The Dangers of Living a Life in Defiance of the Status Quo

Photograph by David Weekly (Flickr), under Creative Commons License

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I inhale with my eyes closed I sense the freshness around me. The feel of the early morning chill is in the air, lending a crispness to every smell. A breeze blowing past me causes the hair on my forearms to rise. I hear it sighing as it makes its way through the trees. An occasional birdsong sounds somewhere in the distance.Grass extends out around me and trees with fresh spring growth. Dew drops glistening in the early morning sun, filtering through the trees, suffusing everything with a soft light. I look up at the sky with strips of thin puffy clouds dotting the blue and the tops of the tallest trees waving in the wind just at the corners of my vision. It is not silent, not truly. Yet, the aura of surreal serenity is undeniable. I look closely at the ground. I am not sure, but I think the grass is less dense where I am standing. It stretches off into the distance where the trees are so close that they form a canopy overhead. It feels good to be here. I step forward. My foot sinks ever so slightly as it touches the ground. I feel the twigs and the stones through the sole; I feel the gentle downward slope of the land. As the wind picks up behind me I look to the place where it will lead. The faint brown among the green, marking the path less traveled…

Walking the path less traveled is only for the courageous and adventurous. Everyone knows that it exists. Most people just can’t be bothered to find it, much less walk it. It is choice few make, and fewer follow through. Yet, that is why we are here. We made this choice willingly because the pain of living the boring life like everybody else became too hard to bear. However, this path is not painless either.

Discomfort

The one thing that will be a constant companion on this path is discomfort. In fact, it was the reason I chose this path. Do you ever feel that your life is so comfortable that you can’t be bothered with changing anything, even though you want to? Do you have days where you can see the decades of your life extending out in front of you, lived out by the people around you? The feeling of being able of accomplish much more but not seeing how? I felt all that. This path can definitely provide a for the dullness of a comfortable life. The good thing is, not every comfort has to be left behind. We can choose how much discomfort we can bear. For some it might be selling everything they have to roam the world; others might only be looking for having the option of quitting their jobs by having a second source of income. The level of discomfort is varied, but the experience is universal.

Fear

Walking this path takes courage. Everyday that we walk this path there is the fear of failure. Whether it is a new business or applying for a dream job, there is no guarantee of efforts paying off in the way we want; or paying off at all. It is a level of uncertainty that most people can’t live with. Following close behind will also be the fear of rejection. People close to us might not understand what we are trying to do, thinking that we are throwing your lives away. The people we are trying to help might not want the help. Living with failure and rejection are decisions most people are afraid to make. They prefer not having to make that decision at all. But, you and I are not most people. We have the courage to accept failure and rejection as a possible outcome. We are ready to try inspite of such debilitating fears.

Hard Work

I won’t deny it. It is very hard to walk this path. Once the newness and the sense of adventure wears off, the real grind begins. On one hand is the life that was, one we can’t give up on just yet. On the other is the dream life. Balancing both and trying to find a way through a maze, that is what today feels like. Sometimes it is tempting to slide back into old ways and sometimes the new life can’t seem to get here fast enough. But, we put one foot in front of the other everyday. Not knowing if it is solid pavement or quicksand. Yet, ready to face either. It is hard work, but we keep at it because it will eventually lead to what we seek.

Loneliness

I would like to say that there is whole community of people who are walking this same path as us. However, it is not completely true. While there are people who walk the path less traveled, everyone has their own path to walk. We can understand, share, and empathize. But, we can’t walk it for them. Or even with them. We understand what this path is about, but we can’t share all of it with everybody. While we are trying to be more authentic and congruent, it forces us to hide parts of the struggle from people we love. It is a paradox that can consume the sanity of the best of us. Yet, sometimes our worst enemy is inside us. Accepting faults, living with the past, not measuring up to self set standards. No one can help with these. We choose to walk this path despite, because the loneliness can also be a friend. It can define who we are and help us to do more good on this planet.

Whether we search for passion, purpose, freedom, or happiness. We must be willing to go where people don’t, and live in a way they can’t. The dangers are real, the tests are severe. The only thing that can help is knowing that we are not alone. Knowing that our toil is part of a bigger struggle. This post is a tribute to our common struggle. I hope that our brown streaked paths may cross one day. So that we may know there are others who walk the path less traveled. In defiance of society, through fear and discomfort, hard work, and solitary struggle. We stand united in spirit.

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Bored to death? It’s a sign that you thirst for Growth

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The mind is the root from which all things grow; if you can understand the mind, everything else is included.

~Bodhidharma

Everybody feels bored from time to time. It is very normal because it’s just an indication of our brain’s need for stimulation. It’s just like when a person exhibits symptoms of an illness and the doctor prescribes medicine to cure it. In this case, boredom is the symptom and one must find a way to stimulate the brain.

There are a lot of ways to cure boredom. But, any activity that does so can be rated on two parameters – Growth & Distraction. An activity has to rate highly on both for it to be a good stimulation. If an activity is purely growth oriented, something like attending lectures in college, well, we all know what happens. In the long term, it might be good, but it isn’t able to hold our interest and we tend to go to sleep. Similarly, if the activity is pure distraction, like checking Facebook every spare moment, it doesn’t reach the amount of stimulation needed for the brain. But, it does provide variety. Something that holds our interest and is different from the mundane. It only serves to stimulate the brain in short bursts and lacks real growth potential.

I talk about this because I thought I used to get bored during college, but there one can always find something to do. Even if it is just doing laundry. I got introduced to real boredom at my job. There are days when I have nothing to do. I just have to show up, stay there for 8+ hours, and leave. I also found out that I wasn’t the only one who’s suffering these forced bouts of boredom. I keep hearing from my friends how they spend their time chatting on Facebook, playing Candy Crush Saga, gossiping in the cafeteria etc. Over time I realized that I just can’t go on living like this. Distracting myself every time boredom struck. Distraction isn’t growth, and without growth there is no life.

Extended periods of boredom can lead to frustration. A feeling that I had been feeling at my regular job for the past year and half. Experiencing frustration can make distractions really addictive. They provide the surety of always being available and the variety of being different from what is causing frustration. Also, I observed that every slight thing that didn’t go my way felt like a personal affront, especially if it happened at the workplace. In hindsight, I can tell you that the experience of surrounding myself with negativity was not a pleasant experience. So, even though I knew that it wasn’t helping, I felt justified in taking a break from reality by distracting myself. Drinking with friends always ended up with all of us criticizing our bosses; cafeteria gatherings became gossip sessions; movies, TV, video games, and social networking became the preferred way to escape after returning from work as well as during weekends.

Towards the end of that period, denied any growth, frustration decayed into something worse – desperation. Desperation can make people take decisions they normally wouldn’t. And, when the source of desperation is one’s work the decisions can be life altering. Decisions like choosing to do an master’s degree, which by itself is not bad. However, if the reason behind the decision is only to escape from an unsatisfying job, it will eventually lead to more pain and unhappiness. Or, giving in to the parental pressure to marry because you feel that there is something wrong in your life and that things will settle down to normal after marriage. Fortunately, I escaped making any such decision. However, I have been to the edge of desperation and have come back with a lesson learnt the hard way. Do not let your boredom dwindle into frustration, or worse desperation. When you feel that you regularly start feeling lost and experience bouts of restlessness or lethargy, it is a signal that your need for growth is making its presence felt. It is up to you to find ways to satisfy this need. Here is what helped me get out the dumps.

Know yourself

Neither your parents nor close friends can tell you what truly makes you happy. Even you might miss it in your busy life. Pay attention to what activities you enjoy, what you are good at, when time seems to fly while you are doing something. Keep a note of all such activities. An easy way to do this is to see what you on most weekends.

Learn Constantly

One of the easiest ways to keep the brain occupied is to learn. It doesn’t always have to be productive, but it must be enjoyable yet involve some challenge. Maybe you like learning a language, maybe you like watching documentaries, maybe you would like to learn kung-fu. Whatever catches your fancy is fine, as long as you consciously make time for it.

Be Creative

Learning is fine, and the next natural step is creation. Put your learning to use. It will give you a sense of great accomplishment. For e.g., if you enjoy watching food & cooking related shows, you could go out and film a local street food vendor. Or, if you like reading and researching gadgets, you can start reviewing them on your blog. Your creation might not turn out to be good in the beginning, but you should have fun doing it.

Contribute

No matter who you are and what activity you pick, you will find a few other people doing it as well. It is not all difficult to find online communities where people have discussions over common interests. The best sense of fulfillment comes from contributing to these communities. People acknowledging your contribution is the best form of motivation for you to keep on giving.

Don’t Give Up

People usually fall into the trap of “I don’t feel like it”. Once you have chosen to do something you must schedule it for a period of time. It’s like making a habit of regular exercise or meditation. Some days it feels good and some days are dull. To form the habit you must do it regularly for at least a month. If it doesn’t feel good to be doing it after that period, you can drop it. For help on habit formation check out this website.

I can only say that each one of us has the freedom to choose a way to satisfy the need for growth. Boredom, frustration, and even desperation can be overcome by choosing what feels right. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else except you. I do get bored occasionally but I know ways to get over it now – mostly reading blogs or writing for my own. What about you? Are you ready to acknowledge your need for growth? Or will you let distractions drag you down to the depths of despair?

 PS – This is the video that inspired this post. Hope you enjoy it.