“How will you spend your thirtieth birthday?” a friend asked while we snacked on sushi.
“Celebrate?” my friend M responded. “I’ll spend it crying. I set my expectations too high for thirty,” she said. “I had such big dreams and I haven’t achieved any of them.”
“What did you want to accomplish?” another friend asked.
“I thought I would quit my job to become a photographer. I would travel the world and take photographs along the way. Instead I drag myself to a job I started eight years ago,” M said.
Then she sighed so deeply the rest of us could practically feel the weight of her unfulfilled dreams.
My friends and I all sat in silence for a moment. We pondered our own hopes for the past decade. How far or close did we come to the life we wanted to live?
M is not alone in her frustrations. Many of us spend our lives dreaming of a life full of possibilities. We want to pursue our passions and live each day with meaning, purpose and joy.
Many of us have clear hopes and desires, but despite the most vivid aspirations we still fail to achieve our dreams.
Why does this happen?
The question is easy to answer. Many of us create fantasies, but never find the energy to act upon them. We hold on to the hope of a more rewarding life, but never take the first step to accomplish our goals.
Aspirations are simply a desire; an emotion. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. You can yearn for something and never do anything to achieve it. In other words, you may aspire to live one way, but your lack of actions lead you to live another.
The truth is many of us choose the path of least resistance. Some of us live in the same town we grew up in. Others stick with the job we started after college. Rather than forging new paths we become complacent in our own little corner of the universe. We stick with the status quo and maintain relationships with the same people we’ve always known.
There is nothing wrong with making these decisions as long as we consciously weigh our options. The problem arises when we want one thing but do another.
In our minds we want to live a purposeful, enjoyable life, but in reality we settle down and start paying our bills. And just like M we feel frustrated and saddened when our visions of the future don’t come true.
This all sounds so dreadful, but all is not lost. If we want to change the course of our trajectories we need to actively step forward and create a plan.
Achieving Your Dreams
It’s easy to say we want to do something and incredibly hard to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. Maybe you want to lose ten pounds, but you don’t enjoy running or going to the gym. Perhaps you want to change careers, but you haven’t gained the skills to switch to a different one.
Unfortunately, you cannot will yourself to lose weight or find a more fitting career. To change your path you must alter your perspective, work hard and take risks.
You cannot create a list of hopes and then call it quits. If a goal is truly important to you then it’s time to figure out how to achieve it. It’s time to create a list of actionable items. You know a real plan.
You cannot live a better life by hoping for it. Stop sitting around waiting for something to happen. Stop wasting your precious time.
Create a New Plan for Your Life
Let’s begin with a simple question. Are you happy with your life? If you answered yes then you can probably move on from this post. If you answered no then I have a another question for you.
What are you doing to change that?
Because here’s the thing. If you don’t make any changes then nothing in your life is going to change. It’s as simple as that.
Are you willing to continue on your current trajectory or has the time come to take action? If you aren’t sure how to answer this question pause and ask yourself, “Will I grow to regret the life I am living?“
Imagine you are sitting at the table reflecting on the past decade of your life. Ten years from now will you look back with regret or will you be happy for the life you’ve chosen to live?
If you still aren’t certain think about your life from an outsider’s point of view. Would your friends and family want to switch places with you? Would they say you are living your best life?
Cause here’s the thing. One day you will run out of time. And when that happens you can do one of two things. You can look back at your life with a sense of fulfillment or you can create a list of regrets for all the things you haven’t done.
If you fear regret then it’s time to create a roadmap to a better life. The first step is to simplify the life you currently live.
The Need for Simplicity
Why are we stuck in a life we don’t enjoy? Because we’ve grown accustomed to our current lifestyle. We stay in a career we don’t love because it pays the bills. We willingly suffer through a stressful, unfulfilling job because we don’t believe we can afford to live the way we want on a lower salary.
And right now, with your current expenses, that may very well be true. So here’s what you need to ask yourself. Can you simplify your life so that you spend less money each year?
In personal finance we talk a lot about the gap between the income we earn and the money we spend. If you earn a lot of money and don’t spend a ton you can squirrel away the difference. If you don’t already do this now is the time to try it out.
Make the gap between earning and spending as big as possible. Then use that buffer of money to prepare to live out your dreams.
To be clear I’m not talking about becoming a frugal miser. Buy whatever you want, but make sure the things you buy, (after rent and utility bills), are making you happy. If they aren’t cut them out. Each time you trim the excess you simplify your life.
Trim Your Expenses
New shirt. Not filling you with glee? Stop buying excess clothing. New iPhone just as good as the old one? Stick with the technology you already own.
Frugality won’t make you a millionaire, so I’m not suggesting that. I’m also not suggesting you purge everything you own. Instead I’m asking you to consciously think about your spending decisions and to cut back on everything that you don’t need or love.
Why? Because when you downsize your expenses you open yourself to a world of opportunities. After all, you don’t need a six figure salary if you don’t live a six figure lifestyle.
One of two things will happen as a result of this experiment. You will decide you don’t want to stop spending or you will realize you are buying a whole lot of crap you don’t need.
If you fall into the second category a whole new world can open up to you. You can cut the shackles that drive you to an unfulfilling job. You can free yourself from the notion that you have to earn gobs of money to be happy.
Why simplify? Because a successful life doesn’t require a lot of money. Many of us think we need a bank full of cash to make us happy. We convince ourselves that we need money to do the things in life we yearn to do.
But what do you want to do? It’s time to wake from your slumber. To open your eyes and weigh the list of things that are important to you. Maybe you want to spend more time with your family. Perhaps you want to work on your passion projects. How much do those activities really cost you?
Leaving your career for a simple life might sound downright impossible, but you must ask yourself why you feel that way. Your expectations may keep you striving for the next promotion and the next big raise, but do you really need more money?
Do You Need Money to Accomplish Your Dreams
Do you really need exorbitant amounts of money to accomplish your dreams?
Contemplate this question from a different perspective. Imagine you have all of the money you could ever need in life. You no longer need to work to attain greater wealth. What would you do with your time and energy?
Most of us would not spend down the money in our bank accounts. We may take a few vacations or even travel the world, but more importantly we will spend money pursuing our passions with the people we love.
Now ask yourself, “Can I achieve those dreams without accumulating an enormous sum of money?” While some things definitely cost money many of the things we care about are free or nearly free. In fact, some of the best pleasures in life are the simplest ones.
When you live simply you can expand your options and possibilities. You can stop living on autopilot and explore your world instead.
Purge Your Possessions
One way to simplify your life is to rid yourself of unwanted possessions. Imagine you are granted the opportunity to go on a long distance adventure. You have an hour to prepare and you can only take a couple of bags with you. What would you pack?
The truth is you don’t need a lot of stuff. If you don’t believe me try boxing up your belongings and packing them away. This isn’t about living with 100 possessions or minimizing until it’s painful. The point in getting rid of stuff is to see how little in life you really need.
Because when you need less you buy less. Consumption eats away at the money you earn and as you spend more you feel compelled to earn more too.
All of this stuff brings stress to your life. You worry about accumulating more, then taking care of it or making sure it doesn’t get damaged.
Rather than thinking about all of the things you need start thinking about the things that are important to you. The simplification process should help you weed out what isn’t important so you can make more space for what is.
As you trim the excess from your life you can begin to focus on a simple life that provides more than enough of everything you need.
Downsizing is Hard
Okay, here’s the thing about articles that encourage you to live your best life. Some make it seem like everything will be easy, but the truth is altering your life might be incredibly difficult.
Most of us won’t immediately throw out all of our crap, quit our jobs and live happily ever after. Nope. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
If you enjoy buying and consuming it will be difficult to stop. You can’t wake up one day and turn off the desire to spend. You might have trouble keeping your online shopping carts empty. It may be difficult to walk into a store without buying anything.
If you feel compelled to earn a high income or have wrapped your ego around your profession you will find it difficult to leave your stressful job.
It’s incredibly hard to step away from what you know. Others will question your actions, which will make you question them too.
This journey is not an easy one. It won’t feel like a leisurely stroll on level ground. Some actions are harder than others. You will encounter bumps in the road, small hills and even large, ice covered mountains along your way.
Take each step slowly and carefully. There is no need to rush the process. The key is to take action towards your goals. Not to rush forward and complete them as quickly as possible.
Release Yourself From Your Burdens
When you simplify your life you create space and opportunities. If you live in a big house you pay a large mortgage bill. If you drive a fancy car you dish out money each month so you can drive it.
There’s nothing wrong with either of those things or spending money on anything else either, but when you spend a lot each month you can find yourself locked into a life that you don’t love.
Sometimes our lifestyles prevent us from dreaming. We feel so trapped by our expenses that we forget about our hopes for traveling the world, staying home with our children or pursuing meaningful work. In fact we can become so miserable that we stop dreaming all together.
When we simplify our lives, remove the clutter from our homes and trim our credit card bills we can find the space to breathe deeply again. Without financial burdens we can choose to stay on our current path or chose to pursue our dreams.
After we simplify we can make this decision with our eyes wide open. We can actively decide how to proceed rather than simply allowing ourselves to drift into a particular direction.
When we simplify our lives we can actively choose to be happy. For years a friend of mine felt trapped by her lifestyle. She once told me, “I can’t live the life I want without my husband.”
Over the years my friend was willing to sacrifice her happiness in order to maintain a white picket fence in a 3000 square foot home. She couldn’t leave until she began downsizing her possessions. Eventually she decided that her happiness was worth more than the big house she lived in.
Stop Worrying About Work
Maybe you love your job right now and you have absolutely no desire to leave. That’s great, but just because you love your job right now doesn’t mean you will love it forever.
What happens if things change? What if your work load increases, your new manager is an absolute nightmare to work under, you are bored with your assignments or bothered by the people you work beside? You might not imagine it right now, but what if your feelings begin to shift?
I’ll tell you what happens. You get trapped. I’ve known plenty of people who start out loving their jobs and eventually feel miserable working at them.
During my twelve year stint as a software engineer I met plenty of employees who were miserable at work, but unable to leave their positions for fear of making less elsewhere. Most of them were living paycheck to paycheck. They simply couldn’t afford a pay cut and didn’t have the skills to help them earn a big salary elsewhere.
So they were stuck driving to a job they hated day after day without any hope of feeling happier in the future. Worse yet many of them were eventually laid off and literally forced out of their positions.
My coworkers were living too close to their means. They didn’t have control over their lives. Their finances kept them trapped in situations they hated. They were terrified of losing their jobs and even more terrified after they received their pink slips.
When you simplify your life and strive to live below your means you can stop worrying about work. Simplification provides freedom from work stress. If you are let go you know you can survive on a lower salary.
Keep in mind that most of us manage our lives around our careers. We toil away the primary hours of our days working and commuting. Then in a state of utter exhaustion we squeeze all of the fun stuff into our nights and weekends.
Maybe it’s time to take a different approach. What if we try to fit our careers into our lifestyle rather than forcing our lifestyle to work with our careers?
Simplify Your Life and Quit Your Job
Simplification provides a greater peace of mind than you could ever imagine. It also provides mobility and flexibility. Imagine a world where you can easily move, change jobs, quit your job or retire completely.
Here’s the thing. You don’t have to make a dramatic change to your life right now. You don’t have to get a divorce, quit your high paying job or downsize to a 1600 square foot house.
In fact, I wouldn’t suggest that you do any of those things right away. Right now the goal is simply to create space in your life; both spatially and financially.
When you complete those first steps you can pause for a moment to contemplate your dreams.
Think about all of the activities you want to complete in your life. Then take the first step to achieve them. Begin by simplifying your world. When you live simply you will find the space and energy to accomplish more than you ever thought possible.
Pursue a simple life first. Then you can quit your job and follow your dreams.