Exile Lifestyle

by Colin Wright

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Playing Games

When the struggle is no longer interesting, when the rewards are no longer fulfilling, question the game you’re playing.

Every day we wake up and play by a certain set of rules. We know what will happen if we break those rules, and we know what we hope to achieve by adhering to them.

Oftentimes breaking the rules is either difficult or unwise. But stepping away from them in favor of another set? Setting them aside, opting instead to play another game? It’s an option we all have.

This is an option we’re encouraged to ignore, of course. Pop culture is rife with examples of people winning the game, and we celebrate those who win in a spectacular fashion. Tradition and common sense are pervaded with hints that storing our dice, putting away our pieces, and reaching for another box containing a different board and set of instructions can be dangerous. Harmful. It’s a foolhardy thing to do, we’re told. Maybe you’ll end up playing a more difficult game. Maybe the rewards for winning won’t be as glamorous. Maybe you’ll be forever filled with regret that you didn’t stay the course and keep playing the first one, despite how intellectually listless it made you feel. Maybe it’s a character flaw, this inability of yours to play boring games because that’s the socially acceptable thing to do.

Deciding on one game over another isn’t a judgement on the one you withdraw from: it’s a decision to find something that is not just potentially winnable, but also a joy to play by your personal standards.

It’s an act predicated on the recognition that you don’t get another go around — if you spend your whole life with this set of rules, this reward system, this collection of dice and cards and little plastic pieces, then that is and always will be the framework for everything you do.

Stepping outside of that world and into a new one — trying out a new basis for success, a new concept of failure, a new mechanism of achieving forward-movement, a new convention for interacting with other players — allows you to experience a novel pace, state of play, and metric of success.

And maybe you won’t enjoy that one, either. Maybe you’ll work your way through dozens or hundreds of games before you find one that aligns with your ambitions and strengths, your moral predilections and ideals.

But so what? So what if it takes you time to find your bearings?

So what if you continue playing new games, forever?

I would argue that it’s a better indicator of strength and ambition to be willing to set aside something that’s not working in favor of someday finding something that does, than to stubbornly stick with what we know is unfulfilling, and likely always will be.

There’s nothing wrong with playing games that aren’t immediately satisfying, and there’s a lot we can learn from such challenges. But it’s important to be able to step out of that game, away from those rules, and look at where we’re sitting and with whom. To be able to consider how we’re spending our time, and realize that there’s a whole world of other games available to play, should we choose to pull them down off the shelf.

To recognize that we have a choice about — and responsibility for — how we spend the finite amount of time we’ve got.

Unmarketable Thoughts

One of the most common questions I’m asked — during magazine interviews, on podcasts, by strangers while I’m on tour — is what ‘success’ means to me.

It’s a simple question, but also a big and unwieldy one. Success can be a goal, or a set of goals, or it can be a feeling; a vibe. Success to some people is a milestone. To me, it’s a journey.

I have a lot of goals. Tangible things that I’ll someday accomplish and cross off a mental list.

But the bigger picture, the umbrella under which my lifestyle goals all fall can be summed up as such:

I want to do unmarketable things and think unmarketable thoughts. I want to explore and learn and live and enjoy, unburdened by whether or not the things I geek-out about are appealing to anyone but me, or price-tag-able and popular in the global economic system.

In some ways, this is a bigger ask than wanting to own a yacht or sell a million copies of a book. To enjoy rewards that fall outside of the dominant reward-divvying system is tricky, not because it’s wildly difficult to achieve, but because it requires a bit of meta-presupposing. It requires thinking about rewards beyond those of the sort we’re told we can work toward.

It’s like walking into a hardware store and demanding to see a ballet performance: it’s off-menu and inappropriate. It’s really asking very little, but situationally, it’s asking way too much.

I have nothing against earning money. Earning enough money to pay the bills and keep a roof over my head and pay for plane tickets is a necessary component of my happiness. I even enjoy the challenge of presenting the fruits of my intellectual labors as sellable objects: writing books, speaking to crowds, producing beautiful and hopefully valuable media of all flavors.

But success, to me, is being able to focus primarily on my own enjoyment of these things. To prioritize personal happiness and fulfillment and growth, and to use the byproducts of those acts as an economic support system.

This is the antithesis of how I once operated, at which point product was paramount and my own development, secondary.

After flipping that polarity, life has been…different. Richer. Success is a part of everything I do, from the moment I wake up, to the moment I go to sleep. I feel that I’ve already arrived, am already there, enjoying the benefits of an end-goal, without that success stifling my desire to keep creating, continue learning, always be growing and sharing what I can along the way with those who want to do the same and feel the same.

Those milestones — those to-do list goals — have become cobblestones on an everlasting path. Rather than destinations, they’re each a single step, a wonderful moment in time, which helps me reach the next one, then the next, then the next.

Seeing success as a state of being, rather than a destination, gives us permission to think unmarketable thoughts, consider unpopular perspectives, and soak up unsharable moments.

It doesn’t mean that we can’t also prosper economically, it just means that whatever monetary rewards we receive will be on top of the satisfaction we already enjoy.

Common Ground

I like the idea of having a common, shared language.

Not to the exclusion of all other languages — I think having many languages through which to experience and express is important — but in addition to them. Something that allows us to, bare-minimum, bestow and receive information, and perhaps empathize with others a little more accurately.

In science fiction, this is often achieved through either universal translators that are worn or installed in your brain, or the development of some universal Common tongue that everyone speaks, if they want to trade with other cultures and species.

Now imagine if we could take that same concept and apply it to how we deal with things like one’s own sense of morality, and a society’s ethical direction.

Even if we don’t believe the same things, wouldn’t it be wonderful to start from some common ground? Some jumping off point that ensures we’re able to have such a conversation, and that ensures we can agree to disagree without those disparate beliefs coming between us? An understanding of how we debate, or how we sort out the meaning of something, or how we interact with each other peaceably when our individual ideologies say we should be at odds?

My beliefs, I’ve found, don’t fit comfortably under any particular umbrella. ‘Humanist’ is the word that comes closest, but even that relatively unencumbered word is burdened with a lot of unfortunate baggage (extreme rationality without malleability in all contexts, for instance, could conceivably result in a moral outlook that allows for the destruction of the planet if it’s beneficial for humans).

I often wonder if it would be possible to establish a moral ground-floor that we could all get behind. Something that’s structurally sound enough to allow us to build whatever we like atop it — philosophies, religions, national and cultural ideologies — but which we can step back to and share in moments of conflict and divisiveness. The belief-system equivalent of a Common tongue, which wouldn’t replace the great diversity we enjoy (and I would argue, need), but would supplement it so that we all have at least that one thing we can agree on, and know that we share.

Of course, we already have shared attributes. Biologically, we’re remarkably similar, even when we decide that some physical trait or genetic heritage is suddenly vitally important and slices clean lines between groups of us. We also share the same history, if you go back far enough.

But these links are sufficiently intangible that they haven’t typically served as the strong, stable trunk we’d need to comfortably spread our branches wider and more dispersedly.

What might we accomplish, and what new angles of life and the potential human experience might we explore and understand if only we felt comfortable doing so? What experiments might we conduct, and what rotting branches might we avoid, if only we knew for certain we had access to a safe, well-tread path back to reliable footing?

I don’t know if this is feasible, much less desirable. It would require a great deal of debate and development, and that’s before it’s disseminated widely enough to see if it would actually be embraced and understood by those at the remotest endpoints of geography and ideology.

But even if it takes a different form — maybe just the understood rules of participating in an ongoing global conversation, rather than a formal philosophy — now’s the time to make it happen.

If we use the tools we have available and recognize the need for something representative of humanity as a species, something universal and non-exclusionary, I have no doubt that we can find common ground and pull some of our foundational understandings to the surface; that we can make some of these ideas real, through legislation and social mores.

Looking around and ignoring the fear-mongering hype, I also can’t help but think: perhaps we’ve already started to do so.