There are things in life that might seem small, inconsequential, nothing at all to others that are big deals to me. Things I didn't expect.
A while ago, sitting in bed at my parents' house, I heard the rubbish truck sounds outside.
And I got this rush of anxiety; my body actually cringed and constricted in a strange kind of fear. All in a split second. But I noticed it, and I realised what it was.
When I lived in my own house, and not like I was then - roaming between hotels, family’s places and wherever I wanted to go - those ordinary responsibilities really got to me.
And to others I can imagine that would seem ridiculous. It’s just taking out the bins, or doing the dishes - what’s the big deal? Yeah, maybe annoying, but it’s nothing really.
Except to me, it was. Those ordinary, nothing things, took up an extraordinary amount of my energy and focus.
Remembering to take the bins out to the street on the right day each week, noticing the dishes that need doing, the fridge that needs cleaning, what groceries need buying and replenishing, what to eat for dinner, the carpet that needs vacuuming, the bill that needs paying, is the rego up to date on the car, do I need to get petrol, are the tyres going flat?...
None of these things is that big a deal on its own. But add it all up, and it overwhelms me.
To some, all of it added up is still nothing, or a small enough deal that they can just do it. Or some, like my mum said she did when I told her, actually love it.
But to me, it eats away at me.
And I spent a lot of time feeling guilty for that. Feeling like I was a failure for not being able to handle 'normal life' like everyone else seemed to.
Then add in all the roles I felt I had to fill in life, wife, mother, daughter, friend, career woman — I felt like I was failing at every single one of them.
Even when I began to recognise I couldn’t do things like ‘other people’ could, and so began to change things so I could cope, it was still just that -- coping. Strategies to survive. All the while still feeling like a failure for having to do it that way.
Even when I tried to explain -- “I’d rather change the way I live so the kitchen needs less cleaning and there are fewer dishes, than just be more organised and on top of it all!” -- no one seemed to understand that.
Just do the dishes. What’s the big deal? Just be more organised.
Except it is a big deal to me.
I'm not completely sure why -- personality, brain wiring.... But I don’t really care what it is. I’m done trying to justify the way I want to live. I’m done making excuses and explaining it away like it’s something weird or strange or to be ashamed of.
It’s just me. That’s it.
No more just barely coping with someone else’s idea of life, instead of creating a life I actually thrive in.
No more cowing to this idea that being a ‘responsible adult’ looks any one way, like theres a checklist for adulthood, a standardised test that you must be good at or else you fail at life.
We act like there is. People often outright tell us this as if it’s true.
But I’m calling bullshit. Life is what we make it.
That’s not a fanciful bumper sticker sentiment -- it is actually true.
So if I want to a life that means I never have to remember to take the rubbish bins to the road ever again — I’ll damn well create that life for myself.
Give me a life where I can think deep thoughts, create at my computer, have people that understand my creative cycles, time to be alone whenever I want to be without having to explain myself — I thrive in that life. Take away the daily things that drain me, and I am allowed to expand into the things I am actually good at. I contribute something of value to the world that way and I feel of value in myself. Instead of useless and a failure.
Someone else may thrive being married, taking care of a house, being in constant contact with people… but I don’t. Should I suffer through my entire existence trying to be someone I’m not, just because that is the more socially accepted way, the status quo?
I don’t think so. I don’t believe that even if something works for 99% of people on the planet, that the other 1% should have to suck it up and suffer. And the status quo, in fact, doesn’t work for that many people -- an increasingly significant number of people are saying, "Uh, nope... this is not me."
Why do we act like there is a One-size-should-fit-all Life, and anyone who doesn’t fit is weird or messed up?
But many would say, “That’s just the way it is."
I remember once, when I was a teenager, hearing a parent in a meeting say, in response to discussion about how to solve some of the issues for youth in the town, “That’s just the way it's always been. It will never change.”
I was barely 15, but I remember feeling incredulous and thinking - “You’re absolutely right, it will never change if you decide it won’t!”
I couldn’t understand why this woman had even come to a meeting about community change, if she already had this attitude. Just to shit all over other people’s enthusiasm? I don’t know. But almost everyone in that meeting had variations of the same attitude.
I was angry about it then, and I didn’t understand. But now I have compassion, and I understand all too well. As my world expanded beyond high school, for me too, things stopped seeming so simple and black and white. And because I experienced it for myself, I learned:
- People create self-affirming beliefs and experiences to support their world view, because it’s comfortable.
- People are afraid of change, because uncertainty is scary.
- People are even afraid of other people changing — in case it rocks their boat too & upsets their comfort zone.
And I also developed the wisdom to realise:
- If I want change, I have to start with myself, because it’s impossible to change someone else’s mind if they don’t want to.
In the meantime, I went through a lot of pain and self-recrimination and anger, feeling like I was a failure. It took a long time to recognise these were the symptoms of trying to live someone else’s life. And that anyone who tried to keep me there was not a bad person -- they were simply just as afraid as me.
But some fears I am good at conquering.
I don’t know why this is my thing. Why this fear is easier for me to push back against than it is for other people. Put me on a high ledge or in front of a group of people to speak and I am a mess.
But put me in front of the status quo, and I am bold. I don’t say this with pride — I make no claims on greatness for this. I still quake inside, and I doubt myself every step of the way. But it is an irrepressible force in me.
I must live this way. I must. There is no other option, other than not living at all.
Each of us, I believe has our own version of this — we may not all be pioneers. Maybe instead of newness, it is stability and home and daily things that are your version of this, the things you are good at, and the fears you are good at conquering.
And my view on life must seem as threatening to you, as your version of life seems stifling to me.
But no matter what kind of life we actually thrive in, we all could do with a little more freedom, so that no one is trapped in a life that isn’t them, and no one feels like they must defend their life lest they be forced to live as someone else.
We don't want each other's lives, that we can agree on.
But if we could let down our guards, there is something else I wish we could all agree on:
Anything is possible. Nothing is ‘just the way it is’. It all depends on your priorities.
I won’t force you to travel, if you don’t force me to stay put. Deal?
And this is why I think that what some might think of as my fanciful, whimsical view of life would actually work. Because not everyone wants to do the same thing -- but everyone, given real freedom and opportunity, wants to do something.
And so we have options.
When we start looking at it, there are so many ways we could live, and so many ways to make that happen.
If I don’t want to take my bins to the road I have infinite options:
- Hire someone else to do it
- Leave my bins permanently on the road already
- Live somewhere where someone else deals with the rubbish
- Not have a house at all, so I don’t have to remember
- Stay in hotels
- Eliminate my rubbish & waste production so I don’t require a bin in the first place
Or if I don’t want to have to do dishes so much (or at all), I could:
- Eat only one pot meals, straight from the pot
- Use paper plates
- Eat out only, not cook at home
- Pay someone else to do it
- Live with others and be on a roster
- Live with someone else who loves cleaning, and I do the cooking
- Live in a hotel where all my meals are delivered and the mess taken away again
These options vary in viability; they take different amounts of money, time and effort; they have different impacts on me, on others, on the environment…
But there are always choices, that is my point. It’s not just a matter of, “It just is."
And there there are even infinite options within those options. And the more we open ourselves up to that, the more creative we can become.
Problem with the wastefulness of paper plates? Get the biodegradable kind. Still not good enough? Get the edible kind. Or get creative and invent your own recycled plates out of waste that already exists. Or use banana leaves.
What’s stopping you?
And then if all of that seems too expensive or too much effort, then just do your dishes. Clearly this is not a priority to you. But it is to me.
So I’m going to find new solutions: only own one plate and one cup, or earn enough money to pay others — others who don’t loathe it all so much and are happy to be paid for it — to do it for me.
And if I want to spend my life moving around and seeking newness — then I will find a way to make that work, because it is vital to me.
There’s always a way. If it’s your priority, theres always a way.
And it’s okay.
You can set your life up however you want -- from the ‘little’ things like dishes and bins that are eating away at your soul and your energy, to the big things like your job, relationships, lifestyle, beliefs…
You have the freedom to choose.
What about the objections?
And there are plenty of those -- either from others or from your own conditioned brain.
Like: "But not everyone has that freedom. What about people in other countries? Not everyone gets to do whatever they want.”
Which is basically true, but fundamentally flawed.
So… you shouldn’t exercise your freedom and choice just because others can’t?
I get it. We are afraid of looking selfish and indulgent.
But then, you know what, I DON'T get it. Because you know what’s worse, what's more selfish than eating ice cream in front of someone who can’t?
Being given ice cream and chucking it on the ground. Letting that ice cream go to waste so nobody gets it.
And even worse -- ignoring the ice cream right in front of you, and eating something else, all the while being miserable and complaining about how you wish you could eat the ice cream instead.
That ice cream is there -- if you don’t eat it, that still doesn’t help the person who can’t. (Your light is inside you -- covering it up doesn't help the person longing to shine.)
Substitute 'ice cream' for anything else you want to do but aren’t doing because 'that’s not the way life works’ and you’ve summed up how too many of us are living. Hiding away the best parts of ourselves. And for what?? This way of living just spreads a soul-destroying misery and a feeling like life is unfair and we are always in lack — if life feels like that, it’s because we’ve CHOSEN that.
Though I've learned compassion to understand the source of the "That's just the way it is, it will never change" attitude, it still bothers me deeply - because it says that we believe life is out of our hands. We have given up our personal responsibility in exchange for the comfort of having life dictated to us.
And I don't believe ANYONE is truly satisfied with that.
It's not about making life 'perfect'. That doesn't exist, not everything is in our control, and getting everything little thing we want is not a prerequisite for happiness. (There are people with absolutely nothing who are happier than you right now. What’s that telling us? That you get to choose how to feel.)
But if there are things within your control to change? Then bloody change them!!
Telling yourself you don’t have a choice when you actually do is insulting. Helps nobody. (And I'm telling myself this BTW. This is for me. This is my deep, heartfelt reminder from me to myself.)
You know what does help?
You are passionate about ice cream, you love it, so you make it your life, and you inspire others to eat their ice cream too.
Maybe you find ways to share your ice cream, or you create an new ice-cream that others can eat, or you find a way to make it available where it wasn’t before. OR you just make people realise that even though they can’t eat ice cream or don’t even want it, there is something else that makes them come alive and they can do that!
They see you loving your ice cream and think, oh man, that looks good. I want to feel like that too.
They see you loving your life, and are inspired to love theirs too.
And what doesn’t help anyone? Living someone else’s life and being miserable, just because it’s "just the way it is."
And if you really cared that deeply and that life-alterningly about the struggles of people in other countries (or whatever your mental excuse is) you’d be doing something about it.
Thinking like that as a reason for not living is just an excuse.
And it’s actually fine! You don’t have to care. Beyond normal human compassion, changing the lives of people overseas/[insert whatever you're 'supposed' to care about here] doesn’t have to be your passion or priority. Nothing has to be your particular passion or priority.
That’s why there are so many billions of people on this planet — we all have different priorities, interests, desires, passions, abilities.
You don’t have to live someone else’s life -- in fact, you really, really shouldn’t try.
There is already someone who is better equipped and actually wants that life. Let them do that. You are keeping yourself from the life you are really meant to live, and quite possibly them as well, by thinking there is something you 'should' do or someone you 'should' be, instead of being yourself.
Screw that other people think, no matter what it is. If they don't understand, then they are probably trapped themselves. Letting them keep you trapped too helps no one.
You just do you. Seriously. Find what makes you feel alive and do that.
(Have a little faith in yourself. Who told you that being *you* was a bad thing? That what you want and desire was bad for the world, so should be suppressed? Why are you doing that to yourself?)
If everyone believed in the freedom to be themselves, instead of trying to be someone else, please someone else, or live a life that is not right for them, the world would begin to right itself on its own.
When each individual lives with a sense of meaning and purpose and freedom — then the world becomes a place of meaning and purpose and freedom. Because we are the world.
Be the change you wish to see in the world -- not just a platitude. Become the person you would choose to be, if you could choose to be anyone. Because you CAN.
Find a life of joy, and you will make the world joyful with you. Create the life you want, and you set us all free.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to put some rubbish in the bin and do my dishes… because I haven’t completely eliminated them from my life yet. But I will. Just you watch. 😉