This is a guest post from Fabian Kruse. His blog is The Friendly Anarchist.
“May you live in interesting times,” a Chinese curse goes. It's true: “Interestingness” is a dangerously broad term. Having a chronic illness can be interesting but it sucks. Wars can be interesting — but they suck even more. And maybe you too have used the classical “It tastes interesting”-excuse when your dinner host didn’t really have a clue about cooking. Not as bad as wars and chronic illnesses, but still kind of sucky.
But interestingness in general is a lot more positive. Interestingness is finding the experiences that shape us as human beings, and enjoying them to the max. What we really don’t want is the bullshit part of life.
As far as I can see it, most of us want to live our lives something like this:
Sure, a bit more interestingness would be nice, but let’s be realistic, right? At least we’ll avoid the bullshit.
1. You can never make everything all nice, so stop trying.
Or that’s that we think. Because when we want to avoid bullshit so hard, we decide to play it safe. But “play it safe” too much and you’ll suffer:
- Play-it-safe is what keeps us in our boring job.
- Play-it-safe is what keeps us in our houses.
- Play it safe is what keeps us from building a business.
- Play it safe is what keeps us from writing about controversial topics.
We end up with a pretty normal, uninteresting life. But notice that you don’t ever get rid of bullshit completely. Stress at work, a flooded house (my windows aren’t the best, it seems), a stolen car, a break-up after a long relationship—you can’t avoid these things completely.
But because we try so hard, because of attempting to “play it safe”, we unintentionally drown our interestingness levels, and end up with a life like this:
2. Don’t mistake worry for reality.
The problems that really happen in our lives don’t account for the full 20% of bullshit. Realistically, it’s more like 2% bullshit and 18% worries:
- It’s not losing our job, it’s worrying that we might get fired.
- It’s not really that the house floods, it’s worrying that it might get flooded; and then, worrying about what insurance to get, and where to earn the money to pay for it.
- Will the same insurance cover the car? And should we really park it in that dark alley, or rather take it to a supervised parking lot, paying $5 an hour for someone to look after it?
Worrying too much is just not helpful. Especially if we consider that we’ve only got this one life.
I am great at worrying. For example, as a dogsitter I permanently worry that one of the dogs could get seriously ill. Even though these worries are exaggerated, I’ll be happy once my wife comes back to look after them again.
As kids, we still play freely and explore the world as if it was a big and beautiful Wonderland. Sometimes we fall down, sometimes we rip our clothes, sometimes we scratch our elbows. And still, we continue to explore, we continue to live an interesting life.
But then, over the years at school, we become more and more serious. And worried. The older we get, the more we learn to focus on avoiding bullshit and becoming upright citizens. Normality grows, worries grow, interestingness almost disappears. We go from Wonderland to Worryland.
3. Use people with interesting lives as role models; pay attention to what they don’t do.
I have some friends who live a very different life. I live it myself at times, and I see a couple of people on the web that seem to be living it, too. This other model looks something like this:
You see this? That’s a 50% increase in interestingness! Bullshit levels are down, as is normality. And while normality makes us comfortable, it also leads to the boredom. So if we ever feel that there’s a bit too much normality in our lives, we could maybe learn something here.
The mistake when trying to find out about interestingness is to look at what interesting people are actually doing. Because this only leads to even more passivity on the side of the spectator:
- “Oh, Tyler Tervooren can jump out of an airplane, but I couldn’t possibly do that because I don’t fly. Climate change is more important than having fun.”
- “Oh, Sean Ogle is traveling to South East Asia and checking off the points on his bucket list, but I couldn’t possibly do that because I love my home and wouldn’t want to leave.”
- “Oh, Karol Gadja is building a business around his Ridiculously Extraordinary blog, but I couldn’t possibly do that because I haven’t got any idea of internet marketing and writing.”
One thing is for sure: You will always find reasons not to do something interesting, even if other people are doing it. Often enough, these reasons will be pretty good. Sometimes, they won’t. But you’ll definitely find some!
I believe we have to look at what these people are not doing. And then we have to stop doing that, too. For example:
- Stop worrying 18% of your life.
- Stop overthinking everything.
- Stop remaining seated comfortably.
- Stop accepting things as they are, even if they suck.
- Stop taking the path of least resistance.
- Stop living the life other people planned for you.
- Stop worrying 18% of your life. (This comes twice, as it’s really the basics.)
Interesting people get rid of unnecessary worries — and accept that a little more real bullshit might turn up in their lives once they start stepping out of their comfort zone. If you do a lot more interesting things, from time to time you risk a bit more bullshit.
4. Make yourself uncomfortable.
The good thing is that interestingness doesn’t always have to be jumping from airplanes.
- Try unknown food at your supermarket.
- Go to a new restaurant.
- Watch a recommended movie from a genre you normally ignore.
- Engage in a street fight.
- Quit your boring job.
- Sell everything you own.
- Raise five children.
There’s one thing interesting lives have in common, though: you feel at least a tiny bit uncomfortable. Anxiety is the perfect indicator. Instead of worrying about or trying to ignore it, maybe we should let it be our guide.