Seventeen years ago my wife and I bought our first home. It was a small 1926 Spanish-style home in a quiet suburban neighborhood. It had good "bones" and lots of character. It was in desperate need of updating and we had stretched our budget to the limit, but over the years we rolled up our sleeves and did what we could to make it into the home of our dreams.
At only 1700 square feet we assumed it would be our "starter home." But as we settled in, and as home prices in southern California climbed, we realized that it might very well be the home we both start and finish in! We also realized that we were quite content with our little corner of southern California. We had nice neighbors, a safe and friendly community, and learned to accept the limitations and quirks that come with a 90 year old house.
It would have been very comfortable and safe to stay there forever.
Flash forward to present day, and our home is now on the market. Seeing the realtor's listing "go live" is sobering, and flashes of self-doubt and waves of sentiment are unsettling. Is this the right thing for our family? To say that as a family we share equal enthusiasm for the upcoming changes would be untruthful. It is one thing to intellectually understand the reasons for a decision, but another to emotionally embrace it. There is no doubt that it will be a difficult adjustment.
It is also easy to second guess big choices. These are tough, life altering decisions, and they aren't black-and-white. The easy thing to do is to put your head in the sand, carry on with business as usual and hope that it will all work out.
But after 17 years, I began to question whether we owned a house, or a house owned us. The more entrenched we became, the more we made choices that limited our future. We fell into the consumer trap that has ensnared people all over the world, but seems especially prevalent in middle-class America.
We created a lifestyle that we couldn't afford. It's so easy to do. Private schools, music lessons, new cars, electronic gadgets with monthly fees, all seemingly reasonable and necessary, but the sum total of which robbed us of the most important luxury of all: freedom. We conformed to the social environment that we lived in.
But to quote John F. Kennedy:
"Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth."
I believe that most of us wait for opportunities, when in fact opportunities are waiting for us, requiring a leap of faith from us before they present themselves. Perhaps it is the law of action/reaction. When we take action, the world reacts as if to say "I've been waiting--where have you been?"
"Be patient, we're on our way."
Our beautiful little house provided us with a safe-haven to make memories that we will always cherish. We will say goodbye with teary-eyes, because it is impossible not to pull up roots without some pain. But we will also part ways knowing that by reclaiming our freedom, we reclaimed our lives.
The future is filled with wonderful possibilities.
I've just finished reading a wonderful and inspiring book called "A Beautiful Anarchy." Before you conjure up images of flag burning and demonstrations, know that it is not about "anarchy" in the political sense. The author is David DuChemin, professional international photographer, however this is not a book about photography. Rather, it is a book that asks us to look at how we choose to live.
It asks the question "Why do the vast majority of people shuffle through life, content to just make it safely to the end?" We watch movies and read books, living the lives we wish we had vicariously, rather than experiencing the world first hand. We watch the travel channel rather than get a passport and visit Tuscany or New Zealand. We trade our dreams for a 60" LED TV and an iPhone, rather than living a life we create out of intentional, meaningful choices that lead us to a place of true long term personal satisfaction.
Of course we all have excuses about why we choose to stay in jobs we hate, live in places we don't want to be, and endure toxic relationships that we know we should end: our jobs, our kids, the credit card bills, the mortgage, the expectations of peers and relatives. But at the end of the day that is really all they are: excuses. They are most often our way of avoiding making the tough choices. We are, after all, the result of an ongoing series of choices, made either intentionally or carelessly, that has led each of us to this moment in life.
But are you happy where you are? Not just content, or comfortable, but truly happy and fulfilled.
If not, maybe it is time to ask yourself what you dream of for your life, and start making intentional choices that move your life in in that direction. It takes a willingness to look deep inside, confront fear and doubt, and accept risk and responsibility. It also requires that we not care so much about what other people think.
People may think you are crazy, or selfish, or reckless, but that is their fear speaking. Who wants to define their life based on the fears (or expectations) of other people? Most likely, people will be secretly jealous that you are following your passions and making the choices they secretly wish they had the courage to make.
If this topic interests you, I highly recommend giving "A Beautiful Anarchy" a read.