“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”-Henry David Thoreau
The other day in yoga class, one of my teachers brought up the concept of “quiet desperation.” I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
He described quiet desperation as something that happens when you “lose your edge” – meaning, you lose any uncertainty about your life, you have the next 10-20 years mapped out and you know exactly what it’s gonna look like. You’ve played it “safe”, you do things the way you have been expected to do things, and you’ve found “stability.” Sometimes, when that happens, some people drop into the state of quiet desperation. Meaning everything is “fine” on the outside, you have everything you thought would bring happiness, but you have a longing inside to feel more alive, to dance along the edge of uncertainty, to follow your heart, to take a risk, to live more passionately, to leave room for the unknown.
Someone else described quiet desperation as “what happens when you’re doing what’s expected of you, without ever exploring what it is you truly want out of life. You know there’s something wrong, but you’re too polite to complain and too busy to think about it much.”
The whole concept feels a little suffocating, right?
I’m not saying that everyone who chooses to take a stable, mapped-out, society-approved way of life feels this quiet desperation. I’m also not saying that wanting stability in your life is a bad thing at all. BUT – I am willing to bet that you know if you feel quiet desperation…you probably knew as soon as you saw the title of this blog post.
This topic really resonated with me because I have always been kind of obsessed with being “edgy.” The thought of living in quiet desperation or feeling mediocre about my life has always repelled me. I used to think keeping my “edge” meant doing drugs, smoking cigarettes, drinking anybody under the table and saying things like “f*ck society” all the time. Kind of a destructive way to keep my edge. In fact, being edgy in that way was actually extinguishing the intuitive voice inside urging me to play bigger. Now, I know that being “edgy” can mean something so much cooler. It can mean taking radically good care of myself, not settling for status quo, and pushing my own boundaries of what’s truly possible in life. Being edgy can mean taking risks in the name of feeling fully alive, and dipping my toes into the unknown.
I think the feeling of quiet desperation comes from knowing there’s a passion and purpose for your life, hearing a voice urging you to step into something…but not listening to that voice.
I actually think realizing you’re living in quiet desperation is a good thing. It means there’s something beautiful inside of you just waiting to be shared…something incredible waiting to be born.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
I don’t know, I feel like there is so much more to say on this topic, but all I can say is that if you feel like you’re living in some semblance of quiet desperation, you can take that as a sign that it’s time to give yourself a really important gift…the gift of allowing yourself to be who you truly want to be. You don’t have to revamp your entire life, leave your job/relationship/home/town in order to do it (although, some may want to). All you have to do is listen, for a moment, to the desire inside of you and take a small step towards living the life you really want to live.
Maybe it’s time to listen to that inner voice that’s asking you to step into something great. Maybe it means taking a class in something you’re interested in. Getting started on that creative project you’ve always dreamed of. Taking a risk. Taking a trip. Changing something you know you need to change. Having a conversation with someone. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Doing something crazy in the name of love. I don’t know, it’s different for everyone. For me, one of the big steps I took towards living a more passionate life was enrolling at nutrition school.
If you have a feeling you’re meant to do something creative (and really, we all are)…I highly, highly suggest picking up The Artist’s Way. For real, big time, it’s a game-changer. After taking a 3-day workshop with the author, Julia Cameron, I started this blog…
When it comes to living passionately and keeping your edge, it looks different for everyone. There’s nothing I can say to tell you exactly what it looks like for you. Chances are, you already have at least a small spark of an idea…
“We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine…it’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” - Marianne Williamson
I have just scratched the surface here, and this post feels a little ADD, so I would love for you guys to weigh in on this topic. It’s important and complicated and has a lot of layers. What do you think?