Doing what’s good for us…

Sometimes means leaving behind something that we love or care about too much.

Leaving Facebook because it’s too toxic and doesn’t add value to our lives.

Declining additional commitments or dropping them because we’re over-subscribed.

Avoiding taking on additional work when we’re already working at our limit.

And sometimes it means simply saying “no thank you”.

Who is it for?

That jacket you just bought.

Those shoes you just got.

The photos you’re taking.

The posts you’re writing.

The words you’re using.

The furniture you’re having delivered.

If your answers don’t begin and end with “me”, “myself”, or “I”, then it begs the question: who is it really for?  Are you spending money to buy things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t even know or like, and then subsequently being forced to spend more time in a job that you probably would be better off without?

More to the point: how many hours of your life were spent in the pursuit of someone else’s goals to pay for that?  How many hours will you never be able to get back as a result of that purchase?  How much longer will you have to delay doing that thing that you wanted to do to pay that back?

For all of our sakes, I hope that purchase was worth it.

Meaningful Life

Going to try an experiment. Going to ask a series of three questions relating to living a meaningful life. Anyone can feel free to steal them and answer them on their own if they like. Just going to be brutally-honest and just put it all out there. Because hiding isn’t doing anything for anyone at this point.
First question: “What is meaningful to me?”
I’m not sure if I can answer this question fully. A lot of my behavior is still driven by a need to be validated by other people. A lot of people-pleasing, avoiding boat-rocking. Being silently angry and sullen while presenting a stoic outer appearance. What has made me happy lately? Solving problems, even if they’re small ones. Granted, I get worked-up about big problems and then get down on myself when I can’t figure out how to solve smaller problems. When I can teach someone something new or keep motivation high with them on a physical activity or a project, then I am happy and satisfied. I feel as though I often can’t do a lot of things because I don’t know enough, so I content myself with nudging a tiny piece of something along. I need to break that cycle, but I’m afraid of spending effort on things that might not pan-out or might actively blow-up in my face. So, I guess to put it in succinct terms: I haven’t figured this out yet. There’s a lot that I know makes me feel a little better about myself, but there isn’t anything that I’ve found thus far that I would literally stop being me if I wasn’t able to do it anymore.
Second question: “What constitutes a meaningful life?”
Another tough one. For me, it’s less applicable to social good or social justice, though for people that can derive meaning and merit from their actions in these efforts I’m happy for them. I suppose in my case it’s way more cerebral than physical, but the physical can be a gateway or path toward it. I’ve felt pretty fucking incredible getting to the top of some pretty interesting rope climbs, and I’ve found a kind of peace being out in nature. I suppose that’s what informs a lot of my life experience, seeing as how a large part of my life has been spent in some kind of anxiety, depression, or trauma. Finding those “moments of power”, of time-outside-of-time when life is larger than itself… that’s meaningful to me. When reality just seems to become stock-still and I can feel the edges of reality kind of curving inward on itself; those are the moments I live for. At the top of a long hike, a hard climb, a powerful move on a boulder problem, or even sitting with someone after pouring our hearts out on the floor for the other to see. These are the moments I keep my eyes peeled for.
Final question: “What would I be doing if money and education were no obstruction?”
Honestly? Climbing and coaching. I’d want to learn as much as possible about physical training, conditioning, nutrition, and injury management/rehabilitation as possible and help people to push just that little bit further. Just the tiniest iota beyond what they thought they were capable of. Seeing somebody literally glow because they achieved a new personal record or achieved a goal makes me happy.
A close second would be writing and photography. I’d like to be able to take pictures of places I find interesting, get their history, talk to the people who know, and be able to bring that back to the rest of the world. Because knowing more about the world around me is more important than ever.

A Minimalist Life, The Short Tour Part 1: Home

I still get the occasional question about my choice to engage in minimalism and why I’ve chosen to forego “stuff” in favor of experiences.  Even when I tell them that it’s more aesthetically pleasing to me to have fewer things and be less worried about what I still own, I still get the impression that people seem to think that minimalism is more about asceticism, engaging in some flavor of anti-consumerism protest, or some kind of “race-to-the-bottom” trend.

What gets lost in that conversation is what I’ve gained in the process of removing the superfluous.  When the flotsam and jetsam of a consumerist life is moved aside, I’m able to leave cognitive room for more of the things that generally make life more interesting.

When you’ve removed the beeping, buzzing, dinging, flashing, and blinking bits from your immediate view, what are you left with?  When you’ve removed all but “the work”, what’s actually there to distract you?

In my case, removing things actually gave me more in return–I removed the visual and physical clutter.  When I donated of a ton of books and CDs I’d never read or listen to again, I gained mobility and options in where I wanted to live.  As I divested myself of the superfluous, I started discovering what was essential to how I wanted to live my life.  I discovered my strong desire to climb, hike, and snowboard as a direct consequence of asking myself really difficult questions.  I began curating my life in such a way as to make them seem as if they were foregone conclusions rather than abstract concepts.

  • Does this add value to my life?
  • Would I miss it if it were gone?  What impact would it have?
  • Is this something I could easily replace, repair, or borrow if I absolutely needed it?

When I consider these questions and I look around at what I still own, what relationships I invest time and energy in, and how I spend my time, I realize that what I’ve removed is actually less than what I’ve gained.  I’ve added more space to what used to be a “small” living space for myself, found better focus by having less visual distractions in my field of view, and I’ve made it easier for myself to move if I choose to (by having less to pack).

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By having fewer possessions, I’ve made it clear to myself that what I have should be able to do a few things fairly well or one thing really well.  Whether it’s the clothing, food, or where I live, I look at all of the options as closely as I can now and generally make more informed decisions about what I want and why I want them.

In short: I wanted less distractions, less clutter, and less craziness.  What I got in return was more of myself: more of my own personality and expression, more of the space that I want, and more of the things that I need (and consequently, less of the things I didn’t).

What do I want?

What do I need and what do I want? What I need is to sate my deep-seated need for adventure; to feel alive. What I want is to feel free. Freedom to explore and room to grow.

Modern life is constrictive. Society has expectations that aren’t in alignment with what I need. Do I think that Shawn is a perfect fit? No one is. Can I explore with him some? For sure.

What would allow me to grow more in the directions that I want to grow in? Would leaving the technology industry be a good way to achieve that?

I’ve thought about product design and engineering a lot in the last few years. How things could be made differently or how different functionality could be provided.

Maybe there’s something to this.

Debt

What is your number? What is the floating-point number of “chits” you owe someone else?

When you think about what was bought with that number, does it make you happy? Does it fill you with anxiety? How much did that ski trip cost exactly? Was that over-priced latte worth it?

The next time you go to swipe that slice of plastic, consider this: who will you be paying interest to on that purchase, and for how long?  How many hours of your life will you have to give up to pay it back?

Maybe

Maybe our definition of “happiness” is wrong.

Maybe our civilization confuses material success with outward expressions of life satisfaction.

Maybe there’s a depth to the definition of “happy” that we have not yet plumbed. Maybe that’s why so many of us feel confused and unhappy when we’re forced to question it.

If the definition of happiness is superficial, then maybe what we need is a different definition. Maybe a different word entirely.

“Self-actualized” is too clinical. “Content” sounds kitschy. Finding the right social shorthand that gives adequate context to this kind of feeling isn’t easy.

Maybe that’s the point.