So I happen to live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Please don’t misunderstand–I’m not trying to brag. This is just a plain fact. My valley is gorgeous, and lots and lots of folks spend vast amounts of time and money to travel here. I feel very blessed to have landed in this wonderful place, surrounded by mountains and rivers and genuinely good people. And summer is when the best of my locale shines through, so I have really been feeling the love these past few months. The days were (usually) warm and dry, the wildflowers were in bloom, and there were endless lists of things to do. Summer is when this valley hits you over the head and demands attention around every turn. Look, the mountains at sunset! Look, a blazing yellow canola field! Look, another farmer’s market/art show/boat parade! Seriously, it’s almost too much. (Almost.)
But guess what. I didn’t always live here. Nope–I’m a Midwest girl by birth, born and raised between corn and soybean fields (but next door to lots and lots of malls). I landed here quite by accident, really, but through a series of choices that we made (please put a pin in that idea for later). Did it work out? Yep, so far so good, and we’re 15 years in. We’re happy and we make it work. Is it hard to be away from our families? Absolutely, every day. But this is life. The good and the bad, the easy and the hard. The pros, the cons, and the choices.
See, we hear the same thing over and over from folks every single day who are visiting. It starts off with a very nice compliment about our valley: Oh my goodness, this place is so amazing/gorgeous/different from home!!! We love it here!!! We would love to live like this. That usually moves into an opinion about us: You are so lucky to live here! It must be so nice to have this be your home. And then the last segue: I could never do this. I could never live here. It’s too ________ (fill this in with a myriad of things–far from my job, far from my family, remote, small, scary). I could never….
You guys, this is silly.
Anyone can move here! I won’t put this on a sign or anything, because holy bananas, there are enough people here already, but it’s true. There’s no one at the border next to some velvet ropes allowing or denying folks entrance, nor is there someone at the border of YOUR state telling you whether you can leave or not. Everyone’s welcome! All in, baby! There is only one catch.
You have to choose it.
That’s the crux, isn’t it? You have to choose it. And that is fantastically difficult.
Choosing what you want in your life might be one of the hardest obstacles you face. And it’s completely unique, because it’s an obstacle that you build all by yourself. You gather the materials–your thoughts, your worries, your “I can’t”s– and you start construction on all the reasons why something cannot happen. Some folks spend their entire life as the foreman on this construction site. It’s a very busy place. Construction of said obstacles can take all the years you have on this planet. You want job security? Sign on for this one–it’ll take you forever if you want.
Personally, I have to fight this urge, this urge to barricade myself into what I’ve always done because it’s what I’ve always done. It is totally my nature to do exactly this. BUT–the end results are worth the struggle, I think. I want my life to be unique, and I want it to be MINE. And so I make sure I take the time to really examine the choices I make. Instead of being the foreman on the obstacle construction site, I want to be the driver of that little truck that comes by and takes all the barricades down. That seems like a super job for me.
And right now you might be thinking, Well easier said than done, lady. This is tough stuff!
You are right.
This is absolutely tough stuff, and I am far from being an expert in this area. I am mostly an expert try-er and mistake-maker. But remember, YOU make all of the choices in your life. I read a quote recently that Elizabeth Gilbert shared from another writer (the “who” escapes me, my apologies): Don’t live the afternoon of your life according to the morning program. WHAT? This is brilliant! “I’ve always done it this way. I’ve always been here. I’ve always understood it to be _______.” Well that’s super. What if you start doing/being/understanding in a different way/place/train of thought? What would happen?
Doesn’t it just thrill you with possibilities? Doesn’t it feel LIGHT?
Oh, yes, and also this: Doesn’t feel absolutely terrifying and like you might throw up at any moment? Yes. That too.
Guys, change is gut-wrenchingly hard (hence the I-want-to-barf feeling). But seriously–I believe it’s the quickest way to grow as a person. I have talked about change before here and here, partly because it’s terrifying for me, and partly because changes happen all around us every day. I figure I might as well get used to the idea and quit digging my heels in about things. If I want to live authentically, I know I need to wrap my head and my heart around change. Writing about it is just the quickest way to get there for me.
So how on earth do you do it? How do you decide what’s worth making changes over? Well, it involves
a bit a truckload of thinking and examining your own heart. To start, you really need to view things in your life with your eyes wide open. Any time you’re not happy with something, examine the why. Why are you doing things this way? Why are you in this position? For me, the feeling I have is usually discontent. It’s a restless, not-happy-in-my-skin feeling. And if the answer has something to do with “that’s the way I’ve always done it”, then you have your first red flag! Ta da! Good job.
The next part is both fabulously easy and tremendously difficult: Now, think of alternatives. Take the I-can’ts and the it’s-too-scaries and just set them to the side. Assure them you’ll be right back to tend to their neediness. And think about WHAT COULD BE. Don’t like where you live–where else could you live? Don’t like your job–what else can you do? Don’t like your family–how can you get another family? (Okay, this is a stretch, of course. But there is always a solution, even if it’s not Craigslisting a new brother.) This is pie-in-the-sky time!!! Let your imagination go nuts. Because seriously, it’s fun to dream, isn’t it? Be curious! That’s where the good stuff is.
So once you have those great ideas about moving to Guam and opening a banana farm (I have no idea if this is a thing–please just go along), you have to get down to the details. This is the tough part. What would it take to make this happen? What are the steps that you’d need to follow through on? You’ve got to break it down small, so that it’s in manageable chunks. After you get those little steps done, things seem more plausible, don’t they? Whew! Not so scary.
And the last step is simply weighing. Now you’ve got two plans. You’ve got the “this is how I do it” plan, and the “this is how I’d love to do it instead” plan. I love making lists–this is a great list time. It’s also good for messy note-jotting or staring-into-space-over-coffee pondering. What’s great about your new plan? What’s hard? Chances are at this point, you’ll start to see that the way you’ve always done it has some really good points. After all, this is probably why you starting doing it this way in the first place, right? It made sense! And those points are valuable, dear. Don’t discount them. Just weigh them.
Caution: If any of your great points about staying the same or your hard points about changing include the phrases, “I’ve always done it this way” or “It’s too scary”, you can’t include those. That’s just being the foreman on that roadblock construction site again. No good. We set those worrying guys to the side before, remember? They’re just being sneaky. Put them back on the sideline and get back to your weighing.
Sometimes the pros will vastly outweigh the cons. When this happens, you feel all excited and tingly with possibility. Why didn’t I do this sooner, you will think! Woo hoo! Bring it on!! Sometimes the cons will vastly outweigh the pros. Oftentimes, this comes down to responsibilities to other people that you must uphold. Perhaps you need to stay put in a place because you are caring for a loved one, and you are the only one who can do that job. Perhaps you must keep your job because it’s the sole source of income for you and your kids, and you just cannot afford to uproot that. Perhaps you are not actually permitted to enter that other country because of an incident back in the ’90s. Whatever it happens to be, sometimes there are legitimate reasons why a plan cannot happen. And that’s okay, because you took the first steps of considering another way of doing things, and that’s the important work here. And more often than not, the pros and cons will appear to be about even. Life is funny that way. Weighing is funny that way. But know what? Your heart will tell you which way the scales actually tip. Just be quiet and listen to it. It is WISE.
Chances you’ll come up with a clear path after all of this? About 2%. That’s just the way it is. You plan, scheme, ponder, consider. And in the end, it’s clear as mud. But guess what? You’ve planted a seed. You’ve got a plan for exciting changes. Hold onto that plan! Even if you decide it’s not right for you TODAY, that doesn’t mean it won’t be right for you someday. Start on the small steps. Be curious and consider what might be. Dream a little. Plan a lot.
And best of luck in the afternoon of your life.
Photo credit: author’s own
Photo credit: Hugh Kimura, Flickr
Photo credit: Winnifredxoxo, Flickr