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How To Live While You’re Here

How To Live While You’re Here

There is this old television that’s been sitting on the sidewalk outside my window, in the rain, for a week with a sign that says “free.” It’s still there because everyone wants a flat screen these days. So by now, it’s not just three dimensional — and therefore unlovable — but broken, with its insides all soaked and corroding.

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That TV reminds me of my old babysitter. The one I used to watch Buck Rogers, Alf and The Cosby Show on until my mom came home from work. She was single and worked long hours at the airport, checking in passengers and their bags, explaining why the flights were late, and watching them get irate when things beyond her control changed their plans. People are really uptight when they travel. They aren’t having fun yet. They are all waiting to have fun when they get where they are going. Or when they get back home.

That was about the time the term Latchkey Kids was coined.

After high school I spent a year at University of Oregon, and instead of doing my work-study to pay the bills, I rowed on the crew team.

I had an Ivy League sense of entitlement on a community college budget.

My idea of college was shaped by that old television, rather than legacy, and I had exactly no idea how to actually succeed. At seventeen, a college experience was higher on my priority list than a college education.

I just wanted to live while I was there and rowing crew seemed quintessential.

Perhaps it wasn’t the most pragmatic of decisions, but there is no guarantee that, had I chosen to spend my time filing paperwork in the administration building for minimum wage, or checking students out in the bookstore or something, that I would have a Pulitzer Prize by now.

Making pragmatic decisions are important on many occasions. It’s true.  It’s important to have a general discipline behind taking good care of yourself, choosing the thing that serves your healthiest self as much as you can. But pragmatism is not always superior to saying yes to amazing experiences. If you prefer accounting to art, if that makes you feel really alive, you should rush headlong into number crunching. But I’d rather turn cold clay on a wheel and muddy up my Chuck Taylors while Yo Yo Ma plays Unaccompanied Cello Suite No 1, loud, into my ear buds.

I’d rather spend my last twenty dollars on four dark chocolate truffles with gold flecks and espresso, than dry pinto beans and rice that would feed me for weeks.

This penchant for the spectacular means I don’t necessarily have an enviable stock portfolio. Yet. But it does mean I have a ridiculously rich memory bank. And that is worth everything. It gives me stories and ideas and IDEAS, which lead to invaluable connections.

The trick is to figure out which pragmatic decisions you enjoy. Or at least, which ones you can streamline and habituate.

It is so interesting how for some things, say brushing our teeth or taking a shower, we take away the question, the noise, about whether we should or shouldn’t do it, whether doing or not doing it makes us a worthy person. Somehow some things were important enough to become habit.

My son has only recently stopped battling most hygiene, save for the last bastion of hair washing which still makes him throw down like I’ve asked him to commit Harry Carry. This sucks a lot for me, but reaffirms that, with some discipline, we can habituate anything. I am optimistically making the assumption that the boy will someday wash his hair voluntarily. And quietly. (Basically, this is the definition of faith, you guys.)

What I’m saying is that if he can do it, you can do it. You can decide what you want to do. Those things can becomes an easy, and if not blissful, at least a neutral part of the day.

The formula might look like:

achievable expectations

 + practice

- the village of internal opinions =

cumulative ease + results

 

Another equally useful formula might look like:

 

your life

- a whole bunch of things you think you should be doing but hate =

your way better life

 

Because you don’t have to do everything. Just the most important things.

You can get educated, exercise, cook something healthy to save money and your digestive system — and then you can get on with your fantasy ceramics scenario, or writing the next great American novel, or illustrating your graphic one.

And you can edit out the things you hate. Achievable Expectations means just that.

You don’t have to write the novel and run the marathon while presiding over PTA meetings and Board of Directors with silky hair and an impossibly kind inner voice that infernally makes gratitude lists between bites of kale.

Achievable really might mean getting up to stretch for five minutes so you can finish another thousand words without a migraine setting in, or driving to the juice bar so you don’t inadvertently find yourself on the cold-coffee-cleanse.

This practice is not about perfection. It’s about finding what works and then showing up consistently. Over and over. It’s about enjoying your life, not waiting until you get to your destination, or home from your work trip, to have fun. It’s about being the kind of person who laughs and goes to sit in the massage chairs at the Sharper Image with a Vanity Fair instead of swearing at airline employees for not being able to stop a snowstorm.

Not finishing college sometimes makes me feel like I’m blackballed from a club everyone else seems to be a part of. I have tried to go back a couple of times, but setting my business or writing aside to spend a decade in business or writing school seems ridiculous. I have the Internet, books, and no shortage of fabulously educated friends and colleagues teaching focused workshops on such things. I have success in so many formats. Also, I have playlists to make, food to cook, walks to take and gold-flecked truffles to enjoy. I have a kid who wants me to watch him beat the final boss so he can absorb the dragon’s soul.

And I can still feel, precisely, the cold air on my skin as I stripped down to my polypropylene long underwear, the coxswain counting us down in strokes, eight oars breaking the surface of the water in unison, muscles burning, cutting through thick fog under a covered bridge at the crack of dawn and soft sweatshirts on the bus back to campus where everyone else was just waking up for their first class.

I often still have a healthy (read: outsized) sense of entitlement and the drive to live while I’m here. I still choose risky over boring much of the time and sometimes I crash in colossal flames. Other times I manage to create something amazing.

All of it is served by flossing my teeth, eating fresh food and getting some exercise. All of it is served by my community. And love.

What about you? What are the things you do for your health without a second thought? What are the things you think you should be doing but don’t, and as a result you feel like you fall short? Do you have support? Do you need support?

Perhaps we should be working together.

 

Meg Signature

 

 

 

P.S.

 

This post was inspired by a whole bunch of things, including these two fantastic books that you should definitely read.

1. Julia Child Rules – Lessons On Savoring Life by Karen Karbo  {tweet}

And

2. Choose Yourself by James Altucher {tweet}

Also, if you aren’t sick of listening to me talk, I was a guest on another awesome podcast, A Congruent Life. In the interview I talk about gratitude, reframing experience and accepting the past while not it define you. I think you will like it. {tweet}

If you are sick of listening to me talk, then you can just save it for later, bitches. Mwah.

 

image by marcin wichery, creative commons, flickr

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9 Responses to How To Live While You’re Here

  1. Deb Stone says:

    Enjoyed this, Meg. I went back to finish my degree after my first three children were grown and while my next four were finishing up high school, but before the last one hit high school. I was ready to put up with the BS comingled with information that passes as education. Mostly, I’d gotten to the age where I wanted the certificate to put in the drawer. To finish what I’d started when I was young. It means nothing about me but it meant something to me to complete it. Recently I reconnected with a friend from my twenties; a person who shared my career path when we were young. She’s just received a promotion, making the six figures, has a good federal retirement. I spent two decades parenting foster children, have no retirement, living as I choose (finishing a memoir) but every now and then I have those pangs about whether or not I made the pragmatic choice in the long run. Still, it’s life, the life I chose, and yes, the memory bank is rich.

    • mworden says:

      I love this story, Deb. I have to wonder if the other woman, the one with the six figure life, doesn’t have the same pangs of regret about different things. I sense that any kind of life at all includes certain unavoidable things – like maternal guilt, and wondering if we could have done things differently and had some other, different, better, richer kind of life. In the end we only have this choice now. And the next one. And coming back to acceptance.
      Thank you so much for your story and for being here. For real. xo

  2. Srinivas says:

    This may be my favorite thing I’ve read of yours. And the one thing I do for my health without a second thought is surf. There are no things that get in the way of that. I’ll reschedule meetings for that. It keeps me grounded.

    • mworden says:

      I love your relationship with surfing, Srini. You are a great example of truly recognizing something that keeps you alive, a thing which feeds all other things and doing it without question. I’m sure you have the experience of time bending and expanding to allow you to surf all you like while getting every other thing done that needs doing. Time is cool like that. There is room for all of it.

      Or like a graphid I just saw on fb – “You have the same number of hours in a day as Beyonce”

      so glad you are here. xo

  3. Deb says:

    Where’s the tweet link to this Meg-ism, “If you are sick of listening to me talk, then you can just save it for later, bitches. Mwah.” :)

  4. Dave Conrey says:

    How is it that you seem to tap into my cerebral cortex with these things? You say “college experience”, and I immediately drift to Oxford Blues. Then you mention Crew.

    You mention a mom who worked late nights and I immediately recall laying on the carpeted floor of the hispanic family who watched me at nights while my mom was off doing her time as a cocktail waitress. I recall distinctly how much the husband was not particularly fond of me; used to refer to me as “four-eyes” all the time. I have no idea why he disliked me, but he treated me more like his animals than someone whose mother was paying him to “care” for a child.

    It’s interesting though, that exact experience is what drives me to make sure I am doing my best with my son. I hate it when he’s at daycare and ends up being the last one there. I never want him to feel alone in that situation. Then I take him out to go have fun, hit the playground, maybe get a special treat that he shouldn’t eat before dinner, but I think it’s ok, because I want him to know what it means to live life with fun, passion and vigor.

    I’m rambling, but that’s where you took me with this one.

  5. Hi Meg,

    What are the things you think you should be doing but don’t, and as a result you feel like you fall short?

    Travel. Something I’ve always wanted to do, but have done so little of. My family took that big first move by selling our 3,500 sf house and moving into an apartment ;) My wife didn’t hesitate and my son actually loves it. The neighbors think we’re f-ing crazy ;) Now we start our adventure, slowly, but surely. Now taking those daily baby steps to make it happen.

  6. Hello, I enjoy reading all of your article post. I like to write a little comment to support
    you.

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