Are You Living, or Living Vicariously?

I got an email the other day. It was something along the lines of:

“Hey, I was checking out your 1% Club list, and I noticed you didn’t have anything about surfing the North Shore of Hawaii on there. Have you thought about doing that? You should add it to your list.”

Actually, I get a lot of emails like that; this is just one example. If you go look at the comments section on that page, you’ll see all kinds of comments like this, too.

  • “You ought to put building a house on your list.”
  • “I see skydiving. Why no bungee jumping? I really like bungee jumping.”
  • “What about mosquito wrestling in Nigeria? Would you do that?”

Let me be clear: I don’t mind these kinds of emails or comments at all. In fact, I appreciate them. Once in awhile, someone will suggest something that I wish I had considered, and I might even end up adding it to the list. Usually, people are just writing to me about their own goals to see if we share something in common. However, I’m always a little saddened when someone writes to say something like, “I think this would be so much fun, why don’t you do it so I can follow along?”

Of course, no one comes right out and says that, but even in an email I can usually pick up the sentiment pretty quickly. I try to be polite when I respond, telling them that it’s probably not something I’m interested in doing and encourage them to do it because it’ll be a lot more meaningful.

Living Vicariously

We’ve all done it. Hell, I used to do it all the time; it was practically my favorite hobby. Whenever I found someone doing something interesting, I’d start to follow them closely and picture myself in their shoes, experiencing the success they were and enjoying their adventure.

It was fun at the beginning, thinking about making a huge change in my life, but then I’d remind myself that it just doesn’t work like that in the real world. I’d go back to my daily routine, searching for someone else to follow. That’s a depressing routine to fall into. A dangerous one, too.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling proud for someone – to be impressed with their accomplishments – but I think you start to lose pieces of your own identity when you let your self-worth come from the achievements of others. It slowly degrades your own ambition and erodes the confidence in your own ability to achieve great things. Rather than try something new, you endlessly question whether you’d be able to accomplish something like they did.

I know, I’ve been there over and over again.

Inspiration, not Dependence

The goal of is not to provide some type of outlet where you can escape from your life, but to hopefully provide some inspiration to alter your life into one that doesn’t need escaping from.

This has certainly been successful in some sense – I get far more emails every day from people letting me know about their incredible projects than I do from people looking for an escape – but I can’t help but feel for those who I can tell want something more, but are afraid to go after it.

I wish I had more answers. All I know is that if never taking a risk in life is, in fact, the biggest risk you can take, then not believing you’re capable of taking one is easily the second, and living vicariously through others is the easiest way to strip yourself of any sense of ability.

The best way I’ve found to get over this is to try my best to look at others’ amazing achievements as inspiration for my own, rather than as competition or some kind of feat reserved only for the talented.

In the end, persistence beats talent, and everyone starts their journey somewhere. Rather than looking at where someone is now and comparing myself to them, I like to look at where they were in the early days when they were closer to my position and ask myself how I can learn from them at that stage of progress. It helps me build a vision of just how much I can accomplish in time if I take things one day at a time.

Rather than escape to someone else’s dreams, I try to use them to inspire me to create my own.

Transforming Doubt

In the end, transforming doubt into curiosity and insecurity into determination is the only way that any of us get what we really want out of life. These are emotions that every single one of us feels, probably on a daily basis. How you feed these feelings and react to them are what make the difference between greatness and mediocrity.

These aren’t emotions that need to be “beat.” At least, I don’t see it that way because I don’t think they ever truly go away. Instead, they need to be managed, and how you manage them makes all the difference.

Don’t get me wrong, accomplishing something remarkable with your life will be incredibly challenging. There’s no easy way to change the world. Once they start putting the instructions in happy meals, I’ll let you know. But when you get right down to it, there are really only two ways to look at this incredible challenge:

  • As inspiration to carry yourself beyond what you think you’re capable of, or
  • As a crushing defeat before you’ve even gotten started.

Neither answer is easy to accept, and both are life changing; choose carefully.

So what’ll it be – live, or live vicariously? The decision is yours.


Image by: Scrappenstance