How much of your busyness is an effort to not miss out and to look like you have an interesting life? Meet Ali Cornish, who realized she was not at all happy being overly busy, and find out how she found true fulfillment:
In my early 20s, I breezed through life in a state of constant movement and engagement. I lived in five separate cities, two different countries, and held a grand total of 11 jobs in the span of 4 years. With a serious case of the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out), I felt the grass was greener elsewhere.
Just like everyone I knew, I was always out-and-about, rarely spending a night in watching television, reading a book, or cultivating a hobby. Each new “Yes!” and each new connection were meant to boost my self-esteem. I thought if people saw that I was doing so much, they might respect me, or at the least, be very impressed. I made sure my MySpace and Facebook profiles were well-curated to show others how productive, interesting, and successful I was.
In reality, I wasn’t very successful. And, I wasn’t very happy. I was sleep deprived, overweight, and insecure. Like all of my peers, I didn’t want to be considered “ordinary.” But I was exactly like everyone else in my chaos: churning, yearning, and chasing.
When I lived in LA in 2006, I held three simultaneous jobs, none of which produced enough money to pay for my lifestyle. I sold my car to make ends meet. Instead of putting efforts towards lasting friendships and relationships, I was thoroughly invested in the Hollywood mentality of looking over people’s shoulders to see if there was someone better to talk to. Due to my social choices, I was lonely. I wished that I could just stop everything and work on my mental well-being, physical health, and my finances, but I didn’t think it was possible. I had to be “out there.” I had to be social. I had the chance to rediscover myself each day through the eyes of others.
I wished my life could be simpler.
What if I could have healthy self-esteem, a positive public image, excellent productivity, and the respect of my peers without being so busy?
The idea of simplifying my life seemed like a temporary solution, and not suitable for long term success. It also seemed quite “ordinary.” Sure, I can stay in one night and eat a healthy dinner and go to bed early. But, what about the rest of the nights? Would I be missing out on important connections? I worried that if I didn’t fill my calendar to the brim, I’d be bored, lonely and depressed.
As it was, I was already bored, lonely and depressed. I needed to change. So, I began to consciously cut things out of my life. The removal of excess started with my decision to have just one job. I thought long and hard about what I was capable of doing. Instead of asking myself “What do I want to do?”, I started asking myself, “What can I do?” After four years of searching, gallivanting, and pursuing self-serving activities, I decided to be more focused, and to make a difference in the lives of others. So, in 2009, I decided to become a teacher.
Through teaching, I found peace. I found solace in the built-in routine of the school day, and I began to grow personally, achieve professionally, and thrive in other areas of life. There was less pressure for me to be “out there” “on the scene,” since I found fulfillment in my career, and with that came fulfillment in other areas of life.
I no longer had a need for social media presence, so I deleted my Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter accounts. I got a dog – Chauncey – who taught me the meaning of unconditional love, responsibility, and what it means to be grateful. I made more room in my life for things that really matter. By living simply and mindfully, I was finally in a place where I could find someone to share, grow, and thrive with. That’s when I met my husband Josh.
I began to live more simply, but I was not done with the idea of living
Many people approach the idea of living simply with great apprehension. They think, if I live simply, will I have to stick to the same routine every day? Is simple living just sitting back and watching life pass me by? Will it mean that I am done with growth, achievement, weekends out-of-town, brunch, concerts, and the new coffee shop with vegan cake-batter doughnuts? I used to think the call to simplify things was a temporary solution, and not suitable for the long-term.
Living simply is anything but resignation
I’d like to present the idea that living simply is anything but resignation. Since I found my truth through simplicity, I know that true, authentic living can be discovered when we pare life down to its essential elements.
By slowing my life down, I opened up to listening, thinking, and experiencing joy with the important people in my life. I’ve found that simple doesn’t have to be boring, mediocre, or unfulfilling. Simplifying didn’t stop me from actualizing my potential, and simplifying for me doesn’t mean sitting back and watching life pass by.
Of course, what is “essential” or “simple” is different for everyone, but the concept remains the same. Let me show you what simple means to me.
Simplicity in nature
Simple is daily walks with my dog, Chauncey. He and I both prefer new routes and different scenery, but I find solace in returning to old routes, where I can observe the change of the seasons, the subtle variations of the landscape; catching the scent of cedar shingles going up on that house on the corner, and the aromatic lilacs emerging on the bush next door.
There’s something so lovely and comforting in wishing my neighbors “Good morning!” or taking a peek at the new titles in our Neighborhood Library, or even adding a few titles of my own. The fresh air, sun, and expanse of the world is important for me to experience since both Chauncey and I are inside for most hours of the day. Experiencing nature has been the best therapy for me because it gives me little mental breaks in order to be at my best for the rest of the day.
Simplicity in technology
Simple is leaving our phones behind when Josh and I go out together. These phone-free nights have turned out to be the best ever. We allow ourselves to be completely present, captivated, and attentive to each other. A weight has been lifted without the allure of our glowing screens. We’re in the 90s again: there is no third-wheel and there isn’t any notification-induced anxiety. Keeping technology simple also translates to other situations. Unless I am expecting an urgent call, I have my phone on silent, and I try to limit the times when I check my phone. I also think about why I have an urge to check my phone, and try to be more mindful in the future.
Sometimes when I’m working, I set my phone to Airplane Mode in order to really clear up the mental space to fully engage in what I am doing. Better yet, I leave my phone in another room to minimize the temptation. If I simplify by taking conscious breaks from technology, and reduce the inclination to multitask, I’ve found that I can be much more productive and engaged.
Simplicity in relationships
Simple is The Date Jar. When we moved in together a few years ago, Josh and I collected the names of unique and well-priced restaurants in our area and put the names in our Date Jar. We even mixed in some “stay at home and play scrabble” cards, local coupons, and crumpled dollar bills. So, when Friday night comes around, we alternate who picks from the jar.
Gone are the days where we spent a portion of our evenings deciding what to do, what to eat, or where to go. Our date nights are spent enjoying togetherness, surprising food, and experiencing the rush of somewhere new. I’ve also transferred this mentality to making time to appreciate loved ones. I don’t just text them, post on their Facebook wall or comment on their Instagram posts. Now I actually save time to call them or even be with them in person. When I’m one-on-one with a friend, everything slows down and we are simply together, exchanging conversation, making memories.
Simplicity in experiences
When I was 18, I traveled to Europe with my best friend. We visited over 11 countries in 19 days, and it was a complete whirlwind of which we remember very little (glad we took photos!).
Since then, I’ve learned to simplify my trips to make them more memorable. Recently, Josh and I circumnavigated Iceland for 12 days, roaming the country in a tiny Citroen motorhome. Our experiences and memories of that trip are a testament to the time we invested to slow down and experience the beauty, culture and majesty of Icelandic nature. In not over-planning each day, we made room for spontaneous pull-overs to check out vistas, Icelandic horses, or abandoned farmhouses.
Camping each night was a deliberate choice that we made; anyone can stay at a hotel and have the same exact experience every time. In addition, we didn’t want to be tied to certain hotels, and strict check-in and check-out times. We camped to bring our experience down to its bare bones, to grow from it and have an amazing story to tell our children one day.
Simplicity in self-care
Simple is wearing my glasses instead of bothering with contacts. I have a few more minutes to enjoy lingering and lunching with a colleague instead of fussing with dry eyes. I also have a bit more money at the end of the year since contacts are expensive.
Simple is investing in colorful fruits and vegetables, and making a large batch of vegetable slaw a few times a week to make it easy to consume veggies. Simple is eating mindfully during the week so that a few weeknight cookies or weekend cocktails are a welcome and fun indulgence.
Simple is taking conscious deep breaths while I’m working, and stepping outside to enjoy a mental break every so often. When I return, I can bring a fresh perspective and energy to my work.
Simple is reducing my closet to the essentials so that I don’t take too much time getting dressed, and so I have more time to invest in work, leisure or people. I pay close attention to my closet: those clothes, shoes, or accessories that I don’t touch for a season get donated or sold. The same applies to books, furniture, appliances, or other items. The challenge of reducing is completely worth it because I have a great feeling of accomplishment when someone else can find value in my forgotten things.
Simplicity is different for everyone. What might be simple and meaningful for me may not be for you. However, the concept is the same. When I simplified, I made room for the life I was meant to have. My life is free from the “business of busy.” It’s the life my husband and I always dreamed of – it’s a life less ordinary.
Ali Cornish blogs about her life at: http://everthrive.org