What is the ideal way to live your life? There is no ideal, but some people feel they have an answer for themselves, an answer that works for them.
Some talk of living a life where they are able to do many things, always keeping things in balance. That means having enough time for family, work, fun, exercise, community involvement and personal development. Balance over a longer period of time, may include trips to visit family or taking a week or two to visit far away places, or taking off time to take a course or to visit a spa or fun place.
But living a balanced life, however it is described, is not for everyone. To really accomplish a goal often requires going overboard in a particular area. You need the time to concentrate on the goal, and in the process you become unbalanced. But this may be the very thing you need to do.
I decided I needed to uptick my knowledge in the area of counseling and psychotherapy. It was just an interest; I had no plans to use the knowledge in a professional sense. So, I signed up for an online course at a major University that offers what I wanted. It was a course for credit which added to the demand. I took extraordinary amounts of time reading, studying, writing papers and adding information to the course’s portal. I learned a lot; and that was all I wanted to do.
It did not add balance to my life; instead, the opposite.
Attempting to live a balanced life to meet your own needs and the desires of others is a good objective, but may not allow the opportunity you need to go off the grid, to put in much more time at something that is important to you- whether it is for a short time, or for months or even years. Once started on a major, interesting, time-consuming project, it is hard to give it up.
We expect our children to learn and grow. We want that for them. But should it be something we all aspire to as we go through our lives.
For some It is a guilt trip. I should be reading this; or improving in that; getting fit or fitter; or building on my skills at cooking, carpentry, repairing, computing, writing. Learning new skills or increasing knowledge in an area is something we do in a world which is changing exponentially every day and we can’t keep up in our knowledge about it. Some people try to keep up with it, while others just want to pick off an area or two to pursue.
There are many people who seem to have little or no interest in personal growth. They are satisfied with the status quo as they experience it, and demands that come at them to expand their knowledge or think of things in new ways are threatening to them. They don’t want to know about it.
A friend of mine tells me about someone he knows who has a good job, and spends great amounts of his discretionary time at a bar. He enjoys the camaraderie; the sense of security that comes from not experiencing new things or even new people. Should we be critical of the many people who live like this? Maybe we think they should be contributing to society or wanting to grow their knowledge and talent. But we know little of the mind of the person who prefers to be part of a never changing scene where things are predictable. In a world where so much is unpredictable, maybe this way of living stabilizes the lives of those who follow it.
I am amazed at the number of people in our society who are collectors, and spend a lot of time filling this desire to have a major, organized collection of some things – music, hockey cards, books, stamps trips, coins, even friends – the possibilities are unlimited. I tried to buy records over the years, then later CDs that we liked. Being somewhat disorganized on this front, I find my “collection” is now all over the place; in our home, at the cottage, in both cars and stored in different places. I even tried to organize them a bit by taking them out of their cases and putting them into master cases which I thought would be handy for traveling. It never worked out. It added to the confusion because now I have my music separated from their jackets. I continue to have a very disorganized music collection. It is fortunate for others, that they have just the opposite experience. But at what price? It takes a lot of time and determination to perfect that collection, and then when you want to share it with others, they don’t really show the appreciation you are looking for.
We visited an old friend who quickly pointed us to his outstanding collection of music and the exceptional way he had everything organized. He even played a few pieces for us which we did enjoy. He gets a great deal of satisfaction out of his excellent music library as he should.
The time taken to organize everything, is time that is lost in the potential pursuit of other opportunities. But not to the well-organized person; to him or her it is the way one should live their life. We should be organized and orderly in all life’s activities.
What else can we say about the organized person? They may be judgmental about those who can’t seem to get organized. Being over-organized like everything else can become an obsession and lead one away from pursuing interesting, but disorganized pursuits.
I don’t really know how to describe the large number of people in our world who are overwhelmed with its demands. They have difficulty making and keeping friends because they are living so much of their life inside themselves, absorbed in past mistakes or relationships that went wrong, that they can’t seem to break out of, to re-form their relationships with old friends or to gain new friends.
These people are further victimized by those around them who want to help, but just don’t understand the depth of their inward pain. People like this are seldom willing to change their ways and it is hopeless to push solutions on them. They will reject them outright by quickly telling the helper that they have tried that, or something close to it, and it didn’t work. Sometimes the necessities of simply living will get people in this situation to try some other options. And sometimes they just don’t change – ever.
Some people have troubled backgrounds from early childhood problems, or with alcohol or drug abuse, or marginal health.
On the other hand there are many of us who are simply introverted. We live our lives inside our heads, and don’t need the external communication and stimuli that the extroverted person does. These same people are sometimes classified as having a problem which has driven them to draw into themselves. But as many of us who are introverted would vouch for, we simply don’t need as much external stimuli and truly do value the time just being with our own thoughts and personal pursuits.
Whether people are unhappily withdrawn or just introverted, we can think of these people as the INWARDS happily living inside their heads or living their life contemplating their hurts, mistakes and problems, seldom allowing a potential solution to get any traction in their minds.
There are many types of adventuring. Traveling the world for fun and sport; or to serve as a volunteer in a needy place; or to escape into a world of gaming, entertainment or soaking up the sun.
We all know people who see life as one big adventure. They travel, take courses, visit far away places, and even take inordinate risks. People like this gain their satisfactions by reaching out to see new things, meet new people, and to live in a world where they contemplate the next great adventure. Most seem very happy with this kind of achievement. From their adventures they have things to talk about; to share with others. When things come up in conversation, they can often add because they have been there or just know more about what’s going on in the world
Adventuring can also have a downside as it is used to escape from responsibilities, or unhappy relationships. Often what people have to report on a return from their latest adventure can be summed in 5 or 10 minutes, as they have forgotten much of the adventure, and are left to disagree with the other person who was with them on what they really did, and what the highlights were. For the most part we are not that interested in the adventures of others. The family slide show following a two week trip somewhere exotic is a thing of the past. What’s left are tokens brought back which also are soon forgotten.
Another form of adventuring are the countless people now visiting in poorer places, the lean economies to help out in some worthwhile way. Sometimes it is to help build houses, or water systems or latrines. Sometimes it is to teach a course, or promote healthier living or start a program of assisting the very poor. Many of the efforts are very worthwhile, but many turn out be just another form of adventuring for the traveler who wants to help. He or she may even carry out some good works, and then turn their attention to what was another important objective to see some monument or park or interesting cultural or religious practices. How much good is really done by all these travelers? Typically they do spend money, and sometimes have money for specific things, such as to help fund an orphanage, or student scholarships, or to carry out a religious mission. Unfortunately something gets started, relationships built, but in many cases there is incomplete follow through. Major organizations who encourage people to go to these poorer places often do have some specific goals in minds, well thought out, and through them is often a better way for people to serve.
Other adventure seekers are pure escapists. What they would like to do more and more is to go to places where they can gamble, or enjoy music, see plays or go to offbeat places of entertainment, or enjoy the water in pleasure boats or on the beaches. For some the escape of a long journey in their car, living in hotels, or their RV and just seeing what they run into, is their preferred form of escape.
People in this category are very honest about what they want to gain in their adventuring. They want to have fun; to not have responsibilities; to enjoy the now, the moment; without any altruistic motive. Fun and enjoyment is enough.
There is a category which may be in decline in our society, of people who are dedicated to their work and their career. They want to achieve in their chosen field. They want to rise up the ladder if they are working in a larger organization in business or government. And, if they are in a small venture, they still have a single-minded goal of doing a job, doing it well, and getting satisfaction from the process.
Many careerists can only talk about their work. They work all the time, and when not at work, they are thinking about their work, or worrying about it. Some careerists rarely take holidays or if they do it is at the urging of another person who sees them as burning out in their total absorption in work. But even with a holiday the careerist comes back to work resenting the time he or she took away and lamenting how far this has set them back.
Who is this person? Sometime the careerists could also be described as a survivor, who want to work, but also needs to work to keep the money coming to pay for their needs. Sometimes they are simply driven people who put career and work ahead of everything else in their lives. They also are people living in the moment, through the last e-mail, text or call and then, on to the next ones. Their relationships are usually largely centered at their work, as the easiest and most comfortable conversations they can have are with the people they see at their work setting or with their customers.
Is this a bad way to be? Some would say it is very unbalanced, but being unbalanced is a way most people are in their lives, as they pursue those things that are most important to them.
I think people in the true careerist category are a dying breed in Western Society. Many people want something more than just to work or pursue their career. They also are conscious of the reality that their time with a family may be relatively brief, and they don’t want to lose out on the opportunities to build a good relationship with their children and keep a good relationship with a spouse and the extended family
THE FRACTURED LIFE
What percentage of our society is composed of people who, one way or another, are struggling, failing, constantly angry, or withdrawn? How many people can’t get along with others? Or live in a world of abuse, whether it be of substances, or relationships, or abuse of their physical being. Obviously these people are not generally very happy with their circumstances and they feed an army of people and resources purportedly trying to help them through counseling, exercise, happy pills, or weight control. Millions of dollars are spent by people who feel that they have lost control of their lives.
So all of the categories I identified above, and this is not a complete by any means, are temporary. The adventurer may only be this way for a short time, burning out or getting into trouble through the absorption in adventuring. The collector can get obsessed with his hobby to the point of becoming reclusive, or finally arriving at the conclusion that it hasn’t been as worthwhile as he had hoped. We each go through stages of life and some of these stages can be frighteningly unproductive and troubling while at other times we are thriving on our latest life journey.
RELIGION AND SPIRITUALISM
Many people find solace and self-understanding by getting themselves connected or reconnecting to thoughts of life’s meaning through religion. For everyone who goes in this direction it is different. The teachings of many religions have the same basic tenets of love and belief in a higher purpose and meaning. The communities of people who believe also provide an important contact for those who think and believe similarly. This spiritual or religious community can also be a place for troubled people to get some comfort and positive help in overcoming some of their difficulties. Typically as adults we don’t change very much in our basic ways of behaving and thinking. But, with effort, we can place new thoughts into our minds that can help us to take new paths, to help others perhaps when before we would have expected only to be helped by others.
We see people helping people all the time in small ways – holding the door open for someone, or picking up something dropped, or giving someone directions. We can help someone on the street by dropping money into their outstretched hat, or simply smiling or greeting a stranger on the street. The biggest help a person can often be to another is to listen to understand, without giving advice. Or giving good advice to someone who specifically has asked for some advice.
WHAT KIND OF A PERSON ARE YOU?
Each of us is so different that we defy categorizations. All we can say as we look at categories such as the ones set out in this essay, is that “I am a bit like that, and a bit like another, or still another.” And we end thinking that really categorization has missed the boat with me.
There are many psychological tests that you can take to help understand yourself. There is the analysis of your typical natural ways of doing things, and this can be measured using the Conative Test (you can Google it) or you can get a good handle on your emotional makeup by completing the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory. You can also take an Interest Inventory such as is presented in the Strong instrument, which helps to tell what really interests you from a career perspective. If you pursue your education up through college and university you will undoubtedly be subjected to testing which shows how you measure up in relation to others if you are going into College, or into University or into advanced work at University. Nowadays one can prepare for the barrage of testing which precedes some University programs. You don’t have to go into them cold. A popular test used to qualify for some levels of University is the Miller Analogies Test. It is really a test of word knowledge, and by increasing ones vocabulary you can definitely move yourself up the scale on a test of this kind.
But forget all the possible ways of testing to see who you are, and do your own reflection. To do this, look at what you do each day. What are your routines like? Do you have any or a lot? What are your personal habits related to cleanliness and regularity of eating for example. What do you fantasize about? Is it for money, love, power, or security or something completely different. These fantasies tell a lot about you and what is important to you. What is your energy level like? Do you miss work with illness or do you have a lot of pain or discomfort in your physical body. This will impact on who you are. Do you have hidden negative areas of your behavior or life that continue to haunt you. Maybe you need to talk to someone about these – and just see if your negativity can be turned around.
My story – I have lived a long life; was a careerist in the sense that I put a great deal of my energy into work, and not enough into family, at least as I see it. I like to adventure and my form is to visit unusual places in lean economies or to do the usual things that tourists do with trips to safe places in the world. I am an anti-collector, and in fact am a somewhat disorganized person outwardly and quite organized inside my head. I am the person that some others come to for counsel and sometimes I think that I could use some counsel or release from frustrations and anxieties that I tend to keep hidden.
In our society, as long as one is contributing, is obeying the laws, and participating as a citizen, nothing more is expected. But in reality there are many people achieving these basics, who do a lot more for their community but are in need of a lot of help to live a happy or fulfilled life. We all have a responsibility to “be with” others so as to be a positive presence, both for their benefit and for ourselves. This will lead us in the direction of having satisfying and fulfilling lives.
The inward pondering about oneself is never-ending. You are in good company; practically everyone is concerned about themselves, what they are doing, thinking, and struggling with. The next time you feel particularly vulnerable, saying to yourself, “no one really understands me;” also remember that the people who you don’t think understand you are going through their problems, haunted by their own demons – yes, you are not alone.