Intention (and inspiration)
Several years ago, I started living my life with intention. It's not as though I was in any way frivolous or even spontaneous before, but there was a notable shift in the way I approached life from that point forward. It was sparked by the reading of the book The Art of Noncomformity by Chris Guillebeau, who then became my idol for some time, and whom I still feel deeply indebted to. His writing is nothing special, but it is easily comprehensible and for that reason, I believe, very effective. While it's been a long time since I have read the book (it might do me some good to read it again, but the lineup of books ahead of it is too long these days), the greatest lesson I remember learning is that (1) I can do whatever I want, and based on that, I should (2) design my life to enable me to do #1. Most self help books are strong on #1, and some are effective at #2 (for example, the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, which is probably one of the most popular self help/alternative lifestyle/entrepreneur books out there), but what I like about Guillebeau is that he has a sense of duty to something greater than himself - he wants to make the world a better place because it brings him joy - and this really resonated with me. Perhaps not surprisingly, Guillebeau told me he considered pursuing a PhD in sociology (because he responds to fan emails, which just makes me glow every time! I've only written twice though). He's glad he chose another path, and I'm glad I didn't - which is fine because, again, of #1.
Of course, as sociologists (and I'm including Guillebeau in this), we also know that #1 actually isn't entirely true--or it's less true than we'd want it to be. Does this need to be explained? Basically, I'm saying that we live in an unfair world (not a meritocracy, as much as we might want to believe), in which we are born with a gender and a race, to parents of a specific economic class, etc. etc. And of course, we all end up on different life paths, which ends up making doing "whatever we want" more or less difficult in practice. For example, after recommending this book to a couple upper-middle class, middle-aged white fathers, they said they were a little annoyed with Guillebeau's tone because he seemed to imply that everyone could do #1 with the same amount of ease--but they already had a wife, family, and kids!! No doubt, they are great dads. However, I would say a couple of things to them. First, I acknowledge their feelings, and Guillebeau probably could have done a better job with his tone. Second, it's true that they have families, and so "doing whatever one wants" might be more limited, if one also wants to be responsible (which I absolutely support). But third, they're probably not nearly as limited as they think, so if they choose to make more conservative choices, they should see it as that--largely a choice. Last, well, they kind of won the lottery, and many people face these limitations much more frequently and to a greater degree than they do, for reasons that may not include choosing to have children.
Back to the main point, I guess what I'm saying is that I'm grateful to have read The Art of Nonconformity at the right place and the right time. The realization that this was my life to live for me was actually life-changing. Of course, I had many more choices available to me because I was single and without children, I had financial stability (years of a consulting salary savings), a stable family to fall back on should things really get out of hand (thanks Mom and Dad!), and an engineering degree from a top school to boot. But because of this privilege, I also believe I have a greater responsibility to make the world a better place. I recognize that this might not be the choice others make (or not the same degree), and it gives me joy to believe that I am doing the best I can for the world. Maybe this all sounds like a naive pipe-dream, but honest to goodness, it is how I feel in my gut. These are my Grounded Thoughts.