Uniqueness is pervasive. The singular and the fantastic and the unique are everywhere these days.
It was really an extraordinary realization — that the ordinary is as varied as a wetland habitat. I’m accustomed to thinking along with everyone else that we live in a massively similar world. But it’s not true. There is more choice running rampant today — and people are exercising their right to pursue it — than ever before.
It was only a couple generations ago that the corporation man, the man in the grey flannel suit, was an icon of similarity.
Think on your billionaires. Here are a few that spring to mind:
Warren Buffet, that investing hero in off-the-rack affordable suits
Steve Jobs, the black shirt, the jeans, the intensity
Donald Trump, today’s Barnum-and-Bailey business showman in tailored, puffed-out power wear
Oprah! — need I say more?
They are as different as snowflakes, in their personas, in how they dress, in how they work their work. Go back a hundred years to the titans of the day. Similarity ruled. Not only the clothes, it even looked as if they went to the same barber.
The other day I was trotting around doing business and I was struck by what my Grandmother Griffith was struck by thirty years ago when we were sitting outside of a mall waiting on family to join us — how many more clothing options there were than when she was a young adult. Now there are added layers of individuality — hair style, hair color, tats, piercings, accessories, teethwear for godsakes . . . .
From what we read to what we think to the freedom we have in choosing where to live to what we do in our lives, there is a proliferation of design-your-own-life choices. If we spoke with an economic historian she would be able to point out with great fanfare the eruption in types of jobs and businesses now compared to a hundred years ago. It’s on the magnitude of the Cambrian Explosion in life forms.
And we can say the economic historian is possibly a she. A hundred years ago, no.
I’ve worked with a guy on and off for years who in his mid-thirties in suburbia has managed to never own a car! He bicycles everywhere.
I know artists who own homes north and south, who live famously well and are able to thrive off of street festivals. You couldn’t do that in the Middle Ages. Not with a spa and a pool.
In my own little life I’ve been a tire changer, a graphic artist, a proofreader, a waiter, a valet, a drug seller, a ranch worker, a smoothie maker, and a vacuum salesman if you can count half-a-day of training as a job — all before I was thirty. I’ve left out something I’m sure, partially for brevity, partially for sheer not being able to remember it all.
The fecundity of options is dazzling, the difference between now and then is as striking as a night sky witnessed in the Colorado mountains by a city dweller.
Why are we weary then?
Why are we burnt out?
I think one reason is we don’t hue to our own instincts enough.
It takes discipline to simplify into your own genius.
We take on the mindset of the collective. Because it’s out there we must do it, eat it, buy it.
I’m struck by how some of the most singular individuals in history lived so simply they became utterly themselves and no one else.
Jesus we know much about, an itinerant rabbi who lived so simply he had no home.
Socrates, a poor man who influenced how we think about thought forever.
Lao Tzu, who extolled spareness, whose koan-like proclamations tendril through history all the way to Yoda.
Simplicity and genius bask in time, open time. The irony is that it takes un-choosing to get there. Choosing not to travel to that place and that place and that place. Choosing not to scatter yourself like Hugh Hefner’s seed. Choosing not to plug in, turn on, tune in.
The exquisite paradox is that by simplifying to your most essential interests you become ever more distinctive.