I’ve never felt quite like everyone else.
In the past few weeks, in an effort to declutter my life and get back in touch with the best and most creative parts of myself, I began exploring old entries in long-forgotten journals. One of the many phrases that came up again and again was “where are the people like me?”
I’ve spent a great deal of time and emotion exploring the answer to that question, a search not only for the people like me, but also for fulfillment. I’ve looked down the more traditional avenues of higher education and steady employment, but I so often felt like those were paths prescribed to me by the norms of society, rather than the truth in my soul.
I first began feeling this way when I graduated college, and again upon completing grad school, so uninspired by my accomplishment that I didn’t even attend the graduation ceremony. I have felt this way several times throughout my adult life, though often without the proper understanding, skills, or language to know exactly how to deal with it.
Ultimately, what I lacked in direction and fulfillment in my personal life, as well as my unpursued creative life, I began making up for in other ways.
I began allowing myself to become defined by the things that might impress other people, rather than what truly gave me meaning. The coolest guitars. The best and largest record collection. The rarest and most sought after craft beer. In short, I had traded my steadfast definition of fulfillment and what matters most for a few likes on an Instagram post.
Along with stuff, however, I have always sought to consume and reflect upon a great deal of content. I am constantly on the hunt for a classic short story, a long-lost blues album, or an inspiring film.
One of those films, Into the Wild, recently struck a tremendous chord with me. Even though the ending is far from auspicious for the main character (or the real-life inspiration for the book and film), the intentions that brought him into nature were to be celebrated. Who among us hasn’t thought about leaving our emotionally and physically taxing careers to live with complete freedom?
He had the potential to succeed on other people’s terms, and chose rather to succeed solely on his own. And, for quite some time, he did.
Like the clarity one gets while hiking through nature, I felt something I hadn’t felt in far too long. I sat through the credits, not so much reading the contributions of each member of the crew, but doing everything I could to make the moment last.
As soon as the movie ended, however, a commercial came on the screen, extolling the supposed virtues of being able to be connected to everything, and everyone, at all times.
So much for making the moment last.
Oddly enough, it did. The contrast of these disparate messages resonated with me well into the next day.
I forced myself to pause and reflect upon my happiness, my passions, and what I wanted out of life. I conducted my own version of Martin Short’s “Nine Categories of Self-Evaluation,” and was brutally honest, realizing I’d fallen into familiar traps, devoting far too much time, money, and energy into hobbies and pursuits that simply were not bringing any meaning to my life.
I reassessed. I listened to an incredible conversation between Jerry Seinfeld and Tim Ferriss on the latter’s podcast. I started reading the essays of Paul Graham. I watched a Netflix documentary called The Minimalists. Now, here were the people like me, the ones I’d been searching for all these years!
With this newfound inspiration and energy, I went back to something that survived my renewed minimalist mindset, something that contained so much of my true self that I never dared to part with it.
A cardboard box.
A cardboard box that contains every creative thing I’ve ever put to paper. Song lyrics. Unfinished movie scripts. Journals. Published articles. Ideas, ideas, ideas.
The more I dug into these forgotten treasures, the more I marveled at the often-impressive creativity I’d sadly pushed aside. And as I looked inward, I kept hearing that George Bernard Shaw quote in my head:
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
I didn’t sell my belongings and move into the wilderness. I haven’t quit my job (yet) to head west for the promised land. But what this unusually poignant moment of inspiration provided me with was a new mindset, a renewed interest in and focus on things I’d feared I’d lost, and the ability to cast aside the expectations of others and focus on the things that mean the most to me.
That all-important cardboard box led me back ... to me.
I’ve spent the past few weeks embracing the challenges and risks of the creative endeavors I always wanted to pursue. I’ve become dedicated to this pursuit, dutifully carving time into my day for writing sessions, creativity breaks, journaling, and reading.
I feel like me.
And while I may not be like everyone else, for the first time in my life, not like everybody else is exactly what I want to be.