A reader wrote to me recently about some doubts and problems she is facing. She is working in the US and thinking of moving back to India, her country of origin.
She has had a long struggle in creating the life of her dreams. Success eluded her at work for a long time but she persisted and finally succeeded in getting all that she wanted. She is now very successful and living comfortably in the US. Over a period though, she has started finding her life boring and purposeless. No amount of ‘new stuff’ is helping her feel excited and alive. Being the courageous soul she is, she decided to come back to India, where she feels more of a connection. The decision was made some time back and she is yet to move, in some time.
As the time for the big step draws near, however, she is assailed by doubts and second thoughts – ‘Is this really a good decision? Is it wise to leave such a secure and good life? How can I be sure I won’t regret my decision later on?’
She is torn between following what makes her feel excited and alive, and doing that, not-so-exciting job that earns her, her current ‘good life’.
Questioning our habits and beliefs
What struck me first here, is her idea that she is leading a ‘good life’. On one hand, she clearly sees she is not enjoying her current life and no amount of material possessions are filling in that void, on the other, she feels it is a good life that she wants to keep.
We humans are creatures of habits and habitual thinking. Once a habit or a thought pattern sets in, we resist a change to it, even in the face of overwhelming evidence against it. This can be a useful trait. Once we burn our hand in fire and form a habit of avoiding contact with it, it serves us well, it helps our survival. But then habits are both good and bad. If we do not question them regularly, we run the risk of internalizing a behavior that harms us.
Certain habits may have been helpful at some point in time, but can be downright harmful now. For example, when you were a kid, you must have formed a habit of calling out to your mother when in danger. It may have helped you in a lot of situations then. But if you continue to look to your mother for solutions, even when you grow up, your mother may herself regret having helped you earlier!
The same tree that provides shelter during rain, will get you wet after the rain is over. -Chanakya
Our friend’s attitude here was probably helpful when she started out. Maybe she came from a poor family and needed the money. Maybe she wanted to prove to herself that she is capable, maybe she needed to see for herself how she found the ‘good life’. But it is not working for her any more. It needs to change. She however seems to have internalized the attitude to get more and more and live in luxury. Now, even in the face of a realization that she needs to change, it is difficult for her to let go. So many of us do this. Habits and patterns die hard.
It helps to regularly question one’s beliefs and be conscious of what one assumes to be right.
What are the routines that you indulge in regularly but don’t question any more? Are they serving you still?
The fear of future regret
Our friend is also wondering – ‘How can I be sure I will not regret my decisions later?’
I think you cannot be sure, you cannot know what will happen in future and how you will feel about your decisions. Your new direction may cause regret in future, just as your current state of life can. This is a decision you have to make based only on your current understanding and gut feeling.
Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. -Martin Luther King
You either take a leap of faith and see, or you stay in your comfort zone, wondering forever, what could have been.
The path with a heart usually seems very difficult to start on. But once you take it, it keeps getting easier and better. The path your fearful ego points to, on the other hand, seems easy in the beginning, but becomes more and more unbearable with time.
What is the worst that can happen?
One thing that can help here is to go over the worst case scenario. Write it down to make it very clear in your head. What will happen if you totally fail? How will you manage then? Is it life threatening?
Tim Ferriss, in his book, The Four Hour Work Week, says that if you are not sure, try to live that life for some time. Do what you would do when you utterly fail. Try living in a single room with bare minimum facilities, try getting a new job. Usually things are not as bad as our fearful egos make them out to be. Such adversity usually is quite bearable, it can even be eye opening, adventurous and uplifting.
Will the plan be successful?
Your plan will almost certainly not go as you think right now. When I left my job, I had thought of a lot of things I would do. I had planned how I would do them and how and when I will accomplish certain milestones. Almost none of it happened the way I thought. Some things that I was sure will happen, and that I was banking on, did not quite happen as I would have wanted them to. On the other hand, there were also some unexpected, pleasant surprises that gave me new hope and direction.
The thing with plans is, most of them don’t survive contact with the real world. The best plans are the ones that are continuously modified, on the fly, as you get more and more lessons. No, you cannot rely on your plan to see you through. Rely on your determination. Focus more on the goal, rather than on your plan. The plan will keep changing, and that is fine. Don’t resist that.
How long this will continue, no one can say. But this is real life. If you can learn to flow with it, you will be good. If you can learn to enjoy it, you are golden.
Will the enthusiasm for this goal stay?
Even goals sometimes change. You cannot be sure that you will like the same goal a few months from now. You may start out ahead full throttle, burning all the bridges behind you, only to realize later that you don’t want the same thing anymore. That is fine too. A person who agrees to grow and expand, will find new meaning in life, new things to aspire for. A lot of old goals will loose their meaning and attraction. But they will as soon be replaced by more meaningful and exciting goals.
Should you let all this uncertainty stop you? I will answer with a question – Do you still crave for the toys you liked in childhood? No, the growth since then has rendered them uninteresting. But would you have given up this growth, in fear of loosing those toys?
It is OK to find that what you made so much effort for, is no more desirable. The effort is never wasted. You always learn. and grow. This effort will help you later in finding more happiness, maybe not in the way you anticipated, but it will.
What about security?
What exactly is security? There is physical security and survival, but is that really so threatened in this new path? You probably are worried that you may not be able to afford that big TV or that beautiful car. That doesn’t threaten your survival. If you want to get the maximum juice out of life, you will have to be ready to let go of the extra baggage and care only for that which is absolutely essential.
We have all learned to make elaborate plans for life. So much so that, a threat to the idea of buying that bigger house 15 years down the line appears to be a threat to our security. Is that really security?
If you can have the basic necessities and a few comforts, you don’t need the rest of the clutter to keep you happy. In fact, once you let go of it, you wil realize it was this clutter, that was keeping you away from happiness. There will be a new found lightness to you step and to your life. You will be more available to experiencing life than worrying about the clutter- all those gadgets, expensive furniture, your financial investments, that keep you thinking and worrying about them, that big club membership, those expensive vacations to far off lands that require a lot of planning, stress and, when not found as interesting, a lot of anger and bad feelings. All this clutter doesn’t keep you happy.
This path may not seem easy to start on, but it has a lot to offer. It has it’s share of sorrows, tears and uncertainities, but it also promises a different, fresh world of life’s simple pleasures, of connecting deeply with other human beings, of developing a more meaningful relationship with yourself. This life is closer to the ground. In it’s own unique ways, it is very simple, full of pleasures and full of life.