The American dream is an ideal that is created and perpetuated by the media and corporate America. This is a template for life that many people fall into. It is increasingly difficult to attain as standards are raised and social media shows us nothing but ‘living the best life.’ But this is not the template for everyone. By saying “no” to the societal norm of measuring success and happiness via materialism, we can free ourselves to truly be happy.
This is the idea set forth by the documentary Minimalism.
I agree with the idea that societal norms are not ones that should be blindly followed. Some are useful (crime is bad) but others are ludicrous (Instagram ‘likes’ equate to worth). I am still struggling with identifying how much of society I want to shirk. I find myself realizing that at times I am succumbing to some societal narratives just like every else, without realizing it. I do not subscribe to doing things because people say we are “supposed to” or spending too much money going to extravagant restaurants or clubs. But I find myself at times still trying to fit in in some ways. For example, I like clothing. I like shoes. I like to buy these things even when I already many shoes and enough clothes. However, I do not buy clothes because they are brand names or particularly because they are the current trend, but because I like them. Does this fit into my self-proclaimed paradigm to forge my own path? I am not sure. I think it does, but I have been wondering lately how many things I am fooling myself about.
How edgy am I? Do I see myself with clear eyes, the way others do? Or do I see myself through a lens of superiority because I think I know things others don’t, and think that I seem friendly and attentive yet utterly disinterested in most of what ‘normal’ people do? This troubles me, as I praise self-awareness above most else. I see myself as an edgy yet intelligent professional working a high power job (while hating it), yet able to shirk much of this persona off the clock and live a much more arts-oriented private life. I think this is true, and I really believe it. But sometimes, I wonder if others think that too, and then try to remind myself that it shouldn’t matter. But I tend to be vain, and at a core level I think I still do care that other people see myself the way I want them to. I place a high level of weight on fashion and while I stay off of social media, I do care what others think. Is that okay?
Even while writing this, I had the thought “If I figure it all out, maybe this essay will be featured in a book or essay collection about how to figure it out for yourself, or at least ask more questions.” Even as I am trying to do this for myself and personal growth, I cannot help but thinking about how other people could look up to me after reading this stream of conscious bullshit. I would like to try and break that thought pattern.
I try to live life with my eyes open, but sometimes wonder how open they really are. More than most, sure, but enough? I do not know. Much of this pervading uncertainty on my quest for my ‘final form’ stems from a superb and pervasive lack of direction in life. Not that I don’t think I know what I want to do – worse than that, I am trying to figure out what is really important. Important to me, and important to the world. What is my duty in the grander scheme of things? What is anyone’s? Is it important to try and live your life for the betterment of humanity, or is all futile over time and thus a waste of time that could be dedicated to enjoyment?
Or it enough to live life doing a job that is not exactly meaningful on a grander scale, gaining the income to live the life you choose in the off hours? Travelling, purchasing experiences, and nice clothes all cost money. Work is essential to live whether we like it or not. I am still trying to figure out whether one should work to live, or find work that can be dedicated to some higher meaning, whatever it may be.
I want to take risks and adventure, travel, go to concerts, etc. Can I do this if I am working towards a dedicated goal, and if not, is it worth it even if that goal helps many people? I am tending towards thinking that living life with a job that supports the life you want to live. But part of me still thinks that that may be a cop out, because that journey is definitely easier than attempting to have a lasting impact.
Few people are granted the opportunity to be in a place in life where they feasibly could make a difference. Even fewer are asking questions as to what they should do with such a position in life. Does this mean that there is an obligation to use such a position for good? Part of me still thinks so, but I have more questions than answers.
Currently I am using “do no harm” as my heuristic of choice – make sure nothing you do actively hurts anyone no matter how removed, but going out of your way to improve the lives of others is unnecessary. I think this is a good rule while life is in a holding pattern of sorts, while I try to find these answers.
This documentary has been very good at highlighting ideas that I have been mulling over a lot recently, and I think many of the ideas are good. I think the four biggest takeaways for me are
- Only have belongings that have meaning. Be able to justify every single object you own. All your clothes should be your favorite clothes.
- Consumption is not the problem. Compulsory consumption is the problem
- If you see a person at a later stage of your life’s current plan or current trajectory and don’t want to be in that person’s shoes – get out
- “Now, I get to live life being genuine – there is no manipulation.” Not having a pretense in any facet of life, including work, should be the only way to live
A closing quote: “I wish everyone could become rich and famous so they would realize its not the answer” – Jim Carey