The start of another week brings a familiar emotional response -- like I’ve been here before. And of course, I have. Every week.
We’ve been had, you know. We were led to believe we could, no -- should -- have lives of excitement, doing anything we wanted.
The harsh reality (isn’t it amazing how clichés really can capture a truth) is that life is mostly banal. Mondays begin with trepidation and distaste, for even the most exciting of jobs. Saved one life, saved a few (at least, that’s how it appears on ER).
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation” is the saying. In fact, most lives are made up of mundane routine, leading to increasing frustration.
There is always the excitement of the novel, even the frisson of fear when something goes wrong, that alleviates the feeling briefly. Shopping has replaced religion as the balm of the soul, but the pleasure of something new is so brief. No wonder church is every Sunday. By Friday, that religious fervour has worn off and it’s time to party. Sunday, of course, brings hangovers, guilt, contrition and confession.
Most of my friends are hitting 40. Many are going through changes and re-evaluations. It’s not an easy time for them. But it’s not an unusual experience. Books have been written, movies have been filmed, fortunes have been made in detailing the trauma of realising youth is fleeing and perhaps there are things other than the career in which 20 odd years have been invested.
There’s a realisation that perhaps the slave to Mammon approach may not have been the best one after all. But it’s a bitch when it hits you at that age and you’re up to your eyeballs in mortgages and car payments and you have children to put through the best schools you can afford.
I think what most have missed is the constant need to re-evaluate their lives on an ongoing basis -- not just to make sure what they’re doing is the right thing, but to make sure what they’re doing is based on values that are solid, consistent and core. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living” and even Satre had a go at providing a framework for people to create meaning in their lives.
It’s not that the ends justify the means, but that the means, especially when carried out within a values-based context, are a satisfying avenue to the ends -- and often become ends in and of themselves. (Does this make sense?)
So what drives us forward? What gets us out of bed to shuffle off to work? Surely not merely a sense of mindless duty? Of cause, there’s always the rent/mortgage but downsizing can’t be that bad. If, in fact, it’s chasing the dream of a bigger house, faster car, newer lounge suite, then that strikes me as a rather empty chase, with nothing but disappointment at the end. Having said that, I want that new car. The thing is, once you’ve got it, there’s the next thing, and the next...
For me, there’s a mixture of things: doing and experiencing new things -- extending my outlook and perspective; doing what I think is good -- making this world a better place than the world in which I live (as the song goes).
In my life, I have lived in foreign countries; I have dined with dictators and partied with rock stars. I have written a book; I have excelled in sport. I have loved and been loved. I have leapt off tall buildings and created new things. There’s nothing like a challenge to keep life interesting.
But there’s always something new to learn, to do, to experience. It’s not easy. It’s scary because there are mistakes to be made. And life continually deals you items from left field. Roll with the punches and ride the waves when they come in.
But fundamentally, find something to give your life meaning. Decide what it is that makes your life worth living and invest in it. Take the risks continually. Sometimes it doesn’t work out but welcome to life! As bad as it is, it will get better (and as good as it is, there’s always crap coming at you). Deal with it. Help other people. Be good. Do Good. (cue Desiderata and the Sunscreen Song).