I’m currently in Puerto Rico to celebrate my birthday, and I wanted to share some stuff that’s been swirling around as I get ready to turn 35. (Bear with me as it’s a bit of stream-of-conscious musings!)
For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been particularly motivated to live a happy life. From an early age my goal in life was always this: to be able to regularly think interesting thoughts.
Maybe I was responding to the fact that happiness seemed harder for me to access than other people, or maybe I just place a higher value on curiosity than joy. But either way, I always knew I would be leaving my hometown at my earliest convenience, because I couldn’t imagine life in a conservative rural town in upstate New York would enable a whole lot of interesting thoughts.
At 15 years old, my first high school boyfriend reflected a fear that I would eventually want to try a bunch of drugs and sleep with a bunch of people. He said this as if it was a reasonable thing to be concerned about, but I thought… well of course I’ll be trying a bunch of drugs and sleeping with a bunch of people! Won’t everyone??
I genuinely didn’t understand his concern, because I took for granted at the time that everyone had the bloodthirsty need to try everything and see what it was like that I had. It took me a long time to realize not everyone else feels that way– and even longer to realize he was expressing a fear for himself, because he knew that my desire to try All The Things meant he couldn’t stay in my life.
He was right of course. He was a marriage-and-babies person. A “stability person,” if you will, whereas I was an adventure-and-curiosity person. (An “unstable person,” and all that this term implies.)
Later on, a boyfriend told me he found it unnerving how quickly I changed my mind about things; that most people just chose a stance on something, and stuck to it.
I wanted to try on every identity and opinion, to see how they fit. I wanted to travel everywhere, and try everything, and meet everyone. I wanted these things not because they sounded particularly fun or joyful, but because they would invite a deeper understanding, of myself, of other people, and of the world.
In order to foster interesting thoughts, I knew I had to have interesting experiences.
I needed to learn new skills, go new places, try new things, make myself vulnerable, and take big risks. I needed to read a lot, get to know people from totally different walks of life, process everything through writing and talking, and continuously learn.
I also knew I needed to stay in relationships only as long as they led to growth, and end them once that stopped, which meant I wasn’t “marriage material” because (at least from the outside,) getting married looked like the fastest way to become settled and stable, aka: dull, boring, and repetitive.
Note: I don’t feel that way now, having found a partner whose way of thinking is well suited to mine, who processes everything to death with me and grows just as fast.
Anyway, looking back, my first boyfriend was right. I tried the vast majority of drugs out there, some just once, and some a lot, either because they either felt great, or because they made me think interesting thoughts. (The best ones were always both, and couched in the experience of partaking with loved ones who wanted to process the experience of it together.)
When people have asked me about my hobbies, on dating apps or at parties, I’ve always struggled to answer.
It’s easy to say “going out to eat” or “going out to bars/dancing” “travel” or whatever, but the truth is that everything I do is just a vehicle for talking, thinking, learning, and processing. It doesn’t matter to me what I do with friends because the doing is the red herring. The activity is just the celery stick whose job it is to facilitate peanut butter getting in my mouth; the vehicle for interesting conversation.
When I was a child I learned that something like 96% of our thoughts every day are thoughts we also had the day before. This sounded like a treacherous fate, and I knew that to avoid it, I had to keep from falling into social and community routines that flattened my worldview into a one dimensional pancake like so many people do.
This is why I always loved social turnover.
Some people have called me a disloyal friend because of it, and that’s a fair criticism. I was never interested in sharing my time and energy with people just because we used to share time and energy, just like I’m not interested in following traditions just because they’re traditional.
Did you know that the age you get married is determined most accurately by the age the five closest people in your social circle get married? Same is true for who you vote for, what kind of car you drive, what kind of lifestyle you live, and what you believe in.
If all your friends are sedentary and hate their jobs and drink a lot of beer, that’s likely what you’ll do too. If all your friends get manis and pedis and Botox, it’s pretty likely you will too. If they get married and have babies… if they hike and work out a lot… if they gossip and watch tv… if they’re involved in socio-political activism… you get the point.
You are the product of the company you keep, and odds are good you’ll be shaped to more closely resemble your social group’s norm. Which means new people and diverse perspectives are key to new and interesting thoughts.
It’s worth mentioning here that I’m a college dropout, which isn’t particularly interesting in its own right, but it certainly did lead me to learn a lot of difficult lessons very quickly, and in non-traditional ways, and set me down the path of autodidacticism. (Aka being a self-directed learner.)
Of course, learning shit on my own means I get to be a Jack of many educational trades, but have a masters in none. (Ha.)
It’s ok though, because I get to work with clients on a topic I’m extremely interested in, and our work together allows me to stretch and grow and push my thinking into new places. Plus I get to write, which is a place in which my thoughts get to flow and popcorn and zigzag until new things are in new places. A good writing session always offers me the satisfaction of knowing I had thoughts today that I’ve never thought before.
My drive for interesting thoughts has sculpted my personality and life experience. It makes me who I am.
I’ve spent the last twenty some odd years building courage, competence, resilience, self-trust, and open heartedness, because those were the qualities I needed to live out this value. As a result, I’m confident in my ability to solve problems, learn new skills, put myself out there, and handle failure. I’m writing a book, and running a business, and I’m so, so good at what I do.
But if I’m not interested in something however, it will not stick in my brain, and I cannot muster up an iota of care.
I can’t, for example, care in the absolute slightest about sports, cars, video games, or even my own taxes. (My bookkeeper will tell you I don’t care about what he does or how he does it as long as I don’t have to be involved.)
As a result, you can probably imagine that I am extremely compelling at times, well traveled, well read, and motivated to learn everything about the way someone thinks or feels when it suits me– and on the other hand, I am sometimes the most difficult and boring person alive.
It’s interesting to reflect on how this single motivating factor has shaped my life, and wonder: is this the right way to do things? Should I be more invested in joy and happiness? Is this just depression talking? Or have I discovered the Big Secret to a life of no regrets?
Either way, the question remains, as always: what is most interesting to me now? And the answer, though ever-evolving, will always be my most consistent guide.
Sending you big love and birthday magic,
PS Next week I’ll be opening enrollment for second round of The Avatars Project, and we start mid Feb! Stay tuned, or hit reply to get on the waitlist to be sure you get all the details.