Are You Living a Life of Quiet Desperation?

Lives of Quiet DesperationA few weeks ago I was watching the movie “Revolutionary Road” with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.  Some seriously powerful acting in this movie and I was reminded again how much I am drawn to strong women characters who have so much potential but are haunted by the inability to be who they truly are.  What the movie shows in a tragic way is how painful it is to push down your dreams and desires as you discard them in exchange for some other more “normal”, “expected”, “respectable”, or <insert whatever adjective you  might use when compromising> life.

For days after watching this movie all I could think of was the following quote:

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Other than the obvious lack of including women in his quite, Thoreau really did put it eloquently.  For many it is a quiet desperation of little compromises over time that lead to a numbing of the soul, a loss of passion, a “settling” for whatever life throws their way.  In Kate Winslet’s character’s case she traded being alive, exploring, traveling, and creating for a life in the suburbs with a nice house, few kids, and a predictable routine that visibly deadened her spirit.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with living in the ‘burbs and having kids of course, but you don’t have to trade-in doing things that make you feel alive.  When you do, you short-change yourself and everyone around you.

I was reading Ann Daly’s post “As Suze Orman Says, ‘It’s Part of the Deal’” the other day and thought about the fact that we are all making deals each  and every day.   We make deals with ourselves and sometimes even make deals with the devil.  Each deal we make (aka each choice we make) has a consequence.  If we don’t like the reality we are experiencing today that means it’s time to change our choices. Time to own up and honor the terms of the deals we’ve already made and then consciously choose differently with the next set of deals.  As Ann Daly shares in her post:

When you make a “deal,” whether it’s for a certain job or a particular profession, whether it’s marriage or parenthood, whether it’s a dinner engagement or a volunteer position, you agree to  terms. For every deal, you are making investments and taking risks. It’s up to you to conduct your due diligence before signing the deal. It’s up to you to understand the investment required and the possible risks. It’s up to you to make the terms explicit. It’s up to you to negotiate. It’s up to you to make sure that you can handle the downsides as well as the benefits. It’s up to you to decide if this is the deal you want and will honor, come what may.

You need to honor and be responsible for the choices you’ve already made (and not in a martyr sort of way I might add) and be clear and conscious about the current and future choices you make.  After all, if you’re over the age of 18, no one is choosing for you but you.  You can point your finger and blame and look to others – “I had to”, “They made me”, but in the end you’re the one at choice and pulling the trigger.

You see this idea of living in quiet desperation doesn’t happen because of one bad choice.  It’s not a snap of the fingers event.  It is a string of choices (deals) over time where you choose something other than to honor your authentic voice, your soul’s calling. Little by little you trade aliveness for something else.  Then, one day you wake up and wonder, “How did I get here?” and your heart cries out.

So, starting today ask yourself:

  • How alive do I feel?
  • What deals have I made that I feel great about? Which ones do I not feel so good about?
  • What choices do I want to start making today so that I am living fully and authentically in a way that brings meaning to my life and makes me happy?

Stay awake to the deals you make.  Don’t allow external circumstances and an abdication of personal responsibility lead you to a life of quiet desperation.

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Google+ Comments


  1. Hi, Paula. Great article! I love your quote, also. Ironically, Twilight Wish was able to successfully grant a wish for a dying woman to "get her songs out into the industry and heard by people who could make a difference" before she passed away, but, many folks do indeed go to their grave with their songs still inside them. Our charity grants wishes to elders and we often are asked to help bring out the "song" when there is not enough time left. So your advice is right on. Live authentically now. You owe it to yourself.

  2. Remember this one, from that wonderful old TV show "Laugh In": "The devil made me do it!"
    .-= Ann Daly´s last blog ..Marcus Buckingham Says Women Have a Happiness Problem; I Say Men Should Stop Pathologizing Women =-.


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