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Are You Living, or Living Vicariously?

I got an email the other day. It was something along the lines of:

“Hey, I was checking out your 1% Club list, and I noticed you didn’t have anything about surfing the North Shore of Hawaii on there. Have you thought about doing that? You should add it to your list.”

Actually, I get a lot of emails like that; this is just one example. If you go look at the comments section on that page, you’ll see all kinds of comments like this, too.

  • “You ought to put building a house on your list.”
  • “I see skydiving. Why no bungee jumping? I really like bungee jumping.”
  • “What about mosquito wrestling in Nigeria? Would you do that?”

Let me be clear: I don’t mind these kinds of emails or comments at all. In fact, I appreciate them. Once in awhile, someone will suggest something that I wish I had considered, and I might even end up adding it to the list. Usually, people are just writing to me about their own goals to see if we share something in common. However, I’m always a little saddened when someone writes to say something like, “I think this would be so much fun, why don’t you do it so I can follow along?”

Of course, no one comes right out and says that, but even in an email I can usually pick up the sentiment pretty quickly. I try to be polite when I respond, telling them that it’s probably not something I’m interested in doing and encourage them to do it because it’ll be a lot more meaningful.

Living Vicariously

We’ve all done it. Hell, I used to do it all the time; it was practically my favorite hobby. Whenever I found someone doing something interesting, I’d start to follow them closely and picture myself in their shoes, experiencing the success they were and enjoying their adventure.

It was fun at the beginning, thinking about making a huge change in my life, but then I’d remind myself that it just doesn’t work like that in the real world. I’d go back to my daily routine, searching for someone else to follow. That’s a depressing routine to fall into. A dangerous one, too.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling proud for someone – to be impressed with their accomplishments – but I think you start to lose pieces of your own identity when you let your self-worth come from the achievements of others. It slowly degrades your own ambition and erodes the confidence in your own ability to achieve great things. Rather than try something new, you endlessly question whether you’d be able to accomplish something like they did.

I know, I’ve been there over and over again.

Inspiration, not Dependence

The goal of Riskology.co is not to provide some type of outlet where you can escape from your life, but to hopefully provide some inspiration to alter your life into one that doesn’t need escaping from.

This has certainly been successful in some sense – I get far more emails every day from people letting me know about their incredible projects than I do from people looking for an escape – but I can’t help but feel for those who I can tell want something more, but are afraid to go after it.

I wish I had more answers. All I know is that if never taking a risk in life is, in fact, the biggest risk you can take, then not believing you’re capable of taking one is easily the second, and living vicariously through others is the easiest way to strip yourself of any sense of ability.

The best way I’ve found to get over this is to try my best to look at others’ amazing achievements as inspiration for my own, rather than as competition or some kind of feat reserved only for the talented.

In the end, persistence beats talent, and everyone starts their journey somewhere. Rather than looking at where someone is now and comparing myself to them, I like to look at where they were in the early days when they were closer to my position and ask myself how I can learn from them at that stage of progress. It helps me build a vision of just how much I can accomplish in time if I take things one day at a time.

Rather than escape to someone else’s dreams, I try to use them to inspire me to create my own.

Transforming Doubt

In the end, transforming doubt into curiosity and insecurity into determination is the only way that any of us get what we really want out of life. These are emotions that every single one of us feels, probably on a daily basis. How you feed these feelings and react to them are what make the difference between greatness and mediocrity.

These aren’t emotions that need to be “beat.” At least, I don’t see it that way because I don’t think they ever truly go away. Instead, they need to be managed, and how you manage them makes all the difference.

Don’t get me wrong, accomplishing something remarkable with your life will be incredibly challenging. There’s no easy way to change the world. Once they start putting the instructions in happy meals, I’ll let you know. But when you get right down to it, there are really only two ways to look at this incredible challenge:

  • As inspiration to carry yourself beyond what you think you’re capable of, or
  • As a crushing defeat before you’ve even gotten started.

Neither answer is easy to accept, and both are life changing; choose carefully.

So what’ll it be – live, or live vicariously? The decision is yours.


Image by: Scrappenstance

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What smart people are saying about this...

  1. I’m glad you posted this. It reminds me to continually examine my motives and, as you said

    “The best way I’ve found to get over this is to try my best to look at others’ amazing achievements as inspiration for my own, rather than as competition or some kind of feat reserved only for the talented.”

    A great reminder. And a challenge to live my life in a way that will inspire others to real action!

  2. What a great post!

    I use to be just like that about 3 years ago. Living through other peoples dreams and hoping of doing things.

    My moment came when I realized living the rat race day after day receiving a check for $1000 a week for working 80 hours wasn’t what life was about.

    Learning about blogging changed my life and it’s when I knew life could be more fun with less money.

    Even though I haven’t jumped from an airplane or done any bungee jumping, I think I live now.

    • I come from the same camp as you, Wilson. It can be hard to see all the opportunities available to you when your time is occupied for 60+ hours a week and you’re being handed enough money not to question it.

      I’m *glad* you’re not jumping out of planes, etc. (unless that’s what you really want to do). If you feel like you’re living, it’s no one’s business but your own what you do.

  3. A great way to get yourself to live is to create a “bucket list” (typical, but still). Write down the things you want, then pick one and start researching it. A lot of times, those things are a lot more achievable than you think. My wife told me she wanted to honeymoon in Hawaii, and I figured it would be out of the question. A little Googling, a little research, and next thing you know, we’re booking it. Anything can happen, you just need to be determined to make it happen.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go Google “Nigerian mosquito wrestling”…

  4. LOL Googling “Nigerian mosquito wrestling’ as we speak.

    Tyler, thanks for this. I was starting to fall back into living vicariously and living in my rut. If it something I want to try, see, do or accomplish then it means that I need to be there, seeing, doing and achieving.

    Good luck and happy adventuring.

  5. Right on, Tyler. I’ve always had people following along with my travel adventures, saying that they only wished they could do similar, and often suggesting other trips I should take. That’s a huge reason I got blogging in the first place . . . to encourage those people not to live vicariously but, instead, to live. Excellent post, dude!

  6. This is so true! It is easy to get sucked into just watching instead of living, to forget that we can do these things too!

    It’s easy to start thinking “I can’t do that, but so-and-so can, so I’ll just watch them rock” or “This person has more (insert quality) here and can do this stuff. I wish I was more (quality), I would LOVE to do what they’re doing!”

    We have to realize that WE ALL can do it–if we really want to. We just have to start making the very first steps.

    Seriously, I thought I was a horrible failure at life and everything–I tried and tried and failed and failed but I had to keep trying or just give up and die and you know what? I made it. I not only got out of that life but I remade myself into what I am today–and I am STILL growing while I adore every minute of it!

    Twenty years ago if someone would have told me that I would be a successful writer and have a blog, tons of articles and several books for sale I would have laughed but guess what I’ve got now *smile*.

    All of us have the capability to live our dreams if we keep trying. Look at Burt Munro, for goodness sake–taking an old Indian Scout motorcycle and upgrading it with handcrafted parts, cutting tread off of racing tires to make the specialized racing tires he required to follow his dream. He raced until he was in his 70’s and only quit when he had a stroke. If he can do it, anyone can!

    Thanks for this post. It is a great one!

    • You’re right, Annie. The first step is the hardest, but it sure is the most important, isn’t it?

      The Burt Munro story is a great one. There’s a movie out now about him, isn’t there? I think Anthony Hopkins is in it?

      • Yes there is a movie about him; he was even more amazing in real life, and had another motorcycle even greater than the Indian Scout. He is one of my heroes!

  7. BRAVO!
    Too many lifestyle blogs end up as vicarious living blogs, either by the author’s intent or by the readers themselves in the comments.
    I appreciate you calling attention to it on your site. It speaks volumes about your character that you would forgo that type of reader adoration and instead encourage us to go for it ourselves, staying true to your goal for AR.
    And you’re right on that vicarious living is a deadly trap.

    • Hey Bob, my opinion is that if I’m not doing something to help inspire people, then I’m not really contributing much.

      If Riskology.co is going to be a great community in the long-term, then it has to be about more than just me. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  8. You hit that nail on the head. Inspiration. As many times as you get the comments about how cool it is that you are doing SOMETHING, it is so much better to get the emails that you inspired someone to take action of their own to do something for themselves.

    Keep killin it Tyler.

  9. Thanks for the reminder Tyler. Living vicariously through others can be tempting. But I’m one of those who believe in living period. We have to constantly be reminded to live the life we want.

  10. I realize this was a rhetorical question, but I choose mostly live. I can’t do everything that others can due to life factors so some I enjoy vicariously. Anything that is out of my reach but doable, I do.

    • There’s nothing wrong with enjoying someone else’s story when it’s something you’re not interested in doing, but like you said, it’s important to be headed towards your own “impossible” goal.

  11. Another thought provoking post. Having spent years in the vicarious living camp, I can’t truly say that I’ve done much bucket list stuff, but I am now doing some extraordinary things, and have put in place plans to get me to where I want to be. I’m now saving for the first of many overseas trips, and looking forward to living my own adventures. :) Thanks for your influence Tyler, it’s helping!

  12. I’m so glad you posted this. It’s true to the core. I often find that when I’m just following, instead of doing things myself, I justify it to myself by calling it ‘research’. I couldn’t tell you how many things I’ve ‘researched’ and then dropped because of a new subject I wanted to ‘research’.

    It’s nice to be reminded how quickly life passes by and that we should live in the moment ourselves instead of in someone else’s moments.


  13. I get really bummed about reading about people who are living their lives online thru gaming, blogging and other virtual means. One thing that I have heard is to *live* your life, and then blog about it. Not to just blog about what you *want* to do. If we don’t live our lives, what DO we really have to talk about anyways?

  14. Very well put, Tyler. I find that people get inspired easily but equally as many fail to pass that tipping point when they take the inspiration and apply it to their lives. It’s the inspiration-sucking-vortex (aka their “lizard brain” as Seth Godin would say) that turns inspiration into inaction. And those who listen to their lizard brains? Learned helplessness.

  15. I think the major problem is that people are just too set in their ways. Whenever they get an idea that is outside of there comfort zone the see it as not doable. In fact everything is doable when you put your mind to it.

    We need to reprogramme our thinking patterns so that when we get a crazy idea that we lean in to it and take some form of action there and then to get the ball rolling.


  16. Tyler,
    If you can help people create a life that they don’t need escaping from, you will have given one of the greatest gifts possible.

    Most of us need vacations, days off, and holidays to allow us to unwind and escape our jobs and lives. Imigane what life would be like if we actually loved what we did for a living!!!

  17. A friend has just announced today that he is moving to France – sigh, I am envious! But I know that my dream is coming up, as I work towards saving the money I need to accomplish my own goal – I am only 1 year, 5 months and 28 days away from D day! Sometimes I get scared thinking about it, but I am determined to take the leap of faith and most of all, have faith in myself that I can really do it.

  18. Tyler – wow, this post kicked my mind.
    I’m on your site not long, but almost every post is remining me that life is not a routine to fallow – it’s an image of Yourself to the world. You can live on a rat race or live your life.
    thank’s man for this reminding
    Greats from Poland

  19. Tyler – We want you to do crazy things for us, b/c most of us are comfortable and happy with what we got. We want the young 20-something year old with not much to lose to do it for us.

    Can you blame us? We get a lot of joy seeing how you do, so please do some more!


  20. Hi Tyler
    Really enjoyed this post. I understand what you mean. When I travel, I often get friends commenting on how they would love to go on an adventure, yet they rarely ever go. For some reason they do not see it as a viable option.

    I left my job last week so that I could finally start writing and blogging full time. So many people thought I was being brave trying to change my career and go after what I really wanted (which was great!). Many comments were quite similar to the travelling ones though, lots of I wish I could do that or I wish I was game enough etc.


  21. “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done”!

    The more I travel, and the more diversity and incredible things I witness, the better I can put my life in perspective.

    The things that seemed impractical or preposterous before, now seem almost simple and mundane.

  22. Ha! Interesting, your position on “living vicariously”…I happened upon your blog purely by accident when I googled the word, “vicariously” just to be sure I was spelling it right. I am fixing to post a blog about “living vicariously” thus my reason for looking up the spelling.

    I found your blog very insightful and full of wisdom. Have a great day!

  23. its a sorry state to be in… having a life tied to other people. unfortunately some people outside of yourself can also try if not succeed to drag you into their experinces. a man who pretends to be my friend me to go see his “big real estate investment” and was about to start his comparing story of how he was wealthier than me…. but somehow i was ready for his kind of talk because i know him now. before he could stretch his comparison measure i reminded him how people have different opportunities and fortunes in life.
    he saw my coming and hastily withdrew his bs and tried to say how wealth is only a small part of life. as i left him in his new car-that- i-didnt-even-like he looked sick like i had slapped him on the face.

    i am not apologetic. but someone had to do that talk to him.

Founded with love by Tyler Tervooren

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