Jumping Off The Train

Many of us live our lives as if we are required do to them. Maybe we aren’t obligated to complete our daily routines, but to an outside observer, it would appear so. Here’s a prototype that looks vaguely like my routine at various points. At some time (relatively early in the morning, but not before the sun is up), I wake up, check my emails/text messages, get out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast and go to work. Then maybe I surf the web and read internet news before getting motivated to actually do some work. Finally I buckle down and work on a project for a while. But before I know it, it’s time for lunch, so I go out to lunch and chat with coworkers for a few minutes. Then I go back to my desk and surf the web before setting into and afternoon routine (which looks more or less like the morning routine). At 7 or so, I feel finished and decide to knock off for the day. Then I have a few hours to eat dinner and do whatever I want before going to bed (probably involving some sort of web surfing or TV watching). And then the next day it happens all over again, five to seven days a week. On some level, it feels like riding a train around and around the track. All that we can do is to keep riding the train, watch the scenery go round and round, and toot the horn every once in a while.

So, here’s a little secret. None of it has to be that way. Nothing is holding us there, other than social pressure. From the moment we are born, we are inundated with programming, coming from our families and from the media and from what we see and hear around us. “You have to have this kind of education, and take this kind of job, and marry this kind of person, and have these sort of things.” So, we continue to do things the way we always did them because that’s how the world works, and those things lead us towards the goals that society programmed into us. It’s possible for us to stop doing those things at any time, but there is a lot of pressure in place, and things get extremely uncomfortable when we try to move in a different direction.

The truth is that plenty of people live a life that looks nothing like yours. Maybe they started out with a life that resembles yours, and made a change. And it’s possible that they grew up with values that led them in a different direction altogether. Some of them follow a routine that happens to be completely different. They ride a different train round and round, and watch a different set of scenery. There are whole communities of people who live their lives completely outside of the parameters that most people would define as normal, but still keep to a precise routine (you can find many such groups in the SF Bay Area). They have goals, but those goals look nothing like the goals that you and I would set. To some degree, these are interesting, because there is so much diversity in what we would call a “normal” routine, but we can go even further.

Let’s talk about the people who choose not to ride the train at all. You need a ticket to get on the train, but no ticket is required to get off and walk. Some people choose to do that - some of them never even got on (as hard as that is to believe). Sure, you cover less ground when you are walking, but you get to stop whenever you want to smell a flower, and you also have the opportunity to notice all of the little details in life. And, whenever you want, you can curl up and take a nap in the grass. Some people don’t even follow a routine - they just do whatever motivates them at the moment. Depending on your lifestyle and choices, you may not need as much money as you think. You would be surprised by the number of people who manage to get by on 10 to 20 hours of sporadic work a week. They don’t have new clothes and cars and computers, and have living arrangements that might offend most peoples’ sensibilities, but somehow they manage to make it work. What they trade off in means they earn back in flexibility.

So the point of this story is that you can do whatever you want. Sure, your mental programming is telling you to stick with your old routine, but at the end of the day, it’s just programming, and that can be overwritten (more on that later). If you realize that what you're doing isn’t working for you, well, you have a lot more power to change it than you think (the alternative is to either stick with something that’s broken or to drop out altogether). So here’s a homework assignment (yes, I assign homework from my blog). Take one thing that you think you need to do, and change it up. Maybe you knock off work early one day when you feel like you’re not at optimal productivity, and go do something fun instead (even for just an hour or two). Or maybe you have an honest conversation with your boss or significant other, and ask for something you want. I’ve been amazed by the power of actually asking for what I want. 

A lot of times, I assume that other people will figure out what I desire and then figure out how to give that to me. But in reality, they often don’t know what I want, and their goals and motivations may be completely different from mine. So, even if they did know what I wanted, it might not make sense for them to give it to me unsolicited. By asking for what I want, I actually tell them where I am, and give them the opportunity to meet me there. And, if they can't give me exactly what I want, maybe they can get me closer. Regardless, asking for what you want breaks down a barrier that once was there.