“What do you desire?” asks the great philosopher, Alan Watts. “What would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?”
We hear these words, and we recoil slightly. We’re immediately suspicious. It’s rare in our lives to encounter someone audacious enough to prompt us to consider a world without money.
If money didn’t matter? Fairy tales! Balderdash! Poppycock! “Be practical,” a voice in our head says sternly. “Think about the future. Do what’s safe. Be secure. Take the sure thing.”
We brush off Mr. Watts, assure ourselves he’s full of hooey, selling nonsense and pixie dust. But perhaps, in the back of our minds we wonder, What would I do?
The Most Magical 3-minute Video With Watts’ Advice
180 seconds. That’s how long this is. Watch it now, and really think about what he’s saying.
A Powerful Message
“Forget the money,” Watts urges. “Because if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living — that is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing. Which is stupid.”
What a profound truth Watts has woven here. He summarizes so succinctly the fruitlessness of turning one’s life into a money chase. He spells it out so clearly that it seems irrefutable, obvious even.
And yet, the vast, innumerable majorities of people on this planet do not follow this simple wisdom.
Why is this?
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Our cultures, the status quo, the media, and the people around us condition and coerce us into following an entirely different paradigm.
We’re shown a fancy, glittering image of everything that can be ours if we just have money. We’re taught to emulate and idolize the rich, the famous, the “beautiful” people.
We’re hoodwinked into believing that wealth, status, and “upstanding” appearances are the supreme achievement of one’s life.
We’re told that the world is a dangerous, harsh place, and that we ought to follow the path of least risk, lest we be ground under by the mighty mammoth of destiny.
So we do as we’re told. We work jobs we don’t like for years and years, spending all of our wages adopting phony identities, trying our darnedest to look like affluent, attractive, important people with all of our ducks in a row.
We buy and buy and buy things we’re told will make us happy to compensate for an ambiguous feeling of dissatisfaction, a void in our lives.
“Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way,” Watts says.
What if the answer is that basic? What if we should stop living our lives for money and appearances and material things, and instead ask ourselves, “What would I really like to do?”
What if we should reflect on that question daily, experiment boldly with different things, pursue what excites us, and do whatever it takes to spend our lives doing what we enjoy?
Why I’m Moving to South Korea
I first saw this Alan Watts video a long time ago, heard him ask me, “What makes you itch? What sort of a situation would you like?”.
I listened to him. He certainly wasn’t the first to tell me to follow my bliss, to pursue my dreams. My parents had told me to do so since I was a little kid.
But as you grow older, society starts to clamp down on you, starts to get in your head. You doubt that feeling you once had that you could do whatever you wanted.
We need people like Watts and others to remind us that we don’t have to settle. We don’t have to live someone else’s idea of a good life. We can live our own.
Henry David Thoreau, the American transcendentalist, once wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
I love this quote. It seems to me the most incomparable tragedy to live one’s life only to realize at the end of it that one never truly lived it at all.
In four days, I’m boarding a plane to fly to South Korea.
I’ll be teaching English and doing some traveling in Asia for at least one year. I feel this enormous life change warrants a statement of purpose, similar to the one Thoreau penned over 150 years ago. So, I leave you with this:
I went to Korea because I wished to live adventurously, to zealously encounter regions and individuals entirely unknown to me. I wished to write, to teach, to wander, and to learn more of this life and the world that bore me. I went to Korea to shatter self-imposed limitations, to be the hero of my living myth, and to behead the dragon named Fear. I went to Korea to follow the inscrutable, beckoning passion that I found whispering softly in my heart. I went to Korea for Love.
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