Feature Issue #047

Original or copy? An essay about the decisions that we make day after day

“Born originals, how comes it to pass that we die copies?” Regardless of whether it was Edward Young or Arno Gruen who penned it, this statement couldn’t ring any truer. We spend too much of life living on autopilot, jumping from whim to whim in search of acceptance from our peers. But is there another way?

Ever got home from a drive and realised the whole journey is a blur? You stayed in your lane, respected traffic signs and arrived safely, but you can’t remember the drive, the landscape or things that happened along the way. Life can be so good at sweeping you away in the current. Running on autopilot, in an in-between state of semi-consciousness, might make the day-to-day feel somehow more manageable. You’re still functioning even while your mind wanders, but choosing to be in the present is down to us. We decide our role: be a part of the landscape and soak up the here and now, or disconnect and let it pass by us.

When you get caught in the hamster wheel, with every day feeling predictable and time inexorably passing you by, you’re living your life on autopilot. Even just recognising the mental roadblock you’re facing constitutes an achievement and it’s a sign that it might be time you looked more closely at your life, asking: is this the life I want?”

Mountain biking won’t make you happy and neither will we.

Sure, the articles and amazing photos you’ll find in our mag, plus the ones you see on Instagram and YouTube promise freedom, happiness and more fun than you can shake a stick at it. And sure, mountain biking is probably the best way to access those emotions – but only if you’ve surrendered fully to the now. Those nagging thoughts from work that you thought would be cured by a bike ride can shadow you on the trails. You do your usual loop in the woods but you’re disconnected, replaying conversations from work or your love life. Then there’s the need to define yourself by things, wanting to show off with the latest bike model or slickest new components to make your friends turn green with envy. By the end of the trail, you realise your buddy or even that random rider with their ugly helmet and oh-so-old bike from 2019 is faster than you. Comparisons are hard to avoid. Sure, you can embrace the competition, thriving on it to go bigger and better and faster. But comparisons can also make you resentful. You forget to be thankful for what you’ve got and get swept up by negative emotions. Most of the time, these have no bearing on real life. The jealousy game that we voluntarily put ourselves through is nowhere more obvious than on Instagram. And, seriously, is that real life?

Live mindfully in the present!

This isn’t a tirade against technology. We won’t preach about unplugging from all your platforms. As always, life is about moderation and accepting that there are pros and cons to everything. But we’ve got a manifesto and it involves conscious decisions: what you’re paying attention to determines how you perceive a situation, whether you’re out on your bike, doing chores or have a 15-hour shift ahead of you. In the face of the coronavirus pandemic and 24-hour news ticker, you might be left reeling. With an impending dentist’s appointment hanging over your head, you can spend the whole night awake, letting the mere thought of what may or may not happen if or when they stick the drill into your mouth keep you tossing and turning. You’re already in pain even though there’s no drill to hurt you right now. The only thing hurting you are your thoughts! Out in the woods, you can let bird song and the rattle of your unlubed chain take over your thoughts. You can flood your mind with the breeze that passes you by. It’s as simple as that. Well, in theory anyway. Even out riding, we’re not immune to intrusive thoughts – the dentist, work, or whatever is bugging you. And that’s the crux: you can book a pricey wellness retreat but if you’re not present then the wellness is probably going to waste. Is there a solution? If you’ve ever browsed the shelves at a train station bookstore, you’ll know the answer: accept the here and now. You cannot be anywhere else than right here, reading these lines. This is what is happening. You choose it, so surrender to it. And if you don’t like it anymore, do something else. In the words of Laurie Buchanan,„Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.“

Finding fulfilment happens when we let ourselves go, embrace the situation, let the colours turn on brightly and accept the present moment. That’s what makes you happy. A new bike, new outfit or new helmet probably won’t have the same effect.

Empower yourself – Be original!

Hollywood film star and multiple Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn lived to the grand old age of 96, so clearly has some life experience. “Life is hard. After all, it kills you.” she so famously said. So, why not put the time we’re given to good use? Each of us has our own story, likes, dislikes and issues. But these elements, the very ones that make us individual, are the ones that we suppress all too often. At work, you pull yourself together, because we’re told that there’s no space for emotions at the workplace. It’s as though we’re expected to have multiple personalities, where one part of you is prohibited in another part of your life. Of course, there’s some benefit to not airing all your dirty laundry at work, but when did oppression ever do anyone any good? Doesn’t that just lead to revolt?

The cruellest thing is that this happens everywhere, in every single subculture – it’s just more apparent at work. Be it enduro racer, lover of fine watches, coffee connoisseur, air-cooled 911 aficionado or Rapha-clad roadie, individuality is celebrated, but at the same time that we’re embracing the uniqueness of the scene, aren’t we just slotting ourselves into a cardboard cut-out of what the marketeers say the subculture should be? When belonging means more than blossoming, you adhere more to prescribed tastes than figuring out your own. It’s easier to go with the tide. If you’ve ever been to a football match – potentially unlikely for many MTBers! – you’ll know how easy it is to get swept up in the group dynamic, no need to worry about right or wrong, just joining in, your brain on standby.

Being original doesn’t mean you have to wear the wildest outfits and stand out everywhere you go – it comes down to picking the path that makes you feel alive, happy and fulfilled. You’re not just a bike rider, you’re a human with (hopefully) other interests too, and other identities that make you, you. Be proud of them and dare to live them out. Respect and tolerance for each other’s individuality will help everyone to live a more originally fulfilled life.

Autonomy or autopilot?

Now is the ideal time to focus on what you’ve got and not what’s out of reach (like, you know, a trip to Whistler). Disconnecting and calming down helps you realise that you can’t hunt happiness down, you just find it. More often than not, whatever you’re looking for is inside all along. Autonomy isn’t about power; it’s about having the courage to stand by your convictions and go your own way. There’s originality inside you already, so are you going to flick on the autopilot and get swept along the motorway in a sea of conformity, or will you try to live life consciously, use your talents and tap into your potential? The more often you turn off your autopilot, the more you realise just how many opportunities life is offering you – and that even in a time like this, you can get to Whistler if you really want to. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Right? But maybe you’ll actually come to understand that your desire to go to Whistler represents something else entirely – perhaps something that you can find in your local woods?

Tips for turning off your autopilot

Be in the here and now

  • Slow down your breathing. In and out, use your diaphragm. Don’t force it. Works just as effectively pre-presentation or pre-exam as it does in any life situation.
  • Crash. While we do not advocate crashing your bike, an impromptu encounter with gravity is a surefire way to bring you fully into the present.
  • Jump into an ice bath. Cold water therapy goes back centuries and is arguably a more humane way (over crashing, anyway) to bring yourself firmly into the present.
  • Break before dropping into a descent. Look around, admire the view, take five deep breaths.
  • Don’t post on Instagram straightaway, no scrolling. Halve the time you spend on it, especially out riding.
  • Bike talk. Either listen or ride on. Don’t feel compelled to join in a conversation that doesn’t interest you for the sake of having a conversation.
  • Try leaving your phone at home. Minimise the likelihood of mindless scrolling through social media. You literally just checked it anyway.

Face your fears. If you can feel something negative bubbling up, ask yourself the following

  • What’s the worst that could happen? Is it something you can manage?
  • Would you behave differently if no one was watching?

Thankfulness. If you feel like you need something or just have a case of FOMO, ask yourself this

  • Can you live without it? There was a time when you didn’t have it and life was ok, wasn’t it?
  • Be aware of what you’ve got and not what you haven’t got or can’t get right now.

Every single day we’re faced with situations that leave us questioning. Do we want to live life the way things are, conforming to a preordained structure? Or instead, do we want to approach a new frontier of possibility, throw out the rulebook and make things happen for ourselves by carving out our own path to originality? Whatever you decide, think of Katharine Hepburn. If we’ve got to die, commit to dying as yourself.

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Words: Robin Schmitt Photos: Illustration – Julian Lemme

About the author

Robin Schmitt

Robin is one of the two founders of 41 Publishing, a visionary and go-getter. While he now enjoys every second on the bike – whenever his busy schedule allows – he used to race against the clock at enduro events and a few Downhill World Cups. Besides that, Robin practises kung fu and Zen meditation, plays the cello or with his dog (which actually belongs to his girlfriend), travels abroad and still reviews numerous bikes himself. Progressive ideas, new projects and major challenges – Robin loves exploring undiscovered potential and getting to the bottom of new trends.