Chuck Palahniuk was right.
“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis…”
People don’t have a hard time accepting the basic truth of this statement (from Fight Club), but they have a hell of a hard time practicing it.
I first noticed this when I got a tattoo. The words people said to me were nice enough, but behind a lot of them was a hidden scoff—a “I can’t believe he did that.”
The same thing happened when I got my ears pierced, and it’ll happen again when I get my next tattoo—one that will be visible anytime I wear short sleeves. Indeed for some—particularly those who are older and richer—it’ll be a scandal.
But the basic truth is that these are merely symbolic changes. The basic core of who I am, my mind, body, and spirit: these things did not change. Yes, I’ve evolved. Yes, I’ve gone through a period of change. And yes, I will continue to change and grow. But the fact I’ve chosen to get tattoos and wear earrings didn’t change who I am.
So why did I get them? They’re signals. Visual cues that are necessary to communicate to people that no, I will not fit into you neat little fucking box—that I refuse to play the game that’s been rigged to enslave me to a life of servitude, whether that be to a job or a wife or a life spent pursuing material wealth.
I get why people do all that. It’s all they know. It’s the pattern that’s been laid at their feet and they’ve followed it, receiving the praise that comes when one fits into the broad societal expectations we’re all keenly aware of even if we rarely speak of them. And many of them will be perfectly happy to live this sort of life: accumulating wealth, suppressing what unfulfilled desires they have—whatever meaning they lose in the process—with vacations, meals at fancy restaurants, shopping sprees at Nordstrom’s, social media accounts rife with smiling photos and seemingly happy people.
And that’s fine. If that’s what truly makes you happy, then do it. You do you.
But from what I’ve seen of life, this will not make most people happy. It certainly didn’t make me happy when I was on that path: marriage, kids, Sunday dinners with the in-laws, tropical vacations.
It’s not that any of it’s wrong in and of itself, but that without something larger, there’s an emptiness that’s inescapable. Like: really? Is this how I want to spend my life? Indulging in surface level pleasures between the lines society says I have to stay inside of in order to receive approval?
I’d rather be poor and possess a resilient spirit. I’d rather experience life on the margins, meet people who have unique, beautiful souls, be the oldest person in the bar singing karaoke, have the discipline to master my own body, the presence to allow my confidence to electrify an infectious, 50 yard radius—to know without the slightest doubt that I have helped other people, that my shine made someone happy, that I taught people all I could and learned something new and valuable every single day.
But none of that is possible if I allow my mind to get trapped in what is and is not socially acceptable. None of it matters if my primary measure of self worth is a house in the fucking suburbs and a nice car I can park in the garage.
I’ve finally come to understand that comfort is not the same as freedom, and that the former comes at the latter’s expense. And I will not allow limitations—whether my own or others—to get in the way of embracing that truth.
I’m not saying we should live reckless, ill-advised, careless lives. Precisely the opposite. I’m saying we should live lives of meaning and purpose—and that is not achieved through accumulating wealth in order to buy comfort.
Hell, I’d love to be rich—I hope my books fucking blow up and everyone reads them and I make a bunch of money. But I write them because I love telling stories—because I’m trying to say something worthwhile about life and humanity. And if I ever get rich that’s great because then I can use that money to make the world a better place, start non-profits, build sustainable houses, travel the world with my son or friends or a powerful, beautiful woman who has yet to be named. (Annie?)
But if it never happens, that’s OK too—because my self worth isn’t tied to what I own.
It’s tied to who I am.