A Tale of Opulence and Emptiness

The illusion of material fulfillment

Jack Purdy


One day I came across an old wizened man on the street. He looked at me with a sense of purpose and said that he could grant me 24 hours filled with any type of experience I could imagine; anywhere in the world, doing whatever I please, with whomever I choose. A true blank canvas to curate my perfect trip and soak up all that life has to offer. Naturally, I took him up on that offer, eager to let my imagination run wild…

The next day, as the first light of dawn snuck past my shades, I woke up to a rhythmic knock on my door; room service arriving at the precise time I told them to kick off my morning. Without having to leave my Cali king-size bed with its 1,000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, I’m treated to a delicate yet decadent breakfast with a double shot of Kopi Luwak espresso.

I wriggle out of the lavish cocoon I woke up in and ease off to my penthouse balcony, a sanctuary high above the waking world. The crisp air hit my face, eliciting a sigh of achievement as I pick up subtle notes of gentle, ambient music with the serene melodies of nature as I looked over to see two cushions, on one my new friend the Dalai Lama grinning, ready to lead me through a guided meditation.

Feeling at peace, with my mind centered, I meander through my lengthy walk-in closet stocked with a dozen outfits made from the finest fabrics money can buy, all hand-tailored to perfectly fit me and only me. I pick one out, look at myself and can’t help but think damn I look dangerous. After making my way down 100 floors, I find Elon waiting, throwing the keys to the new unreleased Tesla, a modern marvel of innovation, purported to go 0 to 60 in a second.

I zip off in my new spaceship, the outside world fading away in a blur. The thrill is unlike anything I’ve experienced before and for a second I start to feel the onset of disappointment pulling up to the runway, that is until I see the sheer beauty of the high speed jet about to whisk me across the world in record time. Any last remnants of disappointment disintegrate when I see the elite gathering of people there to welcome me — all of my heroes I’ve looked up to, celebrities, authors, world leaders, comedians, famous athletes, each one a legend in their own right all there to join me for my adventure. I smile to myself as I take off… knowing this is just the beginning.

Made with Midjourney

With what’s ahead, I’d normally eagerly count down the minutes until I land, yet I don’t even for a second stop to think about the time as every moment feels like one I’ll never forget with these larger than life characters. Their stories, rich and unfiltered, the kind that don’t make it onto magazine covers. Their jokes, raucous and witty reducing me to tears. And their wisdom, distilled through years of triumph and tribulation, leaving no doubt in my heart that I’ll one day achieve their status one day. Whoever said don’t meet your heroes clearly never did it like this.

As we’re landing, I look out the window to see vast plains filled with exotic animals roaming around. As a lifelong lover of wildlife, I’m ecstatic to immerse myself in it. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better I see our guide — David Attenborough, the British grandfather I always wish I had, with his calming voice that seemingly carries with it infinite knowledge of the natural world, as if I hear the heartbeat of the Earth pulsing through is vocal cords, there with me every step of the way of my intimate safari.

Made with Midjourney

As my real life Planet Earth drew to a close, we bid farewell to the surrounding creatures, got out of our shedding our expedition garments and into the celebratory garb for a what was sure to be a revelrous evening. We return to jet for a short flight to who knows where but it doesn’t matter as I look out to a pristine body of water, on it docked a gigayacht with my name on it.

Not only that, but we board to the delight of a bevy of entertainment: fire spinners staging acrobatics that give you just the slightest concern they might burn themselves or worse, the whole boat down, burlesque dancers twirling around in a mesmerizing display of allure and artistry, magicians performing tricks that make David Blaine look like a deadbeat, and to everyone’s amazement there was a even a roller coaster spiraling through the air. I start to hear music playing and look up to the 3rd floor and see a stage with the last decade’s worth of Grammy winners ready to serenate our ears throughout the night. By now the ship’s filled up with hundreds of the most beautiful people I’ve seen in my life, all there to party the night away with me.

Made with Midjourney

As the night begins to die down, I look up in awe of the stars scattered across the night sky. With no light pollution for miles, the milky way is as clear as day. The guy next to me that has been talking my ear off about space — Neil, something that rhymed with bigass bison, taps me on the shoulder and says — “wanna go?”

Just then, what I thought was a helipad begins to open up, revealing a futuristic hot air balloon that I’m told is about to take me out of the earth’s atmosphere. Later on, as I look down on the little blue marble below, I think, damn I really did this right…

The next day…

I wake up to the monotonous ring of my alarm clock as I roll out of my bed, for the first time noticing a slight sandpapery quality to my sheets. I head downstairs to make my own breakfast which feels more like a chore than it ever has.

Sitting at the table, I instinctively grab my phone to escape this morning fog. I’m admittedly giddy to pore through the comments on my Instagram, relishing the responses from my recent escapade that I flexed on all my friends. A part of me feels petty knowing I shouldn’t derive pleasure from this type of clout chasing but hey it was a larger than life experience — why not soak in a healthy dose of digital admiration?

After indulging in the methamphetically addictive praise from my peers offering some flavor of how jaw droppingly cool they think I am, the dopamine subsides and I lose interest in responding to people I know are just reaching out in hopes of joining next time. Ah next time… if only.

I opt to work from home. The very idea of stepping back into an office sounds soul sucking; I have no interest in hearing about Kyle’s weekend barbeque or Karen’s baby shower. Thinking about the predictable conversations and the return to mundanity sends shivers down my spine. A starker contrast has never been more apparent when juxtaposed to the recent high-flying adventures.

I open up my laptop and begin to plug away at my work for the week. Now, more than ever, I find it difficult to focus, unable to prevent the subconscious drifting off into vivid daydreams. My mind wanders to the novelty of meeting famous people, the wonder of the foreign lands, the blissful states induced by extreme adventure of it all.

Desperately longing for those feelings to return, I text my closest friends to meet up later so I can recount the tale, hoping it will offer a semblance of the experience itself. Turns out they’re busy, which relegates my storytelling to a phone call with my parents. It feels good bringing myself back into the memories amidst the oohs and ahs of envious listeners but at the end I’m left in the stillness of my room, the echo of their admiration gone, replaced by an empty void, yearning for an escape.

In need of clarity, I go for a walk on the familiar streets around my apartment. On that same street corner sits the old wise man. He slowly grins as I approach, his presence more enigmatic than when we first crossed paths, suggesting his genie-like powers afford him some level of omniscience and thus awareness of the events that unfolded.

Breaking the silence with a cheerful, yet shrewd tone he says:

“So boy, it looks like you had quite the day! I must ask though, if I were to give you another chance, would you change anything about it?”

I think about it for a moment.

“Change it? Fuck no! You saw everything — I met the most interesting people in the world, traveled to the most beautiful places on earth, and had the most exhilarating adventures!”

“But let me ask you, are you better off than when you started?”

“You’re damn right I am! I’ve had more life experience in a day than most people could dream of in their lifetime”

He leaned in, his grin getting wider, piercing my veneer of certainty.

“But you, as a person, have you improved as a result?”

This one makes me pause. He continues:

“When you go to sleep at night, do you feel more satisfied? When the external world fades away and it’s back to the 1-player game of your life, are you happier? Is your mind at ease? Do you feel like a more confident, fulfilled, authentic, version of yourself?”

Now I’m stymied. I had so much joy brought to me in one day, how could that not be an optimal trip? For the rest of my life I’ll have this as to look back on as the most memorable of days. And it won’t even be close! I try to muster up a response but he interrupts me.

“You had the world at your fingertips, infinite possibilities, you could have conjured up something that would have fundamentally changed you for the better. I said any experience you want. You could have traveled somewhere and meandered into an art exhibit and been moved to start a new creative passion or passed a street musician playing his heart’s content and been inspired to pursue a more meaningful line of work. You could have stayed with a loving family in a quaint village on the side of a mountain and in the process worked through some of your childhood traumas.

Yet you wasted it doing things, hedonistically scrambling to get as much from the outside world as you can. You didn’t even consider the inner realm and the beautiful opportunity at hand to meaningfully transform yourself to forever positively impact how you move through the world.”

I stood there dumbfounded. He’s right. I didn’t even for a second think of this being a possibility. By now I don’t even bother responding given the size of the lump in my throat and tears welling up.

We sat in silence for a few moments, the gravity of his words sinking in.

“Ah don’t feel bad boy, it’s not your fault. We all do this. Our innate instincts as humans tell us that we should satisfy all of these material desires. We’re further convinced by the books we read, the movies we watch, that all fetishize the value of these wild, extravagant, opulent, fun-fueled excursions.

Therein lies the issue. We optimize for stories, for tangible experiences. But how much does that really matter when it’s all said and done?

So take this as a lesson, on your next venture, whether you find another old wise man to grant you your wishes or not, stop to think — what is it you want to get out of it, how can you balance the desire for adventure with that of inner growth?

For it’s those opportunities when you step away from the familiarity of daily existence, immersing yourself in a new environment, that you see the world more clearly. In these moments, you come to understand the unique role you play on this earth and are ultimately able to take these revelations back to your routine life as catalysts meaningful change, inspiration for growth, a compass for spiritual direction — all in service of elevating your very existence.”

Originally published at https://examininglife.substack.com.



Jack Purdy

Writing A Life Examined newsletter | Director of Sales @Messari