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The Minimalists

Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff for 2 million readers. They live in Montana by way of Dayton, Ohio. As featured on: CBS, BBC, NPR, USA Today, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and Toronto Star.

Security Is a Misnomer

Security fence in front of Dayton, photo by Adam Dressler

We are but dogs, leashed by fear, thrashing in the collars of our own obligations.

People often hang on to things—jobs, relationships, material possessions—in an effort to feel secure. Unfortunately, many of the things we cling to in search of security, actually drain the satisfaction from our lives, leaving us discontented and overwhelmed.

We hold on to jobs we dislike because we believe there’s security in a paycheck. We stay in shitty relationships because we think there’s security in not being alone. We hold on to stuff we don’t need, just in case we might need it down the road in some nonexistent, more secure future.

But if such accruements are flooding your life with discontent, they are not secure. In fact, the opposite is true. Discontent is uncertainty. And uncertainty is insecurity. Hence, by definition, if you are not happy with your situation, no matter how comfortable it is, then you won’t ever feel secure.

Take, for example, us: Joshua and Ryan. We both embraced the ostensible security of prestigious careers and of all the cold trappings of our entropic consumer culture. The super-sized houses. The steady paychecks. The pacifying material possessions. We’d purchased all the purchases, accumulated all the accumulations, and achieved all the achievements that were supposed to make us feel secure.

So why didn’t we experience real security? Why were we glazed with discontent and stress and depression? Because we had more to lose. We’d constructed well-decorated walls that we were terrified to tear down, becoming prisoners of our own consumption. Our lifestyles, equipped with a laundry list of unquestioned desires, anchored us to our self-built burdens.

We thought we knew what we wanted, but we didn’t know why we wanted it.

It turned out our paychecks made us feel less secure, afraid we’d be deprived of the income we’d grown accustomed to and the lifestyles we’d blindly coveted. And our material possessions exposed countless twinges of insecurity, leaving us frightened that we’d suffer loss of our personal property or that someone would take it from us. So we clutched tighter onto these security blankets.

But you see, it’s not the security blanket that ensures a person’s security. People latch on to security blankets because there’s a deeper fear lingering at the ragged edges of a discontented reality; there’s something else we’re afraid of. The fear of loss. We’re afraid of losing love or respect or comfort.

It’s this fear that keeps us tied to mediocrity. We’re willing to sacrifice growth and purpose and meaning in our lives, just to hold on to our pacifiers, all the while searching all the wrong places for security, misguidedly programming ourselves to believe there’s a strange kind of certainty within uncertainty.

But the more we amass, the more we need our stockpile, and then the more uncertain we feel. Needing more will always lead to a pall of uncertainty and insecurity.

Life isn’t meant to be completely safe. Real security, however, is found inside us, in consistent personal growth, not in a reliance on growing external factors. Once we extinguish our outside requirements for the things that won’t ever make us truly secure—a fat paycheck, a sybaritic relation, a shiny new widget—we can shepherd our focus toward what’s going on inside us, no longer worshiping the things around us.

Sure, we all need a particular level of external security to function: food, water, shelter, clothes, health, personal safety, positive relationships. But if we jettison life’s superfluous excess, we can find infinite security within ourselves. Security blanket or no, we can be absolutely secure alone in an empty room.

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