05 March 2008

average + ordinary = perfection; the (not so) secret formula to happiness

  • Mar 5, 2008

average + ordinary = perfection; the (not so) secret formula to happiness

I realized relatively recently that I have finally achieved my lifelong dream.

Back in high school I had the common dilemma of trying to decide what to do next.
I had been thinking engineer, cause of interest in how mechanical stuff works, but then I hated calculus.
Everyone assumed it would be something science related, because I was supposedly "smart" or something (I was actually a fairly average student, yet even my teachers assumed otherwise - which helped become a self fulfilling prophesy in some classes)
Since everyone assumed it, I assumed it.

But nothing specific seemed appealing.

Then there was the bike trip to Mexico.
I rolled through the day, listening to many musics, pedaling and pedaling, lots of food, not too much English.
There were Mexican truck drivers, through the desert, turning down their headlights at dawn and dusk, some of them perhaps pre-power steering, at stops, they seemed like happy people.
I came back, with all those miles behind me, I got a job as a bike messenger, at the first place I applied.

I don't know when the realization hit me.
Quite likely back in high school, probably.  Or maybe during the trip, maybe just after.
I can't remember.

Everyone tells you, told me, "reach for the stars" "fulfill your potential" "do your best" "if you work hard you can succeed" "dream big" "set goals" "be all you can be".
I always felt like, if I was intelligent, it wasn't so that the world could benefit.  It was just something to make my life a little easier, maybe a little more enjoyable.  To me, doing something complex and technical and prestigious, something that might require "intelligence", doing something like that, if it doesn't actually make you happy, it isn't really that intelligent, is it?  I mean, doing something which isn't whatever makes you happiest, for a lifetime, just because you can, that seems pretty stupid to me.

What I realized one day is: I don't need to ever be famous.  I don't need to climb the social ladder.  I don't ever want to be upper class.  I don't want to be remembered in the history books for something.  I have no need, no reason, no desire to excel.  In anything.  Not even in my own narrow field.  Everyone can't be on top.  Obviously.  Why waste so much effort playing king of the hill with all the other jerks who want to be on top?

My goal, my desire, was to be a perfectly ordinary, average kind of guy, who went to work, made enough to get by, did enjoyable stuff on his time off.
I wanted maybe a wife, and probably kids someday - eventually.  Of course there are some hiccups on that part right now, but I'm still working on it.  I can't say I am optimistic about it right now, but I'm not pessimistic either.
Anyway... I didn't want to change the world. 

I wanted to be able to tell my grandchildren stories someday, and not bore them with the same ones over and over, not have to make stuff up.

And I have done a decent variety of things, my past jobs alone should be good for a good number of tales.

Today, finally, I seem to have found something I can stand - at least longer than any before (its been almost 2 years)
I am not doing anything prestigious.  Or requiring an advanced degree.  Neither of my jobs are going to change the world, or the country, or anything else. They won't make me rich. Not even close.  I still live in my RV, and am gradually paying off my debt.  I am not the top in my field. I have no formal training, no relevant community college classes, no previous on the job experience. I'm not even licensed.  But I do both my jobs well enough to have loyal customers.  I have people who ride past other bike shops, even come in from other cities, to have me work on their bikes, and then they buy me lunch while I'm working.  I have so many repeats and referrals with BioDiesel Hauling that I have only put up one craigslist ad in about half a year.
At the end of the day, I have done work.  Not just in the sense of somebody gave me a pay check, but real, physical objects have been moved, things have been repaired, something which worked poorly or not at all yesterday is functional again.  (It may not look as good as new, but it works).
Its not just some corporation my efforts are valuable to, but real individual people.

Its work I feel good about.  It may not be political, or environmental, or social justice related, or whatever else is supposed to make a "fulfilling" job, but it isn't evil either.  I do no harm.  I feel good about my work.   And for me, that's good enough. 
We spend most of our waking hours at work.  It better be enjoyable.  It makes my whole life more happy.

Its just ordinary semi-skilled manual labor.
Its been my lifelong dream.
And I have accomplished it.

The following is one of the best articles I have ever read, followed by my  favorite Disney song - one which may have helped guide me on this lifelong path toward mediocrity.

This article neatly summarizes my feeling, but with a little bit of research to back it up; taken from the Utne reader, link following. See, its not just me:

"I once was talking to my friend and mentor Steve Chandler when he said to me, "Have an average day!" Taken aback, I asked him what he meant. Isn't the idea to have great days, even exceptional ones?

He told me a story about one of his mentors, Lyndon Duke, who studied the linguistics of suicide. After receiving doctorates from two universities, Duke began analyzing suicide notes for linguistic clues that could be used to predict and prevent suicidal behavior in teenagers.

Duke came to believe that the enemy of happiness is "the curse of exceptionality." When everyone is trying to be exceptional, nearly everyone fails because the exceptional becomes commonplace, and those few who do succeed feel isolated and estranged from their peers. We're left with a world in which a few people feel envied, misunderstood, and alone, while thousands of others feel like failures for not being good, special, rich, or happy enough.

When I was in the thickest cloud of my own suicidal thoughts, I was at university and I remember wishing that I could run away from my scholarship, change my name to Bob, and take a job pumping gas at a full-service station somewhere in the Midwest. Only in my fantasy, people would start to notice something special about me. They would begin driving miles out of their way to have "Bob the service guy" fill up their cars and to exchange a few words with him, leaving the station oddly uplifted and with a renewed sense of optimism and purpose.

I was, to my way of thinking, doomed to succeed.

Delusions of grandeur? Quite possibly. Depressed and miserable? Absolutely.

One of Duke's breakthroughs came when he was dealing with his own unhappiness and heard a neighbor singing while he was mowing his lawn. Duke realized what was missing from his life: the simple pleasures of an average day.

The very next weekend, he went to visit his son, who was struggling to excel in his first term at university. "I expect you to be a straight C student, young man," Duke said. "I want you to complete your unremarkable academic career, meet an ordinary young woman, and, if you choose to, get married and live a completely average life!"

His son, of course, thought Dad had finally flipped, but it did take the pressure off him to be quite so exceptional. A month later he phoned his father to apologize. He had gotten A's on his exams, despite having done only an average amount of studying.

This is the paradoxical promise of an average-day philosophy: The cumulative effect of a series of average days is actually quite extraordinary.

If we put this together with another one of Duke's discoveries—that the meaning of our lives comes from the differences we make with them, though these differences need not be huge to have a profound impact—we may well have the ultimate prescription for a happy, productive life:

Be an average, happy person making a small positive difference (and having a happy, average day). In doing this, you create a kind of exceptionality that everyone can share."
-Michael Neill


Or, to put it much simpler (from a cartoon bear, and with a nice musical background - emphasis mine):
Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature's recipes
That brings the bare necessities of life

Wherever I wander, wherever I roam
I couldn't be fonder of my big home
The bees are buzzin' in the tree
To make some honey just for me
When you look under the rocks and plants
And take a glance at the fancy ants
Then maybe try a few

(You eat ants!?)
(You better believe it! And you're gonna love the way they tickle)

The bare necessities of life will come to you
They'll come to you!

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
That's why a bear can rest at ease
With just the bare necessities of life

Now when you pick a pawpaw
Or a prickly pear
And you prick a raw paw
Next time beware
Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear
Try to use the claw
But you don't need to use the claw
When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw
Have I given you a clue ?

(Golly, thanks Baloo)

The bare necessities of life will come to you
They'll come to you!

So just try and relax, yeah cool it
Fall apart in my backyard
'Cause let me tell you something little britches
If you act like that bee acts, uh uh
You're working too hard

And don't spend your time lookin' around
For something you want that can't be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin' about it
I'll tell you something true

The bare necessities of life will come to you


If you act like that bee acts... uh uh, you're working too hard.


  1. i'm not like a bee....except, I am sometimes....I started saving money late in the game ;-)

  2. Thanks! I like this :)
    My original plan was to be a subsistence farmer, with maybe a little bit of something on the side.


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