I’m incredibly busy right now. (That’s one of the reasons I sometimes don’t publish here as often as I’d like.) I work full-time as the director of a writing center and I help my wife run her small business. On top of all that, I’m a writer and an artist—one who is in the process of restarting his art career after recently selling, almost without even trying, several Prismacolor pencil on paper drawings. As you might guess after reading all this, my biggest challenge is finding a way to do all these things and still eat and sleep.
As luck would have it, I had an important conversation with a very interesting woman—I’ll call her Mathilda—this past weekend. Our conversation began with her telling me about how she’d immigrated from Germany to American several decades ago and about her unconventional views on just about every subject one might think of. It then very quickly morphed into her sharing her thoughts about where so many people go wrong in how they live their lives.
She told me that people can learn a lot by observing animals. Animals, it seems, live very simply and thus intelligently. They prize shelter, sufficient food, and being part of a herd or swarm or gaggle or whatnot. Because they have no concept of what it means to engage in conspicuous consumption, they do not waste or behave frivolously. There was a time when humans were a lot wiser than they are now, a lot more “animal” in other words. Somehow, though, human beings have been seduced by things, like status and the accumulation of things (especially money). These accumulators believe that being wealthy is the key to happiness despite there being lots of evidence to the contrary.
She told me that she is now retired and lives with her American husband who is just as unconventional as she is. (She told me that they met in an ashram in India quite a few years ago.) She said the house they currently live in meets their needs, meaning that it isn’t grand, nor do they have air conditioning because they want to live naturally, as the animals do, so they open their windows and doors to let in the breeze. During the hot parts of the day they nap. During the cool parts they get active. They also produce all their own food and live very intuitively and instinctively. She said they own no TV and that they live as the Spartans did. She stressed, throughout her telling of all this, that these were choices they’d made based on what they value and the kind of people they want to be. Many (or even most) let circumstances dictate how they live and are fairly powerless. My friend, on the other hand, said that she and her husband are consciously in control of their lives.
My conversation with Mathilda revealed to me that I needed to think about how I’ve been living and what my lifestyle is doing to me. I needed to sit down and make a list of my priorities. It occurs that many people today don’t really know who they are, want they want, where they want to go, and thus how to get there. They don’t even know what they value. This is shame. This keeps people from deciding what’s important and what’s not.
In my own case, I want to be a good husband, a just and caring person, and very creative. These are the things that matter to me. How much money do I really need to be a good husband and caring person? Absolutely nothing. And what do I need to be creative? I need time and enough money to keep a stock of art supplies. That means I have to look very critically at how I’ve been living. Am I throwing money away needlessly? Am I wasting my time by watching TV and the like? How many hours per week do I spend staring at my mobile phone and twiddling my thumbs? The answers: yes and too many.
My conversation with Mathilda made me do some self-examination and take stock. What I found was a bit painful. Even though I knew what was important to me, I was not being focused and self-disciplined enough.
What are those things that you most value? What are your priorities? What sort of person do you want to be? What changes is it going to take in how you live for you to become your ideal self? I’d like to hear your thoughts to these extremely important and personal questions.
This piece originally appeared in Pointless Overthinking.