Our Unlived Lives

Treat Thompson



This is a republishing of the Shoulders of Giants newsletter.

What We'll Learn (in 3 minutes):

👨‍🏫 Mini Essay: Our obsession with the life we don’t have

📸 Visuals: Teun Hocks’ Painted Photographs of a Man’s Mid-Life Crisis

🔍 Quote: Alain de Botton on becoming who we want to be

📜 Passage: Chuang Tzu’s story on delaying happiness

Our Unlived Lives (2 min read)

Today we’re aware of more lives that can be lived than ever before.

Thanks to the internet, we have a catalogue of lifestyles to choose from. Following 100 people on Instagram is like checking out 100 lives that could be mine.

The abundance makes it feel like anything is possible, so we end up identifying with a few and convince ourselves that’s how we should be living.

All of a sudden the life we have isn’t the life we want.

This gap goes on to define our lives. Our ambitions are to build things we don’t have, our goals are to reach heights we can’t see, and our dreams are to create lives that don’t exist.

But one of the first lessons we learn as kids are that things don’t always go our way. Sometimes you gotta put the toy back on the shelf and leave the store empty-handed.

Consistent disappointment shows us there’s always room for our wishes, wants, and needs to go unmet. We’re stuck between the life we have and the life we want.

Unfortunately, we internalize our frustration about this reality.

We feel like a whole other life was possible, but we never made it happen. We blame ourselves for not having something that can’t exist.

“We’re haunted by the myth of our potential”—Adam Philips

It’s frustrating because having a fantasy life is programmed into us. When we’re kids, our parents do their best to inflate us. It’s their goal to make us feel special.

We shoot out of childhood like a rocket with fantasies as our fuel.

These fantasies are like the ghost version of your character in Mario Kart.

Except here we’ll never reach it. But that’s okay.

Why would we boot up the game if our goal is behind us every time? We don’t want to win—we want to compete.

That ghost is our north star in life. So the life we can’t have is actually an important part of the life we do have—we need something to obsess over.

It’s what makes life worth living. We want to be alive to pursue the fantasy.

Featured Visuals

Painted Photographs of a Man’s Mid-Life Crisis by Teun Hocks

Featured Quote

In the gap between who we wish one day to be and who we are at present, must come pain, anxiety, envy and humiliation

—Alain de Botton

Featured Passage

A fisherman is done for the day and he is lying down, relaxing beside his boat, smoking a pipe.

"Why aren’t you fishing?" a rich passer by asks.

"Because I have caught enough fish for the day," the fisherman responds.

"Why don’t you catch some more?"

"What would I do with it?" "You could earn more money, was the reply. You could put a motor on your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Then you would make enough to buy nylon nets, which would bring you more fish and more money. Soon you’d have enough money to own two boats... maybe even a fleet of boats. Then you’d be a rich man like me."

"What would I do then?" the fisherman inquires.

"Then you could really enjoy life," says the smiling rich man.

"What do you think I’m doing right now?" answers the fisherman as he gets even more comfortable in his seat and smiles back.

—Chuang Tzu