I’m eternally fascinated by social conditioning. Despite being so struck by the notion of religion being the opiate of the masses that I sought out a social sciences degree that combined sociology with philosophy and developing a nihilistic outlook following my father’s premature death (for the record, I’m a happy nihilist), I am as guilty of the next person of limiting my dreams due to rules I can neither pin down nor defend.

It’s not that I’m an anarchist but I do think a great many things get given undue importance. Unfortunately my beliefs are often at odds with my practise; I have always coloured within the lines (although should I slip up I seek destruction*). This means that I while I boast of a philosophy of a life less ordinary, I generally do as is expected of me. When I read my friend Trev’s Facebook status that ‘Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate’ I found myself defending the notion of meetings, blaming his idiocy on over two years of travelling.

But the fiancé has been reading Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-hour Work Week and this week I picked it up. Trev has been banging on about it for a while and it’s been vaguely on my to-read list but not a high priority compared to say the historical novel my brother’s girlfriend gave me for Christmas. You see while I have an interest in self-help type stuff** I’m the kind of consumer that reads and fails to take action. I loved How Proust can change your life but read de Botton largely for comfort not inspiration and while I think James with his Affluenza theory is spot on, I nevertheless am guilty at times of being sincere (as opposed to authentic), hyperactive (as opposed to vivacious) and playing games (as opposed to being playful). In short, I figured that while I would probably like the book, it would join my list of things I meant to do something about at some point and not change me.

How ordinary.

Because that’s what we do isn’t it? We read an inspirational book but nevertheless get pulled back into everyday life. This has its benefits of course (my mortgage has been approved and I am now cautiously optimistic that I will shortly be writing to a gorgeous Victorian townhouse from a 70s folly - there really is no other way to explain the heating and electrics) but in a conversation with Trev recently I put a happy face on my stresses to be met with the assertion that holidays were not everything.

This hit home. Not because of the profundity of the statement but because this was Trev talking to me. A couple of years ago we were in hammocks in Siem Reap with me asking him to mix my rum and coke because I was too drunk to find my way out of the fabric. Back then we were equally bad influences on each other and now I’m getting advice on the meaning of life. When did I forget? I knew it back in Cambodia when we watched the sun set and talked into the night.

I made a promise back then. I made a promise to the fiancé that we’d live a life less ordinary.

We’ve had some successes. In January he quit his job with nothing else lined up (yet before the day had a job offer). I was incredibly proud of his courage in doing this and was inspired by his confidence in the ideal we had set for ourselves. And yet it’s all to easy to start thinking of amazing lives as being for other people, to read The 4-hour Work Week and think ‘wow’ but then ‘not for the likes of me.’ This despite me moving to Malaysia and having demonstrated to myself that I absolutely can live an exciting life. When a work colleague quit to move to Australia I found myself thinking ‘lucky her’ and had to force myself to acknowledge that I wasn’t doing the same because I didn’t want to and not because I couldn’t.

This to me is the essence of social conditioning. Without effort, we revert to toeing the line like elastic bands snapping back into shape. There’s good reason for this as given my fondness for bins being collected, food being delivered, fuel at the petrol station and so forth, I wish for the continuance of this trend. The quest for a life less ordinary becomes egotistical then or, worse, a seeming avoidance strategy for the reality of growing up. Those that buck the trend require castigating as being irresponsible, immature and deviant.

But that isn’t really true. In quitting his unfulfilling job the fiancé demonstrated responsibility for his mental health, maturity in facing up to a deeply unsatisfactory situation and was actually exceedingly ordinary in wanting happiness (although perhaps a little rare in getting off his backside and doing something about it).

Really it comes down to being clear in your mind about what you want and not letting a rule book you didn’t write dictate to you. Kudos to Ferriss.

* When I was about 9 we took a school trip to Brimham Rocks and upon our return did an art project where we mixed poster paint with pva glue to create textured rock paintings. Mine went wrong so I needed to destroy the painting and my teacher (damn you Mr McNally!) wouldn’t let me. I tried to explain that it hurt but lacked the words. Today I think of it as sunburn on the inside of my skin (sometimes more the warm of ant bites when you sit on a nest) but fortunately have a diagnosis most people have heard of.

** If I’m tense and need an outlet, a Chicken Soup for the Soul inspired sob session works bloody wonders (this freaks the fiancé out no end: ‘But you hate people, why are you crying about their sacchariny story?’).

3/11/2011 02:30:19 am

Excellent piece this week. You never know what is around the corner, but unless you keep a look out, you will never find out. I am also a big Fan of Ferris and you should check out his new book The 4 Hour Body - http://amzn.to/eNs5PJ

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Kathryn
3/11/2011 03:05:32 am

With a strapline of 'An uncommon guide to rapid fat-loss, incredible sex and becoming superhuman' it sounds a bit Charlie Sheen so count me in ;)

Just took a look at your blog and wanted to ask you something but there are no contact details!

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3/20/2011 05:32:26 am

best to tweet me @SparkTrader

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