“If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up.”
- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Once in a while I like to write about a famous person who truly embodies the principle of doing your own thing in life, following your own path, and charting your own course.
July 18th would have been the 80th birthday of one of the most infamous celebrity rulebreakers of 20th century America… journalist, activist, author, and legendary wild man, Hunter S. Thompson.
If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember the Rolling Stone writer who defied polite society, disregarded authority, and redefined political journalism. Thompson was a dark philosopher, a brutally honest pundit and commentator writing from the perspectives of both an observer and a participant. His greatest claim to fame is as the Father of Gonzo Journalism – a highly personal and subjective style characterized by sarcasm and humor. Related in first person, the reporter is immersed in the action, whereas traditional journalism is typically third person, detached and objective.
Thompson careened through life in a haze of alcohol and numerous illicit substances, frequently on the wrong side of the law or what society in general considered appropriate. The predictable consequences of his lifestyle eventually resulted in declining health, and Thompson chose to exit the world (as he did with everything else in life) on his own terms in 2005.
Of course, simply committing suicide wasn’t a spectacular enough ending… a few months after his death, per his request, his family and friends (led by Johnny Depp, who played him in the film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) shot his cremated remains out of a cannon over his Colorado ranch to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
You may ask what this questionably sane man has to do with thinking outside the job box…
In 1958, at the very young age of 20, Thompson wrote a letter to his friend, Hume Logan, about what it means to find your purpose in life. It’s a very long letter, and it deeply explores and reveals the young rebel philosopher’s thoughts on goals, expectations, and what you should do with your life.
His message, in essence, is this: Deciding what to do with your life is difficult, but the choice must be made. Otherwise, you’re likely to be swept up in the default mode in the stream of family/demographic/societal expectations.
You can read the letter in its entirety in Shaun Usher’s book, Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience But check out this passage, the one that really got under my skin…
“A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance. So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live, and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life.
But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”
And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know – is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by deciding to look, you go a long way toward making the choice…
I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that – no one has to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life.”
That is some significant self-awareness, especially coming from a 20-year-old. I hope it inspires you to make those choices, actively seek the way of life you want, and then set your goals accordingly.
Though he’s not around to celebrate his 80th birthday here on earth, I like to picture Thompson in a heavenly karaoke bar with Frank Sinatra and Elvis belting out “I did it Myyyy Waaay!” Being able to look back on your life and make that statement is a goal I think we all aspire to.