“Don’t rock the boat!”
This little pearl of colloquial “wisdom” is just one of several commonly employed variations on the same theme. There’s that bit about the nail that sticks out getting hammered down, the advice to keep one’s nose clean, the adage about the apple cart, and (again with the maritime terminology) the warning to avoid making waves. At some level, I understand the original intent behind these phrases, or at least I think I do. The intended meaning behind the message seems to be that if you have a good thing – or what used to be a good thing – going, stay out of trouble, don’t piss off those in positions of authority, and in general try not to say or do anything that would disrupt your current life circumstances.
“That seems like sage advice,” I can hear some of you saying.
I don’t completely disagree. I’m only occasionally a dick, I know when to kiss ass if it gets me what I want, and I don’t typically pick fights and start arguments without a good reason. However – tiptoeing through every day and social interaction as a lifestyle? Staying in a city or with a person or at a desk that makes you miserable because you’re too susceptible to others’ opinions, afraid of confrontation, or attached to a salary to make a change? Pardon the expletive, but that’s fucked up. I’ll refrain from using definitively superlative language, but I believe that two of a person’s great responsibilities to themselves are to grow personally and ensure their own happiness. When a sizable percentage of your time, resources, and mental energy are wasted on fulfilling societal and family expectations of conduct, income, and calendar usage, accomplishing either of those responsibilities becomes, at best, very difficult.
There are droves of people – young and old – that are trying their damnedest to not rock the boat. And yes, I used the word “droves” for a reason. Webster’s defines the term as “a group of animals driven or moving in a body.” When you’re paranoidly trying to butt-kiss and maintain your way into perceived equilibrium, that’s exactly what you look like.
The condescending sneer is out on some of your faces now. Patronizing explanations and rationalizations built on the concepts of mortgages, retirement plans, corporate ladders, and children are flying my way. After all, with three kids, a second mortgage on your shitty cookie-cutter house in the burbs, and two absurd car payments on your we-had-to-buy-brand-new-even-though-the-car-depreciated-$5000-in-value-the-second-we-drove-it-off-the-lot vehicles, the thought of selling it all, taking a job that makes you truly fulfilled and happy no matter the salary, and spending every spare second doing things you love with people you respect sounds like a pipe dream. You have a somewhat valid point. As far as I know, children don’t come with a return policy even on the worst tantrum days, banks aren’t cool with your cessation of house payments, and your depreciating asset of a car is still damned handy (although not necessary) for getting around.
The good news? Houses, offspring, careers, and vehicles don’t necessarily require the permanent, bloody sacrifice of your dreams. But if that’s true, then how exactly do I propose that you change, fix the problem, shed the herd mentality?
The answer sounds simple, is easy to apply, and remains frustratingly difficult for most to stick with: you rock YOUR boat.
There’s no need, rhyme, or reason to be an asshole and pick a fight with your boss or spouse. There’s also no call for rampant, damaging irresponsibility to get yourself temporarily closer to your ideal life. The problem is you, and it always has been. It’s the boat you built with your own two hands, or at least the one you willingly boarded. It’s the decisions you made, perhaps unconsciously or because you saw everyone else doing the same thing.
The solution is to make a change, even a little change. Find the aspect of your life that makes you most unhappy, and do something about it. Hate where you live? So did my brother Matt, so he left his high-paying job in Chicago and moved to Washington to be in the mountains that he loves so dearly. It took him years to make it happen, but now he’s happier and more fulfilled than he ever dreamed. Stuck in a toxic relationship? So was my mom, and she had the courage to move out and move on with her life, even amidst a cloud of judgement and questions from others. Now she’s happily married to a man who completes her and loves her.
I’ve attempted to live the words I’m writing too, and I know I haven’t always done the best job of making decisions or thinking about how those choices will affect others. Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes the changes you make won’t create immediate positive upgrades to your life circumstances. I know this though – while the process is tough and road can be rough, the journey will almost certainly be something you look back on with gratitude.