How to avoid a life of quiet desperation

No one ever achieved greatness by playing it safe. – Harry Gray

Henry David Thoreau spent 3 years living in isolation at Waldon Pond. He wrote about those experiences in his famous book, Walden. In it he stated his purpose in spending those three years living in isolation as:


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation.

Later in the essay he notes:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.

I don’t want to go to my grave with my song still in me.

The Bible says something similar in Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.

And again in Ephesians 2:10

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

I believe we are on this planet for a purpose, and if we are still breathing air that at least part of that purpose remains to be fulfilled.

What got me thinking about these things was an article I read from author Andy Andrews. Andy was asking the question, “Do you want to be great or do you want to be average?” If you want to do something great you have to be willing to take a risk. And that risk is generally doing something different than what everyone else does.

If I go with the flow. Don’t rock the boat. Just do what everyone around me does. Then by definition I’m simply contributing to the average. If I want to be above average or even great then I need to be doing something different from the average person.

Applying this back to our finances, if I want to be exceptional in the area of my finances and my friends are all pretty much living paycheck to paycheck, then I probably need to be doing something different than my broke friends. Dave Ramsey is fond of saying in America “normal” is broke, I want to be weird.

But being weird is not easy. So what if you were to decide today you will live differently.

  • Draw a line in the sand and say no more debt.
  • I’m going to create a budget and stick to it. I will make sure that I spend less than I make.
  • I’m not going to pull out the plastic when I see something I want. If I don’t have the cash I will say no to myself. That’s pretty weird.
  • I’m going to pay cash for my vehicles. That may mean I don’t drive a brand new vehicle off the show room floor, but I also won’t see it drop in value like a rock the first couple years I own it either, and I won’t have $400 or more a month going out in payments.
  • I’m not going to worship my credit score any more. I’m not going to purposely try to wreck my credit score but neither will I go into debt just to build a number that has very little to do with whether I am successful financially. Now I’m probably sounding like I went off the deep end to my normal friends.
  • I’m going to save and teach my children the value of saving and hard work so that they can cash flow their college and not graduate already thousands of dollars in the hole.
  • I’m not going to accept the “reality” that I’ll always have a house payment. I’m going to borrow as little as possible and work to pay it off as fast as I can.

This same philosophy applies to all areas of our life.

  • Wish your spiritual life was a little better? Do something more than just attending church on Sunday morning like the average person. Spend regular time in God’s word. Find a ministry to volunteer with. Sign up for a mission trip. Go beyond the normal.
  • Want a better marriage? Go find a gray-haired couple that has been married for 60 years and still holds hands. Talk to them. Do what they did. It’s probably beyond what is normal, because sadly 60 year marriages aren’t normal in America anymore.
  • Not satisfied with your career? Take a chance. Take some classes. Do some reading. Start something new on the side. Do something! Get beyond the thank goodness it’s Friday, oh no it’s Monday view-point that is normal in our society.

It really all boils down to the choices we make. Now I understand that sometimes things happen to us outside our control. Job losses, unexpected illnesses, a spouse or a friend deeply disappoints us… These things happen. We might not be able to prevent those things from happening, but we do have choices in how we deal with them.

 What choices will you make? Will you choose the easy path? Or will you choose to take the risk of being different? I encourage you not to settle for average. Make the choices that lead to greatness. Live the life that God created you to live.

I started this post with a quote from a famous author from Massachusetts. I’ll finish with another famous Massachusetts author:

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know.

And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…

– Dr. Seuss

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