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The Manual for Life

  • 14 min read

When I was a kid, my favorite toys were always LEGOs.  Hands down.

I liked a lot of stuff (let’s face it:  90’s toys were the shiznit) but there was something special about LEGOs.  They taught me about freedom, creativity and life at a very young age. 

You get a box filled with all kinds of different pieces, accompanied by an instruction manual to show you how you can build the exact same thing as the picture on the box.

If you follow these clear instructions your toy is complete. And you feel a nice little moment of satisfaction.  Then after a few days of playing with it, it gets a little stale and you just let it sit somewhere with your other LEGOs until you get a new box. 

Sounds a little boring?  Don’t worry, it’s not.  The real fun starts to happen when you forget about the manual, pick apart the pieces, maybe even combine them with pieces from other boxes, and use your own imagination to make something from nothing.   Something way more exciting. Something there are no manuals for.

Now when you finish building that, you feel deeply satisfied. Because you have the exact toy you always wanted but that didn’t exist until now.  You turned something imaginary into something real.

Even better:  When the thing you created gets boring, you can simply make some small adjustments or smash it apart and create something new. (As every experienced demolisher knows, it’s always more fun to smash things than to take the brick-by-brick approach.)

It’s a learning process  you go through as a lego kid.  The first things you create are often fragile monstrosities.  But the more you experiment, break things apart and put them back together again while learning from your mistakes, the better you get at creating amazing toys for yourself.


Life Is Like a Box of…

There’s a famous quote from the movie “Forrest Gump” that graces thousands of inspirational wallpapers, motivational memes and duck-faced tinder profiles.  It goes like this:

“Life is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re gonna get.”

But you know what?  Fudge that quote.  Doesn’t it make you feel kind of powerless?

That’s because it contains only a half of the truth.  Sure, you don’t know what you’re going to get.  But it fails to tell you the most important part:

In reality, life is more like a box of LEGOs.  You get whatever pieces you get.  And it comes equipped with an easy to follow manual. But the most beautiful results come from people who dare to deviate from the manual and do their own thing.

“Wait, what?  There’s a manual for life?  Someone should’ve told me years ago!!!  Gimme gimme gimme!”

Well, yes and no.  You obviously don’t get a written manual when you are born.  But it’s always been implied.  I’ve taken the liberty of writing it out all 12 steps for you in case you want to follow them:

Step 1:  Go to school.  Educate yourself on important basic knowledge by learning how to memorize and parrot stuff.

Step 2:  Start browsing through the possible career choices included in the manual.  Once you turn 18, pick one that makes a you decent amount of money and preferably somewhat falls within the scope of your interests.  Or anything else you can tolerate.

Step 3:  Go to college until you’ve obtained the necessary skills and knowledge to do that job.  These are  the most fun years of years of your life (AKA, it’s still somewhat acceptable now to drink yourself into a coma or whore around.  So make the most of it while trying not to fail too many exams ? )

Step 4:  Look for a job. Start with the ones relevant to your degree. But if you can’t find any, be open to other lines of work.  If that happens, don’t worry. Those years of study weren’t a waste, they were the best of your life! (Motivating thoughts, right.  It’s all downhill from here ? ).

If you pick a job that’s not in line with your degree, please pick one that’s at least respectable.  Don’t become a garbage man making the world a cleaner place for everyone.  That means you’re a failure.  Get a high-ranked job at a firm that abuses child laborers or slaves in some third world country and pollutes  the environment to create  something nobody needs while manipulating them into thinking everyone needs it.  Man, now you’re going places and really winning this thing!

Step 5:  High-five! You just arrived in “Securityville”. Everyone’s happy for you and you realize now that most of your childhood dreams were rather immature and unrealistic while life here is actually not so bad.  It’s called “finally growing up”:

Your days go like this from now on:

Wake up.

Drink your latte and stuff yourself with high-sugar high-fat processed foods on the way to your workplace where someone else tells you how to spend most of your waking life.  The only thing expected from you is that you show up, don’t be a dick (unless you’re the boss) and do what needs to be done.  It helps if you keep up with current events as well.  This way you have something to talk about so you can socialize with your co-workers without actually having to open up or connect with people.

You don’t really need to go the extra mile (You get a steady paycheck anyway, so why bother working harder?).  But if you do you might get rewarded with something called a “promotion”.  That means you get a little more money and a lot more stress every month.

At the end of the day,  you come home & watch TV or series to “unwind” while stuffing yourself with more high-sugar, high-fat foods.

You party like a boss on the weekends because you have lots of money now that you didn’t have as a student.

Step 6:  Somewhere in your twenties you meet someone, preferably from the opposite sex, that likes you enough to enter into a monogamous relationship with  you.

If you picked someone from the same sex, that’s still okay.  We have nothing against “your kind”, but please be considerate and don’t go rubbing it into all of our faces that you love each other, alright?

Except if you’re both women.  That’s kinda hot.

Actually, if you’re both women you might even consider filming it.  Everyone will watch you on the internet but they won’t openly admit it.  So don’t worry, word won’t get out.

Step 7:  Borrow a big amount of money from a corporation that funds warfare for profit (a bank), so you can buy a house together.  Cuddle each other’s brains out like rabbits (or adopt each other’s brains out if it’s a same-sex marriage) and give your 2.3 kids their own personal “boxes of chocolate”.

Step 8:  Sex on Wednesdays, pizza on Thursdays and the occasional night out with your buddies to support the local soccer team, get into heated political discussions about situations you’re not doing anything about and half-jokingly complain about your spouse while drinking beers.  Take your children to the same vacation resort every year because you love to travel.  

Step 9:  You are now 40-something so it’s time to start thinking about those silly childhood dreams again, wonder what your purpose in life is and if what you’ve done so far has been the right thing.   You realize it wasn’t. Luckily you can fix it by buying a motorcycle, having an affair or converting to scientology.

You might ask some close friends “What do you think is the point of all this?” and they stare at you in silence.  There is no point.

Step 10:  You “got it out of your system”.  You sell the motorcycle, realize it’s “too late anyway” and that your home in Securityville was not so bad after all.

Step 11:  This is it.  Finally.  It’s moment for which you’ve worked your ass of your entire life.  Retirement.  Instead of working now you get less money but more television time, grandkids and a lot of bitching about the younger generation.  You also have all the time in the world now to go chase those childhood dreams.  What do you mean you’re not as healthy and motivated anymore as you were back then?

Step 12:  If you’re lucky, you die in peace surrounded by the loving legacy of your loins.  If you’re not, you get sick or get moved to a nursing home where you spend time in isolation or in the uplifting company of other sick people.  Then you still die. Alone.


Pros and Cons of the Manual

I know the above is a very cynical and one-sided  interpretation but you can’t deny that no matter how much you sugar coat it, all the basic steps of the manual are there.

Does that mean it’s a terrible manual?

Yes. But I can understand why it’s a very popular one:

First of all, there are no other well-known “blueprints” for your journey through life. So if you wanted a different plan you’d have to go look for it. Which takes a lot of work. And it can be demotivating to see everyone around you move forward so rapidly while they do follow the manual.

Second:  It relieves you of the responsibility to come up with a plan yourself.  This plan is field tested and seems to work for the masses, so your life probably won’t turn out a giant ugly mess if you follow it.

Just in case it would turn out an ugly mess, you can tell yourself that it’s not your fault.  You didn’t create the plan. 

You can also personalize it to some degree because it has a lot of options to tweak to your tastes.  Choosing a different career, hobby or sexual orientation for example.  (Yes, that last one was a joke.)  (Thanks, I loved it too.)

…and third:  If you successfully execute this plan it takes care of most of your basic human needs.  The money you make will ensure your need for personal survival.  You’ll have food in your tummy and a roof over your head.  The 2.3 kids you cuddled onto this world will ensure the survival of your genes.  Your partner, co-workers and drinking buddies will keep you company.

Something that might make you want to reconsider following this plan: While all your needs will be met, it will always be “just not enough”.  It will always be “okay” rather than “great”.  Crappy food that makes you so unhealthy you even forget what being healthy feels like and think you’re actually okay.  Working time spent on helping other people reach their dreams while you don’t.  Leisure time spent on making it as easy as possible to forget the reality of the situation.  All the while you’re just comfortable enough to never push yourself to do extraordinary things.

Also the second part of the plan is pretty boring compared to the first, don’t you think?  It’s generally considered the part where you enjoy “the fruits of your labor”.  But when I look around, it often seems like the part where people start to wonder what the hell they have been living for realize they need to do a lot of soul-searching while not really having a lot of time left.

This is a because on a subconscious level they know they trapped themselves.  By following the plan they gave up their most valuable thing in life, their freedom.

They didn’t take the time to think what it is they wanted to do with their box of LEGOs up front. So they chose to let someone else decide for them. Most likely that someone else wasn’t just one person.  It were all kinds of people: advertisers, employers, coworkers, friends, family, almighty beings that might not even exist…  It’s like they used their own creativity to turn those LEGOs into a box of chocolates after all.

Deep down, they always knew this.  So they have to numb down their minds with any product or behavior they can abuse to stop that little voice in the back of their heads from speaking up.  Luckily all these things are included in the plan:

Television, excessive internet use, lots of sugar, alcohol, medication, porn, buying useless stuff, gossiping about other people instead of talking about their own dreams, emotions or passions, judging people who DO live their lives by their own rules harshly, the list goes on and on…

Anything, as long as it can detract their thoughts from facing the harshest truth of all:

Their whole lives they had always been -and always will be- unconditionally free to build anything from “life’s LEGOs” that they wanted.  Instead they chose to not have what they wanted, but just something “better than nothing”.  So they followed the manual, which in most cases, gives you exactly that.


Why are you being such a hater of this so-called “manual”?

That’s a good question, reader who doesn’t exist yet. (Since I’m still writing this ? )

Isn’t the manual there for a reason?  Aren’t there tons of people happily following it who actually have really cool lives?

I get what you mean.  Like with LEGOs there’s also a big upside to following the manual.  When you first get them (or get your life), you are still unskilled at creating things.

If you follow the plan to the letter however, you get exactly what you know you could expect.  It’s safe.  There’s no risk involved.  It won’t look as beautiful as the picture on the box but it will definitely be decent.  Better than the first thing you create from scratch, that’s for sure.

At the same time, you also deny yourself the opportunity of ever creating exactly what you dream of. Or even creating something completely different that genuinely amazes you.  Yes, your first creations will suck but only by doing so you can learn to make something amazing..  Perhaps one of them will even create a better manual someday that allows for more freedom.

“But what if I just like the manual?”

Fair enough.  Lots of people seem to like it. But think about this.

Statistically, what are the odds that this pre-made plan everyone chooses just coincidentally happens to be perfectly tailored to your specific personal dreams, desires and needs?

I didn’t check, but my guess is that they are astronomically low.

So am I saying we should all become entrepreneurs, hitchhikers, anarchists and free-loving hippies?

Of course not.  What you want to do with your life is entirely up to you.  I’m just suggesting you start treating your life more like a box of LEGOs than a box of chocolates.

Do you know what you have left when you eat a box of chocolates?  Nothing.  And you’re getting fat.

Do you know what you get when you open a box of LEGOs?  Infinite possibilities.

You can even take some things from the manual that you like (some of them might be in there because they work well).  But before you ever make the choice to follow it.  Take some time to ask yourself this question:

If you had no obligations or limitations at all.  If no one expected anything from you.  If money was no issue and everything was free.  If everyone in the world spoke good of you and nothing could ever stop you to do what you want.   What would you do with your life?

If that fits in the manual or somehow is the same as the manual, great.

If there’s no way of fitting it in the existing manual, make your own.  It may look like an impossible task, but if this guy can become a wrestling champion, bench press more than you, and climb the mount Kilimanjaro in spite of having no arms and no legs, then you can do this.

You only have one life. It’s the biggest treasure you could ever possibly get your hands on.  Don’t waste it by blindly following.

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