Bill Watterson on creating a meaningful life

I discovered this quote from a rare Bill Watterson commencement speech and it’s been stuck in my mind lately:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

That first sentence is brutal. Why is it so rare to create a meaningful life?

To paraphrase Watterson, it’s because there are a lot of forces fighting against you. It’s a culture that tells you what you should desire. It’s the constraints of life forcing you to compromise on your vision. It’s being stuck working with people and institutions whose goals are incompatible with your own.

If you take one look through Watterson’s Wikipedia page, you can see him fighting these forces. Fighting not to merchandize his work. Fighting to prevent his comics from being truncated to save space. Defending his decision to stop Calvin and Hobbes when he did. Fighting for privacy from journalists. In a world where nothing is sacred, Watterson refused to compromise.

Fighting all those fights—at great personal cost—must have been exhausting. That’s why the meaningful life is so rare. Most people are unwilling to do it.

But that’s also what made Calvin and Hobbes so special. He protected them, and you can tell.

See also, this lovely comic-style poster also based on the Watterson quote.