If you knew that you would die in 10 years, would you work the same job? Would you study the same subjects in college or graduate school? Would you live in the same city? Would you try to meet different people? Would you travel more?
What about 15 years? 20 years? 25 years?
If you would change the way you live or study or work, then consider this:
The tail end of one’s life is largely a byproduct of the rest.
You are somewhere between 20 and 40 years of age.
You have roughly 25 years (give or take 10) to make good on your dreams.
Tick tock, motherfucker.
“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death…our existence…can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”
– Stanley Kubrick
You are the master of your constructed meanings.
Mainstream society has strung together a web of meaning that says: earn a useful degree, score a high paying, stable career, buy a house, work until you finally retire and enjoy the last bit of it you can. Mainstream society says this is a life that is to be respected, that has value, but deep in your bones you want something different.
We know that death comes to us all. We know that life is what each of us makes of it. And dammit, we don’t want to buy what mainstream society has to sell.
Seek to match your life to your set of personal, internal meanings.
For those of us with big dreams, living a traditionally mandated life is the least sensible choice of all. But the traditional life is not useless – far from it, in fact. The traditional life is designed to maximize the ability of the average person, the ones with little talent, little interest, and little determination, to fulfill their evolutionary obligations – to fuck, bear children, and provide for those children. But you and I are not average. We are different. We want more.
Well, if you want more, take it. Career and financial risks are inconsequential in the context of our inevitable, fast-approaching mortality.
But if it logically flows from our mortality that we must pursue our dreams, even if they collide with the status quo, then why do so many people continue to languish in their unsatisfying lives? Most people are cowards.
People will rationalize their cowardice in a multitude of ways, and it often changes over the course of one’s life. Let’s use an imaginary example: Chester the coward. Chester always claimed to have a modicum of artistic talent that he never bothered to develop, and dreamed of traveling the world and living an adventurous lifestyle. After several years of dissatisfaction with his corporate career and with the 9-to-5 grind, he had this to say:
“Dreams are great and all, but they don’t pay the bills or put food on the table.”
For some perspective on why this statement is flawed, let’s turn to the annals of world history. Any year will do. 1519 – Hernan Cortez conquers the Aztecs. 1776 – Americans declare their independence from Britain. 1868 – the Meiji emperor is restored in Japan and the country is opened up to foreign influence and trade.
How is this relevant?
History is the collective legacy of humanity, operating at both a personal and community level, and legacy is the only way for us to ‘live on’ after physical death, thus providing a loophole around our mortality and around the values that I have argued must arise from an inevitable mortality. If Chester leaves a legacy that will live on in history, then his insistence on following the status quo at the expense of his dreams will have been reasonable.
Unfortunately for Chester, however, history reveals the relative insignificance of such a standard life. To illustrate the point, in 200 years, when people learn their history, they will not read: 2012 – Chester pays his bills, 2013 – Chester pays his bills, 2014 – Chester manages to pay his bills again. History remembers only exceptional political, social, and cultural events and figures.
In other words, Chester fails the legacy exception.
Chester pays his bills and puts food on his table, but for what purpose? To merely survive is not impressive, nor is it inherently worthwhile. Chester will have children, eventually, and he will claim that he does it all for his children, and after that, for his children’s children. But history showed us the truth of this sort of thinking. One’s bill-paying and food-providing legacy does not live on in the minds of others for all eternity. In 100 years, few of Chester’s family will ever know of his existence, and in 200 years, none will. He will be lost to history, impossibly insignificant, as though he never lived in the first place, like the billions of dead ancestors whose names we do not know.
If your sole purpose is to leave a legacy, then make history. Otherwise, live – take risks, follow your dreams, and be free. Mere survival and procreation do not save us from existential hell.