It’s actually pretty likely that the person reading this is not the person you’d actually planned to be when you grew up. I’m not sure it happens to some Masai guy on the serengeti but if you live in the modern world then it’s very likely you’re going to end up accidentally being someone. I know. Weird eh? But that’s what people do. They wake up at some time in the next seven or eight years and go, what the…? Whose life is this?!
Let’s pick the art-forms of dance or acting because these are two of the toughest professional challenges there are. A writer can pay his bills by day and dedicate his nights to writing. Professional acting and professional dance understandably and invariably require full day-time and full night-time commitments, so those artists can hold temporary jobs but they can’t climb up any ladders because they’re always leaving when they get a gig. And they will always leave. Artists know their jobs allow them to more fully be themselves than most of life does and so they’ll pretty much die before they’ll give that up. In fact if they do give it up, something has died.
People need to survive. They finish school, they’ve got their school debt and likely a car payment and some insurance and a chunk of some rent somewhere. And eventually you want to date, maybe get married and think about maybe having enough resources to support a family. And all of a sudden your life vanishes and you replace it bit by bit with surviving. You just hope by the end of the month to be able to make ends meet. The ends. You stop living and you start making a living. It can get a bit desperate.
You’ll do your best, so you’ll work to become a better salesman, a better people-manager, a better task-manager, being more organized—whatever. You’ll start developing and competing as that instead of offering the world who you are. So you’ll be more interested in the best sales technique, which isn’t finding the person the best product, but rather it’s the most effective and quick way to get people’s money.
To have a more fulfilling life, instead of just getting their money, we can seek what Robert Pirsig called the moment of quality. The Now moment cannot care about the sale itself because there is no subject and object in the present. There is no seller and no buyer. There is nothing to be bought or sold, and there is no act and result. Everything is combined. All attention and focus is on the enthusiastic creation of anything original, whether it’s some brand new choreography or an oft-repeated tea ceremony. It all comes from us in the present.
If we continue to care about that kind of quality we won’t lose track of who we are. But if we want to satisfy our ego by trying to be good, or if we just seek to make money, then the blinders go on and invisibly we climb onto a kind of autopilot treadmill. That’s why everyone looks half-dead today. They’re not adding any real value to the world. And if it’s happening to you, what makes you notice it is the monotony and the futility. See? Even those things have advantages. They’re signs you’re going the wrong way.
One day you wake up and realise, whose life is this? When did I become this person? It’s not like you had to get on Broadway or TV, you could have just done community theatre and enjoyed your major in school like a hobby. A lot of places in the world would think that quite sane. It’s less so now, but I like how European students were propelled to be who they wanted to be through their studies, whereas in North America it’s always felt more about training for what you’ll do. That’s a hard thing to define, but there’s something rich about pouring a bunch of education into yourself instead of a career you might hate in a few years.
I’ve written it before—your life will go in roughly 7-9 year stretches. That’s about as long as I see people being anyone before they’ll eventually stumble into being someone else. There are those moments of becoming. It’s hard to remember those early ones—where you got your first real independence, or went into puberty, or shifted into young adulthood—but by 25 or 27 years old you’re getting a bit more conscious and you notice the change into actual adulthood (which is about when your brain stops growing at around 26—no joke intended).
One of the people you can accidentally become is a person with a job trying to stay ahead. Not get ahead in many cases. Just keep the wolves at the door for another 30 days. Some people watched their parents resign themselves to that too, but that’s like handing over your life to slavery. Your work day is 50% of your waking life. If you can’t turn it into something meaningful then you’re surrendering way too much.
Fulfill yourself. Change jobs. Create your own value-based company. Or if that feels impossible at least go to your job as a salesman invigorated by the standing ovation you got last night in your community theatre production. Start a dance class for the disabled where you work as an orderly. Teach singing to poor kids at the school where you’re the custodian. There are a lot of ways to be the thing you imagined in when you were younger. It doesn’t have to be your work. It can be a big and nourishing part of your life though. We have to stop dividing those two things up as though they’re different. They’re all you being you.
There was wisdom in your youth. Before you were told about responsibilities and obligations etc., you were free. You had ideas about how you would expand the world, not fit into it. What were those dreams? And is some aspect of them still alive? Do you still want to write that novel? Do you still want to learn to build a computer, or ride a unicycle, or play on the sports teams you had dreaded as a kid? Then do it. Because any pain you feel—any boredom or frustration or lost-ness—all stems from you doing and not being. Shakespeare talked about the seven ages of man, and he also said “To be or not to be,” not, “To do or not to do.”
Don’t trade your life for money. Don’t do work you can’t invest in. Do things that allow you to genuinely enjoy your day, even if that’s via your customers and co-workers versus the work itself. Because as long as a lot of your days are spent joyfully creating worthwhile things or experiences, then you will continue to expand as is your nature.
Don’t be someone accidentally. Be intentional about your life. Choose your life, choose how to act and choose to be okay with however you feel. Those are all trickier than they sound, but they are all also ultimately answers that are hard to find precisely because they’re so easy and obvious. Don’t complicate things. Just be yourself. That would be perfect.
To close, I’ve posted this on a past Friday Dose, but despite some of the language it’s just too appropriate not to re-post, so here’s Joe Rogan’s video The Society Trap. I recommend taking the time to take a look:
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.