Are You Quietly Desperate?

Nov 9, 2020 by

Walden Pond

Walden Pond

There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like. – Nigel Marsh

Ouch. Hits home, doesn’t it?

With all due respect to Nigel Marsh, I believe one of my heroes—Henry David Thoreau—proposed the “quiet desperation” concept in his masterpiece, Walden. Here’s the quote, in context:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.

But unique is Mr. Marsh’s application of Thoreau’s quiet desperation vision to, I would say, modern day hyper-consumerism.

Are You One of Nigel Marsh’s Thousands Leading Lives of Quiet, Screaming Desperation?

I’ll go out on an unstable and provocative limb here and posit that if you raise a clenched fist when you hear Donald Trump speak, you’re likely one of the desperate. Mr. Trump’s unsurprising popularity confirms and amplifies (should be ‘millions’ of people, not Marsh’s ‘thousands’) Mr. Marsh’s thesis, in my opinion.

But I’m sure millions of Americans who don’t favor The Donald also lead lives of quiet, screaming desperation.

Why? And how can we change?

Why Do We Feel Desperate?

Mr. Marsh I think accurately pinpoints the reason for our quiet desperation: for some reason, we feel compelled to “to buy things [we] don’t need to impress people [we] don’t like.” And to do that, most of us have to work our tails off. Still, most of us never seem to feel we have enough to impress others enough to make us feel respected and satisfied. Hence our desperation. And exhaustion.

What’s at the Root of This Relentlessly Inclined Treadmill?

Think about this for a minute: would you still want more money and more stuff and granite countertops and a luxury car if there were no way for other people in the world to see or know about these “accomplishments?” What if your wealth and acquisitions were somehow invisible to everyone?

If imagining your wealth and ‘stuff’ invisible to the world makes you feel that there’s little point then in having wealth or stuff, what does that tell you?

It tells you this: you value wealth and stuff mostly or solely for the impression it makes on others, not how they actually change your life, for you and your family.

Now think about this: is impressing others really so critical in your life that it justifies the time and life energy irreversibly spent, stress endured, and sacrifices made to get the money you think you need to oblige others to, what, respect you? like you? envy you? fear you?

You Can Choose Not to Feel Desperate

It’s not easy in a culture that values wealth and celebrity far above all else, but you can choose to not care what others think about how you live and the choices you make. Instead, you can decide what’s right for you and your family and live in a way consistent with your values and goals only.

Wouldn’t that feel liberating?

Couldn’t consciously jumping off the treadmill explode many of your frustrations and anxieties?

Imagining such a profound life choice, does any desperation you might feel begin melting away?

Then what’s holding you back?

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  1. I am just about ready to jump off the treadmill. I have gone from nothing, to a very large and expensive house, and back again to living pretty basically. It really is a much better life lived without excess…

    • I couldn’t agree more Derek. I’m far more comfortable living a simple, uncomplicated life.

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