Making a Contented Life
Until yesterday I didn't know what I was going to write about this week. Last week I started experiencing intense fatigue and tightness in my brain. When I went to the doctors I found out that my blood pressure was far too high and likely the cause. Got some meds but it took a few days for the fatigue to pass. I spent a lot of time staring at my computer monitor, and, as I came out of the fatigue, thinking.
One thing I've gone back to consistently in my down moments is a desire to go back to the life that was living when I was in Nha Trang. There would have to be some modifications and certain things done differently, but in general, writing and reading and swimming and chilling in cafes was a pretty good life. As I was in a less than ideal situation mentally and physically this week I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out how to make that happen again.
As time passed, I began to think that this might be a version of my ideal life. Writing for a couple hours in the morning, reading, swimming, reading and doing some social activities. Living in a place where I could enjoy the weather and the available activities and be content. In fact, it was a variation on this life that I imagined I would live once I made lots of money and got advanced degrees and got published and, and . . .
Before I get to the big reveal, I need to talk about a realization that came about yesterday morning as I was thinking about this. While I have been contemplating going to graduate school, or becoming an expert, or some other activities, these ideas have all come in reaction to some deficiency in my life. I was depressed and wanted to get out of my current situation so I decided I would go to graduate school to get out of Vietnam. I was looking for an excuse to stay in Vietnam so I decided I would become an expert in local law and emulate my boss. I was feeling lousy and wanted to go back to the six months when I felt decent in Nha Trang at the beach and so I tried to figure out how to make it work financially.
Each solution came as the result of a reaction to an emotional state. For all of my talk about living proactively and trying to make positive changes in my life, I was doing just the opposite. I was simply reacting to a stimulus that occurred and looking for temporary solutions to minor problems. I wasn't actively seeking to direct my life to a place where I wanted to be, towards the contentment I'm learning to embrace.
But what needed to happen to make the shift from reactive decision making to proactive planning?
My goal is contentment in the Now. I was raised on goal making. Identify a target and work systematically to achieve that target. Put off enjoyment and pleasure in the now in exchange for rewards in the future, or after death. If I were to adopt this philosophy of constant striving towards specific destinations I would become so focused on what I had yet to achieve that I would lose my ability to notice things around me, to enjoy myself as I walked along the path, to, in essence, smell the roses. Not that I'm advocating a life of instant gratification or self-indulgence or gluttony, but a mindful life of experiencing what happens as it happens, of seeking to enjoy life as you live it rather than to wait for some unknown future before you can be happy.
Converting that philosophy into a proactive strategy presents a problem. If I don't have a direction, a destination in mind, then how do I do anything but react? How do I make decisions to consciously do anything if I don't focus on some point in the distance that I want to reach?
Once or twice I've read a suggestion offered by a rare self-help guru who seems to be more with it than the rest. They don't promote goal-settingthe , per se, but intentional living. Ultimately, the specific advice is to not make goals for achieving wealth or success but to determine your ideal lifestyle. What would your ideal day look like? If you could live a day over and over and be content with that day indefinitely, what would it look like? Now the path can lead not so much to specific targets of income or profit but to a way of living that encourages contentment as you figure out what needs to happen to be able to live that day, every day.
So I proceeded to do just that.
With some modifications, my ideal day largely resembles the life I lived at Nha Trang. There's a bit more financial stability and an eventual path towards financial security, but in essence it involves writing and reading and swimming and socializing. Enough accomplishment to feel satisfied with the day and a lot of learning and research and activities which foster physical and mental fitness.
First, I discarded graduate school. I could go through six years of school and live a life of stress and poverty until I could make enough money to live that life without having to worry about money. This seemed like a lot of work to do something I managed quite well on a thousand dollars a month. Second, I discarded doing just that, living on less than a thousand dollars a month. As I grow older I have increasing healthcare needs, which cost money, and I need money to buy the books I use for research, something I can't really afford on a thousand dollars a month. I could do it, but there would be things that I would have to limit or do without that might be beneficial and helpful. So that, too, was not an option.
What I needed was a way to make the amount of money I'm making now--which isn't that much--without working full time to do it. And as the work I want to do is writing, to make that money from writing rather than having to pursue some other endeavor that might be lucrative but otherwise distracting. This means I need to get published, or I need to find a way to make money from my writing that brings in enough money to live the life I want.
I won't get into the details here, but I figured out that, within about another year and a half--whether I get traditionally published or pursue alternative independent means--I could make enough money from writing that I could transition from full-time to part-time work and begin to move towards a full-time, position living my ideal day, every day.
It won't be easy. It will be like starting my own business while working full-time. I will have to write four books in a year and edit and polish them to the point that they're professional products. It will take investment in marketing and production. It will take a lot of work, but the numbers required are ultimately achievable in the given timeframe. And this has two advantages. First, it will bring me to a situation where I can live my ideal day quickly and provide financial stability while doing it. Second, the work involved to get there is work I enjoy and thus I can find satisfaction in large measure while pursuing the ultimate goal of living fully content in my ideal lifestyle.
Rather than reacting to depression or illness or dissatisfaction, then, I'm proactively struggling towards a new normal for myself. A place where every day will be my ideal and that I can fill with satisfying work that I can do for myself, work that I have wanted to do since I was in the second grade, and with the financial stability that will allow me to live without fear of the unexpected disaster of illness or expense. Content while working towards the goal, even more content once the goal is achieved, it seems like a win-win situation to me. Either way, I win.