Walter Mitty and Living to the Fullest

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a visually astounding film. In the story, a middle-aged, single man, Walter, is stuck in a humdrum job working with negative assets at LIFE magazine. He dreams of adventure, but has failed all his life to find it. Finally, a lost photo negative probes him to travel the world, from the mountains of Iceland to the mountains of Nepal, in a frantic search for something seemingly more than a negative.

A fictionalized motto of LIFE is repeated throughout the movie. It sounds quite nice, and it goes like this:

To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.

Sounds pretty nice, eh?

Unfortunately, the film has mixed reviews and for good reason. It’s a bit overly-romantic in its find-the-meaning-of-life way and, if you’re interested, CreativeIndie covers some problematic aspects of its message here.

Still, it’s a pretty killer quote, cheesy as it sounds. And it made me think what my life manifesto should be.

Because that’s the meaning of life, you know? You have to define your meaning of life.

I’ve been mentioning that I’ve been experiencing a bit of a quarter-life crisis lately. Yeah, okay, so I’m not that old, but my impending mortality is a reality, and I have to figure out what to do with the next 50 or 60 years on Earth I have left for me.

This is what I came up with:

To discover.
To connect.
To feel.
To be afraid.
To create stories.

…interlaced with pictures of Iceland because it is beautiful and you should watch the movie just to see it.

To Discover

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I’m a big fan of the idea that what we know is barely anything and to know more is to feel more, understand more, and appreciate more. Having just returned from a brief academic exchange to England, I am now humbled by the truth that there is an enormous world out there, brimming with worldviews, perceptions, values, beliefs, and experiences just waiting to be discovered, explored, and understood. And I only went to another western English-speaking country. Think of the difference if I’d gone to South East Asia. Or Africa. Or even the Arctic tundra of my own country.

We have to define our own methods and goals of discovery. What treasures are we looking for? One of my closest friends, who’s the nomadic backpacker type, firmly holds the philosophy that she’ll never visit the same place twice. That’s her way of ensuring she’s always finding new and novel sensations, sights, and perceptions.

Personally, I haven’t set the parameters of my own discovery yet. I know I want to live for extended periods of time in different places, try my hand at different jobs, and be more open to chatting with people very different from myself. And, of course, read tons of books and listen to tons of music and bring myself in contact with tons of art. Because it’s important to see how different people express themselves. And also the intersections of our experiences.

You can vow to never taste the same beer twice. Or never read the same book twice. Or do something completely different like talk to a new person every day. The point is, the world is a library, and in our brief lifetime it’s in our best interest to check out as many books as we can.

To Connect

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This is the most challenging one to me, because I’m not a very sociable person. In fact, I’m rather introverted. While it’s not that difficult for me to make casual friends and acquaintances, genuinely connecting with people is another level. But it’s magical and it’s worth the effort, to be honest.

The older we get, the more complex our personalities, and the more difficult it is to find real connection, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop trying. I think simply putting ourselves in a place where connection can happen is a big favour to us, because genuine human connection is a wonderful thing. It’s built into our DNA. Otherwise, why is it that singing and dancing around a campfire still fills us with utmost joy?

Having grown up a little more, I’ve realized that finding connection is also knowing when not to pursue connection. I think many people are still in the “high school mentality” of wanting to validate themselves in front of people they think are cooler than them. (Or maybe that’s just me. Huh.) Anyway, it’s important to know that not everyone is obligated to like you as much as you like them, and likewise, you’re not obligated to impress everyone. Don’t waste your time on people you don’t connect with and find the ones you do.

To Feel

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To feel is to simply let yourself be affected. This ranges from love and ecstasy to heartbreak and melancholy and everything in between. Why let yourself feel the bad things too? Because it creates empathy.

Empathy is what connects us together. So by allowing yourself to feel, and by feeling, you know you’re doing “to connect” correctly. You also know you’re doing “to discover” correctly because it means you’re finding things that are actually impacting you.

Empathy also lowers our tendency to judge others and create an us vs. them mentality. Sometimes we put value judgements on other people and their experiences simply because we haven’t walked in their shoes and felt what they’ve felt. By allowing ourselves to feel instead of think, by giving way to our emotions, we come a little closer to understanding and appreciating different life experiences.

It also works both ways. By figuring out what impacts you and why, you can apply this to effect good feelings in others. Make the world around you a happier place. At least just a little.

But at the end of the day, human emotions are beautiful. (I mean, think of all the poetry and music dedicated to love and sunsets). Allow yourself to feel beauty, inspiration, and everything in between.

To Be Afraid

Why be afraid? It’s a bad thing, isn’t it?

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Well, I believe that extraordinary things happen when we are afraid. It is when we are uncomfortable, in a foreign place, dealing with new challenges, that our true potential shows itself. Being afraid kickstarts our creativity and problem-solving skills. And when we mess up in the face of fear (which we often do), that is when we grow and mature.

I wondered for a long time why I was such a more interesting person while travelling abroad, and that is because at home, I’m not afraid. Abroad, I am. Giddy, ignorant, and curious, I wanted to see everything, hear everything, taste and explore. And so doing, I learned many hard lessons and got rewarded on the way. I also discovered what I was capable of (and not capable of!).

To Create Stories

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This one’s a little different in that it goes two ways for me. As a writer, I’m always looking for ways to tell stories, whether in the cool places I find or the unique experiences I undergo. I’m always looking for ingredients by observing the world and trying to pin down into words exactly what is so fascinating about our lives. And to do that, I have to go out and live and do all the above things: discover, connect, feel, be afraid.

But for everyone else—and it applies to me, actually—creating stories reminds me of Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother. He tries to make every night “legendary” by always convincing his friends to do something crazy (often in an inebriated state). Creating stories is about making memories, living a life now that will make you sound awesome in front of grandchildren. Living with no regrets.

And it’s hard. We chicken out all the time. Most of us want to stay comfortable, stay home, Netflix and chill. But I think if you are actively pursuing the other stuff on this list, stories will come. And it’s not instant. That’s something I have to constantly remind myself. I feel that I’m more of a talker and a walker, because I understand what I have to do and how to do it but it’s another step to take the courage and actually carry it out.

Guess that’s what life is for then: carrying things out. Onward.

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