Following Your Dreams Is Stupid, And It’s Better To Be A Boring Simpleton
By David Metcalfe
August 30, 2018
I remember an old episode of “The Cosby Show” where Elvin and Sandra, a young couple who had recently graduated medical and law school, respectively, decided to reject the careers they had studied for and instead opt into an ill-advised business scheme. Sandra’s parents, Bill and Claire Huxtable, were distraught with the idea. They themselves had entered into these high-status professions and created a successful career and family life for themselves. They believed it was everyone’s duty to fulfill their potential in their career pursuits, the height of which were the medical and law professions.
After a discussion between the two couples, neither would budge on their opinion, and ultimately Elvin and Sandra stormed out and slammed the door. The slam of the door created such a vibration that their degrees, hanging up on the wall, were shaken and fell to the floor.
As a teenager, I cringed through the whole episode. How incredibly stupid of them!?!? So many people would give anything to be a doctor or a lawyer, and here they were, throwing it away. I knew I would never do anything like that…but now I’m starting to wonder if I did.
This week, as I stacked boxes for eight hours in a giant fridge, and then proceeded to deliver fast food to people for three hours in the evening, I wondered if I had closed the door and let my six years of post-secondary education fall to the floor. My career aspirations were not ruined by a sketchy business scheme, like Elvin and Sandra, but in the name of “journalism”, an abstract, idyllic aspiration; a desperate attempt for my eclectic intellect to be mobilized into something meaningful. But after a while, there are bills to pay, and social expectations to be fulfilled, and abstract thought doesn’t accomplish that. What I’m going to tell you today is a brief story of how pursuing my genuine interests ruined my life, and hopefully you will learn that following your dreams is a stupid endeavour.
How I Got Tricked Into Thinking My Intelligence Would Matter
My parents encouraged us to focus on academics, which was something that always came easily to me, so much so that I skipped a grade, and spent the remainder of grade school a year younger than my classmates. I found high school very easy and gained lots of scholarships to university. I studied pre-medicine for three years, petroleum engineering for one year, and sociology and psychology for a year. Getting high marks was always something my social community affirmed. But my parents have never cared about the knowledge itself, but rather what you do with it. Studying only mattered in as much as it materialized into a job with a paycheck.
Since medicine and engineering were not things I cared to do for the rest of my life, I figured I would go to law school. That is, until I was introduced to Malcolm Gladwell. He taught me that journalism was the coolest thing in the world. It was entertainment, business, marketing, politics, and much more. It made real social change. It educated people on issues that mattered, and that was something I wanted to take part in. I published several articles in my university newspaper and various small publications around Canada. They were simple articles, but offered a nice little thought on something, and provided some content to improve people’s understanding of a certain topic.
I heard about an internship at a publication in Colorado. I sent them my writing samples and they loved it. I got hired on. It was also at this time that I read a book that would change my entire attitude toward life. It was called “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell and was essentially a guide on what it takes to become extremely successful. The most profound thing for me was his idea that if you have a certain inclination towards being good at something, you can become one of the best in the world at it, just so long as you work really hard and get the right opportunities. The time it takes, based on majority of people who are experts in a certain field, is 10,000 hours. He said that in order to be a genius, you just need at least a 120 IQ, and to study consistently for 10,000 hours at the thing you’re best at. After reading the book, I decided that my life goal was to spend 10,000 hours studying and writing articles so that I could become one of the best in the world.
After moving to Colorado, I was doing the training for my new job, but also finishing my last paper for my final sociology course. I decided to go full brain power and did an intensive study on gun violence in America. I passed the page limit by several pages and didn’t follow the rubric in the slightest. The professor absolutely loved it. He crossed out the rubric, gave me 95%, and said that I had a real future as a social philosopher.
While working in Colorado, I got to think, write, and speak a lot, and constantly got told how smart I was. I ended up quitting the internship after 5 months, because I got so arrogant, I refused to take constructive criticism from the editors. But I didn’t need them. After all, I was amazing.
I went to Ontario, where I got involved with Queen’s University and studied law and philosophy. One of the political philosophy professors thought I was incredible. She once said that I was the most intelligent 22-year-old she had ever met.
During this time, I read through the works of the great philosophers, and especially connected with Bertrand Russell, Immanuel Kant, Socrates, and John Locke. I read hundreds of academic articles on topics in sociology and psychology. Every week I would write a 5000-word article for my blog. Topics included religion, human rights, politics, and many other things. I gained a solid reading base of about 200 people, 50 of whom subscribed.
But throughout all of this, I was almost never actually getting paid for anything. I worked at a recycling plant one day a week to cover my rent cost, but other than that, I was hemorrhaging money. Eventually I realized I needed a legitimate paying job. Fast forward to now, and I’m driving Uber, stacking boxes, and managing a B and B. But in order to do these things, I had to buy a car and pay a variety of expenses. I have to earn back the money I lost from my time in Ontario.
More importantly, though, is that I had set a goal for myself to get an article published in “The Huffington Post” or “The New Yorker” by the end of the summer, and dammit, it’s the end of the summer and I haven’t done it. And I’m working random odd jobs like some loser…someone who didn’t graduate high school could work the jobs I’m doing, for crying out loud. Uhhh…it sucks.
So basically, I do all this studying, accomplish all these things, give all these talks, write all these articles, and for what? 200 random people can read my article, be like, “oh, that’s interesting” and then move on with their day…? And then I go drive taxi for 5 hours, come back and write how superheroes are misogynistic or whatever the heck? Like, why should I even care about that?
And I don’t think people realize how much effort I put into some of these articles. They generally take three days for all of the studying and writing. I barely eat or sleep for those three days. I just get obsessed with it. It becomes my whole world for a while. And then people talk to me about the article and are like, “yeah, I read the first paragraph and got bored.” And I’m like, “you idiot, you don’t realize that what you were reading is the product of six years of university and a three day intensive writing process that I poured my heart and soul into?”. Uhhh…but I shouldn’t get frustrated with these people, because when I think about it, it would be asking a lot of some random guy to read 5000 words of complex social philosophy.
That’s how I got tricked into thinking my intelligence mattered. My parents told me that being smart was important. My professors praised me when I showcased my intelligence. Axis hired me and gave me an amazing experience of formal writing and travelling around America. But in the end, it hasn’t done anything tangible for me.
My decision now is: do I continue the 10,000 hours, hoping it will become something? I’ve already put about 2000 hours into writing in this last year, and it would take me another 4 years to get to 10,000. Am I going to be a 27-year-old weirdo who’s extremely intelligent in sociology and philosophy, but still does random odd jobs and has no girlfriend? Will all this time and energy ever mean something significant?
It’s Better To Be A Simpleton
I sometimes think about Walt Whitman’s poem, “The Beasts”, which says,
“I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self contained;
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied- not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.”
Animals live such a simple existence. A dog, for example, is happy as long as it gets food, a nice owner, and a field to play in. But I need a lot more than that. I am constantly thinking about my financial situation, my career, my social relationships, etc. And beyond my own problems, I feel burdened by global poverty, rape culture, wealth inequality, politics, etc. Perhaps I would be better off as an animal, without all the concerns of higher thought.
It seems as though many humans live their lives not far from that of animals. They lead a very simple and satisfied existence. There was one man at the recycling plant in Ontario who had been working there for 30 years and lived in a small house across the street. He had essentially been in the same 5 kilometers for his entire adult life. But the thing is, he was very content with that. Not like me, feeling the need to see the whole world, experience everything there is to experience, gain all the knowledge the world has to offer.
My friends lead simple lives. They are mostly married or in serious romantic relationships, work stable, well paying jobs, and are starting to own houses and new cars. They do not care about bigger things. They believe in a simple God who solves all their problems. They believe that gender is binary, and transgender people are just weirdos trying to get attention. They believe that life is about working at a job, being comfortable, and having a family. Just like the dog, once these criteria are met, they are happy.
I have to be honest that I sometimes envy them. That’s why I think it’s better to be a simpleton. You live your life like a happy dog.
It’s Better To Be Boring
People who work the same job and live the same routine week to week are so boring to me. Their thought never advances. I can often tell what a certain person thinks about every issue just by the first five minutes of conversation. Like, “oh, this person goes to the Mormon church, and they work landscaping, and they want to get married…amazing…”
And not to say all these boring people are bad, but holy crap, they are boring. And as I get smarter, I find it harder to learn new things from anyone that are worth learning. Like, yes, they might know some random facts about antique cars or something, but I’m not talking about content; I’m talking about perspective and thought approach, which is the thing I’m interested in advancing in myself.
But you know what looks great on a resume, a bank statement, or a loan application? Yes, that’s right: being boring. The economy likes workers who are stable and not likely to move or switch career paths. We reward boredom.
And that’s why boring simpletons are content and better off than people like me. They get a good job, get married, have children, own a nice house and develop a couple hobbies that they enjoy for the entirety of their life. They go to the same church and hear the same sermons and songs over and over again. They go to sleep at 10 and wake up at 7. They go to their favourite restaurant every year on their birthday with the same friends.
But unfortunately, my brain won’t let me be a boring simpleton.
So yeah, enjoy your lives, you freaking idiots. I’ll be reading “The History of Western Philosophy” during my lunch break at Versacold, where I make $15/hour. You’ll be looking at your Facebook news feed, liking your friends post about their engagement during your break at your fancy office, where you make $50/hour. You’re going to be a stupid, happy dog, and I’ll be an intelligent, unfulfilled weirdo.
So, do what your society and culture tell you to do. Fit into their little box. And maybe I should join you. What has all my thinking really done for me anyway? I’ll quit writing. I’ll throw out my philosophy books. I’ll go to a degree to job program where I’ll make money and marry a nice Christian girl. We’ll have three kids and a nice house. Imagine how many “likes” on Facebook I’d get from you idiots for posting things about graduating, getting a good job, my wedding, my first child. My posts about highly intellectual thought get maybe one like. My posts about some photo-op generic shit feeding your thirst for materialism, career success, or inauthentic social relationships get tons of likes.
That would make my parents happy. It would make everyone happier with me. But for some reason, I feel the need to follow my dreams.
That’s why following your dreams is stupid, and it’s better to be a boring simpleton.