How To Get A Life Out In The Sticks

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One of the many reasons why I had two jobs for 20 years was that if there was drama or problems at one job, usually the other job was fine, so I still had something to look forward to. It was a kind of balancing act. Since having one job, I have learned to achieve that balance with work and home instead of between two jobs.

Last year, when Kitty passed away and my world shattered, home pretty much sucked. Luckily, I absolutely loved my job and was able to draw strength from that. I have learned that the opposite holds true as well, when you don’t like your job, home life better be stellar to counteract that.

I am very fortunate right now in that my home life is amazing. My home life is definitely the most positive aspect of my life right now and I am very grateful. At the same time, I am missing the support of having a job I loved, and am looking to recreate that somehow by trying to “get a life” out in the community.

Trying to get a life in a small town is hard. First, there aren’t very many opportunities. Second, small towns tend to be quite clique-y, so trying to infiltrate the ranks can be challenging. Honestly, I miss the city. I also miss freedom to move around. My medical issues have been clipping my wings quite a bit for the past year or so. Since I no longer have the ability to take off to who knows where on a whim, I need to make do with this small town I’m in.

Trying to get a life out in the sticks is partially contingent on age. This is what I’ve learned so far:

Bonfire

This strategy works well in your teens. When I was young in a small town and you wanted to find people, look for a bonfire. That’s where everyone hangs out to talk, listen to music, and roast marshmellows.

Bonfires typically follow other events like the Friday night high school football game, which was the hottest ticket in town. Ok, it was the only thing to do on a Friday night when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. If you are a teenager who wants to get a life out in the sticks, find a bonfire. Or, make your own. If you start a bonfire, they will come.

Alcohol

Bonfire experiences in your teens typically evolve to include alcohol in your 20s. Actually, in your 20s, you don’t even necessarily need the bonfire anymore. You show up somewhere with a 6-pack or a bottle of vodka and Boom! Instant party.

If you want to get a life out in the sticks in your 20s, all you need to do is add alcohol. It’s very simple.

30s & 40s

This is where I am at a complete loss. For most of my 30s, I was in school working on my degrees. Meeting people is easy when you are a college student. At 39, I’m stuck in a small town and no longer in school.

People my age don’t seem to exist. I’m sure that they do, but I don’t see them. I imagine that everyone my age is happily coupled and spends their evenings at home cooking fresh, organic, vegetarian dinners followed by family board games with their 2.5 kids while the dog snores in front of the fireplace. They are just so blissfully happy, they have no need to go out and meet people.

More likely, everyone my age was smart enough to get out of rural USA while they could and are off living in the cities. I’m not sure where I missed the boat on social and geographic mobility in America, but that ship has defininitely sailed, and I was not on it. I didn’t even hear the boarding call.

Bars

Let’s not go there. If you’re still on the “bottle of vodka creates a party” kick past your 20s, you have a problem, and I am NOT your therapist. In my small town, bars are filled with young college students and meth heads. I do, after all, live in the county that is considered the meth capitol of NYS.

This is not a scene that I am in or want to enter. So we will just leave the bars alone in this little experiment, mm’kay?

How To Get A Life

Well, this sounds dismal. You thought I was going to have some great ideas on how to solve this little problem, didn’t you? Well, I do have some ideas. They are still in progress. Some have pros and cons. We’ll go through them.

Volunteer

So far, I have found this strategy to be helpful, but it is a little early yet for definitive data. My strategy for volunteering is to choose only one or two organizations. This way, I am able to participate fully without overwhelming myself. It gets me out in the community networking and meeting people. A con to this strategy so far is that I have not met any people my age. Although the people I have met so far are fascinating. I am also learning new things and I like that.

When choosing volunteer work, it is helpful to choose an area in which you are passionate. Passion will get you through the rough times. For example, everyone around me seems to find fault with me right now, so I am starting to think that animals are better than people. But since the point is to try to meet people my own age, I guess I need to put up with the jerks. And come home to cuddle with my cats. A lot.

Events

What’s the hottest gig in town? As a teen, it was the aforementioned high school football game. In this small town, it is the public library. Our library posts a calendar of events each month offering a wide range of activities. I’m trying them. Some I like better than others. The good thing with events is that there is no commitment. If you don’t like something, then you just don’t go when it is offered again.

The event I attended that I liked the most was an educational workshop put on by the NYS Bluebird Society. It was awesome. This was one of the best lectures I have attended since grad school. (I told you small town – so yes, that makes bluebirds wicked exciting.) I haven’t really met any new people as the result of the workshop, but the NYS Bluebird Society gives me a whole new field of interesting information to learn when I’m bored or can’t find people to hang out. I have plenty of things I like to do on my own, but finding friends is kind of hard.

Organize! Or, “old habits die hard”

If you can’t find something to join that interests you or fuels your passion, start it. Organize. I’m doing that now with one of my volunteer opportunities. I want something that is not there, so I am helping to organize things to make it happen.

For me, this situation also falls under “old habits die hard.” The activity I am helping to organize is an event I miss attending when I was in Boston. If you want to do something and it does not exist, make it happen. I physically can’t go back to the city right now, so I’m making the city come to me. You can do it.

Forward & Onward

Trying to get a life out in the sticks is wicked hard. I’m not going to lie. Even when you try to do something positive, people are going to judge you. Well, they’re going to judge you whether you just sit there and do nothing or if you act and organize, so you might as well do something.

Life was a lot easier last year when I had a job I loved and all this friendship and fulfillment was automatically built into my work experience. It’s harder when you have to search for those things outside of work. My job already exhausts me; it makes getting a life outside of work just that much more difficult.

This year I am starting the slow process of getting a life out in the sticks. Of course, the ultimate goal, which has been the goal for over 20 years now, is to return to Boston. I don’t see that happening, as Boston housing is way out of my price league, and I can’t logistically figure out how to make it work. Also, my home life is the most positive thing in my life right now, so I am not about to rock that boat.

This spring and summer is going to be about getting a life. It is also going to be about recreating equilibrium. The stability I worked so hard to create in life fell apart last year when the place I was working for closed. Hopefully by getting a life, I can regain my footing and get some of that stability back.

I am fortunate in that I have spent years slowing down my life so that when this tragedy happened last year, I did not completely fall apart. I was knocked down a little, but not completely demolished. I am able to stand up again, brush myself off, and move forward.

How do you go about getting a life out in the sticks?

 

 

 

 

How do you go about getting a life out in the sticks?

For Better or For Worse

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Many people today seem to stick around for the better and disappear at the worst. They say to truly find out who your friends are: screw up and see who is still there for you. Then, there are the people who are there for you when you are down but leave when you are up because they enjoy wallowing in misery and simply cannot stand to see other people happy.

While earlier generations seemed to embrace the for-better-or-for-worse notion more whole-heartedly than our own, it is an important concept to apply to all areas of life, from relationships to hobbies to passion.

After spending almost four months on the waiting list for the oh-so-popular Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, it has finally been my turn to have the novel out of the library. I have spent those past four months reading reviews and blogs of people not only mentioning the book but also downright gushing over it.

I finally read the book, and while it is certainly not my favorite, I stuck through the entire novel, for better or for worse, and read the entire thing. There were times in the beginning of the book where I almost put it down and stopped reading because it was not interesting to me, but I thought that there has to be some reason why this novel is now so wildly popular, and I was determined to find out why.

So I stuck through the worst part of the book, and it finally did get better. About the last 100 pages of the novel were okay. Perhaps the idea that stuck with me the most, simply because it so clearly articulated an idea that I have been struggling to find words to describe over the past 20 years has been the idea of the Shit Sandwich.

That’s right, Shit Sandwich.

According to Gilbert, the essence of shit sandwich in a nut shell can be boiled down to how much suffering you are able to endure in order to achieve what you love. Of course, this is an extreme simplification of the concept, and if you would like to have a more elegant explanation, then you simply have to read the book. The pages explaining shit sandwich were probably the most profound part of the novel for me, and I could personally leave much of the rest. Basically, the concept of for-better-or-for-worse applied to all areas of your life, not just a marriage ceremony or some other type of elaborate rite of passage.

I had a brief moment of weakness a few weeks ago when the reality of being retired from spending 20 years as a professional college student finally set in and I completely panicked. It was something like a baby who did not want to be born but wanted to return to the womb. I sat there pleading and plotting about how to return to school, and what type of degree I wanted next. I sat there and thought that before completing my psychology degree, I had started a physics degree. I spent three years as a physics major before deciding, after taking calculus 1,2,3,4 and differential equations, that I had had enough of math and did not want the physics degree anymore.

I was not prepared to eat the shit sandwich that accompanied pursuit of a physics degree. I was in physics for the better portion. I love astronomy and motion and dynamics, and particle physics. However, I was not able to deal with the for worse portion of having another four advanced math classes to take after the five I had just completely suffered through.

I then decided that I could not go back to school to finish the physics degree. Not only am I not committed to eating the shit sandwich, but I also already have four degrees, and while I would not trade any of the degrees or any moment I spent working on obtaining them for the world, I do not, in fact, wish to relive that portion of my life. That is simply not my flavor of sandwich.

But now that I personally grasped the notion of for-better-for-worse and read about shit sandwiches, I started to apply that idea to other areas of my life. For example, I am not a morning person. Pretty much everyone who knows me in real life knows better than to wake me up in the morning. I am a night owl and always have been. I have spent over a decade on either second or third shift; the few brief years I did have a day job was hell on earth for me. I am just not a day person.

However, I have absolutely no problem getting up at 4:30 am and spending hours preparing for and running a marathon. When it comes to running, the shit sandwich that is getting up at 4:30 am is something that I am not only willing to eat gleefully, but also has me coming back for more. There is no other aspect in my life in which I am willing to eat the shit sandwich of 4:30 am, but for running, I am.

You see, running and I have this special relationship. I will wake up at 4:30 am. I will run in the rain, the snow, the cold, and the heat. I will run when it’s hard. I will run when it’s easy. I am in love with running, and over the years, I have definitely been able to take the good with the bad.

Once I found degree programs that were the right fit for me, I did the same with school. I spent years only sleeping from 2am-6am to ensure that I was able to complete all my schoolwork in addition to piecing together multiple jobs to make ends meet. I sacrificed many relationships and much leisure time in my pursuit of education. I swallowed that shit sandwich hook, line, and sinker for 20 years.

The significance of reading Gilbert’s Big Magic for me was the realization that now I am in retirement, I have the option of choosing what flavor of shit sandwich I want to eat next. I have been trying to figure out what to do with the ridiculous amount of time I now have on my hands since I am no longer working 70 hours a week and trying to be a full-time grad student.

I have been trying to decide what type of activities I want in my life. Do I want to join a club? Do I want to volunteer my time? With each option I have considered, I have begun to think of what flavor shit sandwich I want to eat. Now that my time is my own, I am less likely to eat shit sandwiches than I have before. Call it growing up, call it privilege, but I have found myself deeply protective of my newfound time.

What new activity do I want to try for better or for worse? Where am I willing to put my time? I have no problem with failure. It is possible I will decide on a volunteer opportunity and then discover that I am not prepared for that shit sandwich. That is fine. I will find another activity. However, I am trying to make an informed decision on how to not only enrich my own life but also enrich those around me.

Now that my time is my own, how do I want to fill those hours? What fills me with so much passion that it will endure for-better-or-for-worse? As we slow down our lives, this is the type of first-world problem we create. How best to spend our leisure time to ensure that our time is exactly that – leisure. It’s a wonderful problem to have.

When we identify that which we are able to live with for-better-or-for worse, not only do we make ourselves happy, but also we increase the love that is in the world. Relationships, activities, places, employment are all areas of life in which we can apply the for-better-or-for-worse principal. When we identify the areas that we are able to make that commitment, not only does it make the shit sandwich palatable, it also makes it almost delicious.

The people, activities, and relationships that stay in our lives for-better-or-for-worse are those that will likely last a lifetime. I don’t know about you, but that is the type of Big Magic I want to have in my life.

 

 

 

 

Time is a Gift

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I’m not going to lie. The past month (the first month) of my retirement has been wicked hard. No matter how much I giddily anticipated the slow down, transitions never quite go as planned. As mentioned in an earlier post, my life did not just slow down. It came to a screeching halt.

As painful as that transition was, it served as a wake up call. I definitely got a reality check. I have always thought of time as a commodity. I have never valued my time. My time has always been bought, bartered, or sold, and it has never been my own. In the past few weeks that my life has slowed down, my time has been my own. When you are so busy going from one thing to another, you never have time to think. When your life slows down to a point where you once again retain ownership over your time, it can be an uncomfortable process if you are not used to having time on your hands and are unsure of how to handle this newfound gift.

Old coping skills die-hard. My first thought, in a moment of panic, was that I have to go back to school. I need a fifth degree. I don’t know from where or in what, but I need another degree. Then, I was able to stand back and ask myself, “Do I really want to go back to school?” The answer is no. Twenty years of college was enough.

This transition probably would have been easier on me if it had occurred at another time of year. In spring and summer, my life is full of outdoor activities such as running, surfing, and spending time at the parks. In the winter, I have a tendency to hibernate. While I have plenty of things to do and plenty of ways to entertain myself and stimulate my brain, what I lack is human interaction.

The biggest benefit to slowing your life down is that not only does it leave you with more time on your hands, but also gives you the power to control what you do with your free time. Once I determined that I do NOT, in fact, want to return to school, I asked myself what I do want to do.

I came up with some ideas.

Some of those ideas I decided I do not want to do right now, but in the fall. Some of those ideas I decided were more of a time commitment that I am willing to give right now. While I need human interaction, I do not want to trade school for some other all-consuming activity. I want my time to be my own.

I have identified two activities that I want to do that seem to require a level of time commitment with which I am comfortable. After the holidays, I plan on putting my plan into place to engage in the two activities and hope to pull myself out of the rut into which I have fallen.

I have checked into many different volunteer opportunities with a great many deserving entities. While I would love to help them all, I simply cannot. The beauty of having time on my hands is that I get to choose what to do with my time. Time on my hands is not only a gift to me, but also what I choose to do with the time I have been given can also be a gift to others.

Part of my intention in slowing down my life is to identify what is important and what is not and to be able to focus my energies on the important things. Life is too important not to do so. Time is a gift and not a commodity has been a very challenging but very deserving lesson I have been learning the past few weeks.

Do you view your time as a commodity? Are you constantly working just to get ahead when really, it would mean so much more to your family if you could come home even an hour earlier one day? At the holidays, we purposefully take the extra time to spend with family and friends and to engage in activities that bring us joy.

We should be doing that all year round, not just at the holidays. Time is a gift both to you and to others. Take this time of year as an example of how much joy could be in your life year round if you only view time as a gift and not as a commodity. We have so much when we rewind real slow.