Carving Out

I am a big believer in self-determination. I consider it one of humanity’s highest aspirations, greatest challenges, and most noble virtues. Steering your own ship is a mighty task, but you are mighty in turn. And it’s worth it.

Some people mistakenly seem to think that “steering your own ship” has to mean “can do absolutely anything at any time without consequence or effort,” and if life falls short of that ideal they give up. They say, “What’s the point of steering my own ship if I can’t sail up a mountain?”

Or a more realistic example: “What’s the point of working hard, if some people are just born super wealthy and I’ll never be as rich as them?” Or perhaps you’ve heard: “What’s the point of trying to improve myself in the eyes of potential mates, since they’ll never overlook [some specific quality].”

That last one I heard from someone I was having a conversation with. He was a short guy, about 5′ 3″, and because of that he’d just completely given up on improving absolutely anything else, because according to him only that mattered.

Here’s the thing – the starting conditions of your life aren’t fair. They’re either random, or they’re the result of choices made by people who aren’t you – in either case, that’s just the hand you’re dealt. But once the boundary conditions of your universe are set, all of your options within that realm are still yours.

The fact that a ship can’t sail up a mountain is part of the starting conditions of your personal universe. Now within that immutable universe, you have two choices – a ship adrift on the water, ultimately dashed upon the rocks or sank beneath the waves; or a ship in full sail, exploring every inch of a beautiful sea and bringing you ever-closer to an adventurous horizon. Neither result is the top of Mount Everest, but so what?

Back to the guy: being short is just what it is. I’m not going to pander and say that all else being equal tall guys don’t have it a little easier. But there’s the rub – absolutely nothing else is equal. There is no guy anywhere on the planet that’s exactly like him in every way except a foot taller. All else being equal, smart guys do better. Funny guys do better. Wealthy guys do better. In-shape guys do better. These are all things you can work on. Your height is a boundary condition, but within it you have two choices: you can be an awesome, wealthy, funny, educated, in-shape short guy, or you can be a broke, dumb, short jerk. Which do you think does better in the dating game?

If you want ultimate freedom and autonomy, you just have to carve out the right sized universe to do it in. Constructing your own universe sounds difficult, but it’s actually something anyone can do. It does take work, but it’s work that’s worth doing.

If you want to play the drums super loud – if that’s your dream, what makes you happy – then soundproof your basement. There, you’ve taken a step towards building a universe where you have ultimate freedom. Maybe more steps are required: maybe you don’t even have a basement yet, maybe soundproofing costs more money than you have, etc. But those steps can be taken, and every little piece of the universe you build for yourself increases your freedom within it.

It doesn’t have to be physical space, either. That short guy could carve out a universe where he’s the most awesome 5′ 3″ dude there ever was. You figure out where the borders are, and then you do whatever you want within them.

As a father of three kids who frequently attend or host birthday parties and other kid-centered get-togethers, I’ve noticed a certain kind of kid. The kind of kid where you can have rented out an entire indoor gymnasium with a million activities, video games built into the walls, trampolines and rock walls and all sorts of stuff, and given free reign to do anything they want within that space, and instead they’ll get mad about the one door marked “Employees Only” that they’re not allowed to go in.

They’ve chosen to look at the one area where they’re not the captain of their own ship, instead of the unlimited freedom of their personal sea. That sort of kid is always miserable.

Don’t look for the few factors outside of your control and gripe about them. Instead, carve out your own universe and rule it. Which sounds more fun?

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