Ladies and gentlemen, mesdames et messieurs, I am a failure.
I live at home with my parents at the age of 31 years old: I have been here for nearly a year, and there is no indication that I will be leaving anytime soon.
Out of all of the people my own age that I know, by all the traditional measures of “success”, I am not doing too good.
I am one of the few unmarried ones and the only one in my circle of friends I know who is actually divorced. I do not own a house or a cottage: several of my thirtysomething friends I knew in high school have both. I don’t have any kids: again, several of my friends have been parents for a long time. I drive a used Toyota that was built when I was a Minor Niner. And I currently make minimum wage at a seasonal job that I’m still not guaranteed to have after the holidays.
At dinner parties and other get-togethers – the types of social enterprises that I really think are a form of gladiatorial matches to see who’s “winning” at life – I have the least to offer when it comes to tips for investing your stock portfolio, apprasing your home, preschool recommendations, or all of those other “grown-up” things that quote-unquote “successful” people talk about, because I haven’t got the requisite “stuff”. I have no business cards to give out. I could care less about your corporate golf tourney or the fact that your trophy wife bought her earrings at Tiffany’s.
Indeed, by many measures, I am currently failing at the game of life.
Or so I’m supposed to believe.
The trouble about people who can’t shake the big picture awareness is that we are, for the most part, complete squares. Guys and gals like me can’t just let things go when we’ve seen that the shadows on the wall of the cave are just shadows and not real life. We can sometimes puff the same opiates that the rest of the human herd likes to inhale – Christmas shopping, election days, baseball games, movies – but the high doesn’t last long, because for us there’s always that niggling doubt, that Jiminy Cricket reminder that what we’re seeing isn’t real. It’s all smoke and mirrors, designed by a few people in power that keep us in chains even as we think ourselves to be free, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau famously observed.
Smoke and mirrors: that’s what much of the conventional life is, the same convention that sets the standards of success, and where you’re supposed to be if you’re a thirtysomething man living in Canada in 2011, or any place or person in life. What’s “normal”, though, isn’t necessarily “natural”, and that’s an awareness I can’t suppress or ignore.
I am approaching 100% authenticity. This is as close as I’ve ever been to that mark, and while there’s still far to go, it’s getting closer every day. Already, I’m losing my tolerance for the bullshit, whether it’s an employer telling me to sell things against my will for the sake of profits or my closest friends and family projecting their own insecurities on me and making it sound like I’m somehow inadequate. No longer am I willing to tolerate outsiders handing me a cow turd and telling me it’s a Hershey bar: more and more, I am calling them out on their shit, and they have nothing they can threaten me with to get me back in line.
The standards of success set by others are not absolute: there are other measures – our own – and these are the ones we should trust, because using the “standards” makes us seem like freaks to ourselves, and the result of such self-doubt is indeed a life in a poverty of the spirit, if not of the body and the wallet. Once you do the work to distinguish your measure from the standard one, you realize that you’ve been thinking yourself to be stupid all this time because, as Einstein once said, you’ve been judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree.
By my own measure, I’m so damned close to living in truth: as I said, I’ve never been closer. And when you’re living true to your own measure of success, you are being 100% authentic. And that authenticity will attract all the material goodies – the houses, spouses, cars, and kids – that are expected of the “standard” model of success. The difference is, unlike so many others, you get to keep your own soul in the process.
So, no, the standard model declares me a failure. I haven’t been able to find myself in the comfortable conformity of the mainstream. I don’t care for a life half lived, for material gains gotten from doing jobs “just for the money”. I can’t pretend away the reality of the day-to-day world just because it’s Christmas or it’s a weekend or the Superbowl or some other construct the Powers that Be have made to distract us away from ourselves and maximize their profits at our expense.
Do I want those things, that kind of hazy, happy bliss? Sure, but I want them my way. And for now, that means spending a little more time yet out in the wild.