A letter writer asks, is this all there is?
Our elder has some tips on how to escape the corporate mold and recapture that feeling of adventure.
Hello, I’m a 27-year-old trying to learn to navigate the world. This has meant letting go of some of the beliefs of my younger self. Amongst those beliefs is the idea of life as an adventure full of passion and excitement. Much like what we see in great works of literature or cinema. It seems to me that life as an adult is less of an adventure as it is wandering around aimlessly with shoes that don’t fit quite comfortably. Being an adult appears to mean waking up at 6am, showering, commuting, working at a job you more or less tolerate, returning home, some time with family and going to bed so you can wake up and do it again. Rinse and repeat for the next 40 years until you reach the age where there’s the prospect of 10-20 years of some sort of freedom. Maybe there is a subtle beauty to this life that I’m not seeing but the monotony of it appears hollow. And so, it’s looking at this probable future that fills me with an existential sadness. I’m aware that becoming an adult means facing loss. We lose our hair, we lose our keys more often, we lose friends and loved ones. But for me the hardest part is the loss of the idealism of my youth. The realization that no I can’t slay dragons because there are no dragons around. There are only endless meetings to be endured. So, in the end is this what becoming an adult is about? Letting go of the authentic but admittedly self-centered passions of our youth for the more practical duties of adulthood. But is this even living?
Ah, I feel for you. The life you are living is not the life that the younger you anticipated living. The movies you watched and the books you read as a child encouraged you to believe that life would be a grand adventure, full of swashbuckling excitement and toe-curling passion. OK, maybe they oversold it a bit. But they certainly didn’t prepare you for the monotony of meetings your life has turned out to be. At 27, you are facing a seamless series of days much like each other, with only the distant prospect of the far-off freedom of retirement to look forward to – by which point your youth will be spent and your hair will be gone. I’m here to tell you though: it needn’t be so you don’t have to resign yourself to this. If you can find your lost keys, you can free yourself from the cage of tedium you have constructed for yourself. Yes, the world we live in has its structure, its rules, and its expectations. But it’s also possible to color outside the lines.
Before you grew up and squeezed yourself into the corporate mold, you were a bright-eyed kid who saw life as the adventure that it is. What happened to that kid? How did he come to the conclusion that becoming an adult meant giving up his childish sense of wonderment? And, more importantly, how on earth did you come to the Miniver Cheevy-style conclusion that there are no more dragons left to slay? Have you picked your head up off your desk and looked around at the world lately?
What J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) wrote a hundred or so years ago is no less true today:
“No matter how wonderful the safety of your home is at the moment, remember that it’s not promised forever. Evil is alive and well in the world, and it is on the march. You can choose to stay in comfort and pretend that evil doesn’t exist. Or you can band together with your friends, go out into the world, and face, fight, and overcome evil in all of its forms. That is the ultimate call to adventure.”
You don’t have to go off and fight in a war like Tolkien did to fight evil. You can do it right in your own city or neighborhood or back yard. You can pour your energy into causes you believe in and are passionate about. Neither do you have to become an Argonaut to have adventures. All you have to do is put yourself out there and take some risks. Adventures are things that happen to us when we throw away the script, go off trail, get out of the ruts of our routines, and do something. Bike across the country, hike the Appalachian Trail, run a marathon though the Sahara, get hold of an old inner tube and float down your local river, or learn to cook Indian food.
What made you feel exhilarated when you were a kid? Were you happiest playing sports? Creating inventions? Creating art? Interacting with animals? Whatever it was, what’s preventing you from doing the same thing (or the adult version of the same thing) now?
I’m an old woman, and the happiest people I’ve known in my life are the ones who had an absolute passion for their work. Their jobs weren’t just a means of support to them, but their means of fulfillment. My husband is one of these people. He’s been a patent attorney for over fifty years, and he’s still at it at 76 because he regards every new client invention as a new adventure. So, if your job is boring the pants off you, change jobs. Or find a whole new career. Something you can sink your teeth into and get excited about.
There’s the romance of adventure, and then there’s the adventure of romance. If your life feels ungrounded, you can ground it by committing to something and somebody. Find a partner you can adventure and grow old with. My husband and I have been married for over 50 years. We raised eight children together – and let me tell you, that was quite an adventure. We have also had the good fortune to have been able to travel the world together – to visit Machu Picchu, to experience the Northern Lights and full eclipses, to haggle in the bazaars of India, to see pink porpoises frolicking in the Amazon, and to watch two male rhinos battle it out for supremacy on the plains of Africa. None of this would have been as much fun if I’d done it alone, and I am grateful that I had Larry to share my adventures (as well as my travails) with. Having him with me also makes what looms ahead – the inevitable losses culminating in the biggest loss of all – a lot less scary.
I hope this helps. I hope you don’t spend the next forty years of your life in a funk of meetings and existential sadness. If you’d like to talk more about this, I am always here. Please try to write back to let me know how you are doing. I will be thinking of you.
Article #: 467434