The life you want to lead
Take your time, consume less, know more — reflecting upon 2018
Last year I left all the fancy-pansy business school behind, I left consulting jobs and networking events behind, I left words such as exponential growth, KPI and agility far behind and here I am, after a whole year of freelancing, experimenting, trying to find something different, trying to find myself mostly. I sit here in my living room typing with some street musicians below my window and I think: what a luck.
Annie Dillard got it right when she wrote about choosing presence over productivity: How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
This year I spent so much time reading, writing, walking, thinking, being by myself, being with others, traveling, and wherever I was, always making sure I was really there. I promised to pay attention. It would be a lie to say that it was easy, but it would also be a lie to say that it was not worth it.
It has costed me a healthy amount of effort to stop feeling guilty that I do have free time, that on a Monday morning I can shut myself in my room and read. Just like this. I am living the years that are supposed to be the best time of my life, and is there anything more precious than your time itself?
We have more and more time-saving devices but less and less time, it seems to us. When I was a kid, the sense of luxury had to do with a lot of space, maybe having a big house or a huge car. Now luxury has to do with having a lot of time. The ultimate luxury now might be just a blank space in the calendar. And interestingly enough, that’s what we crave, so many of us.
This year I finally understood that it is all about this simple balance: you exchange your time for money. You need to decide consciously up to which point are you willing to do it. If you need a lot, you work a lot and you have a lot. If you don’t need much, you can have more free time and do the things you love while working only a certain amount of hours. In my case, the more I know, the less I need.
I sticked to my one suitcase, to a shared flat, to second-hand clothes and deep strategic hunting for cheap flights. I sticked to walking everywhere and using all possible conferences grants and scholarships to pay for my trips. One thing I can say for sure is that I would have not changed this year for anything else and on this sunny Friday morning, there is no place I’d rather be.
It’s all so hard at the beginning because we have been taught all of our lives that we have to work as much as we can. We have to have security. I think it was my parents’ generation, and even now, we have this model of working forever for somebody and then retiring and going off to play golf. And that’s what makes the good life.
It might make a good life for some, but it also might make others miserable.
Lack of originality, everywhere, all over the world, from time immemorial, has always been considered the foremost quality and the recommendation of the active, efficient and practical man. ― Fyodor Dostoevsky
We aren’t taught to be independent and free, although we scream that we’re independent and free. We talk about personal responsibility, but personal responsibility is for our own happiness first. That happiness comes from finding that internal peace, the conviction that you are doing things because you actually want to and you believe in them. I think a lot of people don’t find that.
That’s how you have those substitutions that are accepted by larger society, such as consumerism or some kind of fanaticism. The people are trying to find a good substitute, but that freedom that we so long for is, basically, an ability to express ourselves and just be happy.
Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.
I will never own a Mercedes-Benz, but that’s okay. I don’t need a Mercedes-Benz. I have something else. Because I think this crazy capitalistic system and the consumerism, a lot of consumerism, is like what they say about a heroin addict. You get that high. It goes away. You can function for a little bit, but then you have to go get that high again. But each high is just a little less high than the last one. I really think consumerism functions at that level in our society.
There is this saying that You can never get enough of what you don’t need. And it’s true, especially when it goes about shoes, chocolate, wine, cigarettes, Netflix and queso.
But maybe it would be enough if more people were brave enough to at least think if this is what they need, or want, or depend on. If yes, that’s great, but from my experience most of the people my age being well-educated and prepared for high-end jobs feel so much social pressure to become somebody important that there is absolutely no time to think.
What we’re afraid of is to meet a colleague from secondary school and be confronted with the question ‘Oh, so what do you do?’ and do not have this seriously and importantly sounding answer like ‘Well, I am a strategic consultant’ (whatever it actually means) or at least ‘I work for an investment bank’ or in the worse case ‘I have my own business.’ But are you really ready, for this short moment of glory, to waste days and months and years doing something that you couldn’t care less about?
When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life.
Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things.
I think fitting in is highly overrated. I’d rather just fit out. Fitting out means being who you are, even when people insist that you have to change. Fitting out means taking up space, not apologising for yourself, and not agreeing with those who seek to label you with stereotypes.
You don’t know you’ve been holding your breath until you let go.
As the wise Seneca said: Life, if you know how to use it, is long. This piece is for letting go, for thinking more, paying attention, finding out what your superpowers are, making sure you use them, and for the new year.