Getting off the treadmill and becoming a “seeker”

Via ratigher/Flickr

Note: Day 3 of the #Trust30 initiative, in which I outline a strong belief and how I live it.

About 8 years ago, I discovered I was trapped in the life I’d wished upon myself.

I’d gotten the “dream job” at double the pay of my previous job. I rushed out to buy a new house and a sweet sports car. We got a dog and began settling down. My work was starting to take the shape of a “career”.

That’s when the walls started closing in, and the path I was walking started to look more like a treadmill.

I remember vividly sitting in meetings with management and talking about my “5 and 10 year goals”. I literally started feeling like I had “tunnel vision”, and I could see down the hallway of my life. I suddenly had very little say in the direction it was taking. All I knew of my goals were more status, money, and responsibility, and I was going to have to run in place to get them.

Run on the treadmill, and your boss will give you promotions until you’re the boss, and then the next guy gets on the treadmill.

So I went out for the big promotion. I didn’t get it. Instead, I got fired.

That should have been the message I needed, but I wasn’t ready to abandon the treadmill yet. It took me a long time to shake off the blinders that kept giving me that sense of tunnel vision. But I truly believe that I never would have if it weren’t for my intense belief that it is my responsibility to constantly seek out and follow truth, and to set aside old assumptions.

This “seeker mentality” puts me at odds with much of society, who generally latch on to a few key principles, sometimes ferociously, and are willing to defend them to the death. Or those who are born into a set of assumptions, and never find cause to question them. While both of these groups tend to live happy lives, I could never find happiness on either path.

Maybe that’s why talk radio grates on my nerves.

The search for truth sometimes comes at a high cost. Questioning everything can shake you to your core, and it can be tempting to retreat to the warmth and safety of the familiar. Asking whether the religion you were brought up in just so happens to be the only source of truth in a 7-billion-person planet is profoundly scary, especially when you’ve spent a lifetime weaving your sense of self, your hopes for the (eternal!) future, and your social support structure into that belief system. But after deep and thorough reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that these are belief systems that I have sort of “graduated” from.

Even on its face, the generally accepted model of “go to school and get good grades to get a good job and make lots of money and live happily ever after” is ludicrous; we all know it’s an illusion. But we’re collectively too comfortable in the lie to pop the bubble and try something different. It’s probably why there are millions of people who talk about the successes and failures of startups from the comfort of our 9-5 jobs. And although I’ve gotten off the illusory “career ladder”, I hope to someday fully “graduate” from the notion of equivocating money with happiness.

I tend to keep my beliefs intensely private. However, I hope I live them well. I try not to dismiss anyone’s beliefs out of hand, and work to really understand why someone holds to a belief or value so strongly. I often “play Devil’s Advocate” against myself to scrub the corners of my mind and keep me from becoming too tightly linked to a single point of view.

I’d like to say that I seek truth at any cost, but that’s not the case. I can unequivocally state that there are things in my life that I wouldn’t sacrifice in the quest for truth: namely, my relationship with my wife and son, or my personal happiness.

But my trust is that with more truth comes more freedom and more happiness. That’s proven out for me in my life thus far. I just hope my wife will bear with me.

I’m not saying that everyone should carry a “seeker mentality” all the time or change their belief systems. I am saying that everyone should question them. Your personal beliefs, priorities, and goals are too precious to hand over blindly to someone else.

I also think it should be a requirement of human beings that, when counting a person “dead wrong” about something, they must spend a few minutes considering the opposing view, seriously, from the other person’s perspective. This exercise has proven itself incredibly valuable on a near-daily basis for me.

Ultimately, there’s no way I could have predicted where my journey would take me 8 years ago. But that’s sort of the point of a “seeker” mentality, isn’t it? I’m so much happier than I could have imagined, and have had much more of an adventure getting here.