The Direct Path
Commonplace Newsletter #022
This is going to be a short one. At least by our usual standards. Maybe.
See, I’m very conscious- it being the time of year that it is- that you may well have better things to do than to read a long newsletter. Better things like napping, staring out of the window, grazing on post-Christmas leftovers, watching a tv re-run of The Great Escape or Raiders of The Lost Ark or whatever they are broadcasting where you are.
But I’m also in that pre- New Year, pre-birthday reflective mode where I feel the creeping urge to not only take stock but to also get things done. So as a reminder to myself and by proxy to you I’m going to skirt dangerously close to self-improvement advice here as I talk about goals and ambitions and all the rest of it.
Wanting What You Actually Want
The internet is built on unsolicited self-improvement advice. That and sextapes, an equally popular form of unrealistic pornography.
My contrarian spirit likes to think I am above this, that I am above the fray of stooping to churning out SEO friendly listicles, 7 Ways To Become More Charismatic, 33 Lessons On My 33rd Birthday, that sort of thing. Though I do arrogantly think I am above all of that, I do also from time to time feel the urge to dish out life advice like some munificent king tossing bags of coins to the rabble from his carriage.
(This sentiment is of course entirely false for comedic effect. I only have advice to give because I have made more mistakes than most. And I don’t mean those lauded Silicon Valley style noble failures in pursuit of a dream. I mean the obviously stupid, self-destructive blunders of a moron.)
And so the life advice I’m gonna give you now is, as the title says, to take the direct path. I know life is a journey and that the substance of life is actually what occurs between events and that you should stop and smell the roses (we riff on this virtually every week here) but the fact remains.
Decide what you want, identify the direct path that will take you to that destination and then walk that path. That’s the one sentence summary.
But there is a lot of nuance in there to unpack. And if the idea isn’t broken down and understood correctly then it ends up being more harmful than helpful.
First or all we have that word ‘want’ and the preceding word ‘you’. Decide what you want. By which I mean what you actually want. I don’t think you have to be the heir-apparent to Rene Girard to realise that what most people say they want or think they want is not in fact what they actually want in their heart.
Most people are so detached from their own true selves that they chase a goal they don’t actually care about and so they feel disappointed in themselves if they fail but also existentially disappointed by life if they succeed. It’s a lose lose.
The reason why most people don’t have striated abs is because they don’t really want them. If they did want them they would have them already. So why not let go of them and eat for basic health, longevity and pleasure. And of course such behaviour would paradoxically get you closer to that goal anyway versus the standard overwork and burnout oscillation that follows pursuing a goal that came from advertising rather than your soul.
Idleness is a theme that runs through these weekly dispatches, not because I want you to be lazy mediocrities, but because I want you to want what you want. And the first steps of that are usually some variation of letting go, whether that be letting go of guilt , greed, metric-chasing, being focused on the future or some other weakening position that is sold to us as being a necessity, if not an out and out virtue.
Your life is your life. If all you want is to hang our with your family, or rock-climb, or read poetry under a tree, or hang out down the pub or whatever then work towards that. You are more use to the world as a happy being living at human scale than you are as a high-flying misery.
Getting What You Actually Want
So let’s say you’ve spent enough time thinking and clearing away the noise and distraction and bad programming. Let’s say you have a goal that is actually yours, that you now want what you actually want.
And I hasten to add, it can be wildly ambitious. Good for you if it is. But it doesn’t have to be, and statistically speaking it probably won’t be. But don’t confuse a ‘should’ with a want. And though I breeze over it here, it may take some people a lot of inner work to let go of the shoulds and become in tune with the true wants. After all the entire purpose of the billions and billions spend on advertising over decades and decades is to subvert and amplify the average persons simple and cheap and eminently attainable ancestral wants.
So. You have your want. Now you have to figure out the direct path to get there. Again, this may take some work as there are whole industries based on not strictly necessary equipment and credentials that we supposedly need to reach the end point of the want.
Let’s say you recall happy memories of surfing on holiday and so surfing is your want. The answer is not education and credentials and research and endless price and spec comparison on gear. The answer is figuring out a way to move to the beach ASAP and finding some sort of part-time job that allows you to be in the water when the waves are at their best.
That’s the direct path.
Now, I know this example is simplistic but I mention it because surfers, along with rock-climbers and obsessive Jiu-Jitsu players are some of the best practitioners of what you might call direct path living. They go from normal life to finding their beloved activity to living in a van to pursue it in a matter of mere months quite often.
And I think that can apply to everything. Me- being one of the most idle men in England- took an opportunity to work less hours at my job and now I have ample time to read and write and be a flaneur.
The ‘conventional’ path would have been a torturous slog or creative writing degrees and networking and going hat-in-hand to publishers and so forth. But I took the direct path, thought about what my ideal day would look like and reverse engineered it.
(And in the interest of clearing this up- I probably earn less than you and did not, by any stretch of the imagination, come from privilege. This is not pie-in-the-sky idealistic advice here. It’s simply about prioritisation and efficiency and letting go of consumerist, rat race nonsense.)
Wanting What You Actually Get
I guess this didn’t end up being any shorter than an ordinary newsletter. Guess I got a bit fired up there. Too much rich food maybe?
I’ll end on a more consolatory and philosophical point. Wanting what you want is one thing. Getting it is another. But most superior of all is to become one of those rare beings who ends up wanting what they get out of life, whatever that may be. One who end up embracing ‘Amor Fati’ as Nietzsche called it, the love of fate.
I don’t know how you get there, and I am not there yet- though I have experienced brief glimpses- but the ultimate goal, the ultimate mode of living should be to just be able to accept and embrace existence as it is. To live under the light of providence and to be at once completely detached and completely engaged all at once. To be fully in tune with the extraordinary nature of your ordinary human existence in the first half of the 21st century.
May we all be so lucky.
Until next time,
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