropriate order, doing as everyone else, not questioning anything, eventually you become numb to the whole experience that is living. Living becomes nothing more than a routine. And in a routine, there’s no room to feel, because there’s no variation. No stimulation. No challenges. No creative soul.
–Ashley Ambirge, You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts
I know we’ve had a lot of Ash this week. Don’t worry, I’m not going to rename the blog “All Ash Ambirge All the Time!”–that’s what The Middle Finger Project is for. But her book crystalized something that’s been mushing around in my head for a while now, and maybe you have the same problem. The quote above expresses exactly what I’ve always found scariest about my life.
I’ve always been a pleaser. Except one bad-attitude year, every single teacher I ever had wrote “She was a joy to have in class” on my report card. Seriously, they all wrote exactly that–”a joy to have in class.”
School was easy for me for three reasons: I’m good at learning and remembering stuff, I’m good at figuring out what people want to hear and telling it to them, and I was never much in for questioning. Some kids had to understand why calculus worked or why things were important. I really didn’t care. I had already discovered that it was easiest and smoothest to memorize what I was told and spit it back with a smile.
I learned the rules of the game early and followed them to a T. That’s how I aced my way through 22 years of school. I almost had a 4.0 in my PhD, but I got that darn B in advanced statistics for engineers. Even in your PhD, which is ostensibly the time when you’re supposed to become the one who makes up the questions, doing as you’re told and telling people what they want to hear will get you far.
The same principles also apply in the working world: figure out what people want, give it to them with a smile, keep your head down, and don’t question or make waves. It’s the recipe for a perfect corporate tool.
I got so damn good at it, and the farther I’ve traveled down that road, the farther I’ve gotten from anything I really cared about. And here’s the problem: the exact things that make you an excellent cog in the corporate machine are the things that hold you back in the rest of the world.
Contrast the scenario described in the quote above with this one:
The only way you can dedicate yourself to something worthy of your time is by doing some serious reflection, and figuring out exactly what YOUR THING is. Your “want to do” passion + your “who you want to become” passion.
You have no other choice. It’s the difference between a pleasant life that you can tolerate, and a fantastic life that you won’t ever want to give up.
— Ashley Ambirge, You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts
She’s right—for each of us, it comes down to being a cog/zombie or figuring out who we are and who we want to become, then becoming that. Nobody wants to write, or read, or live Tales from the Rut.
I’ve been working on this for a while, but it’s still really hard for me after all those years of conditioning. Peck the bar, get a food pellet. 2 x 2 = 4, get a sticker. Joy to have in class. The system likes me the old way.
Some religions (including some that I have practiced) even say that we need to kill our wills and die to ourselves in order to be saved.
I always wanted to be good, perfect even, so I tried to do that, and in a way, I partially succeeded. But if you’re not yourself (which how can you be if you’re supposed to be killing that self?), what are you? Either a lame copy of someone else, or nothing, it seems to me. I was mostly nothing.
On the other hand, there is a piece of Jewish wisdom that says on the judgement day, God will not ask me why I wasn’t more like Moses. He’ll ask why I wasn’t more like Cara.
If I’m going to believe in any God, I think it will be that one.
So it’s time for the big questions. I think I’ve figured out what I want to do. I love writing, and I was unbelievably happier during the two weeks I pretended to be self-employed and worked on the e-book and internet tycoon stuff. Being back at work since then has been like an unending sinus headache.
But what do I want to be?
There are kind of two versions of me: the goofy, outrageous one that can be kind of obnoxious and only comes out around people I like and trust; and the neutral, blank exterior that everyone else sees. I think the outrageous one needs to come out more.
Beyond that, I think the next step is to make an awesome list. What is an awesome list?
A bucket list is for sucking the marrow out of life.
An awesome list is for pushing out the edges of the universe.
–Audacious Lach, The Art of Audacity
The awesome list is a list of things that require you to grow as a person in order to accomplish them. If you can see how to go about it, it probably doesn’t belong on the list. Even just creating such a list will require me to grow! Stay tuned, I’m writing about this here so I don’t back out of doing it. Peer pressure and fear of humiliation for the win!
If you find yourself in a rut, existing instead of living, trudging instead of flying, just sucking instead of sucking the marrow out of life, being a corporate tool instead of being your truest and most awesome self… I invite you to do the same. I can’t be much of a guide, but Lach and Ash seem to be on the right track.
- Read this post on the shortness of life and how to avoid death bed regrets–it is one of the best things I’ve ever read. If it doesn’t get you off your butt, nothing will.
- Back this up with periodic shots of The Middle Finger Project.
- Sit down and really think about what you want to do and what you want to be. What lights your fire? When do you feel most alive? What would you do if you nobody was watching? What would you do if you knew you were guaranteed to succeed? Who are the people you most admire—what do you admire about them? Do you want to be those things, too?
- Make your awesome list.
- Start making it happen. The problem with all important changes is that they take a long time, so start now. It’s not getting any earlier.
Here’s to a fantastic life we won’t ever want to give up. Time’s a-wasting.