the whole life sabbatical (part 3 of 3)
In part 1 of this three-part series I talked about walking away from various responsibilities in your life. In part 2 I talked about whether it would be easy to leave them. Now I’m going to bring it together with my thoughts on “walking away from it all.”Would it make you happier? In each area, it really depends on how happy you are now. Simply dropping a responsibility doesn’t make you happier. It can, however, free up enough time to allow you to pursue other activities that DO make you happy. I will argue this – almost no personal growth is possible without giving up something; without walking away from something else.
Work: For most people, this is the big one. I have a picture of a “workless” life and a picture of a “better work” life. I think most people say “oh, I couldn’t be happy without regular work, something to do, yada yada.” That’s not the case with me – I really get a lot of enjoyment out of learning and engaging in the regular business of day to day life. I’m not sure I need an avocation, per se. But I realize nobody is going to pay me to play with my kids all day every day, so I imagine “walking away from my work” ending up as walking into another job. I’d just like the hours to be flexible and more or less self-directed. But I do recognize this point: nobody will get a dream job, a dream career, the flexibility they’ve always desired without walking away from the one they have now. In order to achieve fulfillment in your work/career, you must be prepared to walk away from everything you have now.
Family: In the example I mentioned (should you take an infirm elderly relative into your home or support them by placing them in an elder care facility), it’s a tough choice people make all the time. My family has done so. You can’t ever abandon your family, but you do have to be able to let go and move on to develop other relationships. I see less of my brother than I did when I was younger and we lived together. I see less of my parents than I did when I lived at home. I even spend less time with my wife once we had a son, and now that we have a daughter, also, I have to spend less time with him. But each time when you take a little time away from someone, it doesn’t mean – or at least it doesn’t HAVE to mean – that you lose any of the strength of that relationship. In some ways it makes time you spend with those people even more intense, if you value them. By giving up time with one person you can grow your relationship with another – and it’s not a zero-sum game. I don’t love my brother or parents or wife or son any less as more people have been added to my family – if anything, it makes me appreciate everyone even more.
Finances: Walking away from your financial responsibilities is one of the best things you can do for yourself – unless you enjoy having a financial responsibility to your digital cable. Each time I’ve jettisoned a financial commitment it has not felt like a sacrifice – it’s felt like freedom. I have a long way to go, and some responsibilities are better than others: I don’t mind my mortgage because it allows me to keep my investments liquid and enjoy a pleasant home. But completing the lease on my car and buying the next one for cash, and ending that once-a-month reminder of money floating away was a source of huge satisfaction. Sometimes I think happiness can be defined more easily – on a financial basis – as the lack of things, rather than the possession of things. I will be wealthy, but I want that wealth to be expressed in a house and financial freedom and security for my family and travel and experiences, rather than in Wii’s.
Life: And finally, life. Can you walk away from your health? No. Can you walk away from other parts of your life? Yes: you can walk away from everything about your life that’s negative. How many people do you know who cling to failed relationships, or bad habits, or make themselves sick by living in unhealthy environments? Life is the one area you have to learn to walk away from. Don’t accept the idea that you have to have some misery in your life. Don’t accept “no pain, no gain.” There is gain without pain.
So what was I getting at with these posts? Too often I read about, and think about what I need to GET or ACQUIRE to achieve goals. Too often people think I NEED that to be happy, or I have an OBLIGATION to stay in this situation. Try not to think of life as a series of things you HAVE to do. These are not powerful words. Try to think of life as a series of experiences you WANT.
Identify what’s not working for you, and walk away from it – what are you waiting for, your next life?