Little notebook of wisdom

Sometime back, I made a post about an entirely self-inflicted (and pretty dumb) problem. I had amassed too many empty notebooks, none of which I had any concrete uses planned out for. Since then, I’ve put some of this unnecessary stash to use and in this post, I’m going to tell you about this little red notebook and what I’ve been using it for.

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I decided that I would use this pocket-sized book to record any useful quotes or scraps of wisdom that I come across. Good stuff to refer back to when the going gets tough or I need reminding of a harsh truth or two. The aim is to fill it up to the point where there is a handy nugget of advice for most situations.

So far, I’ve gathered together stuff from all over the place: books, films, even videogames. If something seems useful and relevant to self-development and the direction I want to take, then I’ve jotted it down. I’ve even taken bits of general advice and condensed it down into small, focused passages that are straight to the point.

I will share some of the contents here, in this post, then periodically return to my red notebook in future posts where I will divulge some more…

“It isn’t about whether you can or can’t; it’s whether you do or don’t.”

This one was me, in full-on nerd mode, taking a quote from a videogame and running with it. I feel that this is one of most profound quotes in my notebook. It’s applicable to a great many situations and reminds me of the importance of at least attempting something – no matter the odds – instead of avoiding it because you feel that you aren’t capable. After all, it’s better to regret something you have done over something you haven’t. And you never know; perhaps you will surprise yourself and actually succeed.

“Instead of complaining about bad experiences or mistakes, look to see what lessons can be learned.”

I think this is one that a lot of us can benefit from digesting. It’s very easy to just bitch and moan about negative experiences, but the truth is that these things have already happened and can’t be reversed. It’s much more constructive to analyse what happened and see whether you can learn something from it. The most powerful lessons usually come about as a result of the biggest balls-ups, for example. You’d be a fool not to identify said lesson and take it onboard.

“Take control of a situation. Don’t let it control you.”

A very important one, this. Sometimes shit happens that we have no control over and, in these cases, we are legitimate passengers. However, we often use this as an excuse to avoid having to act when we are perfectly capable of influencing a situation or straight-up taking the controls. If we can’t gain complete control, we are still responsible for our emotions and responses to a negative event in our lives. Things may happen to us that are 100% not our fault but there comes a transitional point where we are, in fact, responsible for how we react and proceed.

“A winning attitude is one that asks itself every day, how it can get better.”

Here on this blog, I will never equate “winning” with a load of macho BS or extravagant materialism. A “winning” attitude to me is simply a positive, constructive mindset. This quote from four-time Formula 1 champion, Alain Prost, is relevant to us all because, however good we think we are, we can always improve ourselves. Asking ourselves critical questions is also an important way of getting to the truth about ourselves and thus identifying our shortcomings.

And that’s all for now. I have plenty more scrawls on plenty more pages though so I’ll be returning to the red notebook in due course.

 

Life = Prison?

Well, that got dark pretty quickly, huh?

Unfortunately, this is just how I have been feeling over the past week-and-a-bit. A small disclaimer first though. I am fully aware that living in the West is a charmed existence and just another day in paradise compared to the suffering endured by those in other parts of the world who have infinitely worse circumstances than my own. I can, for example, type this post without fear of having a bomb dropped on my head or wondering when I will have my next meal.

I feel that it’s important to make that clear before I carry on. I even have some posts on the horizon that go into the subject of remembering what we have and how good we have it instead of constantly moaning about insignificant first-world problems. So look forward to those.

Unfortunately, it’s this very same “free” (the quotation marks are imperative to note) society that can inspire the horrible feeling of being imprisoned in your own country; your own home; your own head. It isn’t the obvious kind of suppression however and it might be all the worse for it in some ways. I’ve referenced Mark Manson’s fantastic book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, many times already on this blog and I’m certain that I have even repeated the following quoted passage before but this section of the book simply struck a real chord with me. Mark talks about visiting Russia and having to get used to the blunt honesty of the people there.

This is why it became the norm in Western cultures to smile and say polite things even when you don’t feel like it, to tell little white lies and agree with someone whom you don’t actually agree with. This is why people learn to pretend to be friends with people they don’t actually like, to buy things they don’t actually want. The economic system promotes such deception.

True, there’s nobody here holding a gun to my head and saying that I must do X or else I will be shot. Similarly, I’m not exactly in a do-or-die situation. What happens here in Western countries is that we get manipulated and herded into pens like sheep. Our society is full of liars and false imagery. Even more dangerous still, the media and those in power play us off against one another, creating a highly toxic us-versus-them environment where we are too busy despising people for their political views or lifestyle preferences to unite against the real threats. We are kept sedated by mindless consumerism, placated by that new TV or showing off our wonderful lives on social media. This is how our system wants us to be because we are easier to herd in this state.

We are forcibly pushed into this system – this established order of things – by our education systems that prepare us for lives as just another cog in the machine. We are needed, after all, to keep the big machine running and the profits coming in for those in the control room.

There is a downside to “waking up” and really questioning everything arout you though. You begin to feel trapped – trapped by having to go to work at a job that has no meaning for you because you need the money to keep the bill collectors at bay. Trapped by a judgmental society that you feel the need to please by conforming to the image of a “normal” man/woman. Trapped by this awful consumerism that makes you feel left behind if you don’t have the newest shit – the same consumerism that brainwashes you to want more, more, more of the ultimately meaningless material products.

You might come to believe that you are living in the world’s largest open prison. No, you aren’t technically incarcerated but do you actually feel free?

 

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[Source]

So you start to question rather than accept and it can result in some extremely horrible realisations. After all, it is said that if you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss will stare back. What I mean by all this is that you might just see the futility in it all and it will bum you out. It’s much easier to STOP questioning and carry on being “normal”. It’s more comfortable; it’s what you know.

But once you’ve started asking questions and silently challenging the credibility of the status quo, it’s difficult to ever stop asking those questions. Especially if you hate your job. I personally don’t hate my job (that would be too strong of a description) but I don’t particularly enjoy it either. Going through the motions, the daily 7am-5pm grind, the lacklustre wages that don’t get you anywhere in life…none of it is inviting. “But work isn’t supposed to be fun!” I hear you cry and you’re right. Likewise, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that I get a different job. That could be a whole topic in itself but in general, it’s being part of a huge machine and working for thankless corporations – that really don’t care about you as an individual component in their organisation – that is beginning to bug me.

The obvious solution, then, is to become self-employed; to find something that I enjoy doing and can make a living from so that I can be my own boss. That takes energy and quality time to figure out though, let alone put into action. Not easy when the job you have to keep going to in order to collect pennies drains all of your physical AND mental reserves and leaves you feeling like an empty shell that cannot be arsed once the day is done. I’m typing this post in the evening for example and I’m just barely maintaining the motivation to keep hitting those keys.

On the subject of employment and freedom, there is a quote from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello that has resonated with me ever since I first came across it.

“America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you’ve lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn’t belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don’t care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve.”

Now I’m not saying that we should become lazy bums and sponge off the state while everybody else works to pay their way. I’m not even saying that I have the answers because I don’t.

The good news – the light at the end of this dark, depressing post – is that there is hope. Life can feel like a prison but the truth of it is, we willingly entered our cells. A lot of it is in our heads and the way we perceive the world around us. True, we have been groomed to be good little members of society and to go to work and to accept the way things are but we also – unwittingly of course – allowed people to do this to us. The cell door is closed but it isn’t locked.

Happiness, peace and liberation can only be achieved by asking those questions and understanding that just because something has “always been this way”, doesn’t mean that it is right or that it is the ONLY way.

Breaking out of my cage and living life on my own terms is now one of my top goals. Accordingly, I have been reading and listening to various related things and so I will have some more posts coming up where I look at some ideas and pointers designed to help one wake up and start living a better life.

 

Destination Unknown

I often like to write about self-development here on this blog and discuss social issues that I think are major problems (such as people failing to take any responsibility for their own actions, for example). I suppose that doing so is one small way in which I attempt to grapple with my own development and problems. Because as much as I can sit here, typing out large posts that foolishly attempt to put the world to rights, I’m still a deeply flawed human being with a stack of my own shit to deal with.

The battle is eternal and it’s certainly true that the greatest opponent a man will ever slug it out with in his lifetime is himself.

So, for this post, I’m going to briefly talk about what I consider to be my greatest personal problem – my ultimate nemesis: direction.

I believe that most of us haven’t got a clue where we’re going in life. Of course, there are exceptions to everything, and I am well aware that there are those who have their shit well and truly together and a cast-iron will to keep forging on towards their goals. These are the individuals that people such as myself look at it in admiration. Not because of their material gain or social status (fuck that) but for their drive and dogged persistance on their quest to get to where they want (or need) to be.

The majority of us live through the same stories however:

  • We knew what we wanted but were denied by circumstance
  • We were forced from our path for financial reasons or inescapable commitments
  • Other people e.g. a new partner changed our life and our priorities
  • We became parents and had to put our dreams on hold
  • We’ve NEVER known what we wanted

I certainly slot into the last scenario. As a child, I never knew what I wanted but that was understandable considering my age. However, I didn’t develop any sort of direction as a teenager or a college student. I took a couple of A-Level courses in college then lost interest mid-way through the second year, probably because I subconsciously realised that I didn’t know WHY I was taking the courses or where I wanted them to get me.

Then I left education and ended up in the retail sector which is where I remain today. In short, I’ve never known what I wanted to do or which direction I should be heading in.

I know I’m not a special case at all. Also, I’m well aware that the majority of us will live average, non-extraordinary lives and that there’s nothing wrong with that.

As long as you are happy of course and feel as if you have a purpose. Can I honestly say that either apply to me? No; I wouldn’t be typing out this blog post otherwise.

Right now, I honestly don’t know where to begin with it all. Asking yourself the big questions and supplying honest answers is one recommended avenue. Here’s one that I concocted which I hoped might trigger some ideas, no matter how faint they might be.

If there were no obstacles – money, self-confidence, personal circumstance etc. – where would you like to be and what would you like to be doing?

My answer?
“I don’t know”

I feel that this has always been my problem. I can’t claim to have a dream that I’ve been denied or a course that I’ve been blown from. I’m just a drifter, living from one day to the next and not in any kind of romantic sense. Obviously, I feel that there are reasons in my past that have compounded this situation and made it worse but I’m not here to tell sob stories or make excuses.

Working on a dream – something to get me motivated and fired up – has become a priority in my mind. By my understanding however, you can’t simply decide on a dream so where one must begin is a bit of a mystery to me.

If anybody has any killer tips or can point me in the direction of some good resources then please, feel free to comment below.

Us vs Them

I’m a big believer in the idea that our (sometimes) wonderful race won’t be wiped out by a planet-consuming disease or a sudden asteroid impact. Likewise, it won’t be a biblical flood, global warming or even aliens that will supply us with our tickets for the Death Express. While all of these things remain a possibility, I think that WE will be the architects of our own doom in some form or another. Our own supreme ignorance; the selfish agendas of the elite; our frustrating inability to learn from past mistakes…these things are all in with a bigger shout of fast-tracking human extinction.

Right now for instance, the Amazon rainforest – an unrepeatable wonder of natural beauty – is burning and, rather than save it, the Brazilian government and other world leaders are using it as the latest political battleground. Far into the future (if we even make it that far) the loss of all that forest and the unique species within is going to look pretty dumb.

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I have no doubt that our race will regret this in the future. [Source]
It’s quite sobering to think about where we – as an overall race – could be right now and how far we could have come if we hadn’t poured so much time, resources, money and intellect into killing each other or preserving the status quos that keep the rich rich and the powerful powerful. Obviously, there are far too many factors as to why this is the case to go into here, but the outcome is still the same: irrational hatred and conflict holds us all back.

Different races regard one another with suspicion.
Neighbouring countries harbour deep-seated resentment of each other based on historic acts that were ordered and carried out by people long since dead.
Society on a national level is divided by issues where compromise seems impossible.

A free pass for this behaviour could have been handed out thousands of years ago when humans lived in tribes and raw survival was the sole priority. But now, with the benefit of knowledge and the experience of countless mistakes, we should know better. And yet we don’t and likely never will. Not as a collective species anyway. As intelligent as we are, we are also incredibly dim-witted at times.

What happened to accepting that we all have different opinions, beliefs and views? Is it not possible to disagree with somebody else and NOT take shit to the next level? At the end of the day, the person you disagree with is still a person and you will probably have shared interests…if you’d actually view them as a person and not their beliefs. Take the embarassing Brexit saga currently splitting the UK in two for example: it’s turned into a real Us vs Them war of opinion. Suddenly you are either a Remainer or a Brexiteer and both camps are hurling abuse at each other, forgetting that those on the other “side” are just like them – British guys ‘n gals just trying to get on with life.

The irony is that Brexit was never about giving the people what they wanted or about Britain puffing its chest out and going solo. Offering the vote was David Cameron’s way of tapping into an existing anti-EU sentiment in order to win a general election and get into No.10, Downing Street. Everything that has happened since has been a game of political chess with parties and individuals hoping to utilise Brexit as a means to advance their own agendas and careers…

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[Source]
Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party hope to get into power by toppling an unconvincing Conservative government. The Scottish National Party cite Brexit and the government’s piss-poor handling of it as evidence that a second independence referendum for Scotland is necessary. The Brexit Party has risen from the ashes of the (now irrelevant) UK Independence Party and become a genuine political force. The anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats are enjoying a resurgance. Back-stabbing and shifting alliances within ruling the Conservative party itself continue to dumbfound us all.

It’s like a really low-rent, boring version of Game of Thrones without the dragons and breasts.

More importantly though, the rich and powerful continue to move the pieces around the board and get away with it while we continue to divide ourselves and shun neighbours based on which way they voted.

I’m not proclaiming to be perfect. I have my own prejudices and reservations about certain people and groups/organisations for example. But more and more, I’m recognising how incredibly short-sighted and foolish it all is in the grand scheme of things. While we fight and scream at each other over social media, determined to have the last word on a disagreement that we’ve probably long since lost sight of, common threats that should concern us ALL are hiding in plain sight.

Environmental destruction.
Automation.
Disease.
Shortages of natural resources and food.
The rise of Artificial Intelligence.
Blatant corruption and cover-ups by the elite.

Yes, some of these do get their fair share of air time but some don’t and even those that DO are forced to make way for “news” on Donald Trump’s latest Tweet or the latest dick-measuring contest between world leaders.

It is in our nature to be competitive and to band together around common beliefs – to be tribal. It’s part of our biological make-up and to try to stamp it out altogether would probably be impossible as well as dangerous. But that doesn’t mean that we should stop learning from the outcomes that division and hatred have historically triggered. Right now, it often feels like we are actually regressing and getting wrapped up in our petty quarrels while actual progress and improvement is forced to take a back seat.

I’m not telling you to discard your views or opinions but try taking a step back and seeing the people behind the labels, because they are most likely just like you, ultimately fighting for the same things.

Maybe we should stop playing God?

Have you ever watched a 2003 TV serial called “The Second Coming”? Well, I haven’t but there is great little speech in there from Christopher Ecclestone’s character. This speech was sampled by Orbital for their track, You Lot, and that’s where I heard it first:

You…are becoming Gods. There’s a new master of creation, and it’s you. You’ve unravelled DNA. You’re five years away from building your own people and at the same time, you’re cultivating bacteria strong enough to kill every living thing! Do you think you’re ready for that much power? You lot? YOU lot? You cheeky bastards! You’re running around science like kids with guns, creating a new world while the world you’ve got is stinking. Go on…hands up…hands up anyone who thinks you’ve got it right. Yeah…there’s always one – I can see you. If you want the position of God then take the responsibility.”

“You stupid, stupid people! I’ve seen what you’ve done! It’s finally happened. Heaven is empty…and hell is bursting at the seams!”

[Note: I’ve omitted the middle section of the speech as it doesn’t really have much bearing on what I’m going to be talking about. This isn’t me using selective quoting to erase part of what was said. You can listen to the full speech HERE]

First of all, I’m an Atheist and a believer in science rather than religion. Even so, what is been said here in the above speech is thought-provoking no matter what you believe in.

Whether you believe that God created the universe or that it was formed from The Big Bang, we should all be able to see that mankind has been making itself into the next Creator. We slice atoms apart and discover the secret building blocks of life. We clone living creatures in labs. We cure all kinds of terminal diseases and prolong life where perhaps life should have been lost.

You may look upon these feats of the human race in either a positive or a negative light. But there’s no denying that we’ve done some pretty bad shit too.

Using all of our knowledge and resources to find new ways to either kill each other more effectively or increase material gain…rather than improving our planet. Playing about with deadly bacteria and viruses in labs, cultivating nasty shit that could be freed (whether accidentally or purposely) at any moment to lay waste to our race. Working on making ourselves obsolete by programming increasingly automonous AI. Turning the people against one another through the power of the media in order to generate ad revenue and push selfish agendas that only benefit specific groups of humans.

I suppose much of it started off with noble intentions: seeking to understand the world around us and how it works so that we might gain knowledge and an understanding. So that we might chase worthy causes such as saving lives or understanding the knock-on effects of our various actions.

But knowledge is power and – as Uncle Ben famously reminded Peter Parker – with great power, must come great responsibility.

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[Source]
Unfortunately, there are a great many of us on this planet who aren’t interested in taking any damn responsibility – at all. Do you think that those who commissioned the Manhattan Project thought ahead and tried to envision how a world stocked with nuclear weapons would look? Do you think any of those people are interested in taking responsibility for the way we live now with atomic energy being wielded so freely? Granted, if the Americans hadn’t created the atomic bomb first then somebody else would have. The Nazi’s were apparently close to a break-through if I’ve read correctly. American, German, British, Asian…it doesn’t matter. What matters is that somebody did it or somebody would have done it at some point.

Knowledge was pursued and knowledge was gained. Power was gained and a Pandora’s Box was opened, never to be re-sealed again. And so we discovered a new way to kill each other en masse.

To reference that speech again, perhaps we are cheeky bastards. We’ve got access to a near-complete toolbox that allows us to forget about how or why we were created, and just become creators ourselves. We think we know what we’re doing. We think it’s a great idea to do X and see what happens to Y. Fuck knows what is happening in top-secret labs the world over. I think I’d rather not know as it might be the sort of stuff that could keep you awake at night.

We’ve gotten a bit cocky and sure of ourselves, haven’t we?

The truth is, there’s so much that we still DON’T understand and so perhaps it isn’t such a fantastic idea to be experimenting with the building blocks of life. Even more importantly, the planet around us really does stink in many ways and I can’t help but wonder whether it would wiser to fix existing problems rather than creating new ones.

Now some of you might be wondering if I’m saying that we should just halt all advances in science and research. That’s not what I’m saying. As a race, we do need to move forwards and continuously improve. The alternative is to slob out and become slaves to mindless entertainment and convenience – as if we’ve done enough and should just call it a day. Right now, there is research underway that will save lives for example. Long may it continue.

But…

“if you want the position of God then take the responsibility.”

And this is our problem because we can’t even take responsibility for our everyday mundane lives, let alone major events that will impact the billions of people living on Earth. Young men unwittingly father children and won’t take responsibility for being too lazy or too selfish to have used a condom. People would rather take companies and other people to court rather than take responsibility for something that was REALLY their fault. A mistake is made in a workplace and everybody says, “wasn’t me.”

So how can we expect a scientist to take responsibility for developing an unstoppable flesh-eating bacteria? How can the billionaires and world leaders be trusted to put the latest break-throughs in technology to use rather than utilising it for financial profit or as a symbol of power? How can we, as a race, be trusted with the keys of creation?

We play at being God and think we know it all but we don’t. I just hope that we don’t find this out the hard way. Not that we’d likely learn from such a mistake anyway.

You’re not Extraordinary (and that’s okay)

In recent years, there has been a big shift towards being told that we are all extraordinary people and that we can all attain greatness – that we can all become legends. Perhaps this form of self-improvement advice has always been around and is now simply being magnified by the powerful influence of social media but I don’t necessarily think so.

There is an ocean of self-help books aimed at making you financially rich for example. Then there is the legion of popular Youtube channels pumping out inspirational and motivational content, telling us that we CAN be great and that we WILL be extraordinary…if we just listen to some ten minute speeches backed up by dramatic music and imagery of people working out. And let’s not forget the feel-good content enforcing the notion that we are ALL extraordinary people.

Being average = to have failed in life – apparently. Being average is to be a nobody and that’s a bad thing…apparently.

Before I continue however, let’s remind ourselves of the dictionary’s definition of “extraordinary”, shall we?

adjective

adjective: extraordinary; adjective: extra-ordinary

1. very unusual or remarkable

And here lies the biggest contradiction of all because if all of us could indeed become extraordinary then, by the metric of comparison, we would all once again be the same. We would be ordinary, not extraordinary. So to peddle the idea that we can all be extraordinary achievers living the high life is an outright lie. All of the self-help gurus seem to skip over this point but it’s hardly surprising when they are trying to get you to subscribe to their Youtube channels or persuading you to pay them money to access a simple five-step programmme that will have you wiping your nose with £50 notes and drowning in pussy within the year. The irony that they are making stacks of money from your desire to make money is so delicious, it has my mouth watering.

My initial inspiration for this post was Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck. It’s a book that I have referenced here numerous times (and even reviewed) and with good reason. The book contains straightforward, realistic advice centred around home truths and becoming more grounded. Mark puts the “extraordinary ordinary” contradiction like this:

Being “average” has become the new standard of failure. The worst thing you can be is in the middle of the pack, the middle of the bell curve. When a culture’s standard of success is to be “extraordinary”, it then becomes better to be at the extreme low end of the bell curve than to be in the middle, because at least there you’re still special and deserve attention.

A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept it, they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life won’t matter.

This sort of thinking is dangerous. Once you accept the premise that a life is worthwhile only if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population (including yourself) sucks and is worthless. And this mindset can quickly turn dangerous, to both yourself and others.

The ‘dangerous’ part is actually quite relevant to a theory that I read about the other day; a theory that inspired me to finally write this post. It was a discussion on the problem of mass shootings in the United States and why there are so many shooters that appear to have lost their minds and all empathy for other human beings. Could it be that their disilluson and disatisfaction with society led them to unload on a shopping mall of innocent civilians? Could it be that they feel that they were promised extraordinary things and a certain type of life – that they are owed it – and when it didn’t materialise, they converted all of their bitterness and warped resentment into an ammunition clip before emptying said clip into a school hallway?

I’m no psychologist or expert. I’m not even American. But even so, I saw some potential truth in that searching explanation for these heart-breaking tragedies that continue to occur in the US.

Because the education system is flawed. It teaches children what the System wants them to know in order to to mould them into shiny new cogs to keep the machine running; to keep business running; to keep the rich and the powerful in rich and powerful positions. We aren’t taught the realities of life. We aren’t taught about the real battles that we will have to face as individuals. School taught us that if we work hard and make good grades on our exams then the pieces will fall into place on their own. Our grades will earn us good jobs, we will own our own spacious home and we will drive about in a nice BMW or Mercedes. We will have a beautiful wife and two beautiful kids that we love playing with in the back garden.

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Is THIS “success”? It’s certainly not guaranteed, as nice as it looks. [Source – Google/German Edition]
Except it doesn’t necessarily work that way and to lag behind on reaching that destination means that you are failing. I worked hard all through school and got great grades but I haven’t “made it” yet. I left education just as the banking crisis tanked the economy and so my grades and CV didn’t mean jack. Eventually, I took a retail/manual labour job in order to get some money coming in and to gain work experience and guess what? I’m still there. In a different role but still there in the same sector. Thing is, school and education doesn’t teach you that there are other obstacles such as personal motivation and self-confidence, both of which I admit to suffering with. After all, you can get the best grades but if you aren’t great with people then the paper they are printed on could be irrelevant. In my case, I’ve never had any real direction or firm idea of what I wanted to do.

Right now, I too could be severely disillusioned and feeling betrayed by society. In fact, I DO feel a pang of jealousy when I see a dude around with his beautiful lady and two kids, enjoying themselves in the park or at the beach. I think to myself, “damn, that’s where I should be by now.” In this situation, it’s easy to feel resentful and bitter about society. It’s easy to hate on other people. But I have to remind myself that everybody’s situation is different and that some people DO have distinct advantages or have had better opportunities. I am an average guy with an average job, an average pay, average looks and you know what? That’s okay. I have Grand Canyon-size space for improvement but it isn’t failure. I know that I’m not owed anything. It’s all down to me to work things out in my head.

Unfortunately, our lovely media is more than willing to finish the job that education systems start. We are shown a 24/7 feed of people who have achieved extraordinary things. We follow and idolise celebrities with fat bank accounts who are untouched by the “street” problems that we average folk have. We digest carefully-packaged TV shows that follow successful people and their money-making antics. We put our brains on the shelf and stare at “reality” television which, in fact, is nothing like reality at all. We forgo personal development and improvement for hours of watching our favourite Youtubers and their lives or scrolling through the social media feeds of those with more money and material wealth than us.

And all of it is force-feeding our subconscious a highly toxic message: if you aren’t like these extraordinary people then you are a nobody – you are failing at life.

If you aren’t earning wads of cash and driving about London in a supercar then you are a lower-class person who is doing life wrong. If you don’t have Kate Upton’s tits or Kim Kardashian’s arse then you aren’t attractive. If you aren’t living in an expansive, modern home then you are slumming it and are failing. If you aren’t the life and soul of the party then you are boring and irrelevant. If you are a guy and you don’t have a trouser-straining horse cock then you won’t be able to satisfy women in bed.

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Should THIS be the definition of “success”? It doesn’t have to be. [Source]
I could keep going but there isn’t the need – you get what I’m saying here. The message from society is clear: if you aren’t like these uber successful or beautiful people then you aren’t doing it right.

Being “extraordinary” is directly linked to success and how we elect to measure it. The problem is that we have a pretty shitty metric for success, especially here in the West. We judge the worth of others based on their bank balance, material wealth or physical looks and we are judged on the same criteria by our peers. Worse still, we compare ourselves to others – compare ourselves to the extraordinary people that we are shown by the media. We are all different and live in different situations with different backgrounds. To pit yourself against somebody else, Top Trumps style, is utterly pointless and harmful to your own personal growth.

I should point out (disclaimer-style) that we aren’t all guilty of being so shallow and misinformed. Likewise, not everybody is out to reinforce the fallacy of extraordinary = successful. But it is an undercurrent that undeniably runs through our society.

I’m also not saying that there aren’t useful things that you can take from the abundance of self-improvement videos and books out there because there certainly is. Anything relating to how the human mind works or can be utilised in a better way for example. You should also still seek improvement but it needs to be on your terms, not somebody else’s. You need to improve for yourself and for your loved ones, not for society.

Basically, focus on yourself and do what you need to do in order to feel happy in yourself and be the best version of you. Don’t do what society encourages you to do. Don’t aim to be like what you see on TV or social media. Most importantly, stop comparing yourself to others and judging your worth based on whether or not you measure up to them.

It’s okay not to be extraordinary. Being average is not failure.

Soil of the Soul

A few weeks ago, I was trawling the internet and reading various blogs and website articles on the subject of personal direction. Something that has been gnawing at me for some time now is my lack of direction in life and every so often, I find myself trying to seek the answers or at least some pointers to how I can get my arse fired up and motivated to do something more fulfilling than the dreadful 9-5 (or – in my case – 7-5) grind as a servant of The System.

It was while seeking enlightenment (spoiler alert: I’m still me, for better or for worse) that I came across an analogy that did at least strike a bit of a chord with me. This analogy compared the human soul to fertile soil and reminded the reader that we could all plant seeds in our soil, nurture said seeds and watch them grow into mighty trees. The main problem for a lot of us is that the soil has been tainted and the seeds left unwatered and unfertilised thanks to invading external forces that have seen fit to turn our plot of soil into a rubbish dump.

I quite liked this analogy and thought about it some more. I saw my own patch of fertile soil enclosed within a field. Seeds labelled “Direction”, “Passion”, “Happiness” and “Purpose” were planted but I didn’t get chance to water or feed them. Y’see, the field has a gate and just as I was skipping toward my patch of sown soil – watering can in my hand – there came a loud crunching noise. It was the sound of a dump truck reversing right through the gate! The bastards! Before I could verbally assault the driver of the truck with a multitude of PG-18-rated words, he tipped the bed and unloaded his cargo of garbage all over my patch. I was too aghast to act but I caught the registration of the truck as it sped away, leaving a cloud of diesel fumes behind. It was a private plate that read “LIFE”.

rubbish-dump-1

We all plant seeds in the soil of our soul. Some seeds take longer than others to germinate, break the surface and bear fruit but we do plant them subconsciously, most often as children when we aren’t even aware that we’re doing it.

Or so I have been reading anyway.

You have to take any advice or points of view that you read on the internet with a pinch of salt of course; especially when it comes to the optimum way to live your life and be happy/successful. Everybody has their own philosopy or tried-and-tested ‘secret’ that worked for them but we are all different and what works for Bob won’t necessarily work for Dave. I personally believe that it is perhaps better to listen to different ideas and solutions then draw your own conclusions based on everything you have read.

However, one recurring self-help tactic that is supposed to help the individual work out what they want to do with their life, is to go back to the past and reconnect with your inner child. You know, that previous version of you that enjoyed doing certain things or making use of talents/skills without realising that they might take you somewhere. Before the fly-tipping began and you turned an unwitting blind eye to the dumping of truckloads of garbage on your precious – now poisoned – patch of soil.

Before the superficiality, materialism and greed of society poisoned our minds.

Before you graduated childhood and were inducted properly into The System, encouraged to accept a status quo and pour all of your energy into unfulfilling jobs in order to service unavoidable debt and keep a roof above your head.

Before you were trapped in that 9-5 cycle with those wonderful dreams shelved as you play the part of just another cog in the machine – a machine that works for the rich and powerful and runs on the blood of the working class.

Shit got a bit dark and gloomy there but it really is how our human society functions. Breaking out of this cage and finding a way to live happily – without being sucked dry by others who don’t have your interests at heart – is the ultimate quest in my mind. It’s not an easy quest by any means and there are a lot of boxes to be checked as you are pushing forwards but is there a more rewarding journey to embark upon?

I’ve been trying to reconnect with my inner child and cast my mind back to past. What I remembered was that I was crazy about drawing, writing and being creative in general. I would spend hours doing this sort of thing, improving my skills and simply enjoying what I was doing without feeling the pressure to turn it into a career or money. Somewhere along the way, I ran out of steam and stopped. Society, people and working a physically-demanding job left me tired and more likely to turn to mindless entertainment in my spare time rather than enjoying the arts and continuing to improve my crafts.

One of the last things I drew was this picture of the character, Blaze Fielding, from the videogame, Streets of Rage 2. That was in 2015 (according to the date on the back). I’m not proclaiming myself to be a good artist or anything like that but comparing this picture to what I was doing a few years prior shows dramatic improvement. It’s also a stark reminder of where I could be at today had I kept at it. As it is, the cubby-hole in my desk is a stack of outdated portfolios and half-finished pictures living in plastic wallets, awaiting completion.

I’m not going to blame society or other people for my lack of work. After all, it was me who allowed this to happen and it was me who chose to numb my tired brain with the likes of videogames and Youtube and lock my creativity away in a cupboard. That said, external influences and the necessities that come with living in the way that society expects you to live have had a part to play. Of course, it is my responsibility to push back and not allow external factors to affect me.

It is my responsibility to fit a stronger lock to the gate that the dump truck forced open before tipping its load all over my patch of soil (no dirty innuendos intended…). Heck, I should be investing in 24/7 security and watchtowers.

But what is done is done and now the clean-up must begin. It’s past time that I hired a skip and put in the work to clear out all of the dumped rubbish that hides that soil and the seeds that are buried deep, awaiting their oppurtunity to sprout.

And with that, I will spare you any more long-winded analogies.