Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Thoughts on Living the Dream

I've been reading a lot of posts recently with a similar theme. Perhaps it's because of the new year, but everyone seems to be talking about how to get out of their ruts and finally start to live the life they've always wanted to.


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.


36 comments :

  1. You couldn't have told me this BEFORE I gave up a well-paid job in my fifties?
    ;o)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well... I still think jobs are evil! How's life beyond employment going BTW?

      Delete
    2. Hi Cat! It was going brilliantly up to and including Christmas. I would have little thrills of joy several times each day as I realised what life held from here on in. Since Christmas I've got a bit of the blahs, and I don't really know why. My "routine" is dreadfully chaotic, bedtime can be anything between 7:30pm and 4am. Last night I went to bed at about 11 and ended up finally going to sleep about 4. I think I'm still in an adjustment phase, and I do seem to be very anxious. The slightest noise will wake me with my heart thumping, thinking that the cats are being murdered or there's a strange animal loose in my bedroom, or something really bad is just about to happen. I'm having anxiety dreams, too, like waking up to find that the roof over my room has leaked and for some reason I've been keeping all my computer equipment (actually my old employer's computer equipment, which is worse) on the bed, so it's all dripping wet and wrecked and my roof needs replacing. And that's the most normal dream I've had for a while!
      I really would not have thought that I would be troubled by the insecurity of being effectively a contractor, and on the top of my brain I'm not, but clearly there's stuff going on underneath to which I am not consciously privy. I wish it would pack it in, because it's spoiling my feelgood factor!
      But in reality - outside of my head - life is good and my expenses are way down, even taking Christmas into account, so I'm surviving well on far less money. I can't think of much I'd change, so I really am mystified as to why I'm still troubled. I probably need more exercise!

      Delete
    3. Not having a routine definitely takes some getting used to! I still struggle with it sometimes (like last night when I was up until 3am finishing this post!)

      I can totally relate to the anxiety and the dreams. At first I thought I was just nervous about "making it" on my own, but the more secure things got on the money front, the more anxiety I felt!

      I finally had to come to terms with the fact that (for me at least) the anxiety had been there all along, and I had just used work and busyness to distract myself from it. In reality it has much more to do with my crazy childhood than it does anything going on in the here and now. I still struggle with it, but it's getting much better, and dealing with it is SOOOO much better than just running away.

      Hang in there! Life is just beginning!
      xoxoxo,
      Cat

      Delete
    4. I'm not generally the obedient type, but "hang in there" is one instruction I will have no trouble following. No going back!
      Thank you for sage advice.
      C
      x

      Delete
  2. Great post. One of the common wisdom phrases that irks me is "live like there's no tomorrow." I mean I get the point, don't take things for granted, but if I *really* lived like it was my last day, I wouldn't be going to work, or paying bills, or bothering with chores, etc. And how long could I really get away with living like that?! Maybe I'm just too literal.

    I still get carried away with the fantasy of not having a day job. Deep down I know it wouldn't be all rainbows and sunshine, but dammit I'd like to see for myself anyway.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's amazing... toilets still need to be cleaned even after you quit your job!

      Seriously though, I totally LOVE not having to be an employee, and it's absolutely been worth it for me - so I'm not saying you shouldn't work toward that goal. I just wish I'd done a bit more of my own personal work along the way so it wouldn't have all hit me like a ton of bricks as soon as the pressure of job life was off.

      But then again, maybe that's what I needed - I needed to take away all of the other stuff before I could convince myself that the main issue really was me all along.

      Delete
  3. I think you've made a good point. It's not the circumstances that make everything good, it's when they allow you enough time to listen to yourself. That can be done in many different ways. Now for a pet peeve of mine. I understand where it comes from, but there is a fair amount of judgement out there, if you aren't living the life that made someone else happy. This comes both from people living "simple" lives as well as people living the "traditional" lives. I don't know what my ideal life is exactly. However, if I can have a little time each day feeling relaxed and smiling that's good enough for me, because I know realistically, life is hard.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that people are always seeking validation, and when someone makes the same choices you have made it's like they're saying "you're doin' it all right," so it totally makes sense that on some level we all want everybody else to agree with us and make the same life decisions that we have. But you're totally right, there are many, many paths to happiness.

      Back when I was still working I had a co-worker/friend who was a single mom, getting absolutely NO help from the fathers of her children (one of whom she had to hide from because he had beat her up.) She was making around $20K/year working full time and supporting herself and 3 kids with very little help from anybody else.

      To look at the circumstances of her life she should have been harried and exhausted. If anybody had a "right" to complain about how hard life was, it was her. But that just wasn't how she approached things. She had the best work/life balance of anybody I've ever met, got TONS of joy from her kids as well as her job and seemed truly happy to be working there. I'm sure she had plenty of her own "issues" as we all do, but I think she owned up to them pretty well and she was a real inspiration to me.

      Delete
  4. Love the kitty in the first photo. That's one very work-efficient little furball -- eating from one end, while hanging the other over the litter box.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! Efficiency in action! Works as long as you've got somebody to keep filling the bowl and emptying the box!

      Delete
  5. Love this post! I'm the Norwegian girl from over at Be more with less - if you remember?

    A couple of years ago I had FINALLY decided what I wanted to study (or so I thought,)and I had gotten into the program, I had lost some weight and I had fallen for a great guy who loved me back (for the first time in three years since my childhood sweetheart dumped me after several years together). Suddenly I had what I had wanted for so long...and I STILL felt like crap.

    Like you I had thought that just knowing about all my issues was enough. Well, it wasn't and so I'm still in the middle of dealing with things. It's hard, but in the long run it sure is harder to live a life where you pretend you're fine when you're not, and to desperately search for a little peace of mind in all the wrong places.

    Maria

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Maria, Of course I remember you! And I totally agree, I spent many, MANY years pretending that I was fine when I really wasn't, and it's just not a nice way to live. Congratulations on choosing to deal with your issues - I know it's hard, but you won't regret it.

      xoxoxo,
      Cat

      Delete
  6. I always love your pictures. You are right, of course, that we have to come to terms with ourselves and our place in the world. Childhood baggage is a hard thing to dump. I have tried over the years to come to terms with it. Most of the time, I just put it in perspective that my joys later in life have made up for the lows. The water became calm after the storm, so to speak....but water by it's very nature occasionally has a few ripples.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ripples indeed. You know there are people who spend their entire lives trying to re-live their childhoods - I always feel fortunate to have survived mine! In the long run it's a gift because now is the good part!

      Delete
  7. One thing that annoys me is the never ending quest to find joy in every single aspect of life. Hating doing the dishes or stressing over college does not make me an unhappy person. Struggling to make every moment meaningful probably would. Life is already meaningful all by itself -- we just have to enjoy the ride the best we can :)

    P.S.: Your troubadour fantasy sounded a lot like mine. Change "singer/songwriter" for "adsense queen/problogger", "gets carsick" for "hates driving" and "food allergies" for "slightly irritable bowels" and you have it. Good thing we came to our senses, eh?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! When I was a kid back in the 1970's we had a record album called "Free to Be You and Me" which was a collection of songs, stories and poems for kids. Anyhow, one that I remember best was about how everybody hates housework.

      Ooooohhh.. I found it on You Tube:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Y7dJrGnEYI

      Enjoy!

      Delete
    2. best. story. ever! so true!

      Delete
    3. Isn't that fabulous? I just LOVE the part where she's saying in this sickly sweet voice "Your mommy hates housework, your daddy hates housework, I hate housework too! And when you grow up so will you!" The incongruity of the voice and the message just get me every time.

      Delete
  8. Amen, sister!

    I have drunk wine since I read this earlier today, so anything else I say is liable to be incoherent rambling (note different time zone - it's OK to drink after 6pm, isn't it?). Instead, I recommend this TED talk:
    Why are we happy?

    You also inspired me to write a blog post that's been in the back of my mind for a while, but in light of wine consumption, that also is likely to descend into incoherent rambling, so may have to wait until tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! What a fantastic TED talk! Perhaps that explains the co-worker I was describing in my reply to "live and learn" above. Hope you enjoyed your wine! :-)

      Delete
  9. Cat, I learned this lesson late in life. I spent more than half my life running away from experiences I couldn't deal with. I kept thinking I'd be happier if I were away from the place that caused me all this pain, and would go as far away as possible. One day I finally realized I needed to deal with me and the issues I was running away from because I was ruining the locations I ran to by taking myself with me.

    Rachel, that was an amazing TED talk. I knew this would be special when I couldn't answer that first quiz question. The idea of winning a lottery makes me uncomfortable. I would have to run away again if I did, all those people wanting me to give them money, the sob stories, the public attention it would be my worst nightmare, although the idea of being paralyzed isn't a picnic either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "...I was ruining the locations I ran to by taking myself with me." Oh don't I know that one! There was a reason I went half way around the world as an exchange student when I was 18... and my crush on the cute Norwegian guy was only a tiny fraction of it! :-)

      Seriously, this describes my mother perfectly. She keeps moving across the country... and taking trips around the world... like she can somehow outrun herself, unfortunately wherever she goes she's still there!

      And I have very similar feelings about winning the lottery. Part of me thinks it would be a horrible curse, almost as bad as being born into the royal family or something like that. Can you imagine having your life set for you at birth... and there's no escaping it? Sounds like hell on earth to me!

      Delete
  10. Well isn't this just perfect! I was one who signed up and even did a post about a dream life workshop. I totally agree with you about how these things come off, but on the other hand I do think they can help some people who have never really been honest with themselves and have avoided really looking deep within.

    For most, I think they do it because they feel stuck in a situation and hope to it will help them find some clarity more than really hoping to live their dream. Who knows though, maybe some people can really be that gullible...er, I mean hopeful. I do think that everyone should re-evaluate their lives from time to time if they aren't feeling fulfilled. Some of us have to be a joiner of something to finally get around to doing it I guess, otherwise we just don't take the time.

    I made my big mistake when I changed jobs last year. I was living a close version of what I would call my dream life (in realistic terms) and I went and screwed it all up for a lousy difference of 3 thousand a year (and that's before taxes!). It wasn't anywhere near worth losing the time and freedom I had in my previous position. I would go back without a second thought if I could. Why didn't you stop me?!! (Phase 2 - place the blame on someone else, lol).

    All I've ever wanted was to live a very simple life. I want time. I want freedom. I could live happily ever after in my husbands comfy old shirts and jeans digging in the garden, hovering over the stove to cook a good meal for my family, or sitting at my computer blogging - if someone would pay me to do those things then I really would be living my dream life!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Really, really... this wasn't pointed at you. I didn't even see the dream life workshop! It's more the concept of the "dream life" that gets to me - you know, the happily ever after myth.

      But seriously, I don't think you should look on this job thing as a mistake... it's all a learning experience. I mean there must have been a reason you thought this new job would be better, and I'm sure it wasn't the $3K. Maybe examining that decision and how it does or doesn't fit with the desire to have more time and freedom would be a good start? Maybe there are some clues to your inner workings there that would help you figure out why you're stuck.

      Take care my friend!
      xoxoxo,
      Cat

      Delete
  11. I didn't think it was necessarily pointed at me, there are lots of people signed up and posting about it, and tons of things like it out there as well. It wouldn't have mattered either way. Your post is well written (as always) and just injects a more realistic and of course more humorous view - a view I happen to completely agree with.

    I guess when I made the final decision on the job I was kind of bamboozled into it. I had substituted in the position for a year without additional pay just because I'm a such a team player (aka doormat). It was something much needed so I stepped up to the plate (I should have known better). A year later when the person I sat in for resigned instead of returning from her leave, I was practically forced by the higher ups to take the job.

    Everyone was pushing the positive sides in my face and I knew, I KNEW my time and freedom were more important, but took the dive in anyway.

    Just give me a brick wall to bang my head against!

    I'm stuck now because there is no going back to the job I loved for many years, the position was filled as soon as I left it. Any other changes I make will very drastically affect all different areas of my life, and the lives of my family.

    Can you please point me in the direction of that brick wall?!




    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. http://people-equation.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Bang-head-on-brick-wall.jpg

      Just kidding...

      Sounds like you're suffering from the old "if I'm just nice and do what they want then they'll appreciate me" syndrome... I know it well! I don't know anything about your job, but it sounds like the position you're currently in is a necessary one, and also one that not many people want. Maybe you're in a stronger position than you think.

      When I finally started to peek timidly out of my "martyr for the cause" corner (which I was very comfortable in) I discovered that I had a LOT more power than I realized - I was just too afraid to use it. But with some help and encouragement from CatMan I started making some "demands" (ok, more like pleas) to my employer. In the end I managed to finagle a full time assistant, a more flexible schedule and a big fat raise.

      I still eventually decided to leave, but discovering that I had that kind of power was a big eye opener for me!

      Hang in there!

      Delete
  12. Thanks for the link, heading right over ;)

    It wasn't even the "If I'm nice and do what they want they will appreciate me syndrome" I went down that road years ago and learned my lesson with that. This time it was the "I'm a hard worker and a team player - I can handle anything syndrome" BUT only for the temporary substituting. Then it turned into to the "Take this job or be black marked syndrome!" It's just not right.

    Unfortunately working in the school system the people I work under at the school have very little to do with making changes, they are basically just puppets for the higher ups at the board who make all the decisions. Then there's the union to contend with too. So really I'm pretty much powerless in the grand scheme of things unless a position opens that I'm interested in. I have too much time invested now to just walk away considering I'm looking at the whole pension thing now more than anything. I don't have the energy to start from scratch at my age.

    So, heading over to the brick wall now ::sigh::

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OY... that totally sucks! Stuck between a crappy job and a pension. I sure hope you can find a way to make it bearable.

      Delete
  13. wow, not sure how i ended up here, but great post, and some fab replies and discussions above. Food for thought indeed!

    Leanne x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Heading over to check out your blog now...

      Delete
  14. This part really spoke to me, "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."

    And after I quit my job, I too had an incredibly overwhelming year "doing what I want to do". I had managed to resolve a lot of deep seeded issues previously, but after quitting my job I had to face the hard reality that I am extremely cruel to myself and I allow others to be cruel to me. Accepting that and dealing with it has been the hardest thing. I'm still working through other things - such as I am craving intellectual companions and they are so hard to come by here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sam,

      I can totally relate to the "being cruel to self" thing. I really, REALLY have to work at it to quiet that little voice inside that is always chiding me and saying things like "move your ass, you fat lazy slob!" Sometimes it still feels like the whole world is telling me that I'm not good enough. You know it's bad when you feel like even your cats are yelling at you! :-) Talk about projecting things onto a big screen!

      Best of luck with the intellectual companions thing. Since I am one of the more intellectually lazy humans that I know this has never been a big issue for me. But CatMan has developed a close network of "geek buddies" who are invaluable to him. They get together and talk about things like vector math and other topics that would make most of us cringe.

      Delete
  15. great post! and these photos are killing me! so funny!

    ReplyDelete

I welcome your thoughts so please leave me a comment and I promise I will respond.

On older posts I've had to enable comment moderation to prevent spammers, so don't worry if your comment doesn't show up right away - unless you're just commenting for the sake of embedding a link, in which case I really wish you wouldn't waste your time or mine because I'll just delete it.

Thanks, and have a fabulous day!