In one of his most quoted observations, Thoreau remarked, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Hoping to awaken people to the heroic enterprise of marching to "the beat of a different drummer," Henry David Thoreau encouraged people to act as individuals so that they would feel fulfilled and not live desperate lives.
In Walden, for instance, Thoreau writes that he went into the woods to live deliberately, and for that same reason he left the woods. In his "Conclusion," Thoreau observes,
It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves....and so with the paths which the mind travels.
To simply try to succeed can cost people their individuality, Thoreau tells his reader. Listen to the "different drummer," Thoreau says, for any other reality will be "vain" and meaningless to the individual. It is the spirit and soul of people that must be fulfilled for existence to have meaning. People must make their own paths in life, choosing the occupations that they love in both their public and private lives; else, their lives are worthless and "desperate."