Do you ever get the sense that you’re just going through the motions in life? I think it’s a common dilemma, particularly given the tight financial situations and limited career options so many people find themselves facing today. But sometimes we get so caught up in money metrics that we ignore another valid course – creating an interesting life.
We see people doing this on TV and in the movies, but often think it isn’t possible in real life. We may even see people in real life living interesting lives – the kind of life we’d like to live – but rationalize that they have some secret advantage we’re not privy to. Game over!
But it doesn’t have to be.
Going through the motions is the default setting
Going through the motions largely comes about when you’re living a life that you don’t really believe in. It comes mostly from living out of a sense of obligation, rather than a deep-seated desire. Don’t misunderstand – there may be times in life when living a life of obligation is the right course. This is certainly true when you have young children or other serious obligations. But like a bad habit, going through the motions often continues even well after those obligations have eased.
Many people are blaming the economy, and there‘s something to that. I’m of the opinion that it IS worse than generally assumed. But it may be for that very reason that resolving to live an interesting life is even more important. After all, if you’ll never be rich or have the corner office at work, it’s more important than ever to create a meaningful life that’s less dependent on money.
If I could pick one reason why people accept lives of going through the motions, it would be conformity. For social reasons, conformity often feels right. But when it comes to leading a happy and meaningful life, following the herd just won’t get you there. But more on that in a bit.
How a going through the motions life comes to be
Before getting into a lengthy analysis of conformity, it helps to know how we get to that point in the first place. It’s often a matter of indoctrination, and usually it begins early in life. The usual sources of persuasion include:
- Parents – Most of us have such a desire to please our parents – and to make them proud of us – that we may embrace their plans for our lives over our own. In extreme cases, we may never dare to develop our own preferences.
- Education – The education system doesn’t just teach – it also indoctrinates. In the process, it prepares us for a certain very defined lifestyle. That lifestyle is usually an organizational one, rather than one that encourages individuality. It’s where square pegs are forced into round holes, until they aren’t so square any more.
- Social cues – In our desire to fit in – to be “normal” – we usually take our marching orders from society. That could have us embracing directions that we aren’t even suited for.
- TV – In a way, TV is really the automation of social cues. It portrays a certain “typical” lifestyle, that either reinforces or creates social norms. If you’ve watched much TV in your life, you aren’t immune to the influence.
- Childhood dreams – Sometimes we follow childhood dreams well into adult life. They’re not necessarily bad, and often they define who we are at the deepest level. But sometimes childhood dreams need to be either seriously updated or completely abandoned. That’s not a bad thing either – dreams shouldn’t stop just because you’re an adult.
Conformity: The real enemy of creating an interesting life
Society loves conformity - it simplifies everything. But if conformity is what’s causing you to live the life that you are – and that you aren’t particularly happy with – it can be destructive on a personal level.
While it’s true that we all want to be like others, to fit neatly into the majority, this could also be the very mindset that keeps you from seriously considering the strategies that will bring meaningful change. You almost certainly have deep seated desires to move beyond the norm, but it may be overwhelmed by an even greater desire to fit in.
Very often, if you hope to build a different and better life, conformity is what you’ll have to give up in order to achieve it.
Change takes courage and a willingness to be different
If you want to truly live a different and more satisfying life, it will take more than an ordinary amount of courage. For all the reasons we’ve discussed so far – childhood indoctrination, habits, and society wide conformity – carving out your own life is an uphill fight. Not everyone is up to the task, despite what they feel on the inside.
Sometimes that means making radical changes in your life. It could mean changing careers if your current one has become stale and immobile. It could require that you abandon the suburban lifestyle, with it’s high price toys and high cost lifestyle. It could even mean making a geographic move to an entirely different region.
None of these changes are easy, but it will depend on the type of change you need to make to get where you want your life to be.
The mechanics of creating an interesting satisfying life
Each of us is truly a unique creation. While we may share some of the desires and aspirations of the culture at large, there’s almost certainly the seed of a non-conformist in every one of us. That non-conformist inner child may be exactly what you need to feed and nurture in order to make your way forward.
I believe it was Albert Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, each time expecting a different result. Though that sounds almost comical, it has serious implications. Change is the key to creating a more satisfying life, and it sometimes means stepping outside the bounds of your familiar surroundings.
Easier said than done, right?
Change is never easy, but you can make it easier by implementing it in steps. Let’s look as some common life changes, and see how we can ease into them, rather than taking plunges that may be filled with unacceptable risks.
Making a career change. If improving your life means making a major career change, there’s a better than even chance that you don’t have to quit your job right away to make that happen. You can begin preparing for the change now by getting necessary training, making contacts, studying the new field, and even dabbling in it as a side venture. It won’t be an immediate transition, but just the fact that you’re heading in the right direction will make your life more satisfying than it is now. As Andrew Carnegie said, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.”
Change and a better life comes when you choose action.
Giving deeper meaning to your life. Sometimes a dull life is the result of a lack of involvement. Some people have a deep need help others, but don’t feel they have the time, talent or resources. Once again, starting in small steps is the key. One way is to help out during a crisis, like an area ravaged by storms or an earthquake, or even just a neighbor in trouble. The need is acute, but also temporary, so it’s a good way to start. You may also work in some minor role with your church or with a favorite charity. Though this may seem like nothing more than a noble hobby, it actually has the potential to change your entire view of life. If it does, changes in other areas of your life may begin to happen over time.
Change your worldview, and you can change your life.
Improving your social life. With all the in-home entertainment available, we’re all in danger of becoming shut-ins. Many people are slowly dying from a lack of social connection. But you have to be ready to move outside your comfort zone and interact with people, some of whom may even be different from you. That’s not a bad thing either – people who are different from us open us to new ideas and activities – even new careers. More than a decade ago I was invited to join a faithful men’s group at my church – something I was always certain I’d never do. But you know what? As a result of joining the group, I can proudly say that I now have the best friends I’ve ever had in my life – something very few men can say in middle age.
It happened because I stepped outside my comfort zone.
Start doing a few things differently. There’s something incredibly liberating about doing something different, as in different from what nearly anyone else would do. Four years ago, my son wanted just one thing for his 16th birthday: a pet rat (in case you were wondering why this post has a photo of a rat). In my conformist zeal, I declared he’d have to get one when he moved out on his own. But one day, when I returned home from an out-of-town business trip, there was a little chocolate brown rat named Rosie proudly prancing around in an empty fish aquarium tank on our dining room table. (My wife relented and got him what he wanted.)
I immediately began contemplating a rat exit strategy. But you know what? Within a few days that little rodent bugger won me over. Within a week we brought Rosie’s sister Esme home as a cage mate. They were then followed by Annie and Bella. All have since died – Annie just this past weekend. But rest assured, we’ll have more pet rats in the future. Rats taught me that different can be a good thing.
People have dogs, cats, snakes, rabbits, turtles, fish, hamsters and gerbils – but we’re a rat family (OK, we also have a dog). I guess that makes us at least a little bit weird – as if my making my living as a blogger isn’t weird enough in the “real world”. But being different helps in creating an interesting life.
Our rats taught me something about myself that I needed to learn. As I get older, conformity is becoming a less rewarding travelling companion. Being different kind of suits me. I think it would suit a lot of people, if they were willing to step out and dare to be different.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Chinese proverb
The key then is to be prepared to take that first single step. And every one that follows after.
Do you ever wish that you could cash in your current lifestyle in favor of a more interesting one?