Some of my favourite stories are works like…
Yes man, by Danny Wallace. Who tells a story of a man, fed up of being in a rut pledges to himself to say yes to everything for a whole year.
Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. An idealistic young man who goes to seek the answers whilst hiking the USA.
Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse, about a alienated middleaged man who rediscovers passion and a love for life.
Wild, the 2014 film based upon the novel by Cheryl Strayed. A young woman trying to cope with bereavement, depressoin and addiction seeks her own answers on the Pacific Crest Trail
A part of me wants to be able to write books like this. But more than anything else I want is to live like this.
They are stories of passion, love, connection, courage, compassion and meaning.
Whilst stories like this are often fictitious, not all of them are. My feelings about such stories are complex.
I’m envious of these people, not so much their lives, but the courage they had to muster in order to live like this.
It takes a lot to do the kind of things they did. Take a massive leap out of their comfort zone and risk their livelihoods. I wish I had the same courage to do something similar.
It’s these stories and those like them, contemporary and historical, fiction and non-fiction that leave me with a deep sense of longing.
Why can’t I do this? Where would I find the courage to face so much uncertainty?
I’m envious because my button down life seems to pale in comparison.A dusty relic to forgotten dreams.
I’m jealous because I want a story to tell. Something profound, something meaningful.
For these narratives it’s living life from the heart as opposed to the head which is what most of us do.
We plan, strategise, research and study. All in an attempt to eliminate the fear and doubt we feel when considering a life more adventurous than what we have.
I like many others read personal development books. Covering topics like philosophy, psychology, spirituality and stories like this.
But facing uncertainty, taking risks, the finality of death and where we find meaning. These can’t be found in books or films, only the of living life.
Art like this is inspiring, but we forget that it’s our responsibility to create our own story.
Instead, we get bogged down in study and book knowledge. The fear of taking a leap has us perpetually safe inside our comfort zones. Looking out with envy on those who exist outside. Spectators to life, not players.
Stories like the ones above are those that people remember. Not because they are rare, there are many like these, dating back millenia.
But because they are inspiring and touch upon basic human need. Every generation has it’s own stories like these. The perennial values of meaning that never get old and transcend boundaries and cultures.
I think of these stories in one way as ‘ice thaws’. Because they are stories of transformation.
The protagonist starts off disillusioned with life.
In a dead-end job, poor relationships. They feel a sense of disconnection with themselves, an emptiness in their lives. I call this a feeling of desolation.
They might be cold and despairing, seeking to escape their life. Feeling alienated towards the world around them, which is confusing and traumatising.
They might be angry and bitter, glaring at the world for not living up to expectations. Or perhaps ashamed, unable to say anything good about themselves. They turn their anger inwards because they feel that’s all they deserve.
It doesn’t matter if they are fiction or not, they point out a truth about our lives and the world we live in.
I recognise myself in these descriptions. A sense of feeling lost, disillusioned, angry and desperate.
Desperate for control, insight, courage, clarity, success, meaning, happiness. All of it! Perpetually dissatisfied and confused by a world that is alien to me.
‘The path’ has them meet new people, seek new experiences. It’s a wakeup call. Not an easy joyous one, at least not in the beginning. But a tough, upsetting path as their long-held assumptions are torn apart and reality intrudes.
The journey causes their heart to soften, to allow love and compassion in, but also out. To take life as it comes and accept what can’t be changed. To go to the aid of others and make it more about them. To understand what really matters in life.
To see that amongst all the suffering and trouble, joy and happiness can be found.
A kind of joyful playfulness arises (if they survive). The protagonist transforms from an embittered Scrooge, an addict, or a looser into something nobler.
They find what they were looking for, often in a place they never imagined.
There’s a quote by Anais Nin,
‘The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’
It’s how I felt about my life at times. There came points or several where I realised I can’t go on as I am, something had to change.
Letting go of long-held beliefs about what life is about. In life, we do become lost and it takes struggle, courage and heartache to face our suffering and find its causes.
These are the sort of stories that seem timeless. We can relate to them. Because we all want to live happy, authentic lives.
Perhaps not so dramatically, but it’s with the same intent and the same struggle. Becoming the person you always were underneath.
Our lives may never match these stories. But they don’t have to be. Comparing yourself to others is one way of feeling unworthy.
What’s most important is the willingness to tread our path, and write our story.