Sometimes when I think of me and my friends and all the people I know, I get to thinking a lot of us are insane. I mean that literally. I think of the various people who say they are unhappy at their jobs, with their lives. Sometimes, you get so many people like that in a room together that everyone accepts that it’s normal and proceeds forward thinking it will be better tomorrow, it will be better when I’m richer, it will be better when I have a more a beautiful home. I hear the young grads with their tens of thousands of dollars in debt being told don’t fret about that, soon you’ll have a mortgage, too, and your current debt load will look like pennies – as if a life heavily laden with debt is one’s only option. So we all mourn this inevitability, accepting – for some bizarre reason – that it IS an inevitability. We accept that we must all march forward in a pattern designed by someone else that we may not even want, and almost certainly do not need. We commit our energy and ourselves to jobs we may hate, always with the hope that in the end it will all be worth it, and in the end we’ll surely be happy. It just makes us all sound so insane to me when I think about it like that.
This potential insanity found its way to the internet in early May when two articles effectively went head to head on the subject. The first article was shared widely on my Facebook and was called “Why I Gave Up a $95,000 Job to Move to an Island and Scoop Ice Cream“. The author of this article, Noelle Hancock, felt uninspired, disconnected and alone living in the concrete jungle. She took a chance on an old dream and made a quick decision to move to the Caribbean. She is ultimately happy, living a simpler life where she doesn’t fixate on her work after the workday has ended and where nobody cares about the make of the car she drives.
The retort surfaced mere days later and was called “Sorry, I Don’t Want to Quit my Job and Move to an Island” with the subheading “It’s just not a luxury I can afford”, written by Anna Breslaw. The author’s thesis is set out in the first paragraph, the disdain of the assumption of privilege palpable as she writes:
It’s no surprise that posts like this one have been going viral, usually complete with a beautiful #NoFilter shot of a girl in a bikini cartwheeling on a white beach. But there’s a sanctimonious, bourgeoisie attitude simmering just beneath the surface of stories like this—and there’s a stark contrast between their outward eschewing of wealth and the fact that wealth is necessary to make this kind of decision.
I personally found the article hard to read as it dripped with something that I think is best defined as “envy”. Breslaw opines that not everyone is fortunate enough to abandon the steady income and an insurance plan to go live on a beach, because not only is not everybody rich but also because she would get bored without hustling. She takes a stab at beach goers doing cartwheels, which is a clear comment on the inclusion of the handstand photo in the first article (as if handstands aren’t a difficult and beautiful example of strength and hard work).
The two articles are a timely, organized discourse of the unfriendly banter these days about generation Y being privileged, about wanting more for doing less.
One thing that should be stated about the second article is that Breslaw allegedly does not want the life the Hancock has opted for. She comments about growing up poor. Without knowing more about her, I can assume she wants a certain number of things that this particular society encourages: house, car, maybe kids, retirement at a reasonable age. She also appears to be a hard worker who would be bored with the life Hancock has chosen – making sufficient money in a small business to get by, not stressing about work when the day was done, having friends that she sees more than once every two months. The first thing we should probably accept as true is that these women are radically different in the lives they desire.
Breslaw’s article bothers me in its assumption of wealth or privilege on the part of Hancock or people like her. It’s not necessary for a person to be rich in order to be debt free and thus able to simply abandon a corporate life. Between scholarships, working jobs to pay for school or working hard to pay off one’s debt like the speaker in this awesome Tedx Talk, “Sell Your Crap. Pay Your Debt. Do What You Love” advises, it’s possible to be debt-free without being a member of the despised “bourgeoisie”. In any event, an assumption of privilege is such an easy and loaded argument nowadays – an argument that is used as a trump card. It shouldn’t be allowed in civil conversation, if you ask me.
As I was thinking about this discourse, I got to thinking about love. Not just for other people, for your children and partner and parents, but about a greater, deeper love for your whole entire life. Yes, I accept that there are days that will suck, but generally it would be nice to think that the good days outnumber the bad. It echoed with me that Hancock noted various things that would point to her deep unhappiness: she was lonely, distracted, overscheduled, stressed, uninspired, disconnected. She had no boyfriend and was considering a new job. In her own words, she was “completely untethered”. That life sounds horrible and like one that could be easily given up if the desire existed.
Breslaw writes “If you ever wondered why older people hate millennials, the fact that “I gave up my 401(k)” now constitutes humble bragging is a good place to start”. This comment about older people triggered another thought for me, and another article popped into my mind: “The 5 Things People Regret Most On Their Deathbed“. The article was published by Business Insider and is a brief summary of a book written by Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse whose job is to spend the dying’s last few days with them. They have regrets, the dying. The top five being:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Many of these are illuminated in the choice made by the Hancock. Many of these would come into play in my own life. With that said, I accept without qualification that people are made happy in different ways. I accept that just because I am not wired this way, doesn’t mean that loving your job over and above all else is meaningless. I understand we are all uniquely constituted with varying loves and wants. I accept that Brewslaw is really pleased with her own life (though, and potentially better suited to its own post, is irrationally wrapped up in the life Hancock chose for herself).
The regrets of the dying reminded me of a saying we’ve all heard – that insanity is defined by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. While this saying usually refers to an individual, I suggest there’s no reason it cannot apply to a whole society. They say hindsight is 20/20. Well, here we are with the hindsight of the dying, whose last gift to us is potentially the things they would urge us to do differently. Is it not entirely crazy, then, if we forge on ahead, unhappy in our jobs, tied down by student loan payments, aggravated by the further assumption of debt – of mortgages and new cars – because we think, well, I don’t have the “luxury” to try and make my life more beautiful. I have been trained to be [insert profession here] and so I must do that, within these certain confines, because here is where I was born and where I ended up. I cannot remove myself from here.
Of course you can. If you don’t like where you are, change it. You don’t need to move to a tiny island and give everything up. But to continue doing the same thing day after day, and hoping that tomorrow you will somehow feel better or different or happier seems to me to be society’s most blatant example of the definition of insanity.