Can’t Get No
December 5, 2012 § 7 Comments
I was chatting with a friend the other night about family and money and work and all the other minutia of our lives when he asked if perhaps my writing on this site wasn’t a little too “self-satisfied.”
After I got over my initial alarm (because really, who wants to be perceived as self-satisfied, which is arguably only a half-rung down the ladder from “smug”?), I got to thinking about what it means to be self-satisfied, and whether or not that’s a bad thing.
At the risk of confirming my friend’s suspicions, let me be clear: I am satisfied. Not always, and not with every single aspect of my life and character, but in a general, over-arching sense, I am content. I suppose one could take this a sign of lassitude, and at times it seems to me an almost anti-American sentiment: We are not supposed to be merely satisfied, or content. We are supposed to strive, to compete, to conquer, for how else can we exemplify the rule of American exceptionalism? Hell, to be merely satisfied… what am I, a socialist (or at the very least, Canadian)?
Still, the truth is, my sense of self-satisfaction is a work in progress and has arisen only out of allowing myself a degree of time and introspection that I understand to be a great privilege. I remember something my friend Erik told me a couple of years back; we were skiing deep in the woods of northern Vermont, and I’d asked Erik, who lives a life of deep principle, based largely on his belief that the natural world should not be merely appreciated, but revered, how he made certain that his choices in life reflect his prevailing ethos. (It is maybe worth noting that Erik lives on about $6,000 annually, and yet seems to me one of the most contented people I’ve ever met; his network of friends and family and community is incredibly diverse and rich, and his capacity to fully experience the small pleasures of life has been an inspiration to me. He is also the main character in my upcoming book, SAVED).
This is what he told me: “I mediate a lot of my experiences through a judgment: ‘Is this the way I want to live my life?’”
Is this the way I want to live my life? It’s such a simple and even obvious question, really. And yet I’m fairly certain it’s not a question most people ask with great frequency. At least, it wasn’t a question I asked very often, if ever. Is this the way I want to live my life? I often wonder how many people’s lives would be changed for the better if they’d only ask themselves that very question.
I have been enormously fortunate in that it has not been difficult for me to find a path that is satisfying. Likewise, Penny and I serendipitously made choices along the way – long before I ever asked myself how these choices might answer Erik’s question – that have allowed us a tremendous degree of freedom and privilege. The absence of debt is perhaps the most profound. Just as I wonder how many people’s lives would be changed for the better if only they’d ask themselves is this the way I want to live my life, I wonder how many people are simply afraid to ask it, knowing that their financial circumstances ensure they won’t be able to answer it in a way that feels good. That is satisfying.
If all of this sounds as if I have no doubts or insecurities, you can rest assured that I have many. As of this very moment, I am struggling to determine what is next for me, career-wise. I am on-again, off-again worried that the skills and opportunities we are providing our boys are not doing enough to prepare them for a world that seems to be evolving in an entirely different direction. I loathe my inability to remain organized. I worry that our decision to eschew accumulated monetary wealth is going to someday bite us in the ass, and hard.
Still, I have come to a place in my life where I do not need to know everything: My boys’ future. My future. I can even accept my many flaws of character, although that doesn’t mean I’m not working to correct them (you oughtta see my office… clean as a freakin’ whistle. For today, anyway). Is one of those flaws that I’m self-satisfied? Maybe. But I’m not convinced yet.