A Little Life

Doing what I do, I get e-mails all the time about not being average.

In particular, there’s one e-mail list that I’m on called The Art of Nonconformity, by Chris Guillebeau. I liked it for a little while, but like most e-mail lists, he pretty much says the same thing over and over. Now don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of blogs out there that I love that do this.

There’s a Zen Pencils cartoon that pretty much sums up what Chris is trying to tell us. There are a lot more blogs that will tell you the same thing: average is bad, be adventurous, take risks. Be creative, hell, be a Creative! Be special!

But here’s the thing I don’t understand: why is average bad? It takes on the same kind of moral weight that efficiency does, as though someone who is not exceptional doesn’t have anything to contribute or say.

Why is it that we all have to be special? Why is it wrong to be one of the billions on this earth, and just living?

Let’s take the guy in that Zen Pencils comic. What if he worked a job for many years, had a family, worked to pay off his house, things like that. Let’s say he went to the bar on Friday, fished on Saturday, and went to church on Sundays. That was his thing. He could have spent his whole life, plugging away. Never took a risk in his life; he was born in Flint, Michigan, and he’ll die in Flint, Michigan or Youngstown, Ohio, or Bismarck, North Dakota, or any place that isn’t a global city. Ka*chunk Ka*chunk Ka*chunk all day.

Why is his life a waste? Why is the fact that his life wasn’t special mean he lived a fruitless one?

All this stuff reminds me of the one of the most popular self-help books that we’ve got in our collection: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It’s awful. The main thesis of this book is that if you want something bad enough, and you’re ready for it, you’ll get it. This isn’t true. You can’t get something by thinking it, any more than you can turn God into a vending machine.

Lots of people don’t have that kind of ability, whether it be because of where they’re from or what they’re born into. But even the ones that do owe their existence to the guys that punch a clock. There wouldn’t be an app industry without Foxconn ‘engineers;’ there wouldn’t be a restaurant industry without farm labor picking crops; there wouldn’t be web design without boring telecom companies. Forgetting that is where Objectivism comes from.

Further, blogs like Chris’s have common themes, or things that you have to do to be special: write, travel, code, learn a language, etc. Only if you work and rebel in the right way will you be a true Creative. Tell people you’re a bronie or you play D&D, and you’ll see how far people are committed to creative rebellion.

In this mold, creativity becomes a way to split the world, just like Communism, Objectivism, racism, or any other way we stupidly split the world into two types of people.

Like many of these things, it relies on convincing people that they are special:

“No you’re not like them; you’re a Creative! An entrepreneurial creative at that! You have a blog! You create content! Other people share that content, and you share their content! It’s entrepreneurial! It’s great!”

But therein lies the rub: it is great. Having interests is great. Doing things to better yourself is great. Hell, I can only make these arguments well because I take a great interest in writing and I develop that skill. But that doesn’t make me, or anyone, better than the guy on the line.

You might have a different job, and interests, than he does. But that’s it; the world needs everybody. And chances are, even with your interests and your entrepreneurship and your blog and your lifestyle, you’ve got plenty in common with that guy.

If anything, we’re all heading to the same spot.

So just because you’re not a writer, entrepreneur, blogger, coder, jet-setter, app-developer, or ‘creative’ doesn’t mean your life is wasted.

I think, sometimes, we forget that.

Not everyone does, of course.

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