The Relaxed Rebel

a manifesto, dispatch #3

“Feeling good is good enough.”
-Sgt Elias, from the movie Platoon

My Friend,

Growing up in the heart of Generation X, I’ve been a part of the “slacker” culture that took root in the late 80s and 90s. This culture, often misunderstood, wasn’t about shirking responsibilities or being lazy. It was about rejecting the conventional grind, the corporate rat race, and the never-ending chase for material success. We traded those societal norms for a life that cherished leisure, personal passions, and authenticity.

We found solace in music, art, and the burgeoning tech scene, which offered new avenues for expression and connection. Icons like Kurt Cobain and films like "Reality Bites" became our anthems, encapsulating the angst and aspirations of a generation caught between the analogue and digital worlds. This era wasn't just about rebellion; it was about carving out a space where individuality could thrive amidst a rapidly changing cultural landscape.

Thinking back now, it seems a bit ironic that I've come to embrace slacker culture considering my journey. But life has a funny way of steering you in unexpected directions. 

Right after high school, I took a path that was miles away from the typical slacker stereotype. I joined the military and competed for a prestigious spot at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Getting into West Point meant being at the top of your high school class, excelling athletically, and being deeply involved in community service. I was the salutatorian of my high school class, president of the student council, a varsity letterman, and a participant in Boys State. I didn’t do these things out of some mad desire to be the best or to be super successful. I simply did them because I wanted to and the opportunity was there. My attitude then, as it is now, was ‘why not?’ and ‘let’s see what happens if I do this.’ Despite these "achievements," I always kept my slacker sensibility at heart.

On the surface, I may have looked like an overachiever, but internally, I felt like a classic underachiever. I always held something back. I was capable of much more, but I never wanted the stress that would have come with working harder. “All you can do is what you can do in a day.” I’ve carried that phrase around with me for decades. It’s my silent reminder to not stress over things beyond my control.

Even throughout my army career, my laid-back attitude was a constant companion. A lieutenant colonel once told me that if I were any more laid-back, I’d be moving backward. Yet, he said, when I was present, I had presence. I commanded attention effortlessly. Another battalion commander mistook my relaxed nature for indifference, but to his frustration with me, I had one of the top performing platoons in the battalion, and my peer reviews and command reviews were solid. my track record of leading top-performing platoons. Like Big Boi, I didn’t fit in. I was “a crocodile walkin’ ‘round with alligator skin.

Slacker culture wasn't about being lazy—it was about choosing personal freedom and leisure. We valued living life on our own terms, stepping away from the mainstream culture of overwork and consumerism. We wanted to live genuinely, true to our own values and rhythms, not the ones society imposed on us. It was a form of libertarianism where personal autonomy and well-being were paramount. 

We also turned away from the relentless pace of modern life and its toll on our well-being. The "rat race" held no allure for us; we doubted that hard work and material success would bring happiness. In many ways, slacker culture was a quiet rebellion against the pressures of modernity, advocating for a return to a more mindful and intentional way of living.This mindset led me to embrace Epicurean philosophy, which champions enjoying life’s pleasures in moderation, valuing intellectual pursuits, and treasuring friendships. For me, this philosophy is a perfect antidote to hustle culture.

I believe that today’s hustle culture is a major reason for our struggles and poor mental health. It feeds into the toxic narrative that our worth is solely defined by our productivity and achievements, creating a relentless pressure to constantly do more. This culture makes burnout feel normal and turns the sacrifices of our well-being into badges of honour to be worn proudly. It blinds us to the importance of rest and recovery, driving us to the edge of exhaustion and leaving no space for self-care. Constantly comparing ourselves to others’ highlight reels on social media only deepens feelings of inadequacy and failure, chipping away at our mental health. We get stuck in a loop of chasing an impossible ideal, forgetting that real happiness comes not from the endless hustle but from a balanced life filled with meaningful moments and connections.

Oops, am I on my soapbox again? Well, since I’m here… 

I think the wellness crowd can be just as detrimental with the way they portray wellness and well-being on platforms like Instagram. Those curated, pristine, colour-graded yoga poses at sunrise on a beautiful beach, the perfectly prepared organic healthy meals, and meditation in serene, picture-perfect settings—they all send the message that if your life doesn't look like this, you're doing it wrong. It's an unrealistic standard that can make us feel inadequate, like we're failing at something as fundamental as self-care. To those folks, I'll borrow a verse from Adam Ant, a slacker culture icon, his taunt to the pristine, new-age spiritual guru types you:

Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?
Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?
Subtle innuendos follow
Must be something inside

Adam Ant, Goody Two Shoes, 1982

What Ant was hinting at there was that people who appear outwardly virtuous or “clean-living” (those who don’t drink or smoke) must have some sort of hidden vice or inner life that isn’t immediately visible.

That might be a little cynical, so here’s a nicer view:

It's a reminder that true well-being isn't about perfect aesthetics or living up to an impossible standard. It's about finding what genuinely brings you peace and happiness, even if it doesn't fit into a neatly filtered Instagram post.

OK, I’ll get off of my soapbox now.

Here’s my antidote to all of this. My Relaxed Rebel’s Manifesto:

We believe in the wisdom of laughter and the folly of taking life too seriously. Like the sages of old, from Epicurus to Lin Yutang, we recognise the absurdity of the human condition and choose to meet it with a wry smile rather than a furrowed brow. 

We reject the frenetic pace and materialistic values of modern society. The blind pursuit of money and status strikes us as a pitiful way to spend our brief time on this earth. We do not define ourselves by our careers or possessions, but by how well we have lived and laughed.

We aspire not to change the world but to enjoy it. Political causes and ideological crusades hold no interest for us. We embrace the simple pleasures: good food, good friends, and good conversation. We prefer a lazy afternoon to a power lunch, a dog-eared book to a glitzy magazine.

We accept our own limitations and those of our fellow humans. Pomposity and self-importance are the greatest of sins. We make no claim to moral superiority; we are all fools together, muddling our way through as best we can. A bit of humility and empathy go a long way.

Yet for all our easy-going ways, we are not without depth. Our tranquility arises not from simple-mindedness but from an appreciation of life's joys and sorrows, triumphs and defeats. We have no illusions about life but choose to approach it with good humour all the same.

In the end, we know that we are destined, like all people, to be food for worms. And so we aim to live lightly, laugh often, and leave the world a little brighter than we found it. This is the way of the relaxed rebel. May we all embody it as best we can.

Print that out and blue-tack it to your wall or your bathroom mirror!

Peace and love,