There aren’t many quotes that deserve an entire blog post.
But this one oozes of pure terror.
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” -Henry David Thoreau
Perhaps it was the observant nature of Thoreau that allowed him to so accurately pen the condition of humanity. Maybe he talked to enough people who saw his own success as a writer. Maybe they said to Thoreau, “I was once a writer like you…but writing wasn’t paying the bills”, or, “I once had a song to travel the world…but then I got a comfortable house (and payments) and didn’t want to leave it”, or, “I always told people that I’d be a _______ when I grew up, but then I realized that it wouldn’t really work with having a family.”
Perhaps those conversations concluded with the quiet desperation that Thoreau spoke of; a far-off look, imagining what could have been; a short chuckle to themselves, remembering the child still inside, dreaming; a sad smile reminiscing about the ‘glory days,’ when they were on the very cusp of finding their song. But the far-off look, the little chuckle, and the sad smile are all that remain. Is there anything more poignantly depressing?
Most, in quiet desperation, will never even acknowledge that they’ve ceased pursuing their song.
After all, it’s much easier to hold on to hope than to face the reality that you have failed. As Aristotle said, “A tragedy is that moment where the hero comes face to face with his true identity.” That is the second most terrifying quote in existence, because it leaves you bare. At the end of the day, after you’re done blaming your circumstances or obligations or relationships (using your family as a shield and turning your wife and kids into your jailers), you will be left with your true identity. Nothing else.
But, as Ebenezer can attest, choosing to greet your ghosts of past, present, and future, can lead you to change your path and to sing your song. For the 95% of obituaries of people who clocked in and out and died feeling like they could have done more, there are the 5% that made it happen and realized that happiness comes from Maslow’s top tier just as much as it does from the bottom four.
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, but you can be one of the few to put the excuses aside and to quench your soul’s thirst. Billions of un-sung songs lay in the grave. But you, by definition, are not too late to sing yours!