We owe a lot to the curious and the driven, but it can be a lonely road.
(Reproduced from a student with permission.)
“I wonder if I’m just mad.
Everyone seems so content with what they have. I don’t know how they do it.
They work in jobs they don’t love. They struggle through relationships that don’t excite them. They accept financial limits that stop them from doing what they really want to do.
And they live a long way from their edges – just happy to be comfortable.
Now I’m probably sounding a bit judgey here… but I guess that’s the truth of it. I do find myself judging people. Not that I see them as bad people or anything, but I used to just think it was a shame that they were willing to settle – that they didn’t want to get the most out of life.
But now I’m starting to feel like I’m the odd one out. And what have I got to show for all my restlessness and yearning? – a sad dis-satisfaction with life and a sense of alienation from everyone around me.
So maybe I’m the one who’s broken. Maybe I just never learnt how to be contented with my lot, and this silly first-world suffering is my fate.
I used to think my hunger and striving was noble. Now I just think it makes me a freak…
What do I do?
Melancholy in Melbourne
Dear Melancholy in Melbourne,
I hear you on that. I know the place you are describing. It’s familiar to me.
It’s an odd dance we have to do in life.
Our dis-satisfaction can be a source of drive. It’s an engine. Some people cultivate it – develop a dis-taste for their current situation to push themselves in to change.
And if we’re too content and comfortable with where we’re at, it’s going to be hard to get much momentum going.
But at the same time we have to practice contentment. We have to know when enough is enough and we have to be able to count our blessings. As I’ve said many times, gratitude has to be a central practice.
And so I think a “dis-satisfied desire to escape” isn’t the ideal way to move. When we focus on what we hate in order to motivate ourselves, it becomes an anti-gratitude practice. We end up building frustration into our lives by design.
Rather, I think the ideal is a sort of ‘motivated curiosity’ – an excited desire to know what’s around the corner, without ever hating the ground beneath your feet. It is to love your life as a journey, and to know the joy of forward movement.
I’m making that sound easy. It can take a lifetime to develop those attitudes and to learn how to hold them.
But it’s possible.
The other thing I would say is, yes, you are a freak.
It is not ‘normal’ to want the most out of life. It is not normal to be constantly looking for ways to grow and develop. It is not normal to make sacrifices today so tomorrow will be better.
You are in the minority.
But the world owes a lot to our freaks – to the restless, the driven and the curious.
So yes, maybe you are a freak. But try to wear it as a badge of pride.
And even if you are a freak, it doesn’t mean you’re alone. As the Whitlam song goes, even if you are one in a million, that means there’s at least another six of you, just in New South Wales.
Heck, I’m at a stage of life now where everyone in my life is a ‘freak’. I didn’t set out to create a community around this ideal. It just sort of happened. I’m just naturally drawn to the curious and the driven, and they’re drawn to me.
And I think that will happen to you too, eventually.
Find some peace with how you are, but don’t give up on it. Stay true to yourself, and the hunger in your own soul.
You will find your tribe, and your tribe will find you, eventually.
Hang in there.