We often hear great stories of people who have taken the path less travelled, and how it made all the difference. It’s exciting, inspiring and certainly gets me motivated.
But the truth is that it takes a particular kind of individual to take that road. In a sense it’s a given – the reason why the road is less travelled is that most people don’t have the courage or insight to take it in the first place. And while I never want to squash anyone’s sense of adventure, and although I really do value our uniqueness and the way we live our lives, the road more often travelled (or at least parts of it) is more travelled for a very good reason – for many people it’s a better way to go.
What I’m targetting here is the tendency of some to automatically assume that if everyone else is doing it, if it’s a typical part of most people’s lives, then it’s somehow mundane, and not a part of authentic living. Now if what everyone else is doing just isn’t you, then fair enough – don’t do it. But if you are scared that you are giving in to the status quo, then just maybe the status quo isn’t the awful ogre it is so often made out to be. Mundane things can actually be quite wonderful.
There is no shortage of inspiring role models, people who go against the flow and achieve remarkable things. Steve Jobs comes to mind, a remarkable individual by any measure – but, from what I can tell, I would not have wanted to be him in a million years. My understanding is that he was a manipulator, perhaps a sociopath, consumed with one thing – his way. The reason why he was so successful is because his way worked – he was right so much more often than he was wrong.
He was indeed unique. But I doubt that he was happy (though there’s no way I can know that), and although his example is indeed inspiring, I’m not sure I want to use his life and example as my yardstick. In fact, if you look closely at most world leaders (in whatever industry, political or otherwise), they are both amazing and possibly some of the most difficult people to live with. Freud was of the opinion that the greatest things done in the world are often achieved by neurotic people trying to work out their neuroses (that’s my attempt to describe his view, and I’m sure it falls considerably short of an accurate description but I hope you get my point).
Let’s look instead for a moment at a mythical person (I’ll call him Harry), who has a good job, falls in love with a good woman, has kids who grow up to be people they can be proud of, and helps others (not too often though, he’s not a saint). Harry enjoys beer with his mates, perhaps likes to work on vintage cars, and has a marriage that has stood the test of time in spite of seasons where they nearly drifted apart. As he looks back, his life has been full of wonderful, ordinary, sad and joyous moments.
That sounds pretty ho hum, but I would wager there are some go-getters out there who would give anything to have what Harry had.
I don’t know if any of you have seen the animated movie “Up”, where in the first few minutes we are introduced to a man who finds the love of his life and they plan to go on adventures. They start to save, but life gets in the way and they have to raid their savings because the car has broken down, one of them is involved in an accident and has to be hospitalised and so on. In the space of a few minutes we whizz through their life, and it seems a joyful, loving, life filled experience, if somewhat uneventful. But they never get to go on that adventure they had hoped for. And that’s where the story begins to kick in.
Gee, these story tellers know how to suck you in. I was captivated by those few minutes of the movie (the rest of it is pretty good too). Their lives, so poignantly portrayed, though insignificant to everyone else, was not insignificant to them. They had lived a full life together even though they had had their share of sorrows (his wife could not conceive). As the rest of the movie kicks in we see an old man coming to terms with the fact that his wife has passed on, and grieving the loss of all the joy he had experienced with her.
If you’re interested, this link will take to a clip of that specific part of the movie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2bk_9T482
Why do our lives have to be so significant compared to others (and what counts as significance anyway)? Is it really so terrible to make decisions similar to the vast majority? As long as we are not just following like sheep, as long as we are consciously choosing our life path, as long as it is what we want to do, do we really have to be distinctly different to everyone else? Does our path really have to differ so much?
Now you need to remember that I am a person somewhat driven by a desire to be significant, so it is no small thing for me to be posing these questions. I hope you have noticed, in my blogs, that I really want to squeeze as much out of life as I can (even though I may not have succeeded as much as I would like). Obviously I think it’s a good thing to do. But I also envy people who can be happy with simple things.
If you are driven, rejoice in it. Go for it. Reach for the stars. Think outside the box. Test yourself, defy the limitations that others try to put on you. But if you find, in the process of living your life, that it’s not so different to everyone else’s, just ask yourself if you are happy (or happy enough). If you find that you are dismissing ‘typical’ lifestyles just because they are typical, make sure that you are not doing yourself a disservice.
And of course you may be the kind of person who does not have such drivenness, or not as much as others. It’s encouraging to know that we don’t have to be people that scale new heights, achieve amazing things, or be noticeably different from everyone else. Just maybe the path you are treading is significant to you, and to those in your life. Enjoy it.