This topic has been suggested by frequent reader/commenter Tim Kozlow, and it’s an excellent one. I believe many have a nagging feeling deep inside that they should be doing something other than what they are. Tim suggested we’re constrained by myths that keep us from doing what we were born to do. I completely agree. And I’m saying that partially from my own life’s experience, and those I’ve seen with others.
We can waste a good part of our lives going in directions that aren’t suited to either our talents, skills or preferences. It’s downright tragic when that happens as a result of indoctrination by parents, family and friends, the school system or other forces that are at work in our lives, if only beneath the surface.
An New Direction for OutOfYourRut.com
This topic request by Tim has inspired me to take a new direction with OutOfYourRut.com. I’ll continue to write articles on topics I believe to be relevant. But at the same time, I’d like to make a standing invitation for anyone who wants to suggest a topic for a future article.
In fact, I welcome any of you to write an article. You don’t need to worry if it lacks proper writing style. I’m more interested in the ideas you present, and will be more than happy to make any necessary editing changes. And who knows, you may find you have a hidden talent for writing, and this can launch you in a totally different direction.
Alternatively, feel free to write just two or three paragraphs. If the ideas are good, I’ll build a full-fledged article around them, and give you full credit for the topic. Please send your writings to me at kevin (at) outofyourrut (dot) net.
Why the New Direction?
I’m going to say upfront that I believe 2019 may see an acceleration of many of the negative economic, social and political trends that have been building since about 2000. The nervous normalcy of the past 10 years may soon morph into something more dramatic.
Feel free to write on any topic ideas to:
- Make extra money
- Deal with job/employment issues
- Deal with unemployment issues
- Cut living expenses
- Deal with debt
- Housing alternatives
- Transportation alternatives
- College costs and student loans
- Developing new career skills
- Starting a business – full-time or part-time
- Health insurance or healthcare
- Saving money (as in building a nest egg and beyond)
- Or otherwise find ways to live a compelling life in a world where the economic pressures are growing
Feel free to relate personal experiences, good or bad. You can use your real name, or a pseudonym.
Going forward, I want OutOfYourRut.com to be a fully participatory blog. Over the years, there have been hundreds of brilliant comments added to this site by readers. Some of them have provided inspiration for the articles I’ve written. I’d like to encourage more of that, including and especially if you’re interested in writing articles on topics that are important to you.
Thank you Tim.
Now let’s get back to the subject at hand…
Myths that Keep Us from Doing What We Were Born to Do
The suggestion from Tim was on the comment thread for Breaking Free of the Constraints of Being Middle Class. That was a provocative topic, because it causes us to question a lifetime of indoctrination. Good on Tim for picking up that ball and carrying it a few yards farther. That’s what I always hope to inspire with these articles. If ever there was a time when the average person needed to think outside-the-box and find alternative solutions, now is that time.
The exchange with Tim started with my comment to Bev, about how much different life seems in other countries (which was her idea), compared with here.
I wrote (partially):
”One guy on another comment thread was talking about retiring to Equador where he and his wife are paying $78 a month for health insurance, and supplementing their retirement income by teaching English to the locals. It’s radical, but not if we suspend our indoctrinations and judgements. Sometimes it really does help to “put it all behind” and try something totally new. I don’t feel like I could do that, but it’s an inspiring story of what can be done.”
Tim’s comment response:
”Kevin, It’s not radical. It’s just life. It’s just pursuing a passion or way of life. What makes it radical? Is it that it is in another country that makes it that way? We have been taught fear of other countries. Taught our way of life is better or we live some kind of lifestyle that the world is jealous of. Or that there is a boogieman around every corner.
I used to think these things until I started leaving the country. Once I did I realized nobody cares about us as I thought. I also never realized how far we are away from the rest of the world over here. I also never realized how much fear and paranoia are shoved down our throats in this country. This is all part of that middle-class groupthink. It’s the middle and so-called lower class…that can be easily herded into that groupthink mentality.”
My response to Tim:
“There’s become a standard set of narratives that largely define how we’re instructed to live. And while it comes from the top down – we should suspect so the leaders and elites can keep us in line through fear – but it’s enforced at the ground level. As our peers buy into the indoctrination, they consciously and unconsciously work to make sure we “behave”. If you doubt that, try announcing to your peers that you intend to do something “radical” and unusual, along the lines of attempting to move toward becoming your own person.
I experienced that when we sold our house, when I went into blogging, and when we moved to New Hampshire from the alleged Emerald City of Atlanta. There probably were other less dramatic situations that I’ve forgotten, or they’ve become less important as I’ve become more self-directed. I’ve seen this happen with others as well – you’re going to do WHAT???“
First Step: Give Yourself Permission to Be Different
Have you looked around much? Do you see anything that’s normal anymore, or whatever normal was ever supposed to be? Normal is a middle-class construct, and one only observed by an increasingly small number of people even in that group.
Most of us inherently work to conform. It’s likely this is largely driven by genetic factors. Historically, humanity has survived and thrived primarily within the scope of community. There’s very little evidence of people going off on their own, as proverbial lone wolves, and thriving. Not only is this a survival instinct, but we also derive emotional comfort from being part of a group.
There’s nothing wrong with any of that, it’s even mostly positive. In fact, taken to the extreme, intentional efforts to exclude group participation can even be a neurosis.
But so can efforts to over-conform.
Yes, we all need to be functioning members of society. But at the same time, we have to respect our own uniqueness, and that of others. As a matter of faith, I believe God created all of us to have a certain uniqueness, and that those things that might make us different from others are not an accident or a disadvantage.
The problem with any type of group behavior is that we have a tendency to look at the best examples within the group. We like to pattern ourselves off those who are most popular, attractive, successful, talented, and prosperous. But while there’s some benefit to taking cues from good examples, we also have to recognize that who they are is not who we are.
When we get too caught up in being just like others – even if those others are the good examples – we can lose ourselves in the process. The celebrity worship in our culture tells us this is a bigger problem than we realize.
Each of us have an obligation to be the best person we can be, with our own uniqueness and peculiarities built into the mix. When we try to do otherwise, we deny ourselves and everyone around us the best we’re capable of being.
It takes confidence to do this, but it’s also absolutely necessary.
Second Step: Think Beyond Your Immediate Surroundings
Here I like to use the word provincial. Merriam Webster gives several definitions to this word, but the one I like best is limited in outlook; narrow. A related word is parochial, for which one definition is ”confined or restricted as if within the borders of a parish: limited in range or scope (as to a narrow area or region)”.
Notice that both include the word “narrow” in their definitions? For better or worse, that describes the mental state of most of humanity. And it’s not an accident.
Every one of us is a product of where we came from. That can refer to the physical place (city, region or country), our families, our educations, and even the social affiliations and the hobbies we choose. Since we often grow up with these from birth, we actually have less control over them than we commonly assume.
For example, getting back to Tim’s point, as Americans, we all have a certain view of the world. Much as Europeans once believed the Atlantic Ocean led to the edge of the world before Columbus discovered the New World, it’s not uncommon for Americans to believe the world beyond our borders and shores is a dark and dangerous place, filled with people plotting against us. Our government feeds into that paranoia. How else can we explain why the citizenry accepts 17+ years of perpetual warfare since 9-11?
This belief is more restricting than most of us understand.
For example, millions of people support the construction of Trump’s border wall. Now throughout history, walls have had a primarily military purpose. There’s little evidence walls have ever kept regular people out. They can be tunnelled under, flown over, swum around, or completely ignored in favor of an open frontier. Unless we’re willing to build a wall around the entire country, including both borders and shores, we’re not going to keep anyone out.
Meanwhile, a strange conundrum develops when you build a wall around your community or nation – you become a prisoner within those walls.
Yet the concept of building a wall on the national border continues to attract millions of people, against all logic.
But what if we stopped segregating people between Americans and foreigners? What if we stop segregating people by race? Or even by geography within our own borders? In today’s day and time – when we should know better – we continue to cling to notions of exclusivity. That’s the power of indoctrination.
It’s hard to think outside that indoctrination, but it doesn’t begin to happen until you recognize how real it is. Once you do, and you give yourself permission to think beyond your immediate surroundings, whether that’s your family, your community, your region, or even the country, all sorts of possibilities open up.
This is why some – like the commenter and his wife who moved to Ecuador to retire – have actually found a better life in a foreign country. After exhausting themselves trying to find solutions to their financial troubles here in the US, they finally gave themselves permission to look abroad. And that’s where they found their solution.
Third Step: Abandon the Myth of Security
I’m currently reading Mark Manson’s book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F&%#. The title is crude and so is the language in the book, but Manson makes some outstanding points about death and how the fear of it can control how we live.
Toward the end of the book, he writes (on reflection of the death of his best friend):
”…When I came to the startling realization that if there really is no reason to do anything, then there is also no reason not to do anything; that in the face of the inevitability of death, there is no reason to ever give in to one’s fears or embarrassment or shame, since it’s all just a bunch of nothing anyway; and that by spending the majority of my short life avoiding what was painful and uncomfortable, I had essentially been avoiding being alive at all.”
He maintains that much of what motivates people in life is creating something that will continue to exist beyond our own deaths, in a vain attempt to impart some sort of immortality to ourselves. He even quotes Mark Twain, with ”The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
The message from the Bible
That may sound like a grim assessment of life. But as the Bible-believing Christian, I know that the inevitability of death is part and parcel of the faith. James 4:14 even warns us: ”…whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (NKJV).
This is not an attempt to be morbid, but rather to remind that the ultimate security in life is death. After all, that’s undeniably where it will all end. And it makes the pursuit of security between now and then a questionable proposition at best.
Yet society warns us we need to be pursuing security at all times. Whether that’s having adequate insurance, saving for retirement, saving for a rainy day, and having all the props to provide comfort and safety, we’re to spend most of our time pursuing these things. In some quarters, it’s even inferred that you can’t begin living until you do.
The cost for over-emphasizing security
There are three potential outcomes to making the pursuit of security a priority in your life:
- You may devote the majority of your life and your time to the pursuit of it.
- You may never achieve it in any real sense.
- After a lifetime of pursuing security, you may find yourself unable to let go of the chase.
This isn’t a call to abandon any attempt at creating some forms of security in your life. It certainly makes sense to save and invest some money, to stay out of debt, to build stable income sources, and to develop a network of family and friends to help you on the journey through life.
But at the same time, none of these efforts should define your life. They should be a part of your life, but not the dominant direction. After all, with the certainty of how life will inevitably end, security itself is mostly an illusion.
Much like building walls around a city or a country, an over-zealous pursuit of security can become its own prison. I don’t know how many people grasp that concept, and it’s certainly not one that’s taught by any official or mainstream sources. But security is a myth you have to be aware of, and adjust your life accordingly.
Fourth Step: Learn to Play Your Own Game
Given all the above, this is a very difficult task. You first have to define who you are, and the world doesn’t help you with that. It’s up to you completely.
This will require spending a good bit of time alone and reflecting on who you are inside. What do you like to do? What do you not like to do? How consistent is your current life with the answers to those questions?
I suspect most people don’t ask themselves these questions, because they’re afraid of what the answers will reveal. But if you’re ever going to find what it is you’re born to do, this is how it will happen. This is how it was for me. I was at a point where there was nowhere to go professionally. All the conventional doors were closed. I had to zero in on what it was I wanted to do, then to pursue it no matter what.
Sure, life sometimes intervenes, but that’s the exception. For example, we can clearly see that some people are naturally born leaders, sales people, or entertainers. But that’s usually true only in the case of people who have overwhelming talent – obvious to themselves and everyone around them.
We certainly see that with professional athletes. At a very early age, they’re able to easily out-performed their peers. The path to a career in professional sports is fairly straight.
But lacking in such obvious talents, few of us ever find ourselves on such a straight path. I certainly did a lot of zigzagging before finally settling into blogging and freelance blog writing. Yet I consider myself blessed, because I know most people never discover what it is they’re born to do.
That brings up another issue – age
It’s common for people to believe that finding what you’re born to do is closely associated with age. For example, if you haven’t found your passion by the time you’re in your twenties or thirties, just continue on whatever path you’re on.
That’s absolute nonsense. The unfortunate reality is that a 50 or 60 year old may actually have more time remaining in life than a 20 or 30 year old. Age should never be a barrier. Sure, maybe you’ll only live another 10 years. But what if it turns out you actually have another 30 years? What would you want to be doing with that time?
My own experience is that life gets more precious as you get older. You become more aware that time is limited. And the desire to do what’s most worthwhile becomes more pronounced, as well as the preference to avoid what isn’t.
No matter what your age, it’s easier to thrive when you’re playing your own game, rather than continuing as a square peg in a round hole.
Final Thoughts on Myths that Keep Us from Doing What We Were Born to Do
I don’t know how well this article has addressed Tim’s basic topic idea. It’s long on theory, and short on details. But that’s largely because the details are different in everyone’s life.
What I do know is that you have no chance of doing what you were born to do – or coming close to creating the life of your dreams – until you change the narratives of your life and the world. If you do, the solutions to the various mechanical details necessary to bring you to that better place become more obvious.
What we often fail to grasp is that the indoctrinations we’ve been filled with throughout our lives create obstacles, many of which are unnecessary. But if you change your values, if you de-emphasize conventional thinking, like provincialism and the pursuit of security, your life becomes a blank canvas, waiting to be painted with the story of the life you want to live.
Rest assured if you make the choice to pursue it, you will meet resistance from others – many of them the people closest to you. But you have to realize that just as it is ridiculous to tell others how to live their lives, the same is true going in the opposite direction.
No matter what your age, you should ask yourself what do I want from my life? That’s the starting point that will enable you to clear the decks of all the indoctrination, and to start creating a life of your own choosing.
I’m not at all sure I hit the mark on this very diverse, very subjective topic. But do you have any thoughts to contribute or clarify?