Think about it.
Michael and I recently came across Jamie Mantzel’s youtube channel. He’s a guy who got sick of ‘normal’ life and bought a mountain in Vermont, built a dome to live in, and started making a giant robot. See here:
It’s really had me thinking lately, what is my ‘freedom’? In the absence of social pressures, what life would I choose to live?
Now Michael and I have never really been the type to adhere to social norms for the sake of it. We got married very young. I quit uni for a variety of reasons, but largely because it wasn’t going to take me where I really wanted to go in life. We’re making steps to buy a house with another couple so we aren’t shackled to a mortgage for the rest of our lives, but also so we can experience life in community.
But it’s so easy to get caught up in what we are ‘supposed’ to do, ‘supposed’ to want. I see it all the time in the writing world. So many author bios detail a period in their lives when they got caught up in full time work, in children, in a mortgage, and put their dreams aside for a decade or more. I’m not saying that work, children and owning your own home are bad things. They aren’t. And I’m not saying you should buy a mountain and start making giant robots, because that’s someone elses dream. What I’m saying is that you need to take the time to really figure out what you want out of life, and then you need to figure out what you are willing to sacrifice to get there.
I’ve been planning this post for a couple of weeks but today Carrie Ryan posted a blog entry that fit so well with what I want to say. Once you figure out what you want, don’t wait. Go out and get it. It would have made life harder for those writers to find that half hour in the day to write, but imagine where they would be if they hadn’t lost that decade. I, for one, am willing to make the sacrifice of time to find my freedom. I’m willing to sacrifice a level of privacy to ensure I’m not still paying off a mortgage when I’m 50. I’m willing to sacrifice a few friends and acquaintances who didn’t approve of my marriage for the amazing happiness I’ve found with my husband.
I’m sure you’ve all read Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’, but it’s so apt I have to include it:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
My friends and I are all in a time of our lives where we are figuring out who we want to be and where we want to go in life, but I have a feeling you make these kinds of decisions all throughout your life. Never make a decision just because it’s the easier path. Don’t choose the office job if that’s not who you want to be. Don’t get tied down to a mortgage if that is going to stop you from fulfilling your dream of travel.
I do have an ‘unless’ here. Don’t take the well-worn path unless your ultimate goal requires you to make those small sacrifices. Jamie Mantzel (aka Crazy Robot Guy) would never have been able to buy his mountain and find his freedom if he hadn’t first worked really hard at a full-time job he hated to save up enough money.
Michael and I have made every effort since we got married to avoid debt, but in order to achieve eventual financial freedom we need to go through a period of 5-10 years of being very indebted and putting all our resources into a mortgage. That’s a sacrifice we are willing to make.
I want to be a full-time writer but in order to get to that point I’ll have to spend an unknown number of years investing all my spare time in learning my craft and, you know, writing. As well as working a job that really isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Don’t sacrifice for society – for the things you are supposed to want. Sacrifice for the things YOU want. Find your path in the woods and don’t let anyone stop you from travelling it.
One last thought. I have a picture of a fig tree above my desk to remind me of this passage from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: