I’m noodling a concept called “Low, Medium, or High Life.” In his book Stuffocation, author James Wallman tells the story of Dave and Jen, who are living a self-proclaimed “medium chill” (medium life).
Dave is a writer for Grist.org, a website that focuses on environmental issues. He and his wife Jen live in Seattle, WA, with their boys. One day, Dave was talking to a friend from college. This friend, Teyo, was “all in” with his new tech startup. Teyo explained his goal was the big chill – burn fast, burn hot, and get bought (preferrably by Google and for a lot of money) so he could then get to a place where he could relax and chill out.
Dave was struck by this conversation with Teyo and wrote about his thoughts about money, success, and “the big chill” as an article on Grist.org:
“If we wanted, we could both do the “next thing” on our respective career paths. She [Jen] could move to a bigger company. I could freelance more, angle to write for a bigger publications, write a book, hire a publicist, whatever. We could try to make more money. Then we could fix the water pressure in our shower, redo the back patio, get a second car, or hell, buy a bigger house closer in to town. Maybe get the kids in private schools. All that stuff people with more money than us do.
But … meh. It’s not that we don’t think about those things. The water pressure thing drives me batty. Fact is, we just don’t want to work that hard! We already work harder than we feel like working. We enjoy having time to lay around in the living room with the kids, reading. We like to watch a little TV after the kids are in bed. We like going to the park and visits with friends and low-key vacations and generally relaxing. Going further down our respective career paths would likely mean more work, greater responsibilities, higher stress, and less time to lay around the living room with the kids.”
More work, greater responsibility, higher stress, and less time to lay around the living room with the kids?
Teyo’s sacrifices now to attain “the big money” someday (hopefully soon) didn’t seem worth it to Dave and Jen.
As you can read from the excerpt above, they decided, “No, thanks.” Dave even coined their choice of lifestyle “The Medium Chill.”
Stuffocation author James Wallman says “The Medium Chill” matters for us today. First, it’s simple – and with our overly complicated modern-day lives, simple matters. The Medium Chill stands for this:
- You’re happy with what you’re doing, where you are, and with what you’re making money-wise.
I call it “satisfaction with what is” or “happy where I am.”
Low, Medium, High Life
Contrast Teyo’s life to a documentary about Bill Harris, the Keeper of the Creeper. In the film, Bill explains why he adopted one of my most favorite places – the Creeper Trail in Virginia (it’s a converted rail-trail bike path through some of the most beautiful parts of southwestern Virginia ever).
Bill’s taken it upon himself to pick up trash along the trail and in the creeks. “The Trail saved my life. It’s my happy place.” He lives in a tent along the trail, too. “I’m a hobo, not a bum. A hobo will work. A bum will just bum.”
Some people might view Bill as a “low life” because he doesn’t have a “traditional job” or because he lives in a tent. Some people might view Teyo in the story above as living “the high life” because of his wealth (and/or because of his quest to accumulate wealth).
I think the opposite.
In Stuffocation, James Wallman notes that Teyo “is helping to run a tech startup,working 80-hour weeks, half of that on the road,with barely enough time at home to maintain a relationship with his dog, much less a romance.”
For me, that quest would seem like a low point in life (and when I was participating in that quest, I myself was deeply unhappy).
The single-minded quest for money to the exclusion of any other relationships wasn’t for me (Teyo may feel differently about his own quest…and that’s cool).
Rather, I view Bill Harris, the Keeper of the Creeper, as living the high life. He’s chosen to do this thing and has found satisfaction and meaning from it. He’s helping the world, not just himself.
The Medium Chill and the Medium Life
Traditionally, we think of an unsavory character as a “low life” and see someone who is outwardly rich and successful as “living the high life.”
If we peel back the exterior, though, what would we really see? How many famous people are really just lonely?Jennifer Lawrence, famous movie star from The Hunger Games movies, recently admitted she wants a family but her fame and fortune seem to intimidate men and make them be mean to her.
Did you know statistics show that poor people tend to giveaway proportionately more money than rich people? And studies show that philanthropy does a body good?
Shoot for the middle?
What I’m noodling here, gentle reader, is that maybe we’ve gotten our thinking all jumbled up. Just maybe, the low and medium life (or the Medium Chill), including leading low-key and moderately exciting lives are far more satisfying and happy than trying to achieve “the High Life.”
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this!