“Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” Niccolo Machiavelli
Every parent and kid knows and remembers the “be whatever you want to be” speech. It’s a classic. Our parents and elders give us this fantastic talk about how the future is ours and if you work hard enough, you can do whatever you want in life. Well, when I was about 5 or 6, my dad gave me the talk. He was so proud of his little boy and couldn’t wait to see what the future would hold. After the talk, with anticipation and excitement, he asked me “Joe, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Now, I’m sure he was expecting me to say I wanted to be an astronaut or policeman or play in the NBA. Sadly, he was not even close. I simply responded, “Daddy, I want to be a gray squirrel.”
Now clearly, either I had an extremely active imagination (true and most likely) or I was way ahead of J.K. Rowling and the whole idea of Animagus (wizards who can turn into animals) in Harry Potter, in which case I want a cut of the royalties. The point is, I believed that I could be whatever I wanted to be, even an animal (I am curious why I chose a gray squirrel over something awesome like a panda or tiger, but that’s for another day). Sadly, this all changes.
As Timothy Ferriss puts it, “somewhere between college graduation and your second job, a chorus enters your internal dialogue—be realistic and stop pretending. Life isn’t like the movies,” (52). I agree with this statement, except I argue that it starts even earlier, probably when kids are in high school. Regardless, the point remains the same: at some point, there is a movement from the kid and do whatever you want / be whatever you want to be to the adult and choose something safe. No longer are we told to be whatever we want to be. Instead, you can be whatever you want to be, so long as you pick from this menu of preapproved, low risk, standardized life options.
In the movie Stepbrothers, the dad Dr. Robert Doback tells his two adult sons about how he lost sight of his own dreams. “When I was a kid, when I was a little boy, I always wanted to be a dinosaur, I wanted to be a Tyrannosaurus Rex more than anything in the world, I made my arms short and I roamed the back yard, I chased the neighborhood cats, I growled and I roared, everybody knew me and was afraid of me, and one day my dad said ‘Bobby you are 17, it’s time to throw childish things aside’ and I said ‘OK Pop’, but he didn’t really say that he said that ‘Stop being a [expletive] dinosaur and get a job.’”
This is what happens. We are told to throw our dreams and passions to the wayside in return for a steady paying job, a car, and a house. Why is this? At what point did material items and stability become more important than pursuing what you want?
It’s because our society values comfort above all else. You may disagree with me, but actions speak louder than words. Our lives become about maximizing comfort.
It wasn’t always this way. When you’re a kid, you ride bikes, play sports, jump off trees, and go exploring for hours on end. Your life is about experiencing new things, adventure, and passion. I love watching kids play. They are so excited and curious about life.
But then, people change. Too often, people wake up, go to a job they don’t enjoy, come home, watch TV for hours, and go to bed. Wash, lather, rinse, repeat. The same thing over and over, living for the weekend. This isn’t how we were intended to live life! But why do people keep doing it?
Because “uncertainty and the prospect of failure can be very scary noises in the shadows. Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty,” (Ferriss, 40). People would rather tolerate the mediocre and safe than pursue something meaningful and uncertain. People value their comfort over the new and unknown, even if it makes them unhappy.
The result: life becomes boring. You live a risk-free, fear-free life. You tolerate the workweek and live for the weekends and vacation. You live a constant life, one relatively void of peaks and valleys. While nothing really bad happens, nothing really good happens either. These are the things that make life exciting and beautiful. Ask yourself when was the last time you felt alive? You felt fear, adrenaline, passion, or excitement? If it’s been a while, it’s time to switch things up.
I make it a point to confront my fears as much as possible. I’m not some superhero or extremely brave person, but I do love seeing what I am capable of and feeling alive. Last summer I was in Costa Rica with some friends and we went zip lining. For me, this was a huge step because I’m fairly terrified of heights. I remember looking at the warm up / practice zip line, which was maybe 30 feet high and 200 feet long (so nothing) and being scared out of my mind. Especially since I knew that later in the day we would be doing a zip line that was over half a mile high, over a mile long, and we would be crossing over a canyon and a waterfall. Needless to say, I didn’t want to jump. But I knew I would regret it if I backed out and wondered what if, so I said screw it and jumped. Clearly, I survived (as I am now writing this), but more importantly I realized that while my fear was real, I could overcome it.
I try to carry this with me everyday life when I face situations that scare me. I acknowledge my fear and then try to muster up as much courage as I can and face my fears head on. I don’t want to live a comfortable life. Comfort is overrated. Screw comfort. I want to live a remarkable, exciting, great life.
Image: Medusa Properties