"Do you seriously want to spend the rest of your life coming home from a job you hate? Do you want to put off your hopes and dreams and passions to pursue a ‘normal life’?"
Mark Messick’s Stupid on Purpose: The Art of Ignoring Good Advice, Doing Whatever the Heck You Want, and Actually Enjoying Your Life is about existential awareness and having the courage to make changes in pursuit of doing what makes us happy.
It starts with a story about Izzy Arkin who hated his zombie-like, trapped existence until he made a decision to quit his job and follow his dream to become a ninja. Predictably, everyone said he was being stupid. He didn’t know martial arts, didn’t speak Japanese, and he had no money. Yet, six years later, he became a real ninja. He became what he’s always dreamed of because he chose to be stupid on purpose.
Warning: Read with an open mind.
The Big Idea
"The System is real. It crushes dreams, discourages creativity, and restricts people to living under their potential…You can be different. You can leave The System. And if you do, you’ll be happier."
The author introduces the idea of The System with the supposition that The System is bad and we should leave it. Let’s accept, for one moment, the existence of this insidious System. The author presupposes that the majority of people are drones of The System working 40 hour weeks for the next 40 (he actually said 50) years until retirement, when you will finally have a short window to enjoy life. All of us have experienced some dissatisfaction regarding an aspect of our lives at one point or another. This hardly makes us drones. This makes us human. 50,000 years ago, Neanderthals had their own system or way of life. Did the Neanderthal think, “I need to leave the ways of my tribe to be happy?” Or did happiness equate to rushing endorphins after successfully chasing down and eating their meal? If a Neanderthal decided to opt out of The System, he would have guaranteed his demise. Compared to them, our lives are remarkably easier; we no longer have to chase and overpower our food. The System also evolved with us. It kept our ancestors in the past and our families today, alive. In both cases, The System guarantees survival. So now that we don’t have to run after prey, we’re free to contemplate the absurdity of working 40 years at jobs we hate. In contrast, our great-grandparents didn’t question The System, having experienced its disruption: the privation of the Great Depression and inhumanity of the Second World War.
The author talks about leaving The System, not in some grandiose, extreme way, but by changing one small thing at a time. It’s not always about the big things like quitting a relationship or job. Maybe it’s turning off your Blackberry on a Friday night during dinner and drinks. There’s nothing stupid about that. Unless you’re on call.
We experience eight stages in The System
"[The System is] a set of rules… an unspoken (societal) agreement."
When you deviate from the plan, those around you will “freak out.” My sister announced over dinner one night, years ago, that she was dropping out of university. Plates went flying. Why? Because we’re supposed to follow The System; all 8 stages of it.
Stage 1: You are born, raised, and socialized
Stages 2-4: You’re in elementary, high school, and college
Stage 5-6: Job hunting and getting the job
Stage 7-8: Retirement and ultimately death
You might have noticed the author missing certain milestones such as buying your first home, marrying your childhood/college sweetheart as well as perhaps having children. If you do marry, have children and a mortgage, good luck telling your spouse that you’re quitting your job.
Some end up working for the same company for a decade or more. The company becomes The System. Deciding to leave The System, your decision is met with curiosity, anxiety, and sometimes pity by those remaining in it. The objective is to be a “Lifer” because for them, there is no life outside The System.
In either case, it will take an enormous leap of faith to break free, follow your dreams and live your full potential.
The System preserves itself by perpetuating 13 lies
"Not only does The System want you to act the same as everyone else, they want you to think the same way as everyone else."
According to the author, there are thirteen lies. Here are three:
Your Job Should Be “Work”
I performed a quick experiment in a public place. I asked 20 people the following question: If you had the option of quitting your job and never having to work another day in your life… would you take it? The answer was yes in every case. Their jobs range from executive roles to cashiers at grocery stores. All of them wanted to do something else or have more time doing things they enjoyed. If we did what we loved and got paid for it, we wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. So what’s stopping us?
Relaxation is a… Sin
How many of us feel guilty at not responding to an email the second it comes in? Or answered emails while on vacation? Having a Blackberry is both a convenience and a curse. The message is clear: Set boundaries so you can enjoy the moment.
Work Should Be Your Top Priority
The author quotes an excerpt from Gary Keller’s The One Thing: “In life we… juggle 5 balls: family, friends, hobbies, religion, and work. It’s a struggle to keep all 5 balls up in the air at the same time… something might come up and you’ll accidentally drop a ball. But here’s the thing: work is a rubber ball. It can bounce back. The other 4 balls are made of glass.”
For the last two years I chose work as my top priority above family and friends. I am grateful that my glass balls did not shatter. It’s safe to say that I’ve gotten my priorities straight this time.
Stupid on Purpose is published as a Kindle e-book which costs $1.44. It is written in colloquial English and will take an hour of your life. Though I enjoyed reading it, I found it to be full of generalities and fraught with ideas borrowed from other sources. Though not necessarily lacking in some truth, I felt that it was written within a narrow prism which lacks depth in both experience and perspective. It may not completely surprise you that the author is a 16-year-old, homeschooled, self-published writer. He ends his book with an invitation to join The Impossible Club for $5 a month for a limited time.
If you’re interested in a more thorough commentary on The System, you’ll do better reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Giver by Lois Lowry, or watching The Matrix.