Readymade solutions most likely serve someone else’s interests more than they serve yours. For, how can they account for your highly personal needs? Do you really want to outsource the most important parts of your life? This is the trap of the pre-packaged life.
The mundane and the important
Modernity specialises in the pre-packaged life — offering readymade solutions for everything. Ready meals, package holidays, flat-pack furniture, sterile 9-5 work, factory-style education, mass media. What defines the pre-packaged is that you have very little opportunity to make it your own. You have to swallow it wholesale, take it as it is, slot into what is offered. You have very few degrees of freedom.
Indeed, sometimes this may be very handy. Even a supermarket sandwich on the way home after a long day can be a godsend! It is not such mundane kinds of pre-packaged solutions that I am interested in. For, we can’t avoid them altogether, nor do we need to. So, it is not the use of standardised, readymade solutions in a general sense that I am concerned with. It is relying on them for the most important areas of your life. It is turning your whole life into a pre-packaged deal that is the trouble. A deal others have put together for you, leading you from one thing to another.
I once described this as the problem of conveyor belt living. Unthinkingly moving from one stage of life to another, on a path someone else defined for you. But, there is something too deterministic about the metaphor of a conveyor belt. I now prefer the analogy of a rat park because it brings the element of choice more into focus. The rats ‘choose’ their movements within their park full of food, play wheels and resting places, but it’s ALL pre-packaged. Unable to break free, they operate within what is readymade for them.
Circularity of the pre-packaged life
The problem with the pre-packaged life is that it can become circular, trapping you in a vicious cycle. You do uninspiring, pre-packaged work to earn money to live in an (expensive) pre-packaged home that you need to keep living in, in order to go on doing uninspiring work. And, the more time that you spend in your readymade job, the more likely you are to seek readymade solutions in other areas of your life. Lack of time and energy start to make the readymade more attractive all around.
All of this also gets tangled with keeping up appearances. Slowly, you start doing the readymade things that people in your socioeconomic peer group do, even when you have little interest in them. Pre-packaged exercise slots using unnatural machines in poorly ventilated environments, are cramped into weekends packed with other pre-packaged activities. Then there are the pre-packaged holidays to fill the pre-packaged vacation slot that you are expected to take.
Soon, the pre-packaged life is complete — a patchwork of readymade solutions haphazardly sewn together. Luckily, we humans have a lot more agency than our rat friends, if only we dare to use it.
There is a certain feeling of psychological safety in slotting into the pre-packaged, yet it comes at a great cost. At the cost of freedom and personal expression. While pre-packaged may be convenient in mundane matters, you sacrifice a lot by using them in the most important areas of your life. Say when taking on draining 9-5 employment, or furnishing your home with an entire readymade living room.
‘The two are not comparable!’ you might protest. Well, much more than you think. In one, you sell a huge chunk of your time to do what you would rather not do. In the other, you fill a big part of your home with something bland you probably don’t really like, and that you saw in some ‘design’ magazine.
The only people who really win are those offering the pre-packaged life solutions. The big corporate who created some sterile role that they want you to slot into. And, the big furniture company that designed a standardised living room that they want you to buy. Neither is really interested in your individuality and what you find inspiring. In fact, they could probably care less.
Why do we do it?
The short answer is because everyone else does it. But, what is behind this collective, semi-conscious norm? In Machine Ego, I talked about modernity’s excessive desire for control and certainty over everything. And how that makes us obsess over achieving external benchmarks. About ticking-off boxes, so that we can validate ourselves in relation to what we believe we ‘ought to do’. At root, this betrays a kind of existential self-doubt. Doubt about the validity of our direct experience and interests, such that we prefer the safety of pre-packaged life solutions.
We know in our heart of hearts that we would like to create our own, to trust in our ideas and interests. Yet, we are pulled by what is all around us. So, we end up living outside-in, rather than inside-out. We make slotting into the pre-packaged life our focus, rather than creating our own, according to our deep interests.
Breaking free of the pre-packaged life
And, what you sacrifice is the joy of carving out something that YOU really enjoy. What you sacrifice is saying, yes, to what you find inspiring and to your taste. The real value and the fun lie in you creating your own. But, that requires first noticing the pull of the pre-packaged life, so that you can actively say NO to it.
For, we can’t just wait for things to appear on a silver platter. Because if they do, they are very likely to be part of a pre-packaged life deal that doesn’t really serve us!
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.