I don’t often offer advice to think small or shrink dreams as I find that most people need to get comfortable with embracing their desires, rather than repressing them. But there can be times when your expectations for what you must have in order to be happy are actually based on some unhealthy beliefs or unrealistic notions.
Don’t worry, I am not advocating that everyone make radical life adjustments and move out of your urban dream home for a small rural farm house in Kansas. But I do ask that you at least entertain the thought of scaling back some necessities for the following reasons:
- The location you think you MUST live in may change dramatically once you are doing work you love. No one was more surprised than me that I ended up moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to Mesa, Arizona. I was a 4th generation Californian with a deep love for my “City by the Bay” and all of its wonder: great food, spectacular hiking trails and a wonderful, diverse and open culture of people. But another reality is a real estate market on crack, where a small, beat-up shack in a scary neighborhood starts at about $500,000. Contrast this with a 4 bedroom home in Mesa at about $225,000. Do I miss San Francisco? Did it take awhile to get used to realizing Taco Bell is the nearest thing to authentic Mexican cuisine? Of course it did. But the reality is, my life is great because I am doing work I love, am married to a man I adore and I only have to work about a quarter of the time I would if I lived in the Bay Area.
- Your need for expensive toys or vacations is often correlated with your level of loathing for your job. When you can’t stand your daily working existence, your need to escape raises dramatically. Often, you think you must indulge in luxurious vacations with lavish food, endless tropical drinks, and dramatic extracurricular activities in exotic locations. You reason “I must make this one week the absolute antithesis of my daily life the other 51 weeks of the year.” The problem is, at about day 3 you begin to dread the return home, and your frantic need to enjoy every second can lead to disappointment. By contrast, when your every day working life is pretty darn happy, a family Scrabble night can provide as much emotional connection, fun and stress relief as a week-long stint in Jamaica. Minus the sun damage.
- Focusing on the quality of your close relationships is the fastest way to increase overall happiness. The Beatles were right: money can’t buy you love. Our scarcest commodity these days is time to spend with close family and friends. When you reduce expenses or a huge home that takes all weekend to clean, you free up time to hang out with your friends and family. It makes me sad to think of the typical evening scene for many “corporate employee” working families these days: if they happen to hang out in the same room, Mom is on her laptop checking email, Dad is working on a presentation, and Jr. is texting his friend on his cellphone.
- Putting your teenagers to work could be the best thing for their future independence. I am totally biased about this, since I and all of my siblings started working in our early teens. We did it out of necessity to support my single Mom, but I see it as a tremendous blessing in each of our lives. We all put ourselves through college, learned the value of money, developed a strong, healthy work ethic and learned that if we wanted something, we had to make it happen. As long as your teenager has time to finish schoolwork and exercise, work can be an excellent addition to the weekly routine. The income can defray some household costs. Perhaps even more of an important consideration for parents of teens these days is that idle time can lead to scary extracurricular activities.
- Creating a slow ramp-up plan will ease the pressure to produce high sales results immediately in your new business. Your dreams may include a cool new home or life in a favorite city, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Our family plans include a custom-built ecological home in Sedona, Arizona, which ain’t cheap. But until we are ready to handle that financial responsibility, my husband and I have manageable expenses and can grow our businesses at a reasonable pace. If you scale back your life while you ramp up your business, you will have more time and savings to experiment and fail, build relationships with new clients and work the bugs out of your products or services.
Here are three questions to ask yourself to see if some of your “big dreams” are driven by true needs or “social self” expectations based on losing face:
- Am I worried about this change because of how it would feel to me on a day-to-day basis, or what others would think about me? We are often driven by need for approval from those around us. At the end of the day, you inhabit your own skin and life, so make decisions about what would make you happy, and everything else will fall into place. You will naturally shed friends who don’t approve, and your parents will get over it once they see how happy you are. (OK, I can’t promise your parents will approve — but at least you will be happy, so who cares?)
- Where does this belief come from? (Such as “I need a new car every year,” “I must live in a certain neighborhood, city or state,” “My kids (or wife, or husband) can never work,” or “Only Georgio can cut my hair for $300 a pop”) Does this belief serve my higher purpose, make me a better human being, reduce stress in my life or make me closer with my spouse and kids?
- What do I truly crave? While my first response to this question is always high-quality ice cream, digging deeper usually finds more meaningful answers like love, connection, positive impact on the world and good health. Most material things, while making our lives temporarily enjoyable, don’t really address these deep human cravings.
I know my friends Penelope Trunk, Nataly Kogan and Matthew Scott all made the decision to move to a different city in order to have a more fulfilling life. How about the rest of you? Do you have any good “downsizing” stories to share that have led to more day-to-day fulfillment even if you had to nix or defer a dream along the way?