When I wrote about The Man Who Quit Money, some of you suggested that what Suelo was doing – completely removing the concepts of money and debt from his life – was nice, but not very realistic for most people. I pushed back, because I hate hearing “oh, well that’s nice for them” used as an excuse, as if they are somehow more or less human than you and therefore you are totally justified in remaining stuck and miserable wherever you are. But one reader, through a series of emails, helped me see the disconnect in another light, while reminding me of one of the biggest obstacles to being happy: real life.
“Take my neighbor who also chooses to consciously live without worrying – and has an active meditation and yoga practice and truly does not judge, does not get worked up about ‘stuff’ and is currently wandering around Spain and Portugal with her husband… but she has a house, a job, a young adult child… she rarely gets angry and truly works to be in the moment, be thankful for the moment. That I aspire to. I have another friend – a mom to 5 kids – who is in her early 30′s – and she just got accepted, with almost a full scholarship, to law school. She already has a degree in social work and is drawn to taking it a step further. That I find inspiring – she’s on the PTA – she drives a mini van – but she is not worried about ‘how’ she could be a lawyer….these are regular people (like yourself) who are making paths that I can find inspiration in.”
(I immediately wanted to meet that mom of 5 who is going to law school.)
I got what Jacqueline was saying, but mostly on an intellectual level. I read her words in the beginning of April, fresh off of my own impossible dream – 10 months of traveling in an RV with my family – so it seemed to me like anyone could go to extremes to live their values if they wanted to. They just had to be really committed.
Fast forward to today:
I’ve been living at my in-laws’ house for almost two months and will be here for two more before moving to a new city. I’ve been to a nail salon twice in the last two months and bought new shoes and clothes to replace some of what I sold last spring. I’ve gone on zero hikes with my family and one date night with my husband.
At first glance, my life today is almost identical to my life a year ago, except now I’m living in another adult’s house in my hometown instead of in my own home in sunny Florida.
I have had moments when I have wondered if we made a huge mistake. Perhaps I had been too naive and optimistic, thinking we could live some kind of life that most people don’t, thinking we could ditch prescribed reality for intentional living. I have used the word failure more than once.
But the point that Jacqueline was trying to make back in April lies in the subtle differences between life today and life a year ago.
Today, my husband is working in the next room. I can hear my daughter reading aloud. My son is sulking in his room after an argument with his father, one he could have only had with me a year ago because his dad was almost always at work.
Everything we own still fits into three bedrooms; Jared and I comfortably share a closet and a car – the car we bought ten years ago that has since taken us over 200,000 miles.
More than that, I am intentionally happier than I was a year ago. I’m more aware of the choices I make every day that determine who I am, where I’m headed, and what mark I’m leaving in my wake.
We are living our values within the confines of real life.
As someone who has fairly recently dropped out of and then back into “real life”, I can say with confidence that it is a hell of a lot harder to be intentional as a “regular” person. The pressure to conform is everywhere and the landscape is slashed with deeply worn ruts of tradition and normalcy. Living intentionally among mainstream society means constantly having to define and defend your values, even to yourself. It can be exhausting. It’s tempting to fall into the nearest groove and let yourself be carried away for a while on the current of commonplace.
I understand now why people join communes, cults, and convents.
I get why people expatriate.
I know why Suelo took refuge in the Moab caves.
It is easier to be who you want to be when you aren’t surrounded by people telling you who you should be.
But I am not a solitary person, nor is Jared. We are both very social creatures who happen to love a lot of the people that make up mainstream society. I also value diversity of thought. Furthermore, I have two kids who haven’t yet had the opportunity to decide what their values are. Like most of you, dropping out of real life permanently isn’t the best option for us.
However, I realize now that our temporary isolation has made it much easier to hold on to our values in real life. Our brief encounter with extremism gave us strength to swim against the current, in the same way that moving to Florida gave us space to find who we were away from the people we’d known our entire lives, in the same way that teenagers become complete strangers so that they may separate from their parents.
Going to extremes once in a while can help us be happier in real life.
I believe that small changes can make a big difference in how happy we are. I think that it makes sense to focus on the little thing you can do right now to make your life better. But I also know that our own hard reset has made our normal, everyday life more extraordinary. It was a lot easier to redefine our life when we were out of it.
Maybe we all need to drop out once in a while, if even for just a short time.
What do you think?