“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape.” – Seth Godin
Life just isn’t how you envisioned it. Work or school is fine, but it’s not giving you any sort of lasting pleasure. Days, weeks, months, perhaps years have zipped by, and while you’ve had a good time, you have constant pangs of doubt that this may not be the life you’re supposed to be living.
You have options. You can join the cult of the eternally busy, ignore your intuition, push these fears aside, and plow through life looking forward to semi-annual vacations (you know, the ones where you can mentally recharge for a week at a nice hotel, maybe snap a few photos, then hop back into the life that pays for it all). In the end, you’ll probably end up with a solid retirement account and relative financial and familial stability — and that’s great and respectable and comfortable, there’s no denying that.
But is it what you want? Is it what you dreamed for yourself when you went to bed as a child, looking out the window, thinking of all the scary but exciting possibilities that awaited you? Did you ever perhaps dream of painting or curating a museum or writing a novel or starting a business or working on human rights policy or being in the movies?
When you get down to it, I think we can all admit it would be nice to have a life that makes you genuinely happy, where existential crises about your significance and your happiness aren’t countenanced on the daily.
Sure, you could make the argument that the grass is always greener — that just because you’re doing what you love doesn’t mean the world instantly transforms into Technicolor as if Dorothy were stepping into Oz. And you’d be right. A mere job doesn’t dictate your happiness. Yet the satisfaction of knowing that you’re doing exactly what you want to do — perhaps what you’ve always wanted to do – in your job, in your relationships, in your day-to-day life might be enough to keep you engaged in the life you have, not perpetually pining for a way out. After all, vacations are never long enough.
As for actually creating that life for yourself, a few ideas:
1. Move to another country
While moving away isn’t a magic wand to solve your problems, it can open you up to different possibilities, types of people, and ways of life. Besides, it doesn’t have to be forever. You may find that you love your new locale and in that case you’ll find a way to stay; but, even if you’re not totally sold, you can still return with a better understanding of yourself and your desires, ready to create a new life for yourself in the same place.
2. Live Below Your Means
Nothing keeps you as anxious as feeling like you need to constantly spend money. This descent into nervous materialism often happens in two ways: 1) There’s a desire to keep up with the Joneses, the rat race, etc. that drives you to buy ever bigger, live ever grander. 2) You get a job and all is well, but then you become bored and decide to buy more things to become un-bored, then you continue to buy more things, for which you’ll have to continue working long hours to pay for, and then, all of a sudden, the once bored (but free) you is now stuck in a hamster wheel stocked full of things but void of any real freedom.
Each day. 10 minutes. It will always give you more energy, but, most importantly, blocking out the noise of the world will help you find out who you are and what you really want because you need to:
4. Stop trying to prove yourself
Family, friends, culture, even yourself can all get in the way of you doing what you actually want to do. It’s rarely malicious; rather, it’s often presented in a seemingly helpful way (“we just want you to find some stability,” or “we want you to be able to lead a normal life”), but all of these voices – our own included — can make us steer our goals away from what we really want and towards impressing others. It’s immensely difficult to tell your parents or girlfriend or whomever that while you respect their desires, it’s your life you’re living. But with this claim, chains will fall off and your life will again become yours. Imagine that.
5. Have a chat with your childhood self
If you could have anything, time and money aside, what would it be? What did you dream of when you were younger? Could you make that happen now?
6. Figure out what you’re trying to leave behind
The last time you muttered, “I need a vacation” or “wow, I could use a drink” what were you responding to? Maybe it’s a job that’s too stressful or a relationship that’s no longer working. Whatever it is, once you find the epicenter of your troubles, you can work to phase them out of your life.
7. Tiny changes work too
While big changes like moving, switching jobs, or leaving a harmful relationship can all be game changers, starting small can also make a real difference. It’s best to start with yourself, namely with the way you let yourself think. Humans are wired to complain, to think too much about themselves, and to find minuscule problems and blow them out of proportion. If you can take control of your mind and reflect more often, life will become significantly rosier. In fact, it may no longer seem like you even need to “escape.”
8. Seek out people with similar interests
Twitter is a ridiculously great resource for finding (and contacting) people who have lives you’d like to emulate. Also, Wikipedia. Getting sucked into a Wikipedia black hole where one moment you’re looking up the Treaty of Versailles and the next you’re reading about Salvador Dali’s childhood can actually prove useful in this instance. Identifying personally inspirational figures, then reading up on what they did to get where they are is a surprisingly useful blueprint for realizing your own desires.
9. Do something — because happiness takes effort
Some people think that happiness comes from simply not doing things that are unpleasant, painful or dull. But let me pose a question: have you ever seen an unhappy person who’s writing a story or dancing to great music or skiing down a mountain at full-speed? Scared maybe, but unhappy, not really — unhappiness is a mood that’s mainly reserved for long days on the couch.
10. Flesh out this escape plan
Who are you with? Where are you? What are you doing? Is place more important to you than the people there? Are you okay with working as an English teacher or freelancer or does the quality of life you desire require a certain amount of money? Write it all down. Plan it all out. Make it happen
11. Think of your life as a story
Is it something you would want to read? If not, perhaps it would be wise to start a new chapter.