it doesn’t have to be so


Back in the mid-90s, when I was working for a big US consulting firm in Russia, I remembered having a feeling of inevitability: I had to keep working. I had commitments, I had clients, I had a contract, I had staff and managers and partners who all depended on me. My landlady needed my rent. My friends and family would be upset if I bailed. Everything depended, in short order, on me. I was the pivot on which the world turned.

It doesn’t have to be so.

I spent more than a decade in New York City, working at increasingly stressful jobs trying to support my family. I always knew it might be easier elsewhere, but I knew I couldn’t do it. I had commitments, I had clients, I had contracts, I had people who depended on me. Everything pointed to me staying. I couldn’t forge a sensible exit.

It doesn’t have to be so.

The ease with which I sold my house (in a horrible housing market), moved (in a terrible job market), found a new contract (in a more depressed job market), and found a new house at a good price have all astonished me. The lesson I’ve learned – and it’s a powerful one – is that you can’t assume that you cannot improve your own life. Events may conspire to create a better future for you whether you expect them to or not.  Whatever your current circumstance, if it’s not what you want: it doesn’t have to be so.

If you want to make a change in your own life, you’ll hear tons of arguments against it.  You may even make the arguments yourself. It’s too risky, too drastic, too far, too northern, too western, too conservative, too liberal. Don’t listen to any of it. I have always loved the phrase “is this a test life”? I’ve too seldom lived that. Whatever your current circumstance, if it doesn’t work for you – it doesn’t have to be so.

Take what doesn’t work for you and make it work. Need to change jobs? Need to move? Need to change your relationships or your diet or your mindset? Do it. You’ll get pushback, that’s human nature. But it doesn’t. have. to. be. so. Nothing is preordained, and the best chance you’ll have in this life is the chance you make for yourself. Whatever obstacles you face and whatever circumstances you’re living under today – it doesn’t HAVE to be so.

photo by lrargerich

27 Replies to “it doesn’t have to be so”

  1. I chuckle with each of your posts about how similar what you are doing now is what my family did 4 years ago. It's like with each passing moment, the Southern Accent (a slow way of working, but everything gets done) seeps through.

    1. @remodelingthislife: I know, we are certainly following your family's journey fairly closely. And while I'm not saying “ain't” and “fixing to” that much (yet), I certainly have found myself slipping pretty easily back into a more relaxed lifestyle.

  2. It doesn't have to be so. Sounds like a good motto to have every day we wake to see our life is not where we want it to be.

    We are trained to study the risk. To accept the status quo. Doing something different requires a leap into the unknown at times. I have talked to people who are miserable at work but are not even actively looking for a new job. They would prefer to let the misery weigh down their life rather than take the risk and leap for a new future.

    It doesn't have to be so. When we face problems, we can see opportunities. We merely have to sieze them.

    1. @TWS: “trained to study the risk” is a key point: I'm by nature the guy who sits down and maps out 10,000 scenarios and can't decide on any of them. Learning to make a bit of an intuitive – not reckless, but intuitive – leap is something I'm still working on.

    2. I have the same issue 🙂 I was in Risk Management for a bit and it teaches you to always be looking for how things might fail. Hard to take a leap when that is your focus.

      I have been working hard on taking action even when I am not sure of the outcome. Minimizing risk but moving forward anyway. I figure the worst that can happen is something I can still live with!!

    3. Oh boy, I can relate to “trained to study the risk.” I'm an attorney and I'm trying to unlearn all that fear and risk-aversion so I can make some positive changes in my life.

  3. Yikes! I'm reading this (and *loving* it, mind you) but all that come are are “yeah, buts”…

    Yeah, but if C doesn't find a job, it's up to me to provide salary and insurance for us both. I can't bail…

    Yeah, but if C does find a job and I follow him, I'll be unemployed. I can't just go travel and be a parasite off his hard work…

    Yeah, but even if the financial situation was ideal, it would be so very selfish to just run off and leave my brand-new husband alone for a few weeks/months for reasons that don't benefit him at all…

    Yeah but I don't fit in. Yeah but I don't have the skil set or contacts. Yeah, but seriously, we really do need that insurance. Yeah, but even when I go the distance and spend time carefully crfting and revising what I write and even manage *not to be negative in the writing* (heh)… no one reads it unless they're my close friends and I specifically ask them.

    So, yeah… Yeah but I have self-esteem issues, and duty issues, and as-soon-as-I-lose-my-insurance-I'll-get-sick-or-hurt superstition issues.

    And shutting up and doing it ought to help with the self-esteem, but it won't necessarily make me less selfish (or less likely to get sick)… will it?

    (Disclaimer: I'm not calling anyone else selfish who manages to pull this off! Just having trouble reconciling it in my own situation)

    1. @LauraG: I hear you. I'm paralyzed by a lot of the same concerns. You do need all of those things. Insurance will always be a worry, and money will always be a worry, and the lack of skills and contacts will always be a worry – unless you find affordable insurance, and figure out ways to make money that are compatible with your interests and lifestyle, and figure out how to get those skills and contacts. I'll tell you the same thing I should slap myself in the face with every morning – start doing those things tomorrow. This is not a practice life! If those things paralyze you today, they will paralyze you 30 years from now, too – unless you figure out how to change. Maybe we'll have free government health insurance, maybe you'll win the lottery, etc. Or maybe not.

      So I understand exactly where you are coming from, and I face many of those same fears, but none of those fears are STOPPING you. They just scare you.

      So that's my blog-post-within-the-comments for today! 🙂

    2. One more yeah-but (sorry…)

      Yes, you're totally right about the contacts and the skills and even the insurance — that's just a matter of figuring out where to start and starting (maybe not easy, but at least simple). But what about the husband thing? He's in a field where he can't just take off at a whim for a long time, and he likes his field. But going off on a fanciful quest for whatever and essentially living off our savings while he stays home and dutifully works to support my Thing seems wrong.

      And the answer to that is communication! We've discussed this, and he's actually *fine* with it assuming a small handful of concessions I'd be thrilled to make. But since I know I would resent having to be the responsible drudge while he got to go do whatever he wanted (there's baggage and history there I'd be happy to discuss privately but not publicly), I don't feel like I have the right to put him in that position.

    3. @Laura G: The husband thing – just like my 'wife thing' – is something you have to negotiate. It took me a few years of married life to realize that one of the things that truly makes me happy is for my wife, Bubelah, to be happy. It took me a few more to realize that one of the things that made her happy was for ME to be happy. You have to strike a balance, and if YOU would resent the drudge or HE would resent it, then your lives won't be in balance and you won't be happy.

      You have to make sure that pursuing your dreams matches up with his life/career and vice versa! It's trite, but it's true: if you are unhappy, he will be unhappy even if he's in a dream job and dream home with dream kids, etc. If he is unhappy, you will be unhappy with your job/home/kids. Everyone has to be – for lack of a better word – cool with their situation. Trust me, Bubelah and I struggle with it every day – but I really have learned that one of the biggest steps I can take to make her happy is to make MYSELF happy.

    4. “…none of those fears are STOPPING you. They just scare you.”

      I LOVE this, Steve. I'm twittering this quote w/ link. Awesome post, awesome comment!

      LauraG, don't let your “but” get in the way. The next time you hear the “but” voice in your head, confront it. Put up your dukes and pound it to pieces. Shove those poisonous “buts” into your garbage disposal and pulverize them. Wash the toxic remains away and watch as they swirl down the drain and become one with the rest of the sewage.

      Kick your big but’s a$$.

      (Snippet from a post I wrote called “Is Your But Too Big?” at…)

  4. Thanks for this. It was a timely post and a good reminder to keep on working towards change. I have been successful in changing some aspects of my life, less so in others. Continuing to try, to remind myself that it doesn't have to be this way is the ONLY way forward. I seem to have made good progress in my personal life, my financial life, but the work life is still a hurdle. It doesn't have to be so…

  5. Great post. I always get stuck on this issue though – my greatest joys are a lot of the small things in life, and I have those though life at work is not always otherwise perfect. I had a coach tell me some years ago (a very aggressive, kind of “woo woo” spiritual coach who I frankly didn't like) that The Way To Live Life was to JUMP! with no thinking. Considering a move? JUMP, no thinking, just JUMP! The Universe and the Intentions will make it work out (uh, yeah, cynics don't believe in that but no matter…).

    And I also hear that we should all be stretching ourselves, and scaring ourselves, and pushing our boundaries every day. Because that is how to live successfully.

    So – when I'm 98% happy, and have all of the things I value, does this mean I'm living wrong because I'm not JUMPing and scaring the crap out of my self with pulling and stretching and expanding my envelope every day? How do we know when to make these big changes?

    Maybe I'm asking at the wrong time in life. I have known I've needed change, and made it happen, in the past. Scary but successful. Maybe I'm not in a place now where I do need to force a change, and that's why all of that “JUMP and move across the world RIGHT NOW” or “scare yourself! now! do it!! (but how?)” is not fully resonating. This can't possibly mean 'leave your life, where you are pretty happy, for something you don't really want but picked randomly off the internet or because you know someone who does, because it is a change and “everyone says” we have to change for the sake of changing.' Maybe we're all being coached to death?

    1. Goodness! If you are happy, thank your lucky stars and enjoy it! Of course we don't all need to *jump* just because someone tells us to jump. Just every year or two, sort of privately take stock and think about whether or not there are things you've meant to do, wanted to do, needed to do that you haven't done yet. If the answer is (more or less) “no,” then go right back to enjoying yourself.

    2. @GuestGal: I am not a coach, but I'd tell you this: if you can look at your life and call yourself 98% happy, stay put. Most of us are thrilled to get in the 80s… so don't stretch yourself past that

      My post was directed – for lack of better frames of reference – at someone who's 30%, or 50%, or 60% happy. I don't think most people would argue that someone who's 98% happy has much to gain by risking it all. If you feel content – and you are SURE you're content – then wait.

    3. Thank you. My job and I are hardly perfect, but I've known soul crushing misery before and this is not it. Are there other things I'd love to do? Sure. I'd love to be a field biologist off on an expedition, or have the PhD and academic research job that I 'really' wanted when I was younger (query whether this is really what would be best and most desirable now). But what really is important and meaning giving to me? Some parts of life and life work that don't involve my day job. So I've got those, and the day job isn't killing me every moment I'm there (had those before!) so…. if I had to do 10 Things That Scare Me Every Day I'd be really scratching my head to come up with the list (swear at a bike gang member? drop my pants and moon the boss? rob a bank? what am I supposed to do here, people?).

    4. @GuestGal: Even if the day job isn't killing you and your day-to-day
      life is fine, you should do things that scare you on a small scale. It
      doesn't always have to be big stuff, really. It could be as simple as
      finally trying to force yourself to eat beets if you hate beets. A
      little bit of growth is always good.

      And my little joke about mooning the boss (don't remember where I heard
      it years ago): “I would drop my pants and moon my boss but he'd
      probably just get confused and think he was looking in a mirror.”

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  7. “…none of those fears are STOPPING you. They just scare you.”

    I LOVE this, Steve. I'm twittering this quote w/ link. Awesome post, awesome comment!

    LauraG, don't let your “but” get in the way. The next time you hear the “but” voice in your head, confront it. Put up your dukes and pound it to pieces. Shove those poisonous “buts” into your garbage disposal and pulverize them. Wash the toxic remains away and watch as they swirl down the drain and become one with the rest of the sewage.

    Kick your big but’s a$$.

    (Snippet from a post I wrote called “Is Your But Too Big?” at…)

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