2020 has been wrought with levels of chaos and uncertainty that most of us have never before experienced, and I am no exception. As a matter of fact, I often find myself worrying about COVID-19, career path uncertainty, and other personal matters — all of which have been amplified as a result.
But before I get on with this riff, let me give credit where credit is due: numerous long walks, weightlifting, writing (like this), bonfires, and golf outings have all been tremendously therapeutic during these times. They’ve all been staples. Yet, there always seems to come an inescapable moment or two when I’m confronted with my thoughts head-on.
When all outlets and distractions are absent…
And in these moments of confrontation, I often find myself contemplating what I want out of life.
Except I’m not talking about what I want to do for a living, where I want to live, what I want to have, or how I want to spend my free time. I already have a pretty good answer to those types of questions.
Rather, I’m asking myself what I *really* want out of life. Questions like:
… “If I were observing myself from a 3rd person’s point of view, what would I want for him?”
… “When the day comes in the future, what is the one thing that I want for my kid?”
These are pretty existential questions, and I’ve struggled mightily to answer them. No doubt.
Until recently, that is…
I may have stumbled upon an answer through a mere dream.
Let me explain:
So the dream took place in a few different locations: part of it was on my old university’s campus, part of it was on my hometown’s main street, part of it was in a random shop, and part of it was in my bedroom. And for the most part, I was just doing my thing (vibing) in the dream. But there was one constant:
I was being followed — from place to place — by a camel.
Except this wasn’t your regular old camel. This camel was much, much uglier. Its hump wasn’t stored with fat like most camels (in order to survive a few weeks without food). Instead, there were just a few ugly bones protruding out of its back.
It was an old, crusty, and grim looking camel…
And no matter where I went in the dream, the camel eventually caught up to me. It was always such an unsettling feeling when it did, too, which is probably why I felt the need to go to a new place.
Anyways, after re-spawning from my old university to a small shop, and from a small shop to my hometown’s main street, I eventually ended up in my bedroom.
(The weird things is that this wasn’t actually my own bedroom — it was just a random room that I inherently understood to be mine. I still can’t figure this part out.)
And just as I was making my way out of the room to go do something else, the camel appeared between the door and myself. It found me. Again. It was ugly as ever. It was blocking the exit, and it was staring right through my soul.
I had nowhere to go…
So I took a page out of the nightmare handbook and woke up.
Again, a very odd dream. Like, it wasn’t as if I was falling off of a skyscraper or my were teeth spilling out of my mouth like marbles. And it wasn’t one of those dreams where a little child chases me with a knife. But this one was definitely unnerving in its own right.
Also, it was worth noting at the time that my dreams have been few and far between this past year since, as we’ve previously established, the world has already given me plenty to worry about. So I was ready to give up and discard the dream altogether.
But that right there — not dreaming a lot because I already had tons to worry about — really got me thinking again about what I want out of life…
What I *really* want in life isn’t necessarily financial freedom. It isn’t to achieve an amount of success that will make me feel worthy of praise from other people. It isn’t necessarily to be free to choose how I spend my time, where I spend it, or who I spend it with. Nor is necessarily to meet the girl that I’ll call “the one.”
Don’t get me wrong, those are all great things to aspire for…
… but at the end of the day, they’re all just stepping stones.
And stepping stones — even for the most interesting and decorated people in the world like Oprah, Elon Musk, and LeBron James — represent only a tiny fraction of life.
You see, most of our lifetime is actually spent in between stepping stones.
You know, doing some yardwork, waiting in line, having a coffee in the morning, and walking the dog?
Most of life is normal, routine, and even mundane.
Which begs the question: if the vast majority of our life is spent in a state of normalcy, then why do we spend so much time and energy worrying about the future and optimizing for the big stepping stones?
The Curse of Consciousness
As human beings, we have been both blessed and cursed with consciousness: we are the only living beings with the ability to think and plan into the future. Literally everything else’s head-space is in the present moment.
This is a blessing because we are able to adapt to and plan around our surrounding environment, communicate at a high level, and cooperate in ways that no other species is capable of.
But it’s also a bad thing…
That squirrel in your backyard? It’s not thinking about what life is like for rodents on the other side of town. Or that big oak tree in your local park? It doesn’t care in the slightest about other trees being taller than they are — or even the city’s proposal to excavate its park the following summer!
But you? Why do you seem to worry about things that are so far beyond your control, that may or may not even happen tomorrow, a week, a month, or even a year from now? Why are you so caught up on impressing people that you don’t even care about?
Look, some people get along quite well with uncertainty. For the rest of us, though, it can really eat us alive.
So, again I ask, why are we disproportionately worried about the future?
Shouldn’t we instead be more concerned about what our state of normalcy is like?
Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves instead: What’s my “normal” like? How appreciative am I of the little things in life? On a scale from mild iPhone addiction to 10, how well am I able to tolerate a dull moment?
And listen, I’m guilty of this too. If there’s one thing that’s secretly plagued me over the past five years, it’s tunnel vision. On the surface I probably come off as a teleological individual that aspires for big things. But the problem with being overly goal-oriented — time and time again — is that you fail to appreciate the little things because you’re too stressed out about the future.
So when I take a deep dive and contemplate about what I *really* want out of life and what I want for my future kid… and I peel back just one layer further…
I realize that all I could ever ask for is to be worry-free.
I don’t want to be a “worryer” anymore.
Because it seems like worrying is the only thing that can f**k up the present moment.
It’s easier said than done since worrying is so often out of our control biologically.
And just like the rest of humanity, I wish I had a concrete, sure-fire solution that would eliminate worry once and for all. But unfortunately, I just haven’t amassed enough wisdom yet…
Could it be that reducing worry is a function of increased risk-taking just so that we realize most of our worries in the past weren’t actually warranted? That we should adapt a “YOLO” mentality on life and cease avoiding disappointment? Or that we should stop trying to grip the world around us and instead fully submit to it?
There’s probably an ounce of truth to each of those solutions.
But the more I think about it, maybe — just maybe — the grim-looking camel in my dream was a symbol that we all have a bunch of ugly s**t going on in our lives, and what matters most is whether or not we decide to fixate a proportionate amount of attention on it. Like, what if there’s actually more “good” out there than “bad,” but the latter plays a hand in distorting the visibility of the former?
Was the camel just a sign that I should be more submissive to the ebbs and flows of the world since I am lucky to be in the top 1 percent of living beings inhabiting it right now?
To be honest I’m not even sure how to get over worrying, man. But I will tell you this:
I’m not about to spend an entire lifetime in a state of worry just to realize that I’ve squandered every opportunity along the way.
And that’s probably why I find myself on this very website right now: to stick my neck out there and become comfortable with taking shots in the dark.