“Hi. My name is Pepper. I try way too fucking hard at everything I do. Nice to meet you.”
I wouldn’t be surprised. We’re all in a bit of a rat race, caught up in lessons and appointments and hobbies and 40 hour work weeks… and I’m honestly a bit blown away by it all. We’re our own worst enemies. We’ve got things like society and bills and self worth and relationships and work and religion and duty and norms and millions of other things to blame it on. But it’s all a bit ridiculous, and the fact of the matter is that each and every one of these components of our motivations boils down to a single motivator.
You, my friend, want to have sex.
Lots and lots and lots of sex.
I kid you not. As paleo dieters, we pay great attention to the ways in which we are wired to function. We find that our health and happiness are optimized when aligned with genetic programming, so we do things like eat lots of animals and leap around barefoot and avoid contemporary poisons (what up, Kool Aid!). Some of us take that a bit further and look at ancestral lives, and try and see how contemporary interpersonal problems and mental problems may be caused by discrepancies. Very cool. I recommend the seminal book Sex at Dawn for a fantastic introduction to some of those ideas.
An evolutionary perspective demands one more query, however. Why do you feel the way you feel? Why do you do what you do? Why, why, why, why?
An honest look at everything I do in my life boils down to reproductive success. Did I sell my happiness in high school to get into an Ivy Leaguer? Sure did. Did I go through my first two years of college with eight million too many extra curricular activities and an over-loaded course schedule? Absolutely. Have I read thousands of books and texts and learned a bunch of languages for no apparent applicable reasons? You betcha. And I can point to the world’s best motivations for all of these. I worked really hard in high school because I didn’t want to live in Detroit anymore. I did a lot of things in college because they were fun and I met a lot of really awesome people. I worked so hard there because diligence is important, and I enjoy feeling productive. And I’ve been studying and travelling so hard since I was 17 because the world is one giant adventure, and I want it all, all, all.
At the root of those motivations lies my self respect. While going through life I make choices in order to very deliberately craft who I am. I act in ways that I believe are moral so that I can love myself. I have ambitions and try to help people because I believe that this is what good people do, and I want to be a good person. I try damn hard to live well and do right by others because I will never feel at peace with myself if I do otherwise. These are all very important things, and I cherish and respect and guard them above all others.
But if I dig real deep in my psyche, and look at why I want to love myself in the first place, what do I find? I find that I try so hard to be excellent because I want to be loved. In order to be loved, I must first be loveable. That requires all sorts of achievements. Continually I am striving to be better so that better and more people will want me. Prettier, smarter, faster, stronger, nicer, funnier, more independent, better travelled… the ways in which I am constantly trying to grow are infinite. And mindblowing. It’s a compulsion, and I’m pretty sure we’ve all got it, even if it’s manifested in different ways. We are always itching for social prowess, and jiving for better spots in the social hierarchy, always so we can achieve greater status and admiration and reproductive success.
The best way for our genes to make us have babies is to give us insatiable cravings for sex and for love. I think a good, hard look at everything we do helps us to put this desire in context. Can we find need for validation rooted in all of our activities? Yeah, I think so. For real. And-- hell no, I’m not disregarding experiences and friendship and all the other cool things about exploring the world. But I know that sexual/interpersonal validation is an inherent part of each of them. And big components of everything. Everything! Why do I do what I do? Because I want three things: I want to love myself, I want to be loved by others, and, above all, I want to be loved by someone I deem adequate enough to father my children.
This means that I want to lose weight because it’s good for me, but also because it makes me hot and healthy, two attractive qualities for a mate. This means that I study Chinese because it’s fascinating, but also because knowing Chinese turns me into a fascinating human being, which is an attractive quality in a mate. This means that the name of the game is reproductive success, and we’re all playing it as best we can. An attractive quality in a mate.
So play it! But acknowledge its power. Look sexual validation straight in the face and say “fuck you!” once in a while. Take a vacation from trying to be impressive. Stop trying to please others. Be alone and UGLY or FRUMPY or UNSHOWERED and OKAY with it. Own yourself exactly as you are. Personal betterment and health and adventure and all that are so important, but why are they so important? Ask yourself that question, and then tell your answer to leave you the hell alone. Because you are happy and comfortable with yourself exactly as you are.
Think about the role sexual selection plays in your life, and allow this mindfulness to help you make decisions and step more carefully into the future. I think you’ll find (huzzah!) that this contemplation brings about a whole lot of liberation and acceptance and change.