How to Live an Interesting Life

50% more interesting!When I felt two guys trying to grab stuff from my pockets for the fourth time in a row, this year’s fiestas somehow lost a bit of their appeal.

Sure, everybody knows that the main event of Cartagena’s independence celebrations can get a little chaotic at times: People throw firecrackers, cornflour and blue dye powder; they dance, they push, it’s crowded.

But that’s really part of the fun. So I really had a great time throwing firecrackers, cornflour and blue dye powder myself. Unfortunately, I had lost my group after a couple of hours, and while most Colombians in the crowd were great people as always and eager to invite me for a sip of rum, four attempts of aggressive pick-pocketing kind of ended the fun. I got out before anybody could take anything from me, but I still felt a little duped. In retrospect, though, it was certainly an interesting experience.1

“May you live an interesting life,” a Chinese curse goes.2 And it’s true: “Interestingness” is a dangerously broad term. Having a chronic illness can be interesting – I’ve been there – but it sucks. Wars, violent uproars, burning cars on the streets 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.

The thing is that interestingness in general is a lot more positive. Interestingness is making experiences that shape us as human beings, and enjoy them to the max. What we really don’t want is the suckyness. The bullshit part of life.

As far as I can see it, most of us want to live our lives something like this:

The life we wish for?

Sure, a bit more interestingness would be nice, but let’s be realistic, right? At least, we’ll avoid the bullshit.

Or that’s that we think. Because when we want to avoid bullshit so hard, we decide to play it safe. The problems start once we “play it safe” too much and become dominated by routines:

  • Play it safe is what keeps us in our boring job. (I avoided that one.)
  • Play it safe is what keeps us in our houses. (I struggle with that one at times, even though I travel a lot and love to walk the streets of new cities.)
  • Play it safe is what keeps us from building a business. (Hello, that’s me.)
  • Play it safe is what keeps us from writing about controversial topics. (That’s me again.)

We end up with a pretty normal life. But we won’t ever get rid of bullshit a hundred percent. Even if we play it safe and skip chaotic independence celebrations, there will still be some issues: Stress at work, a flooded house (my windows aren’t the best, it seems), a stolen car, a break-up after a long relationship – we just 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:

The normal life

From Wonderland to Worryland

There’s a thing to consider when looking at our bullshit quotient. 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:3

  • It’s not losing our job, it’s worrying that we might get fired.
  • It’s not really the house that gets flooded, 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?
  • Yup, that’s more worries. Not to count the worries caused by us mindlessly fighting with our loved ones. Even more worries. Even more bullshit.

Worrying too much is like leading the war on bullshit, with the collateral damage being the interestingness of our lives.

Of course, this is not “bad”. Not “bad” in the sense of building a dirty bomb in your basement. It’s just not helpful. Especially if we consider that we’ve only got this one life.

If you think that’s affecting you, I feel you. I am great at this. 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.4

As kids, we still play freely and explore the world as if it was a big and beautiful Wonderland (if we have parents that aren’t too paranoid, that is!). 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.

Do things have to be like that?

Living an Interesting Life

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:

The interesting life

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 that maintains our society in a state of coma, passivity and consumerism. So if we ever feel that there’s a bit too much normality in our lives, we could maybe learn something here.

What are these people doing differently?

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 unnessary 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. Just think of the pickpockets.

The Anxiety Indicator

The good thing is that interestingness doesn’t always have to be confronting pickpockets or jumping from airplanes. It may be small things:

  • Buy unknown food at your supermarket (or an Asian / African / Latino shop) and try to cook something tasty with it.5
  • Go to a new bar / restaurant instead of always going to your old favorites.
  • Watch a recommended movie from a genre you normally ignore.
  • Engage in a street fight.

It may be big things:

  • Quit your boring job.
  • Write and publish that novel you’ve got inside.
  • Sell everything you own and travel the world.
  • Have and raise five children.

And it’s really your personal choice. Each of us is different, each of us has different ideas of how to live an interesting life. (If you’re not sure, there are a bazillion great ideas on living interestingly here, here and here.)

There’s one thing interesting things have in common, though: They make us 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 guidance. This is not about becoming an adrenaline junkie, though. It’s not about extreme sports, about permanent travel, or about becoming an entrepreneur. It’s about taking the direction that you want to take in order to make your life more interesting.

My personal next steps (and the Change Challenge)

My next steps towards a more interesting life will look something like this:

  • Get back on the road again within 50 days. Next destinations: Bogotá; a new place somewhere in Colombia (the local military airline flies pretty much everywhere); Europe.
  • Become a more active photographer again.
  • Adopt a Yes-Policy (a great idea by Joel Runyon).
  • Write more “from-the-heart” content for TFA.
  • Use more footnotes.6
  • Build a no-bullshit business that actually makes enough money to sustain me, like described in Walk With Flowers.

Living an interesting life isn’t a one-step solution. It’s permanent inquiry. Because we like normality. We like routines. We like comfort. But often enough, normality, routines and comfort just won’t be too interesting in the long run.

At one moment in our lives, we escape. We travel, we paint, we sing in a punk band, we become professional schuhplattlers. We conquer Las Vegas. We enjoy every second of our lives.

But then, normality creeps in. We begin to suppress the anxiety that’s indicating us the way. And we get bored. Bored and worried. This is the moment to take the plunge. This is the moment to pause for a moment, listen inside, and readjust. It’s the moment we have to embrace change.

The Change Challenge: Make change real. More on that and how to successfully embrace change in the next week. Be sure to grab the RSS feed or subscribe by email and you’ll get the upcoming posts right into your inbox!

  1. Seriously: Four failed pickpocket attempts in one day? That’s probably Guinness record. I will check with the committee. (It’s also a sign that the thieves where either really drunk already, or total noobs. Probably both.) []
  2. It’s not really a Chinese curse. It doesn’t even go like that. The beauty of writing for the internet is that I can just make these things up and nobody will notice! []
  3. Disclaimer: I know that some people have a tough life and bullshit levels may be a lot higher. Often though, they only seem a lot higher. Now, I won’t fight for a percent or two, but if you look at the average Westerner’s life, there probably won’t be more than 4-5% bullshit. []
  4. Fair enough, one of the puppies indeed got sick about four months ago and would have died if I wouldn’t have taken her to the vet at 3 o’clock in the morning. Since then, I worry a lot more about ticks. D’oh. []
  5. This will fail at times. []
  6. I’m just kidding! []

Comments 68

  1. Sean November 30, 2010

    “Make Change Real” – I haven’t heard better advice in awhile. Until you actually take the steps to take something from a thought to an action, you’re never going to be able to break out of the “I can’t” mindset.

    Thanks for the mention Fabian, great post!

    • Fabian November 30, 2010

      Glad you like the post, Sean! Your blog and lifestyle is always a great source of inspiration!

  2. Marko Saric November 30, 2010

    Great article, very inspiring. I ended up opening 10 of the links so have to speed up and get through them before getting down to the action… thanks!

  3. Gio November 30, 2010

    I love this! Helps me to see why I am soo bored most of the time. Lets mix things up :)

    ~Gio

  4. Brooke Farmer November 30, 2010

    This is so in tune with what I am doing right now. Just quit my job. Little in the bank. But my bills are low enough I have faith I’ll work it all out. Pursuing a freelance career and starting a charity organization. Thanks for this. Great post.

    • Fabian November 30, 2010

      Ha, now that’s for an interesting switch in life! Love to hear that, Brooke! Just checked out your site, please let me know if you ever find out about those Kardashians! :)

      • Brooke Farmer November 30, 2010

        Wish the post you came upon was more compelling than Kardashians. There’s a ton on there about quitting my job, how I cam to that decision and how all of a sudden on the day after Thanksgiving I decided to start an outreach program.

        But yes. Then there is also plenty of random musings about how on earth did these Kardashian people attract so much attention.

        • Fabian December 1, 2010

          It just called my attention! :)
          I think it’s cool to have a nice mixture of things on your blog, making it more personal. Keep it up!

  5. Greg November 30, 2010

    Fabian, This was a timely “wake up” post. It reminded me of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fear quote; so, I looked it up. It comes from his first Inaugural Speech in 1933: “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” He was talking in the context of the Great Depression, but it shares the same underlying principle as your post. Thanks!

    • Fabian December 1, 2010

      This quote fits great, Greg! Thanks for looking it up! It’s certainly not a new phenomenon, but I’ve got the impression it’s getting stronger. We live in a “sanitary culture” that wants more and more insurances and back-up plans in order to reach a totally secure life. Of course, this is an illusion, and by pursuing it, as Roosevelt correctly diagnosed, we risk to paralyze ourselves and society as a whole.

  6. Cristhyano December 2, 2010

    Found your blog recently at rowdykittens and it’s really awesome. Nice job here. Greetings from Brazil.

  7. Ryan December 2, 2010

    Hey Fabian- I like this post. It is very well written and I totally agree that we play it safe way too much and that stems from and feeds more worry which decreases interestingness.

    But isn’t there room for more perspectives than normality, BS, and interestingness? Even if BS were zero, I don’t know if I like only having normality and interestingness as the perspective. It feels like I’m unnecessarily lumping life into those two categories.

    I think you may have something larger in mind when you use the word interestingness… perhaps personal expansiveness and potentiality?

    • Fabian December 2, 2010

      Hey Ryan, thanks for your comment! Of course, interestingness is a placeholder for many things, and as I write, it’s “about taking the direction that you want to take in order to make your life more interesting.” While personal expansiveness and potentiality in themselves are terms that can be filled with lots of different meanings, they certainly would be very important for me (and many others!) in this context.

      When it comes to these topics here on TFA, I always intend to leave some kind of blank space. Not because of fears of commitment, but because my central belief in friendly anarchism is this: People are great at finding out what they love to do, what is good for them, and what they can do that is good for others. All they have to do is stop taking everything they read and hear for granted just because it comes from some kind of authority, and start daring to think for themselves and drawing their own conclusions.

      I hope this makes sense! :)

      • Ryan December 2, 2010

        Makes sense… good word, man!

        A propósito, estoy veniendo a Colombia (Bogotá) en enero… debemos conocer!

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  9. Zoe! December 3, 2010

    Oh, I totally love this! make a change and get more fun! I’m gonna do it, maybe start it today. Go to my favourate store get an interview, sure they won’t hire me. But have a chat with the manager with my pink cover letter gonna be fun. I wanna see how their face look like, aha!

    • Fabian December 3, 2010

      Zoe, this sounds like a great plan! Love the idea of the pink cover letter! Let me know how it goes! :)

  10. Nina December 4, 2010

    I really enjoyed reading this article. Oh, and footnote #2. Fricking hilarious, man.

    • Fabian December 4, 2010

      Thanks Nina! I knew somebody would read those footnotes! :)

  11. Zoe! December 4, 2010

    Hi Fabian, thank you for your support! The manager was very friendly to me, but there’s no position at the moment. I wanna go for a christmas temp and she told me that I may apply in late october. So, I desided to keep the cover letter and try next year. Sure I will make the cover letter more fabulous and more impressive. What can I say, that’s always my favorite store!

    • Fabian December 4, 2010

      Ha, that’s the spirit! Just because it didn’t work the first time you tried, this doesn’t mean it won’t work next time. And now you’ve got almost a year to make this cover letter totally epic! I’ll keep my fingers crossed! :)

  12. Mark Dykeman December 4, 2010

    Fabian:

    Thanks very much for linking to Thoughtwrestling’s post about ways to be interesting (as well as to the posts by Russell Davies and Mark McGuinness). Great stuff, all.

    • Fabian December 4, 2010

      Thanks Mark! You’re doing a great job on Thoughtwrestling, glad I found the site!

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  14. emery ruth December 6, 2010

    Great post. I shared the link with my readers. This post spoke to me so much because I just emerged from what would technically be considered a quarter life crisis. It was the most bittersweet thing I have ever experienced. Bitter because it sucks to feel lost, but so so sweet because I gained such great insight into myself. This is the perfect stuff to keep this forward momentum going!

    • Fabian December 6, 2010

      Hey Emery, glad you liked it and thanks for sharing! I had my own dose of quarterlife crisis myself, so I definitely can relate to that feeling of bitter sweetness. Still, I reached the conclusion that it’s generally more enjoyable to focus on the sweetness of life; so I try to do that as much as I can… some bitter notes than make the life only tastier! ;)

  15. Antti December 9, 2010

    Interesting post. Recently I’ve been thinking along the same lines so tomorrow all my stuff is going to the flea market and in January it’s off to Australia and probably SE Asia after that. Hopefully not back in Europe before second quarter of 2012, if even then…

  16. Philipp December 9, 2010

    Hi my friend,

    jepp, I fully agree. We are too often busy with worry and not the actual problems that happen. The possibility of loosing the job. Or the possibility of being rejected. Or the possibility that others think we are crazy. I just heard from a good man that a new action is good, when your heart starts beating faster. In other words, when you feel a little odd and fear kicks in: This is the thing to do. It could just be making a compliment to somebody you totally don’t know and never would talk to. That can make my heart beat faster :)

    Thank’s for writing this. It was just what I needed to read today!

    • Fabian December 9, 2010

      Thanks Philipp! The fast-beating heart is certainly a perfect indicator! :)

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  22. Sarah January 11, 2011

    Very interesting (AS IN REALLY GOOD AND FUNNY) post! loved it! I had a smile the whole time. Thanks for that! now i am off to wonderland, I mean your next post!! lol :)

    • Fabian January 11, 2011

      Hey Sarah, thanks a lot! Glad to read it chimed with you! :)

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  24. Elisa January 17, 2011

    Just clicked thru to your site from Joel’s last post. Very happy to have landed on this post!

    I really like the point you make about starting small. I think what happens to a lot of people who read about such grand adventures is that they think “I’m in debt, I’m attached to my job, I can’t leave my family/partner/goldfish; I could never do that.” But they really want to. Or they really want to accomplish some other big-scary-goal and can’t even begin to figure out how to do it.

    Then they get sad and/or bitter, and click off the site and loathe their own life a little more but rarely do anything about it. Why not just start small? Do something each week that challenges you or is different from your prior “status quo.” As you start doing more of these “little things” and realize how easy some of those changes are to make, then you’ll start doing other slightly bigger things. Then bigger until you are living in Southeast Asia or fighting off pickpockets and writing about it.

    Rarely do such huge changes get made because someone with a boring, normal, mundane and sad/bitter experience woke up and said “Hrm, I’m just going to jump out of a plane today.”

    • Fabian January 17, 2011

      Hey Elisa, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! :)

      What you describe is exactly what I wanted to suggest. The ideas of huge changes often lead to anxiety and preoccupation – if this is the case, just start with something small. On the one hand, this may indeed lead to bigger changes, but small steps will also add up pretty fast by themselves, so that you will feel a hiuge difference after a couple of months.

      I wrote more about how to change and how to make change real in two articles following up this one, and Patricia Taylor has a great project called Monthly Adventure, where she really incorporates the idea of living an interesting life by doing small and big things, but doing them regularly! Huge recommendation! :)

  25. Lem January 19, 2011

    loved this post, just one nitpicky thing though: i totally believed you when you first said it was a Chinese curse – because it’s precisely what would be considered a curse in Chinese culture – and got all up in arms about how i had found something *else* i didn’t like about my home culture before i read the footnote :P

    • Fabian January 19, 2011

      Ha, but as you saw, the curse is pretty similar, although the details are a bit debated. Just wanted to get the facts straight! :)
      Glad you enjoyed the pot, Lem, and thanks for taking the time to comment!

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  31. Javed June 12, 2011

    Great post! One of the best I’ve seen on living interesting life.

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  33. Christine July 10, 2011

    Hey Fabian, I love your blog, so many interesting posts. I so agree with you on this one, sometimes, it is good to stretch out of our comfortable zones and try something new.

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  44. JKenny October 25, 2013

    First time visitor, and I see I’m a little late to the party for this post, but even 3 years old this is a great post — I’ll even call it a classic — worthy of bookmarking. Really love the graphic. It’s the thing that will stick in my head. For me, once I had kids my husband and I deliberately backed our family up into the safest lifestyle possible: House. Government job. Yukon. But the kids are getting older, and I’m so thinking my husband and I need to tweak the set of values we’re modeling, as much for us as for them. This post has lent some focus (clarity?) to that line of thinking. Thanks Anarchist!

    • Fabian October 25, 2013

      Hello there, JKenny, you’re very welcome and I’m happy to see the comment party in this post doesn’t end! Hope you’ll have a great time, it’s never to late to mix life up a little! :)

  45. Michael January 4, 2014

    Hi there,

    A really inspiring article you have. I’d like to share a bit about my knowledge in this topic.

    For me life is very interesting thing. it’s like living inside a big laboratorium where I can experiment to my heart content.I try this and that to see what will happen to me and others. Very interesting indeed.

    Of course there are times when I feel down, unable to move. An unexpected terrible result happened frequently. When it happened, I struggled and felt bad about my feelings of struggling. I hated those feelings. I blame myself or others for having such uncomfortable feelings. hahaha, probably you don’t know what I am trying to say here. Anyway, those events occurred. And I considered those as bad events at that time.

    But I realized something when I read a book. The following excerpt changed my point of view greatly.
    “Is the world full of pain? or, are you the one in pain?”. It shocked me to the point that I realized that I was the one in pain. Everything that occurred (bad events) was actually completely normal. I was the one who cannot accept it.

    Currently, I am able to appreciate every event that happen in my life. Even events that cause me to worry, afraid, sad, guilt (anything you categorized as negative feeling). I’ve learned to appreciate each feeling. It is not the fault of those feeling, but it is me who have problem with the existence of those feeling in me. Once I fully accepted them, life is becoming more and more interesting.

    Hope you all can get what I am trying to share. If not, then it is okay as well. May peace be with you all

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