I crashed my bike again last week, this time badly enough that when I regained consciousness I found myself in the hospital. It’s funny how life has a way of telling you you need to make a change: subtly at first, so quietly it’s easy to not notice over the clamor of everyday events. But the tugging at your sleeve doesn’t go away, no it continues to get more insistent, until BAM it reaches a level you can’t help but notice. I must be particularly hard-headed, because it took landing on my face to get my attention. I think I’m lucky because it was mostly flesh wounds that will heal on their own, and a competent dentist ought to be able to fix the rest. Over the last year I’ve listened to friends tell of their (or their family’s) struggle with cancer; whether the prognosis is months, years or decades, it’s a reminder to all of us that (ultimately) our time is limited.
If you aren’t loving the life you’re living then you’re doing it wrong.
There’s two important parts to loving the life you’re living: what you’re doing, and how you feel about it (attitude is everything, baby).
Nearly three years ago I bumped into an interesting lady, and against the odds, up the relationship ladder we went. A year ago it looked like we had a pretty nice life: a nice apartment, a bunch of friends, and stable jobs close enough to where we lived that we had the luxury of choosing to ride our bicycles or take public transit, not just being forced to drive. Winter 2013/2014 in Minneapolis was one of the harshest I remember in a lifetime living in Minnesota, and it really got me down. Instead of saving money and doing something good for the community with our non-working hours, we spent most of our free time (and cash) at one of the many brewpubs that were springing up all over and buying a house-full of really nice furniture. It wasn’t a bad life, but I wasn’t happy with it, and I was always too busy, too over-caffeinated, too burnt-out to put my finger on what “it” was that made it so. So I moped, she blamed me, we blamed the weather, the terrain and the infrastructure, and then we moved to the Netherlands. Surely being in a “better” place would fix it. Amsterdam was wonderful: we loved the beauty of the canals and the old architecture, the mild weather, the generally flat terrain, the world-class bicycle infrastructure. She immediately set out to make new friends, and I set out to excel at my new job so I didn’t get fired and we didn’t get deported back to that “awful” place we came from. The short commute was so easy, the work hours and vacation schedule so reasonable it “should” have been a piece of cake. But I wasn’t happy just to be good-enough, I wanted to wow them to justify what they were paying me. It was harder than I expected, and I stubbornly refused to ask for help. When I did ask her for help she only heard the anger and frustration I was feeling, and the message only got more garbled by those feelings after a handful of the silly little (25cL) too-small, too-strong beers they served everywhere. I’m sure you see where this is going: she left me over a misunderstanding and claims it’s been going on too long to ever heal. (I hope someday she chooses to write her own blog about what happened from her point of view, because she refuses to tell me in the here-and-now.) Of course, the biggest problems weren’t external (the life we were living, which was materially pretty good), they were internal (our attitude about it, and communication thereof).
Then WHAM. The road rose up to meet me and shake me out of my funk. I’m lucky to have lived to tell about it.
In the last week of struggling just to go about the minimum daily requirements of life in the modern world (bathe, put on clothes, eat, go to work, …) I’ve realized I’ve been primarily focused on me and more, not appreciating what I’ve got (time to live, enough to wear, enough to eat, friends to be with). In that frame of mind nothing would ever be enough, like trying to fill a bottomless pit, because there was always “just one more” thing that I could add to it. On reflection, the greatest happiness I’ve had in life has been using my natural talents, doing what comes easily to me, to give to people who have a need and really appreciate the gift.
I’ve been offered another opportunity back home, one in my chosen field of employ (wait, you mean people will actually pay me for doing this?), so the chance (and cost) of failure is pretty low, one with enough of the external things to make a nice life possible. By now I’ve finally realized that no Job-Charming will ever save the day so I can live happily ever after, rather, happiness is a choice, and change must come from within. So I’m looking at choosing to be happy and changing the focus of my life, looking at things I value in life more than money, things like friends, social justice, transportation equity, and sustainable living. A job’s a nice thing to have, but I don’t want to live my life for it any more. I’m inclined to use it to buy a place to live that I can also put to work paying for itself, and later myself once I eventually retire from paid work. I’m inclined to find a way to help others who are trying to make a positive influence on this world, things like helping fund that little public jazz radio station I love so much back home or one of the dozens of open-source software projects I benefit from daily. Things like volunteering for one of the bike shops that fix bikes and gift them to people who can’t afford them but need them to get to around. Things like supporting programs that promote safe passage on bicycle paths. Most of all, I’m inclined to change my attitude about it.
Life’s not about how much you have, once you have enough to get by, it’s about being happy with what you’ve got and sharing it with others: in other words it’s not about the size of your paycheck, it’s about how you feel about what you do with it.