Freedom and marshmallows – The start of the next adventure

Several years ago I faced the same decision faced by millions of slightly drained, fairly hung over, but still irrationally optimistic college graduates – namely “so…. What do I do now?”. Some people have decided this years in advance, but for many of us in the ludicrously affluent western world college is less a means than an end in itself. It gives us a defined and rational purpose for 4 years, after which we are handed our nice shiny piece of paper affirming that indeed we have managed to attend an educational institution for this entire period without being expelled for consistent incompetence, extreme subordination or setting fire to anything expensive.

We walk out with the aforementioned certification; get horribly drunk in celebration of our own glorified lack of total mediocrity; and then a few days later when we can once again survive the bright light of the daystar and digest solid food we suddenly realize that we have no purpose.  If we did a liberal arts degree we have not only no purpose but no useful employable skills whatsoever, but regardless of whether we are simply or doubly fucked, we need to make choices. So we ask of ourselves the hardest question any human being can ever ask, which is of course “What do I want, exactly?”, the most overwhelmingly common answer to which is of course “I don’t know” (this is actually slightly inaccurate, I plead the use of creative license. The _actual_ most common answer to that question is in fact “I don’t know, but not this”).

For the next 6 years I made every choice that brought me more long-term material wealth. I was never ashamed of it because I never saw a reason to be. To me money was directly equivalent to freedom. But sometimes there comes a point when you are so used to doing something that you forget why, and at that point it is possible for the thing you are doing to stop being a logical decision without you even noticing what happened. I got to the point where I had enough money to do whatever I wanted to do, and somehow there wasn’t anything I wanted to do except to make more money.

In many ways we are trained from birth to behave like this. There have been studies in which each child in a group is given a marshmallow and told that if he does not eat it, he can have another one. After ten minutes the promise is fulfilled; the exercise is repeated several times; and there is always a kid at the end grinning smugly with a plate full of marshmallows. I am that smug bastard kid (except that if left alone for 5 minutes I probably would have sold the marshmallows to a hungry kid because you cannot trade marshmallows for books). This is lauded as intelligent behavior, the concept of immediate sacrifice for future gain. But delayed gratification needs rational limits or else jam is always for tomorrow and tomorrow never comes.

This is called a glaring lack of perspective, and is a disease from which it can be quite difficult to recover without a right kick in the arse. Thankfully someone gave me one, for which I will probably never do anything nearly awesome enough to repay him.

I decided to change things. In a way this choice is as arbitrary as the one I made at 21. Quitting my job and working on an art project, travelling until I don’t feel like travelling any more. Leaving when the wind changes, and spending some of the money I sold myself to obtain over the last 6 years. Looking for freedom, for myself, and for something to want that isn’t money. But if it’s not a better decision than the one I made back then it definitely is not a worse one.

I don’t know what I want. But it’s not this.

2 Comments so far

  1. Well Heeled Stranger on May 16th, 2011

    I would be the kid who saved up all her marshmallows and then stuffed her face with them… :)


  2. Kevin on June 12th, 2011

    Told ya so.