Doubting Your Purpose

You’ve decided your life is going to be different.

Instead of a hollow, empty life like those of so many people, you want something more. Something better. You refuse to reduce yourself to another mindless cog in the machine. You have talent. You want to change the world and affect the lives of the people around you in a positive way. You want to be remembered for the wake of beauty you leave behind.

Most of the time you’re happy with your decision to shrug off the expectations for you to conform. You ignore the herd. Your work is important. What you’re doing matters. It’s your purpose. You’ve found meaning. You’ve chosen your path (or it’s chosen you) and you focus on the things that are important to you.

But even though you’re following your heart and you always put your values first, you still feel the pressure to fall in line; to follow the proven path of “success” that so many people before have taken.

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Christopher McCandless: American Hero?

Who is Christopher McCandless? He’s an enigma, an idea, a philosophy.

In the early 90s, Chris abandoned his life in search of something more meaningful than the materialistic society in which he found himself a prisoner. After graduating with honors from Emory College in Atlanta, Chris donated his life savings to charity and embarked on a trip around the country without telling anyone where he was going.

Soon after leaving, Chris abandoned his car, burnt all of his money, and spent the next two years hitchhiking around the United States, eventually making his way to Alaska. In April, Chris was dropped off near Denali National Park, where he hiked into the wilderness. Four months later, a hunter found his lifeless body wrapped inside his sleeping bag.

Before his death, Chris found the ironic truth he’d set out to find in the Alaskan wilderness, which was left scrawled in his journal:

“Happiness is only real when shared.” ~ Christopher McCandless

The legacy of Chris lives on in the hearts of many, myself included. The desire for simplicity, to be free of expectations and demands from society, to seek freedom, truth, beauty, and meaning. Purpose. In these ways, Chris represents everything right about humanity: the purity of his intentions, the raw idealism of his plans, the honest belief in himself. He followed his heart, and died chasing a dream.

Chris has become an icon, and he will forever represent an idealism found only in the innocence of youth. The legacy of Chris McCandless is one of hope. I think people need that.

If you want to learn more about Christopher and his inspiring (and heartbreaking) story, check out the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

Complacency and Fear

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. ~ Elie Wiesel

Today there was a fox on campus.

By the time I stumbled upon the scene, there was a growing crowd of students all with their iPhones at the ready. Instead of doing anything to chase the wild animal away from the campus, the police were doing all they could to corner the fox with their SUV. It was obvious that the fox was scared and confused. I knew that if someone didn’t do something to help the fox escape, it would be killed on the spot, or by Animal Control once they showed up.

I wasn’t about to let an innocent animal be murdered because it posed a “threat” to humans.

I ran between the SUV and the fox and started yelling at it, clapping my hands and flailing my arms to get it away from the police as quickly as I could. As I’d hoped, the fox took off running. I gave chase, doing my best to keep it moving towards the woods. The police were yelling at me, students were screaming at me to “Just leave it alone!!!” While their hearts were in the right place (I’d have preferred to have left it alone myself), if someone didn’t do something, the fox would be killed.

Behind me I heard someone say, “Get that guy.” It was the police. And while I continued to do all I could to scare the fox into the woods, I wasn’t succeeding. I turned around and faced the cop who was just a few steps behind me at that point. He made some comments about it being “rabid” and that I was “in danger.” I told him that I wasn’t going to let him kill the fox. Then he started threatening me with arrest if I didn’t do as he said.

I stood my ground, refusing to compromise the innocent life I was desperately trying to protect. I was nose to nose with the cop, demanding his name and badge number. I guess he didn’t like his authority to be challenged, and demanded identification. I had none. We exchanged words for a few more minutes, him making idle threats of arrest and me demanding the fox not be killed. “If I wanted to kill the fox, I’d just kill it,” he said. Tough guy with a badge and a gun.

By this point, things weren’t looking good for me, or the fox. I decided that I’d done all I could short of being arrested. Getting arrested wasn’t going to help the fox, or myself. I asked if I was under arrest (after all the threats, who the hell knew what my legal status was at that point) and was told I was not. I turned and walked away. I’d done all I could do.

This situation made me think about how we behave in our daily life. How we just fall into line, and don’t upset the status quo. It’s why we take photos with our iPhones instead of intervening to save a life. We fear authority, even when we know that what we’re doing is right. So long as our lives aren’t the ones being threatened, we remain complacent.

We refuse to challenge social norms for fear of criticism, retaliation, or ostracization. We’re afraid to stand up for what we believe in because we’re afraid to stand alone. It’s easier to swim in a sea of mediocrity. People who fight for what’s right often face pressures to sit down and shut up. Those in charge will do everything they can to maintain power and control. Sometimes, things are just worth fighting for. You have to decide what those things are for you. For me, today, it was for the fox.

Animal Control never did show up. Apparently they were busy. And the fox disappeared back into the woods. Did I save its life? I doubt it. But I sure as hell wasn’t going to let some jerk with a gun kill it without a fight.