Life You Dreamt You'd Lead

song in my head—”Am I Ready?” by Spitalfield

There's omnipresent in our culture a feeling of discontentment. We all seem to be searching for something—something more or something better. We're told to seek our "best lives now" and to live into our "full potential." So we invest in self-improvement books, dieting plans, gym memberships, skin cream, protein shakes, bigger and faster cars, bigger and better homes. Even our desire towards a better understanding of our own souls—of exploring religion and philosophy—often turn into salves and bandages applied in the hopes of making us feel better about ourselves. But spiritual, existential matters are far more than pacifiers, and questions of the soul aren't really built to make us feel better; they're designed to make sense of creation. So even those attempts can feel shallow and empty on a personal level. For many of us, it seems like nothing can satisfying.

So why in this life is contentment so elusive?

Take a step back and look at our world. Our consumer-driven culture with its instant gratification and next-best-thing mentality, our winner-take-all society that values success above ethics and equality—this place has rules. And these rules were put in place not for our benefit, but for our detriment because our detriment benefits the ones who make the rules! The game is always rigged to keep us hungry. Eternally unfulfilled.

So seeing that, what can we do about it? How can we actually live the lives we've dreamt we'd lead?

For me, it comes down to reframing the game and looking at it from a different angle or lens. It's obviously difficult to write your own message while being bombarded by so many others. But in a very practical sense, these are the words I have written in my office that remind me what it takes to drown out the noise.

  • Commitment: Commit to the life you envision. My dreams are more than goals, they're promises to myself and others.

  • Courage: Harness courage in whatever way suits you so that you can face the messages of this world and push them aside if need be. For me, this courage comes from my faith.

  • Capability: Do the work necessary to build your knowledge, your strength, your fortitude. Increase your ability to live the life you've envisioned.

  • Confidence: With all this, go confidently in the direction of your dreams.

Now that sounds a lot like some of that petty self-help garbage I was deriding earlier, doesn't it? But here's the kicker and the thing you must remember, the reality almost everyone leaves out of our modern-day self-help prescriptions.

You will fail.

Some days you will be super confident. Other seasons are all about becoming capable. Sometimes just committing to the vision is the hardest step of all.

All of this is entirely okay.

What the gurus and the experts fail to mention is that we're all human, unique in every way—especially in our failures. My hangups, neuroses, weakness, and sins aren't yours; they are mine, made up of the thoughts, experiences, interpretations, strengths, talents, and realizations that only I have. I was built in nine months, yes, just like you. But I was shaped by over 1.1 billion seconds on this planet to which you were not privy. Your moments, your seconds, will be different, even if we share substantial similarities.

So no, the latest mass-market paperback won't save you. The newest workout routine advertised on Facebook won't satisfy you. The life you want to lead? You're already living it. And the good news is that it's a long game. If you're going to improve, it's up to you to figure out how and then to take things one day at a time. But remember that there is no finish line (unless you count the grave); there's no moment when you get to raise your hands and say "I've won!" We are all works in progress; we grow and change a little every day.

So spend less time worrying about what you don't have or who you haven't become. Spend that time wisely, in the here and now, learning to love not the completion of your life, but the process of creating it.

A Stoic Symphony

From The Daily Stoic, one of my favorite websites (and books), here are some notes about making progress as a Stoic.

You are making progress if you find yourself...

  • criticizing no one

  • praising no one (I don't entirely agree—a kind word can go a long way; but I understand the idea)

  • blaming no one

  • accusing no one

  • saying nothing about yourself to indicate being someone or knowing something

  • when frustrated or impeded, you blame yourself (*warning: lots of language on link!*)

  • if complimented, you laugh

  • if criticized, you ignore

  • relaxed in motivation

  • banishing harmful desire

  • watching yourself as though you were an enemy plotting an attack

I find that last one very important. As with most artists, I have an amazing capacity to self-sabotage. My harmful desires, my nihilism, my darker fascinations—such things are always at the ready to undo me. Positivity and a growth mindset (traits that don't come naturally to me) are keys to success, while balancing such aspirations must be in harmony with wisdom, a lack of naivety, measured discernment, and love. It's not enough to pretend to be optimistic and positive all the time. I have to embrace my natural Stoicism, my faith, and my five-ness. There's simply no way around the makeup of my brain and my soul. So why fight it?

“I go to sleep content, but my final thought is of Resistance. I will wake up with it tomorrow. Already I am steeling myself.” — Steven Pressfield

Harmony. Harmony is key. Polyphony. Multiple melodies acting in accord. The macro is the whole symphony. The micro is every line, every note. People will only understand the symphony (the thing I’m trying to build and communicate) if each note is properly in place.

So what are the notes of your life? The melodies? How do they weave together? Ask yourself that today.

—G

Control

song in my head — “The Ballad of Love and Hate” by The Avett Brothers

“There are more things… likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” - Seneca

Anxiety seems part of the human condition. But as many have pointed out throughout history, most of our grave concerns are in our heads. If we indeed were as afraid as we sometimes appear to be, we would never leave the house. Much greater are the scenarios built up in our minds than those we are likely to actually encounter.

It's a matter of faith and control, and the gentle harmony between them. Do we try to control the things that are out of our control? Do we have faith that some things will take care of themselves?

As you loosen control, your confidence in life's natural rhythms can grow. Hold onto your sense of power too tightly, and the only thing you're liable to suffocate is not anxieties but yourself.

— G

Responsibility

song in my head — “no tears left to cry” by Ariana Grande

Sometimes doing the responsible thing feels somewhat irresponsible.

Maybe this is because what is "responsible" is often determined by the culture or society around us, and any step outside of that lane is viewed as a break from tradition and, thus, irresponsible. But such a deviation from the norm may be exactly what you're built for. There develops friction then.

An actor friend of mine has been living in Alaska for the last couple years. He has no home, no job while up there, though he returns from time to time to work on films. He lives out of his Jeep, sleeps in a tent most nights, and spends most days writing in his journal, documenting and getting to know himself on a level most of us will never experience. To many, this would be an envious life, an adventure along the lines of which many of us dream. But whatever our "Alaska" is, there’s an echo in our mind (often put there by someone else) telling us that it's "irresponsible.”

We put the importance of average, everyday work on a pedestal in our societies and scoff at the outliers, the travelers, the circus freaks. But what if you truly feel you were meant for something different?

There's a twofold response, I think.

  1. Embrace that difference and run after it. Let it be what defines no matter what you face.

  2. Do the routine, everyday work when you have to and do it (as my wife would say) with a smile on your face. Let it be what empowers you to do what defines you.

What it's really about is freeing yourself from judgment—your judgment of yourself, your judgment of others, the judgment others place on you.

No work lasts forever, and Alaska isn't going anywhere.

Work and dream, and when the time is right, jump.

— G