To live life without restraints, on your own terms, to be liberated with each passing moment; moments that aren’t fleeting but recurring, longing and everlasting. To be uplifted, and see passion and character in all facets of life. To live as if your dreaming, to dream as if your always asleep. This is life, nothing less, only more.

(found in my notebook, dated 27 October 2012.)

Stranger A: Are you watching My Kitchen Rules?
Stranger B: I am, but it’s not as good as last season.
Stranger A: I know, but there isn’t anything else to watch at 7:30pm; it’s either The Block, My Kitchen Rules or American Idol. [turns to me] What do you watch?
Craig: I don’t own a TV.
*expressions of alarm on both Stranger A and B’s faces*
Craig: You know you could just pick up a book or go outside?

… the subsequent look I received was as if I had just asked someone to remove a limb with a blunt instrument.

Unfortunately, this was the second at-length conversation on the topic of My Kitchen Rules that my ears had been subjected to on this particular afternoon. I dare ask … is this what we, as a intellectual society and as a species full of adventure, have slumped to? Consider this, you work all day, you get home and decide to make a really quick, cheap dinner consisting of processed foods; you curl up on the couch as part of a rigorous evening routine and watch a group of random strangers compete over cooking skills. At what stage is this beneficial? Furthermore, how does anyone justify choosing ‘the best of limited options’ when it comes to reality television at 730 in the evening; the night is young, the day is late, why would anyone want to waste the limited time we have in this existence? Sooner or later, this growing trend of being participatory in the media mechanism of reality television is going to become so obscene that The Truman Show will start airing at eight;  with everyone watching.

Late last year I was asked how I found the time to complete all of my ‘hobbies’: University while working full-time, learning Spanish, improving my fitness, devouring literature amongst a plethora of other useful skills. The response is beyond simple: I don’t watch television or play video games. The stunned look and ensuing reply of ‘I guess that would free up a lot of time’, really proves that it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. Most just don’t even think about it, nor question it.

How much of your life are you going to whittle away in front of the television?

Get off the couch, sell your TV and start living your life.

The phrase ‘settle down’ immediately makes me convulse; as if someone has just nailed my voodoo doll to a wall. To some this is a seemingly innocent phrase with intentions of ‘maturity’ and ‘adulthood’, while the true meaning of this phrase is deeply ingrained in the idea of giving up; with intentions of lying down and simply waiting for death. To settle down is to simply accept what is.

When someone refers to settling down, they are usually talking about any of the following: buying a house, getting married, having kids, and ensuring job security in a stable 9-5 job; becoming another gear in the machine, another success in the American dream. Though, the underlying tone is delivered as a message about ceasing adventure and accepting societal and conventional norms.

I will never understand those that settle down at young ages of 19, wanting multiple children and then giving up on their own life; this isn’t a post-war society, we aren’t trying to repopulate. In fact, as a species we are facing a seriously large problem of over-population; we do not have the land or the resources to sustain our own populations let alone the current population growth rates. However I digress.

Realistically, at 19, no one has life experience. You are not old enough to have defined yourself, nor have you experienced enough of the world. I say this with the experience of being engaged at 19. At the time I was following the conventional script of life: get a degree, get a job, find partner, and settle down. In hindsight, I had no idea what I was doing; let alone a grasp on any of the emotions that I was feeling. I am glad that it fell apart, because I fear what would have become of me.

I’m not sure when, but some time ago, our ingrained sense of adventure died. There was a time when most people looked to the stars and dreamed of exploring them or simply set sail in search of untamed lands. These days some people don’t even leave the state that they grew up in. They live forever within their comfort zone. Never seeking more and never demanding more from life. Some even become extreme xenophobes; fearing anything perceived as different.

What doesn’t help is the dominant narrative present within todays society. Where buying a house becomes the aim of life. Where you should just settle down and become part of the daily grind. At what stage in the development of our species, of our cerebral cortex, did waiting for death become acceptable?

Let us look at what the stereotypical day consists of: getting up, commuting to work, eight hours of sedentary desk work, commuting home, cooking highly processed pre-packaged foods, and siting down in front of a giant screen to watch reality TV for hours before going to bed. Rinse and repeat with the accumulation of material possessions. Is this really life? This is what people mean when they say ‘settle down’.

I never want to settle down, and neither should you. We should seek adventures, we should continually seek to expand our knowledge, our experiences and become greater than our present self.

Never settle. Always demand more from life.

All of the adventures in our lives can be bound and defined by chapters, with main themes and specific meaning. Characters may come and go between chapters, but each chapter is standalone; varying from University, time spent overseas, to partners and lovers. We write these as chapters because once it is over, and the pages are finalised, you can’t go back to it. At times we try to keep a chapter or two open, whether in desire to be able to add a few pages here or there, or just because we don’t know how to close it off. We refuse to finish some of these chapters because we love them so much, because of the stories within them. The problem then arises in the writing of new chapters; for as much as we might want to start a new chapter, we cannot commit to it without closing the old one off.

We know what the new chapter is going to be about, we’ve picked out the characters in explicit detail, we have even written the introduction. This new chapter is exciting, we know where we want to take it, and some of the adventures we want to write about; but we cannot give ourselves to the story, not truly. For each new page that we write in this fresh chapter, our mind lingers on the chapter that doesn’t have an end, the chapter that sits open in our heart. We fear that closing the chapter makes it meaningless, that starting a new one devalues the words on those pages; it doesn’t. Those words were written with love, happiness, tears and sorrow. Nothing can take away the value in those words, for with them carries the weight they were written with; using ink that never fades.

As I sit down, with the new chapter swirling in my head and heart, I try to think of the last words to enter on these old pages, and I hope the characters in it can forgive me.

This was originally written as a personal response to a close friend based on this post, however it deserves open viewing in its own right.

Before I start I just want to clarify a point, when discussing conformism I am really looking at the deeply ingrained trend in society that creates a singular identity that everyone tries to attain; like you must marry, have kids, own a house – the white picket fence American dream. I believe this goes beyond the human need for validation – a bottom-up individual behaviour – to the top-down enforcement of a uniform construct by society. While it is heavily interlinked with the innate desire for validation, it can be argued similar to the chicken-or-the-egg paradox. Has our innate desire for validation by society forced society to develop a uniform identity construct that everyone should prescribe to? Or has the societal enforcement of a belief and identity caused the need for validation by the individual? Whereby the individual is seeking acceptance from society for living slightly outside of the ‘norm’ or construct that society is trying to make everyone conform to.

Deep within humanity we naturally have an ingrained desire to belong and be accepted; it’s a survival instinct – for in days gone by, it was better to belong to a strong clan than be a nomad on your own. From a young age we spend eons trying to fit in, we change everything from out likes, dislikes, clothes, attitude and beliefs in an attempt to ‘fit in’ with those who we, and the micro-society we are exposed to think are ‘cool’. We also spend our childhood and early adulthood looking for validation in our choices from our parents. I would like to highlight a quote from Battlestar Galactica:

Number Six: We’re the children of humanity. That makes them our parents in a sense.
Aaron Doral: True, but parents have to die. It’s the only way children can come into their own.

Expressing the view that until our parents are dead, the children can never reach their full potential. Albeit slightly depressing, this reflects the overly restrictive desire for validation from our parents. Removing death from the equation, when we stop seeking validation for our decisions and only seek internal validation, we can achieve a greater life, and lead happier lives. This parental validation theme is also deeply ingrained in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ whereby Mr Fischer, who has lived his life in his father’s shadow, desperately seeks his father’s validation; giving the protagonists an easy way to manipulate his actions and beliefs.

On marketing companies, they make us envious. They make us believe that we need something in particular to lead a good life, or to fit in, further enhancing a conformist attitude. Further ingrained within marketing and society and what marketing capitalises on is the idea of ‘status’. Where under conventional thinking, those that drive around in that nice Porsche are desirable, as it is a status symbol. The desire to own the latest iPhone, despite only having few advantages, causes metric tonnes of pointless electronic waste every year. This envy of status fuels consumerism and conformist society.

We get better at setting conformism aside as we grow older simply because we become more accepting of self-validation; we become more aware and steadfast in our own beliefs – choosing to use them as the basis for our actions and decisions rather than those of society.

You express the belief that you do not want to be seen as kind, because ‘kindness can be perceived as a weakness […] It’s not seen as a quality to aspire to or that breeds “success” ‘. Which is exactly the kind of backwards thinking that is generated by the ‘to be successful you need to be ruthless’ social ideology. I take this moment to look back on the classic late 90’s movie ‘Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion’ which resonates the theme that success does not equate to money or assets; it is in the eye of the beholder. Success is what you define it. To me, success lies in simply changing a life for the better; to inspire someone to be the best version of themself.

Tangent. In my eight months in Timor Leste I was on the go from 630 am until 1 am every day. I finished 35 books, my Master’s degree, I learnt Spanish, made massive leaps in my own fitness and health, and saved alot of money; but the success that still touches me and makes me proud, is that my worst employee, went from wanting to quit at the first opportunity and being incredibly terrible at this job, to wanting to excel above all else in his work and personal life. He did a backflip on his attitude towards life and when I spoke with his supervisor about it – even he was surprised – and he attributed it to my leadership and attitude, and quoted him as saying ‘I want to be really good at this, because if the boss can do it all that stuff, so can I’.

On new years eve, when you receive text messages from people saying ‘thank you for all of your help this year, you’re a fantastic boss’. That, is success.

I also tangent with a quote by John Holt that I stumbled upon thanks to Catarina Fake:

Leaders are not what many people think–people with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, determination, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head even when things are going badly. This is the opposite of the “charisma” that we hear so much about.

This quote caused the biggest change in my view on leadership; despite already having a Diploma in Military Leadership, and countless hours of leadership training. It also altered my view on the way we should approach life. If we continually concern ourselves with what others think of us, over what we think of ourselves, we will get nowhere; living life by proxy. The expectation is that we should live our lives by gathering followers; to quote T.I.S.M: ‘As a mistral employee once told me, you’re only as good as your fans’. Thus, we stop defining ourselves and we let ourselves be defined by the company we keep.

I spent a long time concerning myself with what others thought of me, only to realise that was not what defined me. In his novel ‘Walden: or, Life in the Woods’, Henry David Thoreau wrote that “Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate”. If we busy ourselves to the gathering of followers and then concerning ourselves with what they think of us, we can never truly discover what our own beliefs are; the confusion between what we think we should believe in and what we do is ever present. Only when we discard concern for external validation do we define our internal beliefs.

Even if we have not yet found what are beliefs are, constantly pandering to the opinions of others and society will only prolong that discovery.

Only internally can we find true validation. In saying all of this, we should not be afraid from time to time, to ask for advice and the opinions of others. Nor should we be so steadfast in our opinions that we don’t make accommodation for variations, or keep an open mind; this however, is a further tangent for another time.

I leave you with a quote from a friend of mine, who was picking on some of her urban hippy friends for raising chickens. An old man walked passed and said “once everyone had chickens”. I think that’s a powerful observation in itself, that the benchmarks for “normality” and “mainstream” are dynamic. That’s what makes your call to do the things that make you happy all the more persuasive, because today’s ‘weirdness’ is tomorrow’s ‘mainstream’ and vice versa.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Sometimes you just meet someone who kick starts your energy and passion into overdrive. A brief encounter with a butterfly on the other side of the world.

I met you dancing; where you put everyone to shame. Every guy wanted to be with you, every girl wanted to be you. You were a beacon of free energy and untamed passion. A symbol of care free fun. You are gorgeous. A siren; for any man that would approach was surely to be devastated.

We danced together for hours. Losing myself in that same care free energy. Everyone watched us intensely; whether in jealousy or just awe I don’t know. Soon it became time to head home, but not before talking over a very late bite to eat.

We talked for ages afterwards too; laying on my couch in the early hours of the morning. Delving into your creativity and passion in both photography and life. A creativity that is nothing short of inspiring and a passion that was powerful to be on the receiving end of; I was completely entangled. The night was about sharing an energy that could light up streets lamps for miles; to connect and be liberated. As the morning arrive, I couldn’t help but feel that the passion, creativity and energy wasn’t just a temporary feeling, but was now seared into a moment, one that won’t ever become just a memory.

We meet new people every day, we strengthen old friendships along the way, and we always have the opportunity to change lives. We all have something to offer, and should never hold it back. We each have the power to lead, to encourage those we encounter to be the best version of themselves. To inspire their passions and desires. As an introvert, I tend to believe that to a degree we need a good part of our energy simply for ourselves; however, you have made me realise that when you bring an energy to the table, and uplift others, it doesn’t run out. It multiplies. Like the plague. It changes people and defines moments.

Whenever you meet someone, whether they are new or old; always be inspiring, share your passions, share your energy. You never know what profound effect it might have.

This is a story with many meanings, all of them intertwined; but I won’t spell it out for you.

So there we were, the fourth night in two weeks with a solitary purpose, have fun. With a growing desire for a real distraction and dressed to the nines, we headed out after a party. After several hours of dancing, I blended into the atmosphere; vanished into the music, and was lost.

I went to the bar to get another drink, I turned, and I caught your eye. You were standing there and for a moment time paused, the crowd swimming around us. I watched as you made your way to the bar, pushing people out of the way as you went. You reached the bar and slide next to me, you turned, and we locked eyes. You were Megan and I was Craig, and for a moment I was lost forever. Your shoulder length brown hair, your cherry red lips and mesmerising eyes. I was caught by your smile, and for a moment I was more alive than I had felt in a while. Our friends met, and we followed your invitation to the dance floor. We turned, placed our drinks down, and you were gone.

I tried to find you. I never could.

Later that night, I received a call from a friend; she was scared of the way her boyfriend was acting. I met up with them, and ended up walking him to the Taxi line to send him home. On the way to the Taxi, he was assaulted from behind, a punch to the back of the head; unsuspecting, he went down and hit the concrete. Pure random violence. Luckily he did not lose consciousness, let alone die. He was loaded into an ambulance with head trauma, and left for the hospital with his girlfriend. My friend and I followed tail in a Taxi. We sat in the waiting room of the Emergency ward for two hours until we felt comfortable leaving (later we found out he needed surgery and three metal plates inserted).

We sat on the bench outside the hospital as we waited for separate Taxi’s to take us home. The sun was rising on a very early Saturday. The smell of a fresh morning was in the air, tainted with hope and opportunity. I turned and asked if you were just a hallucination. You weren’t. Yet there I was, in the midst of a violent, unpleasant morning, sitting on a bench with a warm smile on my face, with your cherry red lips and gorgeous smile on my mind. Looking forward to the new day that awaited.

There comes a point when you realise that you have little control over your own life; not real control anyway. We always think we do, I mean, we work in jobs we enjoy most of the time, we live by the guidelines set out for us, we buy the products we need and we enjoy the free time we have outside of work. What this should really say is, we work to make someone else a profit, we buy produce and goods that are served and heavily marketed, we follow the rules set out for us by someone we assume knows best and we spend a good portion of our free time trying to recover from the working week. This is where we come unstuck. This is where we are wrong. It’s also easy to fix and a lot easier than we think too.

So how do we right this wrong? Lets start with why we are wrong …

In the past 20 years, marketing has sky rocketed, and so has conformism. When I think of marketing, I don’t think of it as happy messages that a company wishes to convey, I think of it by its Military term: Information Operations. These Information Operations are designed specifically to alter the way you think, to embed an idea and convince you of it; all without you realising it’s happening. Information Operations is also the broader term used to group activities like Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) … scary right? I should know, I’ve written an essay on it and have even taken part in it. So what does this have to do with conformism? If the mass media and global corporations are convincing everyone to believe their message, it makes it easier to swallow and be part of the crowd.

So how do we fix this? How do we live life on our own term?

In his influential essay ‘Self-Reliance’, Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.

He also states:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

We are told from a young age to be different, to follow our own path; but so few of us do. Some of us, myself included, fear being wrong. We fear that someone will tell us that what we are doing and what we believe is wrong; simply because we are not conforming. That fear controls us; it stops us from reaching our potential and being truly free. So we need to break from fear. I strive to live by the following sentiment: ‘What is the worst that can happen?’. Sure, someone can tell me I’m wrong (most of the time they can’t even justify it), but I know in my heart, with my soul and in my mind that I am right, and what I believe in is true; what’s the worst that can happen – People think I’m crazy, and I get to be happy.

I wear Vibram FiveFinger shoes because I know they are better for me and they make me feel free, despite the weird looks I get.

I devour classic literature and philosophy because I believe that it develops and liberates the mind and the soul; despite stark criticism for being someone who ‘reads’.

I grow as much of my own produce as I can, I strive to be environmentally friendly, and I love the smell of burning incense; despite being criticized as a greenie or hippie.

I smile and wave at kids, because when I was working in Timor Leste for most of 2012, I learnt the power of compassion and the simple giving and sharing of enthusiasm; sometimes all happiness needs is a shared smile.

I do these things because I know them to be true, even if no one around me believes in it. I do it because it makes me happy, and it makes me feel alive. It gives me the freedom to choose.

I have a few ties to cut before I can truly live life on my own terms, but that shouldn’t stop you.

Always question preconceptions.

Always think outside the box.

Never stop dreaming.

Don’t blindly follow the rules.

Fight for what you believe in.

Don’t let anyone ever stop you from following your own path.

… Live life on your terms, and for once, have real control over it.

In the absence of the mind, the slow death of the heart, the air grows perilously thin. Your lungs begin to shrink, your eyes grow weak and you begin to only hear silence. Time grows longer and days become weary. Measures of distance are amplified, becoming relative to meaning. A loneliness embodies your existence, borrowing what life you have left; never to give it back. You feel nothing, not even the darkness that resembles the remnants of the soul. Looking in the mirror, not recognizing the reflection, you tremble on weak legs. At night you lie awake, feeling vacant, alone and cold. Sometimes you feel part of what was once there. You can’t name it; but you know it’s there, eating away at what’s left. A ghost that never wanes …

There are days that just make no sense and days that are consumed by a cloud of doubt and confusion. Sometimes all we can do is plough into the darkness, holding nothing back, with arms wide open. If we don’t enter the darkness, we don’t learn anything; all we do is tread lightly around our fears, barely living. No matter how much pain is in that darkness, always keep your hands open and your arms free; otherwise you might miss the small light shining within the abyss. The light that will pull you through …