Who do I think you think I should be?
Updated: Dec 24, 2018
From my travel blog, 'Searching for Smiles', from 13th February, 2015
"Yep, for some reason it's embarrassing. I assume it makes other people uncomfortable so I don't want to tell them. People who used to respect me and now I have to tell them this! It makes me uncomfortable. What is my 'shameful' secret? I've got a decade-long reputable career behind me, a good education, plenty of good connections, but right now, finally back amongst friends in Hampshire, I want to work in a restaurant and a garden nursery.
Why's that embarrassing? Because I'm judging myself. I'm assuming you're going to judge me for making a decision to do 'easy' jobs that are not well paid. And I've come to learn, acutely, that if I think you're judging me, it's only because I'm judging myself. So actually I'm the person to whom I need to be brave enough to admit to wanting these jobs. And to admit that to myself, my heavily-conditioned ego needs me to be aware of a bigger picture; the reasons why even though taken in isolation those jobs are questionable choices for me, for my long-term plan they're entirely right, and I know that because my gut says so.
I also need to therefore admit that I have judged people because of their occupation. Ugh, that feels like an ugly thing to admit! But it's true. I'm guessing you have too though, one way or another, so I ain't gonna dwell on it. It's okay, I understand why you would judge me if you are, because I remember the perspective from which you judge.
It's not easy to brush off all of this judgement. I'm scared but I'm doing it anyway. Because why does everything have to be so serious! My fears stem from a very human need to belong and be accepted for whoever I am. But they're also rooted in the messages I'm used to hearing: worries about the future, not having money invested in a house, not spending every day working towards retirement based on what I know today. That would be letting something that 'might' be the case in 30 years' time dictate how I feel now. There's a difference between being sensible and having a rough plan for later life versus letting that put me living in subtle fear and worry every day again, suffering from being locked into that miserable obligation. A wise person called Jack Kornfield said: "When we let go of being the one who suffers, we are free to bring blessings wherever we go."
"Careers are a 20th Century invention, and I don't want one." - Christopher McCandless. Over the last 18 months, hands down the most inspiring people I've met have been men and women who are willing to turn their hand to anything, to be resourceful. Over the course of their lives they make decisions frequently, as many times as needed and for as long as is needed, that are different from what's expected of them. They choose something that leads towards a goal of happiness in line with their values, instead of money. I've grown up in a society where we're all conditioned to be money-oriented (to the point of insanity) and now I see that so clearly for what it is, thanks to these wonderfully valuable people along my way. But why is it so much easier to judge myself and be embarrassed than to entertain the possibility of people respecting me for my decisions instead? Because of the conditioning of my experience, the ubiquitous narrow-minded value system of 'money is success'. I'm becoming aware of all of this because I'm curious about where the feelings come from, and I've got in the habit of observing my thought patterns. I've never studied psychology but I find it so excitingly fascinating what I can learn from just simple patient observation!
I tell my brain to imagine that I'm currently away from home travelling and I just need some work to cover my living costs in a single place for a while and hopefully a little extra to help me with my next plans. When I have that mindset I suddenly feel free to choose whatever work I think will be enjoyable for a bit - something sociable, with genuine and friendly people, something where I learn more practical skills that could be useful anywhere in the world, something in line with what's important to me, making a difference to people more than to the numbers on a screen. Travel is a state of mind that I hope has started to become a habit for me.
Don't read that and think I have it all sussed though. Haha, no! In amongst all of this my brain can still be in the old overdrive: I can only describe it as a sort of hideous flickering oscillation, back and forth, the antithesis of calm. It's so easy for us to feel out of control! Reach for the gratitude: I'm thankful to be in an extremely fortunate position right now, supportive friends and family, no ties, but I'm experiencing lots of change and I'm very aware of the contrast in perspective between me and the people I'm reunited with. Any changes they've experienced in the last 18 months have been within their same frame of reference, the same context. Whereas to me even everyday stuff seems really out of place. Sitting watching someone scroll through channels on the telly gives me a feeling of a memory from another life, a bit like a deja vu where it seems familiar but definitely out of the ordinary, something's amiss. I feel like an alien but I'm on familiar territory. Long may that continue!
In an indescribably beneficial 10-day meditation course, I heard a parable about having a familiar horse that you're not letting go of before trying out a new horse that you know is much better quality. Therefore you have one foot on the new horse and one foot on the old horse, and that's very unstable! That's how I feel right now.
The world of the old horse is indoors and it's clean, it has all the amenities you could need and more, it has me wincing at those people spending money just because they can, as if it were water; and using clean water as if it were limitless even though everyone knows it's not. It has people complaining in local restaurants, paying normal amounts that never used to seem obscene to me. It has food plucked from a tree and instantly wrapped in double plastic. It requires a large salary. And it has a helpless acceptance of the way things are and it's soulless. I know this world. "Those people" includes me. I used to know nothing else.
The world of the new horse has slowly unfolded to me. There's a thrill of putting in effort in the kitchen at home to give myself and other people a healthy meal. I see all the things I now know I'm capable of doing and how satisfied they've made me feel when I've done them. In this world there's a connection with nature. There's a strong awareness of how much work is in an office, unchanging with the seasons except for the ebbs and flows of consumerism/the forced 'seasons' like Christmas. There's Permaculture and a whole new hopeful way of looking at life. I personally don't have this Romantic 'amazing deep connection' with trees and plants and leaves that some people seem to have from having 'wonderful adventures outside in the garden' as children. But after spending months outside, I can't find the words to convey the fundamental benefit of it, the complete delusion I was in before, the deprivation (that I ignorantly used to want for myself) from this connection. In this world I'm aware that a civilisation where people are exposed to marketing accustoms them to inequality. How we think inequality is okay because intense marketing feeds our own deep cravings for the dopamine hit of 'more stuff', and that loud so-incessant-it's-unnoticeable craving is making us unaware of all the more balanced instincts we have deep down for fairness, like the loud man in a crowd shouting out his opinion means we don't even know what all the other people look like never mind what they feel. In this world I see people I know around the globe who are making decisions that really inspire me. In this world you work with what you've got and realise that you have a smile on your face. You realise that there really is no rush, that you can jump off that travelator that everyone's on and slow down.
If it comes to a choice between either/or, it's easy to hear negative judgement on both sides. Go back to what you did before and earn plenty of cash? "Pah, Emily you have no bravery or imagination or independent will." Do something different and see what happens? "Emily you just can't be content can you, stubbornly doing only what feels right, have to look for something new and different all the time." So why listen to judgement?! Think about the positives of all your options instead. Where the cost is money, the payoff is experience and motivation and inspiration.
So who do I think you think I should be? It couldn't matter less, and to be able to sit here and say that with honesty, and have the freedom to act on it, I am deeply grateful.