Rule #17. There is no one right way to live.
Are you living the life that you want, or are you living a life that you think you’re supposed to live? Parents, teachers, employers, and society can all tell us that there is a specific way we’re supposed to progress through life. They’ll tell us that there is one path to success and happiness. You will be told this, explicitly and implicitly, all your life. But here’s the secret that you’ve always kind of felt in the back of your mind; you don’t have to listen.
I’m a big fan of the author Daniel Quinn, and one of the lessons that I’ve gleaned from his writing is that just because something works for one person or group of people, does not mean that it will universally work for all people or groups. There isn’t a unifying set of principles that apply to individuals and cultures, ruling over what the best way to live is. The truth is that there is no one right way to live.
Quinn focuses this philosophy on different cultures and subcultures, but I want to reduce it down to an individual level, to focus on me and on you, and paradoxically enough, all of us. We’re all different, and while advertisers try to make us think that we all want and need to lead the same lifestyle, we don’t. In the American culture in which I live, the overwhelming narrative is that to be happy you need to go to college, work a steady 9 to 5, get married, buy a big house and nice cars, have kids, get lots of stuff, take vacations, and eventually retire. And you know, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things.
If that’s what you want.
But don’t go to college if you don’t want to. Don’t get a conventional job if you don’t want one. Don’t get married unless it suits you. You don’t need a big house, fancy cars, children, or resort vacations to be happy. By all means, if you find those things truly fulfilling, then go get them! But if that’s not what you want, if that’s not who you are, don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that’s the only way to live.
Do what you want to do. Be who you want to be. Live your own life. Make yourself happy. Decide what that means to you for yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that there is only one way to live, or only one way to be happy. Because that’s not true. There are innumerable ways to live. So don’t be afraid to choose your own, be it conventional or unconventional, typical or atypical, familiar or unfamiliar. At the end of the day, it is your life to lead, and there is no one right way to live.
Just remember, if you don’t want people to judge the life you lead, then don’t judge the lives of others. Be kind. That will make all our lives a little better.
“Rules for Intrepid Living” is an ongoing weekly article that gives potential guidelines for how we can all live a bit more of an intrepid life.