So I think it might be fair to say that my first blog post was a little self-defeating – I complained about people who complain. I gave a call to action; demanded that we step off the side lines, engage in more than just debate and start to initiate change. And then I sort of just left it at that. Which, I concede, makes me no better than the people I was complaining about. So this week I’m hoping that we can look a little more closely at what “initiating change” might look like.
One of the biggest things that people the world over complain about is their job and how unfulfilled they feel in it. Last week I uploaded a video to our Facebook page that boldly claimed it would “CHANGE your LIFE”. The video, with a voice over of part of a talk from the late philosopher Alan Watts, is extremely uplifting and motivating. He asks you to examine your life; to find out what you love and then to go out and do it. He tells you to forget about money because it will inevitably lead to you doing a job you don’t like in order to continue living a life that you can’t enjoy. He utters a variation on a most favourable saying, “It is better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way”. I don’t think anyone would disagree with this. But while it is fun to think about what we would do if money were no object and how we would really enjoy spending our lives, at the end of the day, that’s all it really is: fun.
The idea of abandoning a highly paid, yet soul destroying corporate career to travel the world or become an elephant trainer or some other such magical sounding enterprise just seems a little too good to be true. As one of our commentators on Facebook rightfully pointed out, you can’t change the way the world works. There are bills to be paid. Just because you have a passion for writing doesn’t mean you’ll be any good at it. And if you devote all of your time to writing but never get published, and so never make any money; will you be able to be happy? Watts argues that if you have a true passion for something, you can become a master of it and eventually be able to charge a fee for it. But once again, this sounds a little too idealistic to my ears. What are you supposed to do in the meantime, while you’re off mastering the art of rock climbing?
Eric Thomas, former NFL player turned motivational speaker, says (or to be more accurate, yells) that when it comes to making changes in our lives, we are our own worst enemy. He calls us a “soft generation” and argues that while we say we want to be successful, when it comes down to it, most of us aren’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary to be successful. He argues that we say we want to be successful, but in truth we only kind of want it. We don’t want it as much as we want sleep, as much as we want to watch TV. He advocates that we need to be willing to sacrifice, at any moment, what we are for what we could become. And for most of us, that is just too daunting a prospect. It is easier to sit back and complain and blame external forces than it is to admit we could initiate change, we just can’t be bothered. The world could be considered to be in a very sorry state of affairs at the moment, the globe over. I can’t help but wonder how much worse does it have to get before we want change more than we want anything else?
This brings me to the philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre believed in a radical form of freedom where we are completely free to act as we choose. He argued that this radical freedom creates in us a feeling of intense anguish and so we lie to ourselves and blame universal norms and factual circumstances for the state of our being rather than accepting that we are in control and have the power to change things. He called this living in bad faith. Sartre was not claiming that we are omnipotent; he acknowledged that there are certain factual conditions that we can do nothing about – for instance the colour of our skin, or the family that we were born into – but rather, he argued that we are always in control of how we relate to this facticity. That is, we are completely free to choose and to change our attitude or disposition towards something and how we react to it. It has become a human condition to deny this freedom. We blame our lack of success on our background or on the actions of others, and we complain about something yet do nothing to change it because we have convinced ourselves that it is beyond our capabilities to do so.
So my challenge to you this week is to embrace Sartre’s radical freedom. If you find yourself preparing to moan and grumble about the state of your life or the troubles of the world, simply ask yourself, “Am I free to adopt a different attitude to this problem?” “Is it within the realms of my capabilities to bring about a more favourable outcome?” I think you will find that the answer in most cases is a resounding “YES!” At which point you need to ask yourself Eric Thomas’ question, “How badly do I want to change this?” Because I think that if you don’t want the circumstance to change as badly as you want to breathe (to quote Thomas) then you don’t deserve to complain about it. Finally, watch the Alan Watts video. It might not change your life but it will definitely make you think about what matters most to you and what you should be spending your time on.
Hopefully this week we will no longer be lost in thought but will be ready to take action.
“The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up!” – Paul Valery