I’ve got a confession: I have a strong dislike for people whom are content. To me contentment isn’t solely about satisfaction, much worse it smells of settlement. At the risk of sounding dramatic, settling in my eyes is synonymous with living deceased. I’ve always viewed life as a non-stop journey; there’s but one finish line, albeit countless checkpoints and benchmarks. So once you’re not active, whether forwards or backwards, you’re not living anymore. This is why after seeing the trailer to the beautiful Bill Withers documentary, Still Bill, early last year and hearing Withers repeat a quote from my favorite philosopher Henry Thoreau I sunk into a pool of sympathy. Withers said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” But the entire Thoreau quote is “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
To clarify, the quote says that most men and women go through their lives yearning to be or create something in particular but never quench their desire. They spend their lifespan wishing upon a star but never see the sunrise; dream but never awaken. My bewilderment doesn’t lie in the fact that most folks don’t accomplish their dreams. It’s that most people do not pursue their dreams.
Now I’m very aware that many lives go unfulfilled due to sacrifices made for what or whomever––unplanned pregnancy, love, marriage, parent’s unexpected illness etc. Yet while life can be a bitch with an itch and shit happens, this tragedy of men, begins way before we’re old enough to be affected by adulthood’s dimly lit yet vibrantly colored funhouse. I feel people lead desperate lives silently because they aren’t raised to live for their passion aloud.
From childhood we aren’t encouraged, better yet discouraged from listening to our wants outside of school. Many of you are the children and grandchildren of migrated and replanted folk whose primacy was feeding their family with that promised American pie. They tell you to go to school (‘cause they couldn’t), get good grades (so you can go to college; ‘cause they couldn’t) and then get a job (so you can cut your own piece of pie). Rarely are your loves and/or talents considered. We’re trained to separate work from hobbies (complete your studies and then you can “play”).
Now what if, as a child, drawing and arts & crafts were your heart’s desire? You couldn’t wait to finish your homework so you could sketch and play with Legos. That passion could’ve possibly gotten you outsourced by Marc Jacobs ala the twins Dee and Ricky. Or maybe your creativity began shining in pre-school: you had a penchant for giving your doll babies innovative hairstyles. If grade-school homework and playtime weren’t treated as antonyms your doll lover could’ve morphed into the next celeb coiftress Amoy Pitters.
It’s impossible for everybody to have a dream job but it’s unacceptable that everybody doesn’t aim for theirs. It’s criminal that the masses hate their job, but inhumane to hate your job because you never worked at your love. Life has and will continue to hurl curveballs, but we have more sovereignty over our lives than exercised. I’ve always felt you either tell life what you want or it will tell you (away with Liberal Arts!). Think the elderly custodian at your city’s bus station loves his job? Who wants to clean up behind a city on the move…and their homeless…at age 60? Who wants to be the parent who encouraged their child to become a 60-year-old custodian via lack of encouragement?
Betting the farm on your passions may seem silly but only because we’re programmed to feel such. Ignore the fears and embrace the fantasy. This planet has enough superstars. It needs more comets…like your protégé, successor, siblings, children but most importantly you. Just don’t be scared. And for heaven’s sake, do not be silent.
Now who can say they’re doing what makes them happy? For those who answer no, what are you doing or not doing to obstruct your fulfillment?
Bonsu Thompson has accomplished more in his career than most journalists dream of. The Rolling Stone 2001 “Hot Interviewer” has penned for mags like Details, XXL, Penthouse, SLAM and KING as well as notable brands such as MTV, VH1, Rocawear and Translation.