Do Weird Shit
by Dan Walsh
Do Weird Shit.
My best accomplishments have all been considered weird – before they were considered accomplishments. They were fueled by blind passion, outcome be damned. At some point after college I stopped pursuing weird passions. Instead, I began pursuing projects that I thought would pay-off or get me ahead. I was after prestige and accolades. They never came. What happened?
When I was a kid, I had nothing to prove. I did weird projects or made obscure jokes because I was curious and playful. I said strange things in class, and in second grade I even got a valentine from Maggie M that said “You’re Weird” in a hand-cut construction paper heart. I was mostly focused on endeavors that interested me, and these usually fell outside of mainstream. As a kid I entered and won essay contests, earned blue and red ribbons for art and livestock at county fairs, and helped my soccer team win 1st place in 1994. As I got older I was elected to multiple leadership and high honor positions in high school, and even earned a standing ovation after my graduation speech. In college I gained the respect of multiple department heads, was published, played the back half of a horse in a school production (a lifetime goal), earned best-in-show for a painting, and graduated with honors. This isn’t a list of the world’s greatest accomplishments, but I feel good about them. After college things went south.
I had something to prove to myself and the world after graduation. The guidelines of institution had finally been removed and I was determined to continue my young legacy – to make a name for myself. It’s ok to be broke in college, but now that I was out I wanted to retire by age 25. I wanted to hit the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. I wanted to become a famous artist and graphic designer. I started taking on projects that I thought would elevate me. I took design gigs in which I had not interest because I thought they would get me ahead. I rushed ahead with wild startup ideas because I wanted the prestige of being a founder and the bragging rights of being young and rich. I thought long and hard about writing the next great american novel, but never put a single word on paper. I started making paintings that I thought would “sell”. I had a list of places to travel, mostly informed by how impressive they’d sound to others. I started pursuing things for the wrong reasons. I wanted respect and recognition. I wanted validation and the only way I knew how to get it was to conform to society’s collective wishlist. I started to conform and I stopped being weird. In the process I also stopped achieving.
I floundered like this for years. I didn’t pursue anything unless it would pay off in some way. I finally realized I was being an ass when I started seriously planning a trip to Southeast Asia to become an orange-robe-wearing-buddhist-monk. I contemplated the best time to quit my job – or maybe negotiate a leave of absence. I kept an eye on air fare. I started researching monasteries that would take in a white person (farang) like me. I even bought a new and expensive duffel bag because I had fantasies of it in the corner of my minimal monk boarding room. It would sit there, a reminder of my previous life, filled with items from my western existence, until the day it was time for me to leave. I would leave my orange robe on the bed in exchange for this duffel of worldly, and now trivial, possessions. I had learned enough and like Bruce Wayne I would finally return to the world at large and have a hell of a story to tell.
Then I discovered it might take years to earn a robe. I learned that there were monasteries that would take me in, but most were already overrun with other farang. The other monasteries might take me in, but only as a sort of Buddhist lay person. I would get to help out around the monastery, and attend teachings and meditations, but I wouldn’t receive a robe. I lost all motivation to go.
My waning desire caused me to reflect. The trip was essentially unchanged. I would still travel, live in or around a monastery, and potentially become a better, calmer, and wiser person through quality meditation. But the trip just wasn’t as damn impressive as I wanted it to be unless I had that orange robe – unless I was actually a monk. I couldn’t come to that conclusion without also realizing that I was full of bullshit.
Hollow reasons, hollow goals.
This realization consumed me slowly. Like the tide creeping onto the beach, inch by inch of my aspirations were gently smoothed over. Every goal written in sand was quietly removed. I didn’t want to paint anymore. I didn’t want to write a novel. These disappearing goals made me anxious at first, but then I relaxed. All of that pressure from inauthentic pursuits was lifted. I was empty.
Freed from the weight of my former self, I took my newfound time and energy to refocus on my job, my relationship, and myself. They all improved. I worked hard to remove myself from the IV drip of external validation. I read more – a ton. I rediscovered myself and my real interests. I tinkered with ideas and projects and didn’t care if they would go anywhere. My only criteria for working on something was that I wanted to, and I only worked on it until I lost interest. Some pursuits lasted longer than others. At some point I looked backwards and realized I was kind of weird again. Instead of having a bunch of hollow, failed pursuits, I had collected a bunch of odd hobbies, interests, and micro projects. These were all successful in their own right because their only goal was curiosity. If I lost interest in them it was because I had satisfied my curiosity, which made them a success. They were all successful paths of discovery, and even if I never earned a penny for the effort, I learned a lot about myself. I became happier, more fulfilled, and I realized why all of my accomplishments came from being weird.
If a project is deemed weird by the rest of the world, then I know my motivations are correct. And if my motivations are correct, I will naturally work on something until it becomes of merit. There is no carrot and stick. I don’t have to do something I don’t like so that I can get something I want. Working on a weird project is its own reward. This means I will typically spend more time on a weird project because there is less frustration in the system. The outcome is usually more authentic – less contrived, and every weird project will come to a natural end. There are no half finished weird projects, only shorter projects. A project also can’t be weird without containing a measure of originality, which is a necessity for art, literature, business, etc.
Yes, becoming a monk is weird, but I wanted to go for the wrong reasons. I wanted to go because others would be impressed. That’s not weird, that’s insecure. The point isn’t to pursue something because it is weird. The point is to pursue literally anything of genuine interest. If I obsess about something long enough it will get weird, but that’s how I know I’m on the right path.