You just came back to work, to the grind. You just came back from an amazing vacation and chances are you will probably go on another vacation after 6 months or a year. Is this how you want your life to be?
Life is just not how you envisioned it. Work or school is fine, but it is not giving you any sort of lasting pleasure. Days, weeks, months, perhaps years have passed by, and while you have had a good time, you have constant pangs of doubt that this may not be the life you are 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 weekend at a nice hotel, maybe snap a few photos, then hop back into the life that pays for it all).
You work, work, work chasing deadline after deadline, and then take a pit stop at a local spa, get a massage and then off you go again to work, work and more work chasing deadline after deadline until you take another pit stop massage after a couple of months. Your life is a rat race with occasional pit stops.
In the end, you will probably end up with a solid retirement account and relative financial and familial stability, and that’s great and respectable and comfortable, there is 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, writing 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 are not countenanced on the daily.
A popular quote I have seen recently is: “We are not born just to pay the bills and die.”
Sure, you could make the argument that the grass is always greener, that just because you are doing what you love does not mean the world instantly transforms into Technicolor as if Dorothy were stepping into Oz. And you would be right. A mere job does not dictate your happiness. Yet the satisfaction of knowing that you are doing exactly what you want to do, perhaps what you have 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 area or country
My mentor moved from Johannesburg to a quieter place just outside Cape Town and he is happy away from the rat race and buzz of the big city. I recently heard of a couple that moved from Johannesburg to establish a game reserve in Maun (north of Botswana) and they have been highly successful.
While moving away is not a magic and to solve your problems, it can open you up to different possibilities, types of people, and ways of life that are less pressured and stressful than where you are.
Besides, it does not have to be forever. You may find that you love your new area and in that case you will find a way to stay; but, even if you are 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:
2.1) There is a desire to keep up with the Khumalos, the rat race, etc. that drives you to buy ever bigger, live ever grander.
2.2) 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 will 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 rat wheel stocked full of things but void of any real freedom.
Each day, (preferably each morning). 10 minutes.
How you start your first few minutes of the day when you wake up in the morning, usually sets the tone for how your entire day will plan out.
If you wake up rushing, huffing and puffing from your bed, your day will be rushed, but if you wake up well measured and methodical, your day will well measured.
Meditating for 10 minutes when you wake up 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 is rarely malicious; rather, it is 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 is immensely difficult to tell your parents or girlfriend or whomever that while you respect their desires, it is your life you are 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 are 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 is too stressful or a relationship that is 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 is 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. 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 is writing a story or dancing to great music? Scared maybe, but unhappy, not really.
Unhappiness is a mood that is mainly reserved for long days on the couch.
You don’t get off your couch because you are happy, you get off it so that you can been happy.
9. 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.
“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape.” – Seth Godin
My intention is to create a life I don’t need a vacation from.