Of Expectations, Situation and Circumstance

In nature there are only two possibilities: success or defeat. A cheetah finds itself able to outrun a gazelle and dines blissfully to chase food another day. A vine wraps up around a tree, growing tall and strong even at the strangulation of the tree itself. Water erodes a bank, cracks through rock and flows out to become a river, drowning out the desert plant life and lending itself to a whole new species of grasses.

When a mountain lion wins his lioness, it is often because he is the strongest, the best and most worthy. She sees that he will be the best for making babies with and is satisfied with the union. Rabbits procreate like bunnies, trees produce sweeter fruit (and seeds) and dandelions send their spores off on the wind to reproduce. Very little, if any, time is spent on regret or desire to change life. If there is the illusion of a desire to change life, look more closely and you’ll likely find that it is in fact not a desire, but the actual act of attempting to do so. An eagle doesn’t sit around wishing itself a better roost, it goes out and finds one, clashing with fellow eagles if necessary.

In our human lives, however, we have evolved the ability to invent catastrophe, shame, punishment, sadness. We have developed up our society and when we are born into it we become used to things, whether they’re simply a fire or the wheel or watching sports and drinking beers with our friends every Sunday. We have expecations as to what our lives are to be like. We should get a bike when we’re 8, learn to drive when we’re 16, and hitchhike across the country when we’re 20. Romance should find us, and we should live out our romantic years and, when we’re ready, have children, watch them grow and find joy in parenting. Eventually we will retire, young enough to still be able to climb Mt. Everest or soak up the Floridian sun.

But teenage pregnancy, joblessness, stock market crashes, these things change our lives. The people we loved so emphatically at 21 have grown, changed, and now at 30 are not as exciting, not as sexy, not as easily loveable. Jobs where we made $30,000 right out of high school that are now, twenty years later, only paying $33,000 don’t seem to be providing us with the lives we had expected. Resignation is the popular form of dealing with these life situations, and we find ourselves appauled but acceptant of our circumstances.

I’m reminded of learning to swim. When a young boy gets into a pool and sees his older brothers swimming and laughing and playing, he wants desperately to join them. There is an obvious reward to putting the work into learning to swim, even though the work that you must put in is incredibly frightening. The very act of learning to swim essentially involves at least a handful of times where you learn to drown. Your mouth, your nose, sometimes into your lungs, water rushes and you cough and choke and it’s incredibly frightening. Most of us get over that, we want to know how to swim so badly that any amount of pain and hard work will be worth it. We use our minds to learn how to hold our breath, which makes the whole process easier, and then we’re swimming, and for the rest of our lives we can play in the water, go fishing, rafting, jump off of bridges, swing from rope swings. We can enjoy water, 3/4ths of the Earth’s surface is now open to us. And all we had to do was learn to swim.

Anyone who’s ever learned to ride a bike, learned to type, or a foreign language can relate. There is a massive amount of hard work and input necessary, but when it’s complete, you are a new person, with a new skill that will forever make your life better.

If the same attitude could be retained and applied towards our jobs, our spouses, our children, imagine the infinite happiness that our lives could hold? We can not always change our jobs overnight, but anyone can find a new profession and pursue it if they want. It may require months or even years of our free time, hours spent not drinking or painting the house or watching Leno but instead learning skills or searching for a job, but if you spend 2 years and find yourself in a happier place, won’t the next 60 thank you?

With a spouse things are different. You can’t simply quit one and try another. Or can you? Too many marriages begin based on looks or the initial rush of lusty infatuation or on an idea of who someone could be. For those marriages, the ones that are doomed to fail anyway, the best option is likely divorce. Clean yourselves of one another as quickly as possible. Don’t stay together for the children, don’t wait for him to change. The children will only learn that life is to be lived unhappily from your actions, and he will never change. Old men and women never do, and until you’re able to live life vibrantly, you will always be old.

But for those marriages where the love was simply lost in piles of bills and deadlines and kid’s soccer matches, where you could get it back if you only put the time into it that you do on all of these things you don’t care about, go for it, change it right now. If you bought a huge house because it was your wife’s dream to live in a huge house, and now you both spend all of your time mowing and cleaning and working to keep it, if she’s miserable and you are too, what is the point. Sell the house, move into an apartment, quit your jobs and do nothing but sex for the next year.

If you find yourself with children that are dragging you down, keeping you from your dreams, forcing you into a life of submissive housewifdom, think about how you can first change that vision of them inside of you and then how you can incorporate them into your dream. If it’s always been your dream to ride a motorcycle across India, could you alter that dream to change the motorcycle into a Jeep and find yourself with a few small companions. So what if they don’t go to school for a year? They’ll learn more following you along on your dream than they will from Mrs. Bumstupilous, another unhappy and despondent housewife, believe me. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to write a novel but no longer have the free time. Great news! You have given birth to your own personal servants. Children are a joy to have and watch grow, but they are also required by the powers vested in their parents to basically be our slaves. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend having them construct you a pyramid, but if you need 3 hours every evening so that you can write, I’m sure you can figure out a way to make the laundry, dishes and various other housework disappear under their watch.

It seems difficult, I know. I remember hating my life, feeling overwhelmed with the circumstances of being a father, a divorcee, a homeowner, stuck in a job in a town that I’d have preferred to have been rid of, and seeing that it was all too overwhelmingly impossible to escape. But I can promise you that, in life, anything is possible. There are no special people, don’t attribute an athlete’s fame or Nobel Peace Prize winner’s genius to “them being special, they can do that”. To do so is to take away all of their hard work. There are no special people, simply people who have done whatever it takes to become who they are. And remember that it is never too late to change who you are, what your life is about and where you’re headed.

Just like a young boy needs to learn how to swim, so are our 20-something years a time when we’re only learning who we’ll be. Don’t resign yourself for the rest of your long life to a few of the hurdles you’ve had to overcome in that one decade.

Up Next: Lighting Trees and Winter Skies