By Sam Larson
You’re reading these words so I know that you and I are, in a sense, kindred spirits. I have seen your weathered backpack and the bumper stickers on your car. No Pebble Mine, they say, and Ban Fracking Now. The Patagonia trout sticker. Marathon memorializations in upwards spiraling enumerations of distance and effort; 13.1, 26.2, 100k for ultrarunners, and 0.0 for the irreverent.
If we met across a fire pit I feel our talk would unspool and reel wildly, gallop through the night and surge out to the twilit edges of experience. You and I are woodsmoke and whisky from a chipped enamel mug, burnt cowboy coffee from your dad’s old percolator and a favorite camping shirt that can’t be worn in decent company. We are ridgeline walkers, summit claimers, trekkers through the wilderness, and rafters on the backs of mighty rivers.
Perhaps we are not these things all the time, perhaps not even every day, but certainly when we are at our best and our brightest, our most free and authentic versions of ourselves. It’s that old tension between presentation, representation, and actuality, who we want to be when we buy that new North Face jacket and the knowledge that we’ll just wear it to work most of the time. Our lives are comprised of Venn diagrams that define the life we need to live and the life we want to live. Who we actually are, the horse trading and compromise of life where camping weekends bow to house cleaning and grocery shopping gets bumped for a long hike, lies in the overlap between the two circles. That is where we define ourselves in the hurly burly between our wants and responsibilities.
It’s easy to feel stymied and cheated by the endless negotiation and deal making such a life can create. Social media doesn’t help either. There are your friends on top of yet another 14er, requisite rumpled cardboard sign in hand, while you sit at your desk or on the couch. Why, one could think, can’t I live a life like that? The people you know are engaged in a seemingly endless series of trips, bike rides, experiences, and concerts and you, poor sap, can only watch from the sidelines. Call it whatever buzzy catchphrase is current at the moment: social media depression, social media envy, FOMO, whatever. It’s all the same thing.
You likely lead such a life, though you may be unwilling to admit it or recognize it. Social media streams, curated and filtered, are an unrealistic way to gauge your life against someone else’s. Take a critical look at your own pictures and imagine what a stranger would think about you at first glance. On the surface all you do is eat amazing food, climb mountains, camp, fish, and ride your bike. Social media amplifies and expands what we say we do compared to what we actually do. In between filters and snaps there are days and weeks of work and bills. But we don’t present that to anyone because it’s boring. That’s what we’re all trying to get away from or minimize. No one ever added a thumbs up emoji to a picture of you compiling monthly reports or swilling your fourth cup of terrible office coffee. These things are simply what bridges the gaps between our opportunities to do the things that we actually want to be doing. Your friends and family have likely looked at your Instagram or Facebook page and thought the exact same thing as you: how do they do it, how are they so lucky, how are they always outside having fun?
So what’s the solution? There’s nothing simpler: keep doing what you’re doing. Head outside with a glad heart and appreciate it while you’re there. Make the compromises and sacrifices you need to in order to get where you need to be. Your life is yours and needs to be lived by you. Make it as endlessly rad as possible. Don’t allow someone else’s perceived life make you believe that you are less capable, important, or vital. They have the same between-the-trips baggage, they just hide it from view the same way that you likely do.