Is this just another bullshit blog by someone with an overinflated ego who thinks people will be interested in her life and aspire to be and live like her? I hope not. I am a 56 year old woman who is well aware of the pitfalls of seeking validation though admiration. Pursuit of the ego diminishes me and needs to be avoided but I have something to say, a perspective on life that I want to share and blogging is a great tool for doing that. So how do I avoid sounding self-congratulatory or self-righteous? How can I share my thoughts and ideas and pursue an audience without presenting like a complete narcissist? Well that remains to be seen but I intend to try.
I recently retired after 32 years in the workplace, an experience that was in many ways fulfilling but diverted so much of my energy that it left me unfulfilled in many other ways. It impacted on my mental and physical health, on time spent with my loved ones and on my ability to pursue other passions. It diminished my capacity to feel joy and to realise my true self.
“It is often by a trivial, even an anecdotal decision, that we direct our activities into a certain channel, and thus determine which of the potential expressions of our individuality become manifest. Usually we know nothing of the ultimate orientation or of the outlet toward which we travel, and the stream sweeps us to a formula of life from which there is no returning. Every decision is like a murder, and our march forward is over the stillborn bodies of all our possible selves that will never be.”
A year ago, a health crisis forced me to reflect on how I had been living my life and I made the decision to reprioritise and take early retirement. My goal now is to live a simple life, guided by the principles that I value; to fill my days with the things that I love and experience freedom from the approval of others.
I also have a political agenda. Not in the sense of party politics-although that is something that interests me. My agenda is about non-conformity, about questioning the messages we receive on how we should live our lives, spend our time and spend our money.
Most of the things we do, we do for no better reason than that our fathers have done them or that our neighbors do them, and the same is true of a larger part than we suspect of what we think.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
When I was 17, I was highly sceptical of the need to conform to the expectations of others, to fall into the trap of pursuing qualifications, career and possessions. I was fortunate that I felt no pressure from parents to live a certain way but we are hard wired to compete and drive ourselves forward and so my natural ambition set me off in pursuit of education and employment goals, a pursuit that took over my life for the next four decades. I’d like to say that I was so immersed in the experience that there was no time to reflect on whether it was making me happy but that would be false. It was crystal clear to me throughout that I was selling my soul by pursuing a narrow definition of success, seeking the validation of others and surrounding myself with the trappings of materialism. I knew that I was not living by my true principles and that the life I was choosing was leaving a large part of me possibly forever unfulfilled. I constantly hankered for a different way of life. I took occasional years off from work to travel and follow my heart but I was always sucked back in. Why? The simple answer is fear. Fear of poverty, fear of being judged as less than by others, fear of being perceived a failure. So despite being a rebel at heart, I oddly became a member of the establishment, first as a solicitor and then as a school principal and I dedicated a disproportionate amount of my waking hours to trying to be good at these things.
Almost forty years later, I realise now how wise I was at 17. If I had developed tools back then that might help me override the need to be accepted, approved of and admired then my life may have turned out quite different. Don’t get me wrong, my regrets are few, as every experience has led me to this current path. I am grateful for the opportunities, cherish the memories and treasure the people I have met along the way but I am done with the bullshit life and I know that many others feel the same. When I read this back in five years time, it will inevitably be seen in the context of COVID19. My decision to break away from the career path came months before we were hit by the virus, but the lockdown has provided millions of fortunate people with the opportunity to take life at a slower pace, achieve a work-life balance that had previously seemed impossible and reflect on how a simple life might actually be a better life. It is of course important to acknowledge the terrible tragedy that has befallen many families who have lost loved ones or experienced the devastating economic impact of job losses. It’s also worth noting that some people are happy with their work-life balance, even if it represents no balance at all and that others are not well placed to make changes regardless of how much they would like to. We nevertheless, find ourselves at a juncture where many now have the choice to make lasting change or fall back into the old ways of life dominated by the overwhelming pressure of work.
So my political agenda is to encourage those for whom this resonates to question why we have built our lives around the pursuit of work-based goals and the acquisition of of stuff, much of which we don’t need. Do these things serve any purpose beyond garnering the respect and admiration of others? Are we sacrificing quality time with those we love, daily experiences of joy and real peace of mind in exchange for the admiration of those we barely know? I want to inspire you to ask who is really benefitting from a world built around the pursuit of more. Is it the average working person or others? Might there be a different way to live, a simple way, where we work in order to have just enough, where we value our time as much as our stuff? Living that way represents a complete paradigm shift for most of us. It takes courage but there are plenty of brave souls out there who are already demonstrating that it is possible. So let’s be bold and make a change that may transform our lives for the better. We can take baby steps at first but who knows, we may gain momentum and create something lasting and meaningful.