Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Living Vicariously: What’s the buzz?

Shelby recently posted “To Service and Beyond” (Aug 2, 2007) about a trip she and her mom took. She noted that her dad kept prodding the two of them to make a particular side trip. She wrote that “…he's not going on this trip. He wants to live vicariously through our adventure.”

The phrase “live vicariously” caught my attention at once and since then I have seen various forms of the phrase scattered throughout not only my regular reads but also in places I am just discovering. So I am not only reflecting on what this term means about my life but also why so many others are thinking and talking about vicarious living. But what is living vicariously?

According to Merriam-Webster (1997) it is "sharing in someone else’s experience through…sympathetic feeling.” Well without some context that really doesn't explain the concept in understandable terms. What I understand it to generally mean is becoming so engrossed in following, as an observer, someone else's "interesting" life as a substitute for our own less than "interesting" life; and that we invest time doing that instead of creating our own life. And while it is a second-hand experience it does provide a way to avoid things like risk and failure.

Of curiosity got the better of me and I did a Google search to see just how widespread this topic was being discussed. Would you believe that the phrase “vicarious life” alone returned nearly 2M results? Some may not think that 2M is that big a deal but I was impressed.

Checking out some of the search results revealed that “living vicariously” in all forms of the phrase has different connotations in different contexts. I actually found this to be uplifting because when I initially internalized the phrase “live vicariously” in Shelby’s post I took it (not implying any intent on her part to label her readers) as something I should examine my life for in order to weed it out. Wouldn’t you think that spending time vicariously living someone else’s life/adventure would get in the way of having a real life?

But as I read more blogs and articles online I started to lighten up and give myself permission to consider some forms of vicarious living as a possible tool of research or to share in an adventure that I cannot commit to taking for myself. Life has limits and recognizing limits is as important as recognizing when one is avoiding the normal risks of life by living through someone else’s life. One article I especially found to be informative was written by Dan Nelson as a “Letter to the Editor” of the Daily Utah Chronicle in July 2004 titled “Overcoming the fictionalization of America: basic human needs can’t be met by vicarious living.”

After reading his essay I took some time to think about how I spend my online time - the blogs I read especially the ones I follow closely, the techniques I consider implementing on my own blog, and the niches I speculate moving into. What I concluded at the end was that I engage in several forms of vicarious living online. I follow and engage in “mimicking” some blogs to see if the style and community is a good fit for me, but I am aware of what is me and what is not. There are several blogs I read not because I want to move into their blogging niche but they are engaged in the kind of work or career track I would like to move into. Then there are a few blogs where the authors or subjects are living out an adventure that will never be open to me and while I am mindful to remind myself that I am observing someone else’s adventure there is a benefit that I would miss out on if I deemed the practice of vicarious living totally off-limits.

So, I am curious, does anyone else engage in vicarious living (that they would admit to)? If you do, in what context and how do you manage it; or do you feel it is in the driver’s seat? Be sure to leave a comment about your experience in vicarious living.

Technorati tags: living,


Sylvia C. said...

Hey Deb,

I am so "the driver's seat" type when it comes to living. I can't imagine ever trying to LIVE through anyone else!

When it comes to actual driving? I don't mind letting my husband or sis take the wheel!

Interesting post!
Have a great week!
Sylvia C.

Shelby said...

THIS is an excellent post.

You bring up some interesting ideas I had thought of generally - but not really focused on.

I do live a bit vacariously through others. Hopefully I don't do it too much to the detriment of actual living on my part. I do find tho, that through other's experiences, I am often prodded and inspired to do actual living.

So the "vacarious living through" becomes eventually the "actual living in."

Wishing you the happiest Wednesday today :)