Now... if you happen to be the author of one of these posts, relax, this isn't aimed at you. This isn't really aimed at anyone or any post in particular.
It's just that something inside me always starts to recoil a bit when I hear things like "Be the You that you've always wanted to be" or some other similar phrase.
It always conjures up pictures of lollipops and rainbows, and a life immersed in eternal happiness and bliss. And of course we all go chasing after it because, really, who wouldn't like to live inside such a fairy tale picture?
Don't get me wrong, it's not that I have any objection to making positive changes or adopting a more authentic lifestyle. But these types of things always come across like some warped combination of self-help program, late night infomercial and carnival busker to me...
And the way most of them turn out, authenticity very rarely makes an appearance.
I guess I just think that we all tend to approach this sort of question from the wrong direction. We sit and think "Gee... what kind of life would I really, truly like to have?" And then we set about making our real lives look like the picture we've conjured up in our heads.
We imagine ourselves thin and healthy and stress-free, in idyllic surroundings without a care in the world... or whatever your fantasy life might look like.
And always in these pictures, we ourselves are somehow different. The equation always seems to go sort of like this:
"If only ___________, then I would feel ____________."
You can fill in the above blanks with your chosen fantasy and desired feeling du jour.
But you know, I've made a LOT of changes in my life, and in my experience it just doesn't work that way. In fact, the only way I've ever really gotten anywhere was by ditching all of the pretty pictures and all of the ideas about how I want to feel, and simply following the emotions that I actually do feel right now!
The thing is, you can control what you do, but you can't really control what you feel.
I'm not sure I'm doing a good job explaining all this, so here are a few examples.
After I had my little "nervous hoedown" in college, I decided to "follow my dream." At that point in my life I had a beautiful picture in my head of being a travelling singer songwriter. I would live out of my car, write songs, record albums and basically become a modern day troubadour. So I headed in that general direction and ended up working for a non-profit folk music school. I considered this a temporary stop since what I really wanted to do was perform.
But since the school was one of the "larger" concert venues for music of this type in the country ("large" meaning we had a 125 seat hall,) and since most of the members of our faculty were professional musicians I also got a first hand look at what life as a performing musician was really like.
At some point it dawned on me that I get carsick if I drive more than about 30 minutes, I HATE sleeping in hotels or being a guest in someone's home, I have a pile of food allergies so eating anything I didn't cook myself is a nightmare, and the "romance" of being a starving artist wears off pretty darned quickly when you're sick and can't afford to see a doctor!
And while there is certainly something very gratifying about being on stage and having everybody tell you how wonderful you are, and cheer for you etc, there's also something very hollow about it all. People who are your "fans" don't really like you, you're really just a big screen upon which they project all sorts of strange and bizarre things. On some level we all crave public approval, but when you see it in that light it's really a very strange, and not completely fulfilling sort of thing.
So when the time came and I was asked to "go on the road" with some friends as their opening act - the dream I had always longed for, I turned them down flat. The reality of it all just wasn't as glorious as the dream had seemed.
Here's another example.... After 16 years of working at the music school, it had turned firmly into a "real job" and I wanted out. Even though I had decided that being a travelling musician would be hell on earth, I still longed for the freedom and self sufficiency of not being an employee.
So after years of frugal living and saving my pennies, and trying various methods of making money, I finally hit on success and was able to quit and strike out on my own. This was what I had always wanted... freedom and time... nobody to answer to... life was gonna be absolute bliss!
And then it actually happened, and that first year after I quit working was one of the most miserable times in my entire life! I was just as stressed out and exhausted, and overwhelmed as I always had been, only now I didn't have a boss and a job to blame it all on.
So there it was... it was me and only me... I had finally come face to face with myself, and it wasn't pretty!
In the end I had to own up to a LOT of stuff that I had been avoiding my entire life. I had to dig up a bunch of shit from my childhood and really deal with all of the emotions that I had tried so very long to avoid. It's not like I didn't know the stuff was there, I just somehow figured that knowing it was there was enough... but it wasn't - I actually had to feel it all (and still do - every single day.)
So what's my point with all of this?
I guess I just think that ultimately "living the dream" has much less to do with the circumstances of your life (like what you do for a living, or where you live, or how many things you own) than it does with the way you choose do deal with yourself as a human being. Because no matter what things you accomplish or how many pounds you lose, or how few belongings you de-clutter your way down to - you're still gonna be the same person - and that's the part we all really need to come to terms with.
Now I'm the last person on earth to say that you shouldn't try to change your life for the better. But when I really look at it - all of the many things I've "accomplished," and the many ways I live an unconventional life (financial independence, frugal living, simplicity, etc) aren't what has made me happy.
Changing my circumstances only helped me create time and space to do the real work, which is dealing with myself, and that is what has made the difference.