I read ‘Walden’ by Henry David Thoreau, in my teens.
I felt different from the other kids, I wanted different things. It was the eighties. All my friends were studying in the hopes to get careers and become successful. They were all dreaming of living in luxurious apartments downtown, of having to take planes, and go to meetings wearing suits and high heels.
Me, I wanted to walk barefoot in the grass. I wanted to be free. Eight hours spent in an office slavering away for someone else’s business felt like a prison.
I had this idea of moving out from the city for as long as I can remember, and the vision I had of what my life as an adult had to be like, was so clear and vivid I could have made a detailed drawing. Yet, my plan wasn’t acceptable by most and was labeled as a ‘childish dream’ by friends and family. Feeling as if I was about to live a lifelong sentence, I frantically researched books and authors that could give credibility to my vision. This is how I discovered Walden.
On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau went to experiment ‘simple living‘ in a small cabin he built near Walden Pond. He stayed there for two years, two months, and two days (minus a night in jail when he refused to pay taxes). He later went back to urban life, where he revised the manuscript of what would be later published as ‘Walden, or life in the woods’.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion”
I was about 15 and I really have no idea of what I really understood from it. What I knew was that I had proof that my dream and my vision weren’t strange or childish. And the following quote became part of my DNA:
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Too often we are influenced and drifted away by other people’s expectations or judgment. Too often we aim at what we think we can do and not what we want to do. I know very successful people who are also extremely unhappy and unsatisfied because they are living someone else’s dream, not theirs.
I remember how people reacted when I announced I was leaving the city, leaving my well-paid job in a famous company to go to live in a country town. In a cottage in the fields. They were scared and very angry. I think their anger was from their lack of rebellion. Most of my friends said I was being extremely courageous. I thought it took more courage to stay than to leave, as staying meant living a life that felt like a big lie. Like living without intention.
We were born without us asking, in a body we didn’t choose, in a family we didn’t choose. But all the rest, or at least most of it, is on us. We can and we must choose how to live. It requires clarity and will, it’s easy to be distracted. But please ask yourself every single day ‘what is that I really want?’. And even if the answer sounds crazy…
… go confidently and blah blah 🙂
We have one life.