Checking Off Boxes
I read a fair amount of fashion magazines these days. Partly because my wife has them scattered all over the house and there's easy access, and partly because there are so many similarities between the way liquor and clothing are advertised, so I enjoy looking for patterns. The latest issue of Elle had a few different covers featuring Keira Knightley and this one happened to catch my eye. The British-born starlet recently turned thirty and had this to say:
"It took me a lot of years to stop pleasing people and allow myself to have fun."
Ain't that the truth. I think I was almost thirty-one before I figured out that doing things to impress other people was not only exhausting, but it didn't necessarily make me any happier of a person. When we base our lives on our perceived perception to others, I think we're often clueless as to how transparent our actions really are, and also how insincere the praise we seek truly is. For example, if you spend all your time trying to get others to "like" your photos on Instagram, and you think that getting a certain amount of "likes" means other people literally like what you're doing, then you might be disappointed when you find out that isn't really the case. Not only do many of these people not care about what you're doing, they're often not even paying attention to you—too busy trying to get other people to focus on what they're doing. When you see that game for what it is and you learn that many instances in life fall under this same metaphor, it can be liberating when you break free from those shackles, stop caring about what other people are doing, and start worrying about pleasing yourself. We're all susceptible to societal pressure and the quick hit of satisfaction that comes from people-pleasing—even someone as glamorous as Keira Knightley—but we're also capable of detoxing ourselves from that potent and suffocating drug.
It's amazing how easy it is to turn life into nothing but a checklist of experiences—the top ten attractions in New York, the ten best restaurants in London, or even the five best whiskies in the world. Once society dictates what it is we're supposed to want, it's up to us to make sure we've checked those boxes off the list. Did you see the Statue of Liberty? The Empire State Building? Central Park? The Brooklyn Bridge? Yes...(gasp)...I only had two days, but I made sure I saw everything that's worth seeing. But did you enjoy your experience? That's the question you have to ask yourself. Because checking something off your list and actually experiencing it are two different things. Did you go to New York just to do the things that other people said you should do, or did you go to do what you wanted to do? Maybe what society says we should want and what you want are one in the same. Maybe not. Only you can answer that question.
When you do something just for the sake of having done it, you don't always get the real experience either. For example, a lot of whiskey fans like to brag about having tasted Pappy 23. But have you actually savored a glass of Pappy 23 slowly over the course of an evening, or did you just get a quick taste after waiting in line at WhiskyFest? Because they're not the same thing. They're not even close to the same thing. There's a wine called DRC La Tache: a very high-end Burgundy that usually sells for $1000 a bottle. I've tasted it, yes. I had a tiny sip out of a customer's bottle four years ago. Have I experienced it after aging it for the appropriate amount of time, decanting it for an hour, and indulging in its supreme flavor while dining on roasted chicken? No, I've never done that. Those are two completely different things. So maybe I can go around bragging to people that I've "tasted" DRC La Tache, but I've never really experienced it like it was meant to be experienced. That's what context is as it pertains to an experience.
But when we view these quixotic experiences simply as things to tell other people (with the hopes of pleasing them or garnering a positive response), we often lose the context for which they were meant—or at the very least, for what dictates an actual understanding of their pleasure. Sometimes we even try to convince ourselves that we've experienced things we really haven't. Like maybe we say that we've "been to" Paris (check that one off the list), but really we just had a layover at Charles de Gaulle. Or maybe we've "met" Jon Bon Jovi, but really we just bumped into him while waiting in line at Starbucks and then said "hello". The only reason to embellish such trivial experiences is to satiate the desire many of us have to say we've done things; that we understand things, or that we've experienced some of life's many great pleasures. But saying that doesn't make it true.
And when it comes down to the end, and we're on our death bed, were our lives any better because we managed to take a tiny sip of Brora, Port Ellen, and Black Bowmore and can then claim on our tombstone that we indeed did so? Maybe what we really wished we could have done was spend more time drinking for enjoyment, and less time trying to make the myths. When people tell you that the best wines or whiskies are the ones you like best, that's really what they're trying to say. They're not saying that a whisky's inherent quality is subjective, but rather that the quality of your experience is. You get to decide how much pleasure each experience gives you by being honest about what you actually like doing—about what's fun—regardless of whether it holds up to society's expectations. That's the conclusion that I came to a few years back, and I've never looked back since.
Same with Keira.