Striving for less

Back in my bombastic youth I never aspired to be better, instead I’d proclaim my aim was to be more. That seemed to be the essence of the thing, to be big in appetite and ambition and sheer life. Better would look after itself, but being more held no limits.
Somehow or another that held true for many years after, even after I turned from being bombastic to laconic. It seemed a natural thing as for years on end I sought to experience life in its variations and to explore the further reaches of it. It sounds grand when I put it like that. What it boiled down to is that I would travel adventurously and deeply. I sought more demanding work and more challenging environments. I had great appetites, for food, for booze, for sex, all of which added to the rich kaleidoscope of experience. And in my own way I quested for knowledge and a modicum of wisdom – all of which refracted off the rich vein of experience I had drilled into.

Of course, things change and for one reason or another many of those things became no longer possible. I haven’t stepped on foreign soil for five years. Work was non-existent for a while, then very much more modest. My appetites remained, but my capacity to indulge them was severely constrained. All that was left to me was the ongoing quest for knowledge and wisdom, which generally comes cheap if you do it right.

All these years later perhaps I’m approaching a time when I can get back to something of what I had before. I won’t say no to any of it, but my relationship to it has changed since. You can put that down to wisdom if you like, though quite equally you can blame age. I still want, but I’m content with smaller portions.

I sometimes wonder what I think of this. It’s like competing all your life in the big leagues then one day dropping down to a league below. It doesn’t feel quite right. You feel it personally. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that this is by choice – you could still compete with the big boys if you chose to. I accept this as part of the adjustment, but I can see through it.

What’s happened is I re-appraised things after the difficulties I encountered. I came to the point that I knew I must accept things, that I must be more humble in my appreciation, that in my own way I needed to re-connect with the small, true things.

This is a challenge because it goes against habit and routine and previous expectation, even against personality. I can say all these things but fact is I’m not one bit less competitive than I have ever been. I can try and be humble but learn, as I did last week, that some still think me intimidating. I can accept the need for change and embrace it, but still present many of the behaviours of time before.

I accept that too – I’m not trying to be a different person, I just want to live in a different way. There’s an ongoing battle with the ego, but notwithstanding occasional appearance I am genuinely humble. I’ll chip away at the ego thing, but ultimately what I understand is that what I want is a smaller life in key ways.

How terribly difficult this is! I sometimes think this is a generational thing – I have friends with similar appetites and expectations to me, but see it less in generations after. We were a carousing lot, big in a lot of things we set out to do. In some ways it’s our defining attribute.

I don’t say it was wrong – I had some wild and great times – but in my case at least I wonder if it turned me away from things which might have made me happy. Through a period I knew a lot of women and had a lot of sex. It was mighty fun. I loved a couple through there too, and might have loved more, or gone further, had I really been attuned to it. Instead there was always something more to do or see. Another women to meet. Another adventure to be had. I could never be sated, and I think that is true for many.

Now I’m in a different stage of my life and wonder if I should regret that. I got caught up on the ‘more’ thing, on wanting to live big. That’s still in me, impatiently tugging at me to indulge in the next adventure, and I have to say I don’t really know how to live small. I know it has to change though, I’m ready for it, I need it, it is the right thing and this is the wisdom I’ve come to, if not the knowledge of how to make it true.

I’ve lived the macro life. The challenge for me and others like me is to look deeper and closer, to turn from the macro to the micro, from the expansive to the intimate. I can accept things, I can strive to be more humble and authentic, what’s hard to accept less.

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