The Tyranny of Other Lives


“You don’t have to worry about trying to have the lives you think you’re missing. Don’t be tyrannized by the part of yourself that’s only interested in elsewhere.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about those lines from an interview with the psychologist Adam Phillips.

Without being conscious of it, we all subject ourselves to the tyranny of some other life.

Personally, the most difficult ‘other life’ for me is the one where I live near my family, and not on the other side of the world.

Professionally, the ‘other life’ I struggle with is the one in which I’ve built something truly impactful.

There are days where I imagine how much better my life would be if I’d built something at the scale of Kickstarter or Airbnb or Instagram. Something with legacy. Something that’s positively changed millions of lives.

I find myself in the Jimmy McNulty cycle.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b54EEpdv9q8

Everyone has ‘other lives’. Everyone I’ve asked has responded almost immediately with the multiple ‘other lives’ that haunt them.

Lives of hedonism, lives of great wealth, lives of travel, past lives not lived, lives of much deeper thought and analysis…

We all have them sitting right there beside us.

I don’t think ridding yourself of ‘other lives’ is the goal though. I think ‘other lives’ are valuable in understanding what you care about and what you strive for.

Sometimes they’re so trivial that just saying them aloud is enough to discard them. But it’s the ‘other lives’ within your reach that deserve the most inspection.

If you define them, you give yourself a clear choice.

Either you re-orient yourself more directly towards them. Or you acknowledge the tyranny they cause and work to turn down their volume in your inner chorus.

Whatever the case, the first step is to know what those ‘other lives’ are.

What lives do you think you’re missing? What part of you is only interested in elsewhere?

What does that elsewhere look like?

And how much does that elsewhere help you in truly living the moments that make up your real life?