Life Isn't Meant to Be Straight Lines
Living into the Detours
On the road less traveled, life becomes an adventure. We spend so much time planning to live that we miss the opportunity to experience our existence on our terms. If we don't take control, we end up giving it to someone who likely doesn't have your highest and best interest in mind.
In my coaching business, I meet dozens of people every year who tell me the same story. "I feel like I have been lied to. I was always told to stay in school and get a good education, find a great career, meet someone and fall in love, buy a house, start a family, and you will be happy. Did it, did it, did it, did it, did it, did it, not. Every day seems to be the same and while I accomplish so much and complete so many tasks, my days seem meaningless." Being stuck in the muck and mire of mediocrity drains creativity, excitement, and purpose.
After years of moving from one point in the plan to another, they are dissatisfied with where they have found themselves. They suffer from the 'if only syndrome;' a debilitating consequence of destination thinking. "We would change the way we are living if only we hadn't just remortgaged the house." "I would volunteer more if only my schedule at work wasn't so oppressive." "The opportunity to travel would be realistic if only we hadn't purchased a new SUV." "A canal boat family tour would be amazing if only we hadn't gone to Disney World and the Bahamas last year."
Trading opportunities are part of the everyday. I choose one option that inevitably means that another choice becomes impossible. "Everyone is going to Anaheim so that is where we should go" is terrible criteria and self-bullying logic. Spending ten days navigating the canals and locks of England on a narrowboat with your partner and family is an equally valid option that you shouldn't negate just because it isn't the same holiday as everyone else you know.
Nonconformity to social norms is a difficult path but ultimately a rewarding and exciting one. For me, it begins with contributing more to my world by consuming less of it. I love my life. I am doing challenging and fulfilling work with a variety of different clients—more than 125 last year offered enough diversity that I can't get complacent and stale. I make time every day to appreciate the outdoors and exercise - on the best days, these happen simultaneously. I read 125 books in 2018 and learned physics, conservation skills, hiking practices, writing lessons, and visited many locales through the eyes and words of fiction writers. We reduced our footprint when we moved into a condo and downsized to one vehicle. I eat mostly healthy but still indulge a couple of cravings each week.
I get to add value to causes and agencies that are meaningful to me because the reduced lifestyle doesn't require the same earning power as my less conscious spending of the past. This frees up 60 to 70 hours a month of margin that I get to choose a hike over another two hours of work or I can take a day and contribute to the lives of people in my community who are struggling.
All that is said not as a prescription but as a description of one way I have injected meaning into each day. It has become easier to be deliberate in selecting who to work with, who to spend time with, how to use the hours in my day, and where I spend the resources I earn.
It is in the deliberate and disruptive practice of reflecting, acting, and adapting that the detours and deviations from my expected life path flow. In those moments, I have made invaluable friends, colossal mistakes, and found unimagined joy. I have learned that big changes don't come from one time significant actions but a series of small sidesteps. I get to observe remarkable people making a noticeable difference in their communities through a series of small steps.
Of the dozens of people who have shared their desire for something more purposeful. A few have taken on wicked problems and worked with others to shift the baseline. Some have changed their worldview and over the years have set priorities that bring life into their days. Many have broken one rigid rule that created space for them and their families to grow closer together doing unimaginable things. Most have stayed the course and still disclose that they are unhappy but unwilling to take even the smallest step onto an unknown trail.
Are you ready to step sideways and then move forward again? What would you be doing this time tomorrow if you didn't have any if onlies? Would you be up to trying one new thing, that seems ridiculous and absurd? Monday is always a great day to begin anew. Tuesday, Wednesday and any other can work just as well.