I was thinking a bit the other day and I came to an interesting conclusion. There are three ways to experience life.
- You can live life on the wild side
- You can live life on the mild side
- You can live life on the safe side
To my way of thinking, the first two are where I believe life should probably be lived. The third side is for those people who are too timid or overly obsessed with security or in general, just go along with what life throws their way and attempt to not rock the boat.
I see nothing wrong with any of these three choices. And, in some cases, there are people who may straddle all three styles. Allow me to take a few moments to explore each of these three lifestyles. Let's begin with, where I believe the vast majority of people settle in, “the Safe Side.”
Life on the Safe Side
What do I mean by Life on the Safe Side? I believe in every society regardless of the level of a thing we call civilization, there are a set of established norms (or standards) and expectations of the members of the society. These norms and expectations are imparted on the new (youth and upcoming adults) through some form of educational process, parental guidance, interaction with society leaders at all levels from tribal or village through the “big chief.”
This set of norms may vary from society to society, but typically includes such things as marriage/family formation traditions, vocational/occupational/professional standards and expectations, where individuals fit into society based on their education, occupation, family status and financial resources.
Walking on the safe side means, to my thinking, essentially to walk the “straight and narrow” path established by our predecessors and handed down from generation to generation. Certainly, in more primitive societies, these norms and expectations will remain unchanged, to any substantial degree, for generations. In more advanced societies, people will adapt with change that is fueled by innovation, technology and education. However, each of the extremes and everything between them will follow a certain path of straight and narrow norms and expectations.
The U.S. society is considered one of the most, if not the most, advanced societies in the world. We, as a people, tend to follow the norms and expectations established over a period approaching 300 hundred years. There is a minute segment of the society that enjoys massive amounts of wealth. There is another segment who live on the opposite end of that spectrum and live very meagerly. One might even say primitively. The mass of the population live somewhat comfortably and “safe” between those two extremes. That's where the norm and the expectations for our society exist.
There are two other small segments of the population. I refer to them as those who live on either the wild side or the mild side. Neither of these two groups are necessarily aligned with the extremes of wealth or poverty. They have simply chosen to push the envelope, step outside the box, if you will, and live, slightly to greatly, divergent lifestyles from the majority living the safe lifestyle.
You, me and most everyone I know were educated and conditioned to accept these norms and expectations and to embrace them as our chosen lifestyle. The reality is, we don't choose it, we simply assimilate into it. We measure and are measured by society, our families and ourselves by our success or lack of success in conforming to the norms and expectations of our education and conditioning. For the most part we live in conforming communities, have conforming jobs, may attend (or not) but usually identify with some religious belief and to make it simple, with only slight variations, we do and live very much like everyone else we associate with.
Our lives begin, we are conditioned, conform, get old and ultimately die. It was Thoreau, among others, who recognized this when he said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Simply stated, we are born, we exist and we die. It's not that children, men and women and even those reaching their golden years don't have dreams and aspirations. It's simply that we are educated and conditioned to live by the norms and standards of “most men” as Thoreau termed it. We choose to conform and accept the safe, secure (as we individually define safe and secure) life path.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this choice. If it works for you and you're content with your life, there is no reason to make any other choices. However, around 1981 a woman named Jesse Potter, speaking to a group of women, made this astute statement, “If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten.” Perhaps, you don't feel like your life is meeting your personal expectations or, as in the movie ”Pleasantville,” life is dull. The fantasy movie is about a 1950's town in Iowa, where everything is black, white and shades of gray. That is, until the teenage hero and heroine introduce the town to different views on life and little by little everything takes on full color, especially the people.
Life on the safe side is, well, safe. It is what it is. It's not really exciting, but it's not necessarily boring. Each day just unfolds like the day before and like the next day will follow it. Nothing particularly new or exciting or uniquely different. Just more of the same.
Life on the Wild Side
What is life on the wild side? Based on my definition of life on the safe side, you might deduce you become a “wild and crazy” guy or gal, like Steve Martin and Dan Akroyd, from they their famous Saturday Night Live sketches. But, no! That's not what I'm referring to.
The wild side is anyone who steps outside the box or pushes the envelope. It could be as extreme as skydiving or base jumping, exploring underwater caves, going deep sea fishing for Great White Sharks, becoming a NASCAR or formula car race driver, becoming a Top Gun in a Navy jet fighter, earning one's living as a member of a professional women's beach volleyball team and a long list of other outside the box lifestyles. Or, it might be something not quite as extreme like becoming a professional golfer, writing and performing music, becoming an author of any kind of books (think JK Rowling of “Harry Potter” fame), being an inventor, an entrepreneur, a fashion model or a fashion photographer and, again the list is long.
In other words, life on the wild side is not conforming to what you were educated and conditioned to believe is the norm and expectation. Living life on the wild side simply means, as the song penned by Paul Anka and made famous by Frank Sinatra says, when you finally get to the end of your life, you too can sing, “I did it my way.”
Does this necessarily make you any better or worse off than people who follow the safe life? Maybe in your own mind, but in reality, not really. You made a conscious choice to do something that didn't conform with the traditional norms and expectations. Your life may be somewhat (a little or a lot) more exciting and fulfilling (to you) than that of the mass of society. To put things in perspective, you are part of a very small portion of society. While many of the rest may dream about a life on the wild side, read books, watch movies and such, you took the leap of faith and chose to be different.
Life on the Mild Side
What do I mean by life on the mild side? I define the mild side as not conforming to the accepted mainstream educationally and conditioned life choices the mass of society conforms to. It doesn't make you a rebel. It doesn't make you a freak of nature. You simply seek personal freedom to live free of someone else telling you what time you're going to be where doing whatever they tell you you're going to do.
Once again, many of the choices you may make crossover with some of the choices on the wild side. However, where people on the wild side may be driven by a desire to accumulate some wealth, drive fast, fancy cars, live in large, luxurious homes, travel to exotic places on a frequent basis and doing much of what you do for personal acclaim, people on the mild side have a different motivation.
People living on the mild side are typically motivated by the quest for personal freedom and simple happiness. Typically, while money is important to subsist, it is seldom ever a driving force for their actions and choices. Living on the mild side might inspire someone to become entrepreneurial (I can relate to that since I've been a lifelong entrepreneur). A person may be inspired to write or perform music, paint artistic works, live off their own land, trek the U.S. or the world just for the spirit of exploration. It may mean living small with minimal “stuff” on an economical budget. Because of this kind of chosen lifestyle, life is simple, minimal and not very financially demanding. They will likely be able to work less. Actually, their work may not even resemble work if they are doing something they are passionate about. Thus, they can devote more of their priceless time to things that are far more fulfilling and bring greater degrees of happiness.
Living on the mild side doesn't mean they aren't contributing members of society, nor are they “outcasts.” It simply means they get to live life on their own terms, not the terms of some huge corporation, government job or institution. It means they've found a way to live freer and happier without being in debt for things they don't feel a need to possess nor beholding to anyone else. In our modern world, this is getting pretty close to achieving the most freedom anyone can hope for.
Living the Wild, Mild, Safe Life
Yes, you can! You can have the best of all three worlds. I can't tell you your formula. You have to determine that for yourself based on what you're looking for out of life.
I was fortunate enough to live a relatively safe life. I lived in nice homes in fantastic locations. I drove many motor vehicles and enjoyed everything from an old VW microbus to a Japanese small sedan, to luxury cars to SUV's and vans of all descriptions. The list is long. By some stroke of luck and fate, my father, not an entrepreneur, but one who took the safe life choice, inspired me to become an entrepreneur at a very young age. It stuck like glue.
Sure, I had some part-time jobs in high school and college. I had a full-time job for nearly four years serving my country in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era. I followed my tax accountants advice and owned a couple houses. What I learned from those experiences is that working for someone else “owning” homes wasn't for me or important to me.
I learned to find and negotiate really great long term leasing arrangements. This was the right choice for me. It ultimately saved me untold numbers of dollars while affording me lifestyles I couldn't have imagined as a kid or even a young adult. Choosing the entrepreneurial route was the smartest choice for me. It was complicated, but I controlled most of the game of my life.
I was married and had a small family while inheriting a larger family as part of the deal. I enjoyed family life for all the right reasons. I also found, after many attempts, after my first marriage ended in divorce, that I actually preferred living life as a solo party of one. And then, one day, the time came for my next choice. I chose to become free of any physical residence and learn to live much freer and nomadic so I could explore the world I lived in. That world is much larger than any community I ever lived in.
I've surfed, snorkeled, scuba dived, water skied, snow skied, ice skated, ice sailed, ice boated, hot air ballooned, walked on the Great Wall of China and done many other things. The list is way too long to include here. I've realized many of my dreams. I've even had dreams where I started something a half century ago and recently realized the massive impact that dream has had on thousands, and probably millions of lives around the world. I lived parts of my life safely adhering to the norms and expectations. I've crossed that with many wild side life experiences. And, I've lived the mild side and basically live that lifestyle full-time now.
I would encourage you to explore your own wild side. You should also consider embracing the mild side. This can allow you to set aside the conformity to the norms and expectations of others who have significant if not total control over your life. I don't expect the majority of people to go much beyond some dreams about this. Most won't take any action. They are too conditioned to what they have and the lifestyle they live. But, if you're reading this blog. I know you're seeking something else for yourself. You know there is no percentage in fully living the safe side. Life will start, you'll work at something someone else controls for 40 to 60 years (perhaps even longer) and then life will end and that music will still be in you when you die.
Explore your own dreams, expectations, opportunities and truths about what YOU want from your life and then don't just sit on it. If you want it, make the choice. Don't forget what happens if you always do what you've always done. Life is way too short to not live it on your own terms. Live free and be happy. EH