Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.
To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble. ~ (May 20, 1990: Advice on Life and Creative Integrity from Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson)
The thing about gatherings is that somebody ends up being talked about. Not that I’m saying it’s the norm. I just seem to have this strange knack of finding myself in a middle of a get-together when someone becomes a fodder for conversation.
I used to dislike the idea of it so much so that I try to avoid socializing, which is no hardship on my part since I’m an introvert by nature. A recent experience at an unexpected gathering of high school classmates/friends, however, made me think about the following:
- You get talked about when you’re not there. And the more you try to live the way you want to, the more vulnerable you become at ridicule.You cannot change people’s impressions and beliefs about others, but you can opt not to add fodder to a conversation that’s making you uncomfortable to begin with.
- Accepting that you can’t please everyone makes life much easier. Knowing that you can’t control how others choose to act frees you to continue living your life the way you want to. Choosing to be happy in your own way gives you something to offset the unavoidable hurt or pain others’ wrong or right impressions of you can give.
- Not everyone does it out of spite or meanness. I was sincerely happy to see my old classmates. They’re interesting, intelligent, and accomplished people. I can sense no malice in them. Maybe it’s just that our journeys have brought us in diverging roads that changed our priorities and the way we view things.
- Knowledge and understanding breeds compassion. I honestly believe that seeking knowledge and understanding about other people’s plight breeds compassion. You can’t empathize with someone if you’re unaware of their pains and sufferings. Knowing what our common friend has been through such as the separation from an abusive husband, cancer scare, hysterectomy, and many other challenges in between made me feel that she deserves to be happy in her own terms. While I may not understand the full extent of hardships such experiences would cause, I know that anyone who comes out of them willingly taking on the world is a strong person.
Until now, social interactions sometimes baffle me. I’m that socially awkward teenager that has matured to a socially awkward adult. But I can’t live in a fantasy word hoping that people won’t talk about me or that others will not become topics of conversations when I’m there. There’s always a choice between using other people as conversation-fodder or simply holding your piece to keep the peace. I’ll just enjoy the company of others while choosing the latter.