Is Your Life Story Boring?

 

Ask 100 different people what goes into a happy and successful life and you will get 100 different (and correct) answers. This variety helps keep life interesting, of course, but it also makes accurate lifestyle metrics hard to come by.

When it comes to the quality of your lifestyle, how do you know how well you’re progressing? You don’t! It’s all more or less subjective, scientific method be damned.

I’d like to propose a quick and easy barometer for whether or not you’re making the best possible use of your life here on Earth.

Get into a conversation. In one? Good. Now tell a story.

Is the other person bored to tears? Politely smiling and nodding but clearly thinking about the last episode of CSI? Are they doing their best to change the subject to absolutely anything else or to draw someone else into the conversation (so that they can make a quick getaway in the confusion)?

This is a pretty good indication that you need to make some changes.

The ideal situation looks more like this:

You walk into the room and people go out of their way to start up a conversation. At any given moment 3 or more people are held by every word that comes out of your mouth, whether you’re regaling them with tales from your latest vacation or the freshest news from work.

Talking about the family? That trip to the mall? Building that doghouse? Building that new company? All interesting stuff, if you’re playing your cards right.

Even the most mundane situations are interesting to the right person (someone who does things differently, or is able to wring deep insight from even the shallowest of experiences). If you are that kind of person, you’ll be able to make others see the extraordinary in the ordinary the same way you do.

It’s true, generally the people who have really full and interesting lives have very interesting and non-standard things going on, anyway. And really, that’s part of the point: ideally, the mundane and the extraordinary will blend together seamlessly.

Consider this: The first few years of high school, my life was pretty damn trivial. I worked at a bookstore, which could have been interesting to the right person, but mostly my life revolved around video games, Magic cards, comic books, junk food and…ah…that’s about it. Needless to say, I mostly talked to my handful of good friends (who had similar obsessions) and no one else. No one else really cared about that rare card I traded for or the 30 cans of Mountain Dew I drank that weekend.

In college, however, I was able to tell fellow students about the deals I was making with local businesses for the culture magazine I started. I was networking with the hottest local bands, writers and artists. I was also writing a column for the newspaper (news analysis pieces), double-majoring in graphic design and illustration, doing freelance design work on the side, and playing competitive inter-collegiate Ultimate Frisbee.

And you know what? After I had learned how to live a more fulfilling and interesting lifestyle, even when I was working a fairly boring job, I made my own adventures. After moving out to LA, I was working in a 9-to-6 office-bound design position, so I started up a project wherein I would create a photograph, an illustration and a piece of short writing every single day for a year. It was such a simple thing, but people I talked to about it became enthralled with the idea, some even undertaking similar projects themselves.

“So why does it matter if people think you are interesting in conversations? You’re not living your life to impress others, are you?”

No, you definitely shouldn’t be living your life for anyone else, and especially not to try and impress some stranger at a party. But such a stranger’s opinion is a fairly decent (and relatively unbiased) yardstick with which you can measure your own progress as an ‘interesting person;’ that is, someone who is living an extraordinary life; a life that strangers will tell their friends and family about after meeting you.

So give it a shot and if you find the response you get to be unsatisfactory, consider shaking things up a bit by becoming inspired, traveling, going on a date, playing Tetris, or plotting some asymmetrical warfare.

Even if none of the above gets you too excited, at least you’ll have a new story to tell next time around.

25 comments

  1. In your first paragraph about asking people to describe a happy and successful lifestyle, you say that all of their answers will be correct. The more I talk to people about things of this nature, the more I wonder if everyone has thought about, or experienced, enough to give an answer beyond the socially accepted standard responses. I can’t impose my view on them, but I do wonder.

    Your point that others’ reactions to one’s life story are a sort of reflection of the life itself is a good perspective. It’s not necessary to live one’s life to impress others, but it’s also too easy to give ourselves overly favorable reviews.

  2. In your first paragraph about asking people to describe a happy and successful lifestyle, you say that all of their answers will be correct. The more I talk to people about things of this nature, the more I wonder if everyone has thought about, or experienced, enough to give an answer beyond the socially accepted standard responses. I can’t impose my view on them, but I do wonder.

    Your point that others’ reactions to one’s life story are a sort of reflection of the life itself is a good perspective. It’s not necessary to live one’s life to impress others, but it’s also too easy to give ourselves overly favorable reviews.

  3. In your first paragraph about asking people to describe a happy and successful lifestyle, you say that all of their answers will be correct. The more I talk to people about things of this nature, the more I wonder if everyone has thought about, or experienced, enough to give an answer beyond the socially accepted standard responses. I can’t impose my view on them, but I do wonder.

    Your point that others’ reactions to one’s life story are a sort of reflection of the life itself is a good perspective. It’s not necessary to live one’s life to impress others, but it’s also too easy to give ourselves overly favorable reviews.

  4. I thoroughly agree. Experts tend to agree that the #1 backbone skill of building good interpersonal rapport (with anyone from the taxi driver to your date to a prospective employer) is great story-telling.

    That’s one part practice and skill at story-telling, and one part living enough life to have relevant stories to tell.

  5. I thoroughly agree. Experts tend to agree that the #1 backbone skill of building good interpersonal rapport (with anyone from the taxi driver to your date to a prospective employer) is great story-telling.

    That’s one part practice and skill at story-telling, and one part living enough life to have relevant stories to tell.

  6. I’ve always been a fan of choose your own adventure books and in life that’s true too.

    It’s about what happens to you, what you make happen, what you choose to focus on, and how you choose to respond. My worst vacations ended up being my greatest stories, which ended up being my greatest adventures, which surprisingly, are now some of my best memories. From worst to best … who knew.

  7. I’ve always been a fan of choose your own adventure books and in life that’s true too.

    It’s about what happens to you, what you make happen, what you choose to focus on, and how you choose to respond. My worst vacations ended up being my greatest stories, which ended up being my greatest adventures, which surprisingly, are now some of my best memories. From worst to best … who knew.

  8. I’ve always been a fan of choose your own adventure books and in life that’s true too.

    It’s about what happens to you, what you make happen, what you choose to focus on, and how you choose to respond. My worst vacations ended up being my greatest stories, which ended up being my greatest adventures, which surprisingly, are now some of my best memories. From worst to best … who knew.

  9. @Andrew: You make a very good point. Maybe the question should have been ‘How many people do you know who have ever thought about what they want out of life?’

    @Will: Indeed! It’s quite a bit harder to tell interesting stories when you’ve lived a relatively dull existence. Finding the situations that lead to the stories is at least half the fun, in my mind.

    J.D.: It definitely helps to have a positive outlook on things when negative experiences rear their ugly heads. Knowing that each and every one is just another sub-chapter in your exciting memoir does help, however :)

    Speaking of which, how about a choose your own adventure memoir? Would anyone buy it?

  10. @Andrew: You make a very good point. Maybe the question should have been ‘How many people do you know who have ever thought about what they want out of life?’

    @Will: Indeed! It’s quite a bit harder to tell interesting stories when you’ve lived a relatively dull existence. Finding the situations that lead to the stories is at least half the fun, in my mind.

    J.D.: It definitely helps to have a positive outlook on things when negative experiences rear their ugly heads. Knowing that each and every one is just another sub-chapter in your exciting memoir does help, however :)

    Speaking of which, how about a choose your own adventure memoir? Would anyone buy it?

  11. @Andrew: You make a very good point. Maybe the question should have been ‘How many people do you know who have ever thought about what they want out of life?’

    @Will: Indeed! It’s quite a bit harder to tell interesting stories when you’ve lived a relatively dull existence. Finding the situations that lead to the stories is at least half the fun, in my mind.

    J.D.: It definitely helps to have a positive outlook on things when negative experiences rear their ugly heads. Knowing that each and every one is just another sub-chapter in your exciting memoir does help, however :)

    Speaking of which, how about a choose your own adventure memoir? Would anyone buy it?

  12. Personally I find that the opposite to the scenario above occurs – the things which seem mundane in my life appear to be interesting to other people. Either I have friends who pretend to be interested, or they genuinely are interested in my day to day life…either way, I’d still like to change things because from my perspective, my life really isn’t very exciting.

  13. Personally I find that the opposite to the scenario above occurs – the things which seem mundane in my life appear to be interesting to other people. Either I have friends who pretend to be interested, or they genuinely are interested in my day to day life…either way, I’d still like to change things because from my perspective, my life really isn’t very exciting.

  14. Personally I find that the opposite to the scenario above occurs – the things which seem mundane in my life appear to be interesting to other people. Either I have friends who pretend to be interested, or they genuinely are interested in my day to day life…either way, I’d still like to change things because from my perspective, my life really isn’t very exciting.

  15. Its life and life only. People can have an interesting life despite their social skills. Some people may not accept others depiction of a deep or meaningful conversation. My advice to anyone… Don’t get a pointless job… Get a job that means something to you despite the earnings. Live simple, simple, simple, understand others, realize how insignificant humans are and how complicated we have made life. Turn of the news, read. Quit your shit job and live.

  16. Its life and life only. People can have an interesting life despite their social skills. Some people may not accept others depiction of a deep or meaningful conversation. My advice to anyone… Don’t get a pointless job… Get a job that means something to you despite the earnings. Live simple, simple, simple, understand others, realize how insignificant humans are and how complicated we have made life. Turn of the news, read. Quit your shit job and live.

  17. Its life and life only. People can have an interesting life despite their social skills. Some people may not accept others depiction of a deep or meaningful conversation. My advice to anyone… Don’t get a pointless job… Get a job that means something to you despite the earnings. Live simple, simple, simple, understand others, realize how insignificant humans are and how complicated we have made life. Turn of the news, read. Quit your shit job and live.

  18. This is my first post that I’ve read from your blog. I stumbled upon this link through Hugh MacLeod’s blog.

    I’m glad I came here. I just added your blog to my list of favorites. I love your candid approach to life.

    Great post by the way.

  19. This is my first post that I’ve read from your blog. I stumbled upon this link through Hugh MacLeod’s blog.

    I’m glad I came here. I just added your blog to my list of favorites. I love your candid approach to life.

    Great post by the way.

  20. This is my first post that I’ve read from your blog. I stumbled upon this link through Hugh MacLeod’s blog.

    I’m glad I came here. I just added your blog to my list of favorites. I love your candid approach to life.

    Great post by the way.

  21. I have found out that the most interesting life is the one that plays in your head. I'm usually disappointed in reality – it's just not as cool as my imagination.

  22. I'm a big fan of this way of thinking Colin. That's part of the reason I started my blog & what I'm doing now…because I was getting bored with my current stage of life.

    If you want to read a really good author's (in my opinion) take on this, you should check out Donald Miller. http://donmilleris.com/books/ . In his latest book – A Million Miles – he talks almost exclusively about this.

  23. I dig it! Mostly people are completely enthralled by my story. I agree — don't live your life for someone at the party… but… consider that you yourself can hear your own story and be bored with it, or excited by it. I often get sucked into my own stories of couchsurfing adventures, or my own photo albums from my journeys. I can say that it's been a few years since I've had time to be bored.

    Like you, back in high school, there were a few stories to tell… but now, I have to say that the stories are interesting, because I took the time to travel, and thus meet more people, and thus discover myself.

    Writing the book now, getting awesome feedback on a really interesting story.

  24. Good point. Life is in the way you tell it. I remember once telling someone just a bit of my life story (one of those, we were up all night and the conversation was just ‘jellin’ kind of things).
    At the end of it, I remember he said to me “wow, you have done so much, your life is so interesting”. I thought this was surprising because he was someone I had known previously from reputation alone and I had somewhat admired him.
    However, when he went to tell his life story, he only hit on the sad parts.
    Whereas I had hit on all the little things that I had done, even if only for a short while.
    So, I think maybe happiness is in the WAY you decide to tell your story, and not in the actual story itself. That is to say, even the most boring story can be interesting, if you pick the right details.

    (like right now I am looking out over a crowed of people. I could say, they are the “same crowed of students I see every day”; or I could say ” everyday I see a pointillist painting of heads standing in rows; awaiting a moment of education”).

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