The bell curve of life.

As I have written about many times before, when it comes to choosing for yourself the type of life that you want, the vast majority of people will opt for the familiar; what I call the train track life. Everyone gets on the train from an early age and it carries you through school. But when you arrive at the end of school, and I’m talking high school here, you are then presented with a choice; do you stay on the train or do you get off and choose the path less traveled?

The train track will help guide you through where you need to be. We all know where we’re going; a grave, but the train track route will enable you to exist throughout that journey without being troubled by terrible distractions of which route to take. The journey is hard enough as it is without having a clear idea of your path. You stay on the tracks because you want to avoid the great fear of the unknown.

The train track life will take you to college. It used to be that after college it would take you to a job, and a wife and family, and a nice suburban house, and membership at a golf club or a sports bar to hang out with your buddies. But with the implosion of higher education the college route might just take you to a job as a barista.

The real gift of the train track life is company. You’re on the journey with a lot of other people which enables you to relate and find people who can relate to you. It’s not hard to find buddies because you’re all doing the same things. It’s not hard to find a wife for that matter either, although keeping her these days is another story. And to top it all off you don’t have to really worry about existential issues related to your place in the universe. You know your place in the universe; it’s on the train which sits on the train tracks.

There is nothing wrong with the train track life. I am not belittling people who choose this option. It is a valid fit for many people.

The path less traveled is a different story. It is less traveled for very good reasons. One of these reasons is that it is scary. Not only do you get off the train but there are an almost infinite number of different paths now open to you.  And to top it all off there is no map. People will try to sell you maps but these are all fake for the simple reason that every person’s map is unique. I wrote about my own map in my first book, Pushing Rubber Downhill. Good luck replicating that.

The path less traveled is also avoided because it is hard. It is extremely difficult in a mental sense to keep yourself focused on what you are doing. Focus in these circumstances is so hard because of the inherent doubt – Have I taken the right path? Is this path still the correct one or should I take that other one? Was this a good choice at all or should I have stayed on the train? Maybe I should try and get back on the train if it’s not too late. Is it too late?

Remember, there are no guarantees in life. It really might have been the wrong decision for you. Freedom’s a bitch, yeah?

The difficulty level of the path less traveled goes to even greater heights when you factor in the probability that the traveler, the young traveler, is most probably dealing with a myriad of personal issues that plague him. Perhaps chronic insecurity, or a severe case of beta male. These can then cause other issues to make an appearance such as epic levels of procrastination. Fear of failure can hobble you, but even worse is a fear of success. And we wonder why so many artists are alcoholics.

But it gets worse. Those guys on the train have lots of company, remember that? Their lives may be hell but at least they’re in it together. They can relate to each other. They can commiserate with each other. They can hang out and talk to each other. They’re on the same level.

Not on the path less traveled. Good luck finding another traveler that hasn’t got a stack of personal issues. You may find people but probably not in your home town, and even if you do the very nature of the road less traveled means that either one of you will probably be leaving soon as your path takes you to other places. I myself have met some brilliant people on the road less traveled who became very close friends.

One lives in Cairns, Australia. Two live in Perth, Australia. Three live in Italy. Three live in different parts of New Zealand. One lives in Norway. One lives in Japan. Two live in the US. One lives in the UK. I live in The Netherlands.

In three years living in Melbourne I didn’t have a close confidant on the path less traveled. I think I may have found one right at the end. It’s a lonely life, my friends. And the lack of company really can add to your feelings of doubt on occasion.

I haven’t even got to women yet. If you are on the path less traveled there are only two types of women that you can successfully marry:

  1. A woman who is on the train track ride but who recognises your worth and agrees to devote her life to supporting your journey.
  2. A woman who has also chosen the path less traveled but whose path at least partially intersects with your own.

Be aware that the second type of woman will have to eventually relinquish her own path in order to support yours. That’s just the way it is.

I was prompted to write about this topic by a video that Aaron Clarey put up to answer a question from one of his Arsehole Consulting clients:

The client has chosen the road less traveled and by all accounts it has so far gone quite well for him. But he has arrived at somewhat of an existential problem in that he is questioning what comes next. He lacks a mentor or suitable traveling companions, and he feels that “he is just winging it as he goes through life”.

The key then to understanding and answering these questions is in understanding the basis of the journey. If you are on the path less traveled you can almost never know what comes next; that’s the whole point of choosing this path. This may sound like a lot of fun to some of you but it can get tiring. Here I am living in Holland. This time last year I was living in Australia with no conception that I would be living in Holland within a year. Surprise! Welcome to the path less traveled.

Some of my wife’s relatives really don’t get what we are doing. It’s not possible to explain what we’re doing to them, not because we don’t know ourselves, but because it would be like trying to explain to our cat that he was in Australia but he is now in Holland. Good luck with that. People who have chosen the train route can never empathise or understand with those that rejected the train. It’s just not possible. Once again, this is not a question of right or wrong. For some people the path less traveled is right and for some it’s not. Ditto with the train.

The feeling of a lack of a mentor is indicative of someone who has run with everything they had inside them but is beginning to run out of steam. Aaron’s client sounds like he is losing inspiration. This is pretty normal; I’ve had that happen to me a few times. The way to get out of it is to find some new inspiration. One way you can do that is by reaching out to other people who are on the path less traveled. He has done this with Aaron so he is on the right track even if he doesn’t feel like he is at this moment.

Nothing makes sense when you’re right in the middle of doing it.

As for winging it through life, that’s part and parcel of the path less traveled. You will probably be winging it until the day you die. Sometimes this is a blessing, but sometimes it’s also a curse. You have to take the good with the bad which is true for both the train and the alternative.

The potential for greater rewards lie on the path less traveled; I hope that the reasons for this would be obvious to you. But the potential for greater failure also lie on the path less traveled. The train track will hopefully get you a life in the middle of the bell curve; nice and average but above all safe. The path less traveled will most likely get you to either side of the bell curve, and perhaps all the way to the end in one of the two extremes. This is the gamble that you take, and you usually take it in your late teens and early twenties. It can be put off for a while, for example while you’re in the military.

The military is actually a great example of this. Lots of guys leave the military at the same time. Most of them will opt for the middle of the bell curve and will do their best to have a normal life that follows the train tracks. But some opt instead for the path less traveled. Aaron’s client did this and by the sound of it he is beginning to inch toward the right hand side of the bell curve end.

But he still has his doubts. He still has his nagging fears. We all do. It could all end tomorrow and then what exactly? Blackness? All we can do is our very best effort one day at a time. The path you have taken is your path, for good or ill. It is up to you to follow it through. What do you want, a goddamn medal?

This is life, son. Now get moving.

 

7 thoughts on “The bell curve of life.

  1. Dalo

    I got a lot out of that Adam cheers. I’ve taken that path less travelled, even did a stint in the military like you mentioned. Went back to uni, got a science degree and now I’m working in a gold mine on the other side of the country away from my family, friends, the surf, and my 2 yr old youngun. I have those doubts you mention. I employ the beer, gym, guitar, women method which has it’s place, but i do wonder about the train…

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  2. John Ricketts

    I liked the article Adam. It’s hard to express well what the path less travelled is, but that was a good effort. Like you say though, it’s not for everyone.

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  3. More and more people will be getting off the train (school, college, job, family) now as it is no longer proving itself the safest option. In fact, the train has almost come to a complete stop, moving so slowly that the cost of the ticket is no longer worth it, so getting off and walking is actually the better deal.

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  4. MarkT

    I don’t think I’ve ever been on the train track my entire life. Whether that was because of a conscious choice at early age to get off it, or whether I wanted to be on it (but couldn’t work out how) is hard to say. All the doubts and insecurity you talk about I can relate to for at least the first half of my life. Perhaps even I was on the left hand side of the bell curve back then (I certainly was in some areas). Now at age 47 I see it very differentially. I think it’s those that stay on the train that are taking all the risk, and more likely to be insecure. Similar to what Kentucky Headhunter says. Ultimately security and fulfillment can only come from taking managed risks – going against the flow at times based on your own reasoned judgement. You can’t live a life in stasis. Either you adapt and move forward, or you go backwards. I’m increasingly finding catching up with old friends rather dissatisfying, because I’ve moved forwards, but they haven’t.

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  5. So an existential crisis is inevitable whether you ride the train or not. With an absence of religion, all paths lead to a desire for meaning. Nihilism is impossible to refute when there is no God.

    Jordon Peterson’s book says meaning can be found by doing good. Doing good is defined as putting the world into order and removing suffering one bit at a time. My experience kind of agrees with this. I always feel good when I help deserving people, or fix technical problems at work, or build/renovate at home. It’s not a deep sense of meaning though.

    David Benatar writes a very logical book about whether life is worth living. He argues even if a life can be lived with no suffering, at best, you’d be indifferent to living that life vs. not existing at all. If society progresses to a Vulcan level of logic, and David Benatar is correct, then all would stop having kids and human existence would end. This might be the solution to the Fermi paradox.

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  6. Mike Randall

    I like the train, it’s served me well. But I like to jump off sometimes and just catch the next one that comes into town. It’s all about balance I think.

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  7. Marty

    I have taken the path less travelled and recognize much of what you have written. In fact its almost as if you wrote this directly to me as I struggle with those”epic levels of procrastination.” Thanks for the advice.

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