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:
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:
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:
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!
- 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.) [↩]
- 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! [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
- This will fail at times. [↩]
- I’m just kidding! [↩]