“She caresses me on the quiet nights.
Her name is restlessness, and she snuggles warm against my soul.”
I have always been a night owl – one of those people for whom midnight is the earliest time that I will consider going to bed. The effects of this lifestyle have come to be that I am at my most productive when the phone is no longer ringing, new tasks are not being added, and I am free to simply take a step back, regain perspective andget stuff done. Night time, though, is also a period when I am alone with my thoughts in a way that I am normally unable to be during busy days or when charging out to fun places with friends. It is the time alone with these thoughts that the most interesting stuff comes to light, and I find myself often trying to make sense of things I would rather not look at in my life – in this case, that angst and insecurity that starts to take root sometime around your early to mid twenties and, I am guessing, sticks with you for most of your adult life.
I am talking, of course, about that little voice that says “am I doing the right thing with my life”, “am I ahead?”, “will I look back in a decade heartbroken at the decisions I am making”. It’s not just me either, more than one of my friends has been speaking about the idea that we choose a path and spend our lives wondering if we will fit in, if we want to fit in, if fitting in means we are doing the right thing, or merely the comfortable thing. The more times I come back from something I did which took me to the edges of my comfortable experience of life, the harder it is to sit still in the center of my experiences and not want to go out again, to walk further than I did the last time.
Same same, but different
My current view of the matter is that we are all conflicted by two primary desires in life. Firstly we have the desire to be special – to believe that we matter more than other people, are somehow different and unique in some way. Nobody wants to enter a room and realise that absolutely everyone else is more significant (by whatever metric) than they are, and so we peg much of our self worth on some set of criteria that we think will make us the person that is more unique and meaningful than any of our peers. I value this drive, because it is what pushes us to the edge of who we are comfortable being. It makes us kiss in the rain, travel off the beaten track, and a thousand other phrases from popular culture expressing the notion of living life plus one – doing that thing you were embarrassed to do, going that place you feared, telling that person the thing you know they wanted to hear, without the care of being judged for it. Beautiful things come from those places – the things that will make you smile and chuckle in the coming years and believe again in your power to live. To really live.
Our second, and conflicting drive, is not to fall behind in the race of life, not to be the odd one out – the one who didn’t achieve, who ran the wrong race, only to find everyone else ahead of them. More successful, having achieved more, having made the right decisions. This drive inherently forces us to avoid taking the risks, avoid doing the magical things. Because every substantially oddball decision that we take, every deviation from how normal people live is a gamble. It could make us special, it could make us something more/better/unique, or it could leave us behind -judged and inferior to our peers in the worst case, or simply ‘not someone I can relate to anymore’ if you are luckier. Everything we do that puts us outside the travails of normal life puts a distance between us and those-who-do-normal-stuff. And that is a scary thing, because when that distance gets too large, you are no longer one of what your friends are anymore. You are someone different, whose scores on the grand scale of earn-money-and-be-promoted-dom will be lower than everyone else’s – and you have no guarantee that you will gain anything in exchange for that loss.
I believe that, like the squeezy bit in the middle of an hourglass, we spend most of our lives at varying distances from the crossover point between letting wanting to be accepted guide our decisions, and letting wanting to be different guide us. Depending on the strength of those forces, some will flirt with that junction between pushing the envelope every so often, and keeping life ‘normal’, while others will see normal life as an interlude to trying to find new highs on the periphery of their lives. I believe though, that once you have crossed over to being dominated by the desire to be unique, it becomes harder to cross back with every foray into life’s adventure. People who come back from crazy backpacker trips or adventure of every variety know that feeling, and they know that the low of no longer being in the space that was unique gets tougher and tougher every time you return.
I don’t know how the story ends, I am still discovering it for myself, but I wonder sometimes whether – once you are too different from those in the mainstream – you ever care to come back. I sometimes wonder, once you have seen too many things, and experienced too much of the spectrum of what is out there, whether you could even go back if you wanted to.