One realisation I reached last year was this: even though we hate cliches, we'd be stupid to ignore them. It's only when we're at a point in our life where a cliche is particularly applicable that we can receive it for the wisdom that it is.
Cliche 1: Everybody is on the same path in life.
Expansion: We're born, we're raised (or not raised) by our parents, we fall and out of love, we get a job, we get married, we have kids, we retire, we die.
The amazing thing about that particular recipe is that it doesn't matter where you live, what you aspire to or what you're currently doing ... it applies to you. EVERYTHING else is just window dressing.
Your profession, your taste in music, your partner, your hairstyle, your politics or religion, what you do on a Friday night for entertainment... ultimately, those things make you unique but they don't change the meta-narrative.
Ok ok, monks, the Pope and those agrarian non-conformists will have different mileage. I'm talking about the meta-narrative for the humanity I'm part of: the urban, educated and upwardly-mobile. I.e you, if you've got access to the Internet and a penchant for blogs.
So why did I highlight something you already know? To lay the foundation for the next cliche.
Cliche 2: Life is inherently unsatisfying if you don't take control of it.
Expansion: It doesn't matter how much you earn, what career you choose or what specific choices you've made in your personal narrative. You're still going to be poorer than many many people, dislike your job in some way and have occasional (or more frequent) arguments with those you love.
My Big Realisation is really simple: the reason we're so unhappy is because everything we're lead to want by advertisers doesn't answer our true needs as humans. And yes, I've got a handy list of those needs:
- To discover/learn
- To create (especially something to be remembered by after our death)
- To be surprised by
- To be part of a community
Do you want to know the 21st Century's solutions to those problems?
Discover/learn: watch a documentary on the Discovery channel
Create: build a puzzle
Surprise: that twist at the end of the movie
Community: Social networking like Facebook
Can you see why that's so inherently unsatisfying? I think about life Back in Ye Good Olde Days, and I think of the discovery potential of sailing out to unexplored lands. How about the ability to create which America's founding fathers enjoyed, or the builders of Rome enjoyed? Imagine the surprise involved in landing on the moon, or figuring out for the first time that the world was round. And community? What is being 'friends' with a bunch of strangers on our cellphone's Facebook application compared to fighting for our countries in one of the World Wars?
The big problem here is that the answers to human needs have been commercialised, and extremely poorly. How many times have I wondered why I'm living in a big city and yet have no entertainment options which I find appealing?
I'm sorry, but going to a restaurant/bar/club/casino/cinema/shopping mall/bowling alley/drama is not the answer to all human problems.
The ultimate sadness is this: in the few hours we have to ourselves between work and sleeping, we're prompted to just dive into those commercialised solutions to our problems. But they're not satisfying, are they? They're just temporary distractions.
I've chosen as my goal in life to launch some business which addresses these key human needs in a more concrete and holistic fashion. It's not going to be easy, but then again ... nothing is. What do you think?