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.

47 replies
  1. onegirl
    onegirl says:

    Excellent post! I hear excuses why people can’t do what they want to do all the time and they look to me for entertaining stories about different events I attend, and interesting places I go. They can stay in their boring world, and I’ll stay in my exciting/interesting world.

  2. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    Great post, Fabian. I think it is really huge to get rid of worrying and overthinking. I’ve found people who worry and overthink are definitely less interesting, and people who worry less and act more are much more interesting!

  3. Chris
    Chris says:

    “May you live in interesting times.” Have you read Terry Pratchett’s Interesting Times? One of my favorite novels.
    Also … I love the idea that anxiety and uneasiness may be indicators of interesting things. Kind of a savory idea.

  4. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    I know several worriers, and truthfully, they are tiresome in their worries and excuses. After a while, I don’t want to listen to them anymore. They are boring people.

  5. Narendra
    Narendra says:

    Always invigorating.With so much information flow,rather difficult to maintain sustained interest.Your articles appeal me as they provide a practical perespective with regards to confounding concepts like “we are a peaceful soul”, “the blocks are due to something of a spill over from past lives”,law of attraction is the answer to all miseries”,law of attraction has limitatrions”,”meditation is the answer”…..

  6. rePete
    rePete says:

    Great post!

    An interesting book similar to this blog is Eric Fromm’s Escape from Freedom. It discusses how that when you create freedom you’ll have a new battle which is feeling alone.

    • Beau
      Beau says:

      Maggie,

      This is just my opinion (and a take off the existentialists’ definition of angst/anxiety), but I think anxiety is more “big picture” worry.

      You can worry about your job, worry about your kids, worry about all kinds of minutiae. But in my mind, anxiety is more about “What does it all mean?” “What’s my place in the world?” “Will I ever feel totally fulfilled?”

      The existentialists would say that it’s a natural reaction to the inherent meaninglessness of life and the universe. Personally I feel like the only response to anxiety (besides trying to create your own meaning) is to realize that those “big” questions are illusory. Just focusing on making everyday experience interesting and fulfilling, like Fabian recommends, seems to me like the best way to go.

  7. Anna
    Anna says:

    My worst nightmare is dying when I’m old, with the tv remote in my hands, thinking I should have DONE something that I didn’t do. Like way too many people I know: they wanted to go live somewhere else, change their job to something more interesting, travel somewhere far far away… and they never did. (But if you did any of the things in their list of unaccomplished desires you can see them turn green…)
    You only live once, or even if you would reincarnate you still have to start from zero. Life is too short for worrying – thanks for the excellent post again Penelope.
    And maybe another way to put it: the more you realize (and try to realize them) and follow your dreams the more interesting your life seems to be. Many people seem to at least sometimes want to live (at least for a while) abroad – for those if you live somewhere else you are interesting. If they love cooking and you are a chef you are interesting and so on.
    Never give up following your dreams. Not all dreams have to be the size of Texas, a cup cake size dream is a dream too.

  8. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    Years ago, I decided that there were two lists: Things I Can Control, and Things I Can’t Control. The first one is the only one worth worrying about. I could worry about the second one, but it wouldn’t accomplish anything.

    This doesn’t mean I never worry about things I can’t control, but it does provide an easy reminder that worry is often pointless. (And if I can control it, I do something about it and stop worrying. Funny how that works.)

    As for #3, I think it’s fine to use this as a review point, but people ought to set their own priorities (and if someone loves their house and doesn’t want to leave, why should they give a crap what Sean Ogle is doing?). A lot of times, learning about what other people have done is interesting to me, but it doesn’t mean I want to do those things. Years ago, I had two reading experiences that highlight this: Under the Tuscan Sun, and a book with a name I can’t remember, about a couple who spent over a year walking across Africa. When I finished Frances Mayes’s book, I said, “Well, now I never have to wonder what my life would have been like if I’d bought and restored a Tuscan farmhouse.” I’m not sure I’d ever wanted to do that, but I certainly didn’t want to after reading the book (unlike Peter Mayle’s Provence books, and I’d probably prefer Italy to France, for the food if for nothing else). Meanwhile, walking across Africa was an idea I’d toyed with, but never explored. So when I read about someone’s actual experience, I realized that I absolutely do not want to walk across Africa.

    I really enjoyed both books. Well, actually, I found Mayes kind of annoying, but I’m still glad I read the book.

    • Fabian
      Fabian says:

      Definitely wise to separate things we can change from those that are out of our control, Kate!
      As for #3, I think you have to read it again: “The *mistake* when trying to find out about interestingness is to look at what interesting people are actually doing.” :)

      • KateNonymous
        KateNonymous says:

        I see what you mean. However, I still don’t think you developed it all that well! Besides, I don’t find “being interesting” to be all that interesting. I find it very self-conscious (in a deliberate, egotistical way, not a shy way) and off-putting. Based on experience and observation, interesting people own their lives. They live lives they enjoy, and don’t get too wound up in what that means to someone else.

      • Fabian
        Fabian says:

        This is true for the majority of both interesting and boring people alike, as far as I can see. But it's perfectly fine if we disagree on the point of this post, of course!

  9. Fabian
    Fabian says:

    Thank you everybody for your comments! :)

    @Chris: It was “Interesting Times” where I saw the quite for the first times many years ago. Always stayed with me. Pratchett is genius! :)

    @Contrarian: That saying really pins it down to the point!

    @rePete: Fromm is always an interesting author. I haven't read Escape from Freedom yet, but thanks for the recommendation!

    @Maggie: In the context of this post, I am implying three things when it comes to worry and anxiety: One, we all worry; most of us too much. Two, we can let it go to a certain point and live a more interesting life. Three, if we do more interesting things, we will get over this permanent feeling of worry, but whenever we do something new, there still will be some feeling of anxiety (tension, preoccupation) accompanying it. This can serve as an indicator of what to do, rather than become another *permanent* worry that prevents us from taking action. Hope this makes the point clearer.

    @Beau: Thanks for your explanation! It wasn't what I had in mind when using the term anxiety in the post, but it probably comes closer to the general use of the word, and your explanation makes a lot of sense to me. These are the traps I fall into at times as a non-native English writer!

    @Anna: Love the idea of cup cake size dreams! Making them real can also be a part of the grand scheme to reach the Texas dream! (Change is a process, not an event. Recently wrote about it on my site.)

    • Maggie
      Maggie says:

      Thanks for the clarification. I was trying to understand why worry is a bad thing but anxiety is a good one, and I think now I understand what you meant. I tend to think of worry/anxiety both being bad, and positive stress being the good indicator. Lately I feel like the key to stop worrying is not just accepting that things might suck or be out of your control, but also learning to have the confidence that you’ll survive no matter what and remembering that you’ll get past the sucky parts eventually!

  10. IRS Hitman
    IRS Hitman says:

    I definitely relate to rattling the norm. For years I work a mindless job at the IRS, “stealing” from taxpayers that owed. I have many friends still working boring lives in the system, but I broke out.

    It was anxious at first, but now I work on the opposite end helping people that owe the IRS. I’ve been in and helped produce reality shows and documentaries. I’ve traveled the country helping people and even saved a bankrupt city (Lynch, Kentucky) from being destroyed by IRS levies and liens.

    I’m busy, frequently stressed, but I’ve never looked back. Changing “careers” (and starting my own) was worth the risk.

  11. Tyler Tervooren
    Tyler Tervooren says:

    Thanks so much for including me, Fabian.

    I think interesting people only have interesting stories because they do interesting things. “Doing” is the end of the line.

    We all know a few people that have crazy stories that we love to listen to because the story is theirs and they can put you in the moment with them.

    And, we all know a few people that have endless crazy stories that we roll our eyes at because we know we’re just going to hear about how “my friend did this really interesting thing one time…”

    If you want a more interesting life, just go do something – €“ anything, really. Whether you love it or hate it doesn’t really matter because simply trying it is what makes it interesting. You’ll eventually gravitate towards things you enjoy, but only if you’re willing to try a few things you’ll hate. And that’s where all the interesting stories are.

  12. Tina Portis
    Tina Portis says:

    Great post! Too many people worry. I gave it up when I heard Joyce Meyer give an example of it. Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair rocking back and forth trying to control something you have no control over. Forget it, if I can’t control it, I’m not worrying about it.

  13. Jake
    Jake says:

    I love this post–coincides perfectly with one I wrote on my blog encouraging people to take a chance. We shape our lives, whether due to decision or indecision, so we might as well make it worth the ride.

  14. Marking
    Marking says:

    This is my first time stumbling across this blog while looking for blogs similar to mine, and you got a new follower! This post is awesome and relevant to me or any other twenty-something seemingly going through a quarter-life crisis. I look forward to what else you got!

  15. Fabian
    Fabian says:

    @Maggie: “Positive stress” might be a good way to call it. And yes, we'll generally survive most of the sucky parts! :)

    @IRS Hitman: This sounds like a tough change, definitely leading to a more interesting life!

    @Tyler: Absolutely! Doing is the key. We all have to build our personal 1% clubs!

    @Vicky: The way I see it, it's up to every single person to put it into action – THAT’s where the substance is.

  16. Peter
    Peter says:

    I detest the word “interesting.” People use it as a crutch word to fill in where a real adjective might suit; the Chinese saying gets this falseness. Many others are clueless.

  17. Michael Jones
    Michael Jones says:

    This echos what goes on in my head all the time, fortunately I have gravitated to friends who all think along similar lines, so we have a positive effect on each other, we are all artists too by the way. My favourite line from one of my friends, Peter, is : “There are three types of people in the world, ones that let things happen, ones who make things happen and the rest just don’t even know what the hell happened!”
    Then another friend of mine has written on her fridge in big letters, “If it is to be, then it is up to ME” she is a doer. cheers, M

  18. Helen
    Helen says:

    I am toying with the idea of starting a business and I am taking concrete step towards that goal every day. This blog has provided so much inspiration and motivation for me that my heart is swelling with gratitude. I cannot wait to ditch my safe, boring, and not even remotely fulfilling job (after 19 years with the same company!)to step into this interestingness no matter the risk! I cannot tell you how much I enjoy everything I read here!

  19. Atieno Bird
    Atieno Bird says:

    Yes yes yes! As a life coach, I can tell you most of my job boils down to helping people do your list:

    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.)

  20. Sebo
    Sebo says:

    Thanks for the more-than-interesting post, I also have been challenged and confirmed in reading through the great comments. I’m glad you added “raise 5 children” at the end, not that i have, but it highlights one additional point that occurrs to me increasingly as I watch myself and my friends. That is, while I have always equated an “interesting’ life with extensive life experience, it is just as likely to happen with intensive life experience. Everyone wonders if the grass might not be greener over there, the person who has had a dozen wonderful jobs over the years looks longingly over the fence at the one who has stayed in the same field for an entire working life, moving on to new and more demanding tasks, planting trees and watching them grow, while the planter, him or herself, dreams of change and exotic lands-scapes. Not letting the what ifs bring us down is important (liked the reference by Kate to reading the experiences of others to get over these longings), or, as you articulate so well, not letting them bring us to worry, and anxiety, and paralysis, because as humans there is no end to our imagination, the creative mind will always find a what if. Thanks again for the intriguing and challenging, and…(well, thats enough adjectives that AREN’T ‘interesting’) post.

  21. Noelle
    Noelle says:

    Not sure if my original comment went through (random mouse-hand spasm, ah!)~

    I loved the bar charts!

    Here’s how my ratios play out:

    Normality: 10% (or less, if I can help it)
    Bullshit: 15% (some say it should be more, note below)
    Interestingness: 75% (I should write a book!)

    As far as bullshit goes, a lot of things that have happened in my life that might have originally seemed like bullshit upon reflection get re-categorized as interestingness, either because they end up making a great story, or because I learned a really valuable lesson.

    As I’ve become older, I’ve gotten a lot better at making that reflection-journey shorter. Sometimes I skip the bullshit step altogether. It takes a lot of cow dung to give me a bad day these days, although I must add that I’m ready to see the end of 2010. Lots of pretty sucky times to “reflect” ‘pon.

    Thanks so much for the great post! I’ve linked to you on my home page.

  22. Los Angeles Nissan
    Los Angeles Nissan says:

    I enjoyed the small steps you listed in order to make life more interesting such as trying different foods. I also suffer from a boring life currently. I took a big risk many years ago by starting my own business. It was worth it because when it was good; it was great. I was making of six figures and living the good life but when I fell, I fell hard and lost everything.

    Another “interesting” I would like to do maybe in a year is just pack up and move to Los Angeles. I have always dreamed of living in the big city. Even though it’s only 40 miles from where I currently live, it seems like a world away. And of course there is a lot of “anxiety” involved. I wonder if I would be able to find a job there… what will I do if my car broke down? I don’t have any friends there… However, I feel like I have to die it before I die. I feel suffocated living in the suburbs.

  23. Paul
    Paul says:

    Anxiety is ok if you’re able to channel and listen to it.
    If, like me, any anxiety whatsoever pegs your meter at ten, then there’s no positive takeaway possible.

  24. Jayme
    Jayme says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I did quit my job, sell my things, rent my house and moved 5,000 miles away. I am feeling anxious, but the change was exhilarating and long overdue. I am uncomfortable in the unknown and uncertain which lies ahead of me yet seem to find the strength in myself and little jewels like this article that occasionally cross my path. Gratitude for the inspiration.

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