Life is difficult. Life is hard. Let no one tell you otherwise. Am not here to tell you how best to handle it so as to make it easy and pain free, though am sure many people proffer such remedies and some procure them. Neither am I here to tell you to suck it up, that’s how shit is. Nah! My goal is to x-ray, albeit brief, the two modalities for dealing with life available to everyone one of us. I am here to offer you a choice.
There is the standard, politically correct and ordinary way to approach life, let’s call it the common way. And there is the other, intense and non-apologetic approach, which I like to call the uncommon way.
There is nothing essentially wrong with either way. However, like all else, whichever way we choose has its correlate consequences. You can have just about anything you want in life, but you can’t have everything you want. Therefore, make sure that whichever way you decide on aligns with your life goals.
In a 2004 TED talk by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, he asks the question, “What makes life worth living?” He concludes that engaging in activities that lead to what he describes as flow, are what makes life worth living. He uses interviews conducted with people in different endeavors of life; athletes, musicians, mothers and CEOs, and each describes what it is like when they are at their best. They all describe a certain sense of unawareness of time and certain sense of effortlessness. These individuals are able to focus all of their psychic energy on the task at hand, that there is none left to spare. If you want an in-depth excursus on the topic I recommend reading his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (a great read by the way). Another not so flattering revelation from the talk was that most people do not experience flow, but rather apathy, which is that state of insipid blandness that drains the vim out of life. The kicker from the talk for me was that watching TV is the single largest contributor to people feeling this sense of apathy. I guess…, watch the amount of TV you watch? Flow, he says occurs when people are doing what they enjoy doing. It is that mental zone into which we enter when we are engaged in doing something we enjoy that requires a higher than average level of challenge and skill. Now what has this got to do with anything? Everything!
Most people, do what most people do. That is, they go to school, or not, depending on their socio-economic background. Hurry up and get a job, if that’s the route they are expected to go. Get married if that’s what their culture or family expects of them. Have children, if that’s expected, then maybe get a divorce if the pressure of it all becomes ‘unbearable.’ Hang out with friends or whatever you do on the weekend. And inundate every free time in-between these activities with the latest show on TV. Who did not watch Game of Thrones? I know I did.
This is how most of us live and it is safe. It does not rock the boat or challenge the status quo. The underlying motivation for towing this safe path is however, evolutionarily sound. It is driven by the desire to be accepted and not ostracized by the group. An interesting digression, in ancient Athens, the worst punishment meted out to a member of the society was ostracism. Names were drawn by general consensus of individuals, (written on an ostraka; a sherd of clay on which was written the name of a person one thought should be banished) even those with wealth and political influence, deemed to be obnoxious and posed the most threat to their democracy. After the votes are tallied, the individual with the highest vote is banished for 10 years. Hence it makes sense that we do all we can to please the herd, so as to stay with it. We even have an expression to this effect, “there is safety in numbers.” Heck, if everyone is doing it, it must be right! Right? Hmmm…. Engaging in an activity simply to ‘belong’ diminishes ones sense of self and chips away at ones ability to be an individual capable of independent thinking and autonomous decisions.
This is why a woman, will remain in an abusive relationship longer than she knows is safe, while some never leave. This also explains why a guy remains at a job where he does not find any fulfillment or sense of pride because the alternative, looking for a new job, or quitting and working for himself, is scary and difficult. The fear comes from the fact that taking this new stance entails unknowns and uncertainties, and difficult because the responsibility of what happens next is entirely yours. What your life is, what your life becomes is then in your hands! No pressure.
This same fear also impacts how we raise our children. A child does not make the cut for the school team or is not featured in the school play, mom and or dad is up in arms, ready to bring down the entire school system. A child is not doing well at school, parents blame the school and the teachers for assigning too much or too difficult homework. I get it; we are trying to protect them from the difficulties of life. However, this only makes them weak, yet we blame video games when they snap at the slightest pressure. While all along, we have taught them that responsibility for their lives’ outcome depend on what others do or do not do. We teach them that their own actions no matter how inappropriate, irresponsible or mediocre are enough.
What do you have to look forward to if you choose to live the common way? Have lots of people in your life that do not contribute to your personal growth, who only drain you of energy and do not challenge you to be your best. Always busy doing things you have no interest in. Remain at a job or in a relationship that sucks the life out of you. Have dreams, and have them remain just that- dreams. Never having control over your life, and thinking that everyone else has control over you. But like I said, it is ok. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, as long as it aligns with what you want out of life.
However, there is the uncommon way which you are already familiar with. You recognize this way, a lot of the times, in that imperceptible almost instinctual, intuitive, nudge. We usually dismiss it because it seems too bold, outlandish and scary as fuck! For instance, I was a catholic priest for 5 years before deciding to leave the priesthood, though all the while I was in the seminary, I knew I did not want to be a priest, I knew right from my first few days as a first-year student in the junior seminary. But, that fear of that unknown and the uncertainties held me back. I also felt it will make me a quitter. But what’s the point of holding onto something when your heart is not in it? Don’t get me wrong, I still got mad love for God and the Catholic Church. But, the priesthood…, that’s not for me.
The problem with the uncommon way is that; it is not what people normally do. It is unique to you. It is unpopular. Most people will not encourage you to take that route. They’d actually think you a bit out there, if you even mention it. And this way comes with a lot of responsibility; whether you sink or swim, is entirely up to you. Now who wouldn’t want someone to blame when things don’t go right?! Living this way, as difficult and challenging as it is, at least initially, encourages you to be fully alive. It brings out the best in you and gives you the superpower to see the beauty in the rose with all its thorns. The real you will become manifest and the world will be better for it.
What do you have to look forward to if you choose the uncommon way? There is the possibility you will begin to find real joy and happiness in your life. There is the possibility that you will begin to experience control in your life, which you may not have been experiencing. There is the possibility that you will begin to develop strengths and skills you did not even know existed in you. There is the possibility of meeting people who think like you do and that will help you walk your uncommon way. There is also the possibility that you will achieve that thing you set out to do. Most importantly, there is the possibility that you will begin to live the life you want.
If you choose to try the uncommon way, the first step is begin to pay attention to yourself. Pay attention to how you feel deep underneath, about a thing, a person. Listen to what you believe beneath what you are expected to believe. Strain to listen to that still quiet voice within you that a lot of times you may dismiss. Begin paying attention to it. The bible even tells us, “…[Establish the counsel of your own heart, for no one is more faithful to you than it is. For a man’s soul sometimes keeps him better informed than seven watchmen sitting high on a watchtower. And besides all this pray to the Most High that he may direct your way in truth.” In silence and solitude, the devout mind makes progress. Begin to learn to be self aware. As wonderful as going by the uncommon way may sound, it is not for the faint of heart. It requires guts. Lots of it!
Think about these people: Jesus, Lincoln, Ghandi, Martin Luther, Malcom X, JF. Kennedy. Take your pick of any of other successful person you know of, the stories are similar, and it may not end well. Like with some of the people already mentioned, we tend to idolize them, and rightly so. But the feathers they ruffled, demanded their pound of flesh. Hence if you do decide to live by the uncommon way, know ye this: you will ruffle feathers, and they will demand their pound of flesh. You may loose friends, be called crazy, live out of your car, or out on the streets (that is, if you are like me without a family to run back to, which I don’t encourage). Brace yourself it’s going to be a turbulent sea. But know this too, the strength you need to weather breach is already in you. If you can think it, you can do it.
Like I said before, it is your life. If you are happy with it as is, have at it, coast along. If you are not, experiment with the uncommon way for 6 months, then decide; go back to the status quo, or be your own person. LIVE THE UNCOMMON WAY.
Instagram | @michael_thepriest
- 1. Ray Dalio. Principles: Life and Work
- 2. https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_flow_the_secret_to_happiness?language=en
- 3. Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) July 1, 2008
- 4. The Holy Bible (Revised Standard Version) Sirach 37: 13-15
- 5. Thomas A Kempis. The Imitation of Christ