Things I Learned Escaping to the Real World

You should try this: step away from your computer for a good, long time. Like two months. Use your screen of choice as little as humanly possible. Put your phone away when you don’t absolutely need it to communicate. That’s where I’ve been. I walked away from my computer sometime in November, and I’ve been communing in the real world, even working at a real job in the retail sector during the holiday season. It’s been… illuminating.

This year, I wanted to own Christmas. I used my craft store employee discount as an excuse to go entirely overboard for. I was hell-bent on reclaiming the holiday as a joyous occasion for me and for mine, and this meant spending too much money, buying too much stuff, and making lots of presents in addition to all of those purchased. Christmas morning was an explosion of excess, I fell way off the debt repayment plan, and yesterday I walked away from the retail job.

Regrets, I have a few. I’ve learned some remarkable things though. It’s kind of inevitable when you shake up your routine. Perhaps you’ve missed me enough to indulge some ruminating on that, which will also serve as an ad hoc attempt at a meaningful post to ring in the New Year.

Things I Learned by Escaping to the Real World

1. People love to complain a lot. I’ve been a big complainer for most of my life, and I can’t imagine real happiness ever being possible until the complaining stops. Countless numbers of people who came through my cash register had so many things to be miserable about. No matter how cheerful and friendly I was, they just wanted to keep griping about inane, unchangeable realities like the weather or long holiday lineups. It made me feel a bit sick, actually. How can people with such privilege find so much misery, while craft shopping of all things? Go on a No-Complaints diet, like James Altucher suggests, and watch the misery fall away.

2. Stuff is stupid. The accumulation of lots of presents did not make my kids have a happier holiday. In fact, half of their presents now lay untouched, and will be altogether forgotten if we don’t engage them in play with these things. The highlight of the entire season was five completely unplugged days at the empty home of my in-laws to the north. We just spent time together playing board games, creating scrapbooks, coloring, crafting. That’s what made them happiest. That’s what made us happiest. I made a few smart moves by gifting gently used toys and wrapping up the girls’ old Ikea Kitchen and play food for our little guy who had never seen these treasures before. Did I have lots of fun shopping like a maniac and wrapping the mountains of stuff? Absolutely. Do I feel sick about it all now, thinking of how we could have spent that money DOING things instead of BUYING things? You bet your ass I do. Next year Santa is bringing one toy, and the rest of the budget will be spent on shared experiences and a sizeable family donation to the Aga Khan Foundation.

3. Volunteering as a family was on par with the unplugged mini-vacay in terms of deeply satisfying experiences. We didn’t get to do as much of this as I would have liked, but the day we had sorting for the local food bank was amazing. The girls were troupers and I was so impressed with their cheerful attitudes and work ethic. My goal is to find more of these opportunities in 2015, and help my eight year old daughter reflect on this time as something greater than time when she “was forced to give up phone time.” Sigh.

4. If I stop writing, I will never be a writer. Maybe it was like an “If you love something, set it free” scenario, but I just had to step away, from all of it. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t been reading about the craft and plotting more interesting plot ideas. I’ve even enrolled in my next creative writing class. It’s happening, but it’s happening too slowly. I need to write every single day. It makes me happy. I feel like more of myself. I deserve to see this through as far as it can go, and I have to stop putting myself in the way. More writing in 2015.

5. I miss my friends. Text messages and Facebook updates cannot replace real life human connection. I need more real life time with my peeps. You know who you are, let’s make some plans, or at least speak on the phone once a month. Crazy, right?

6. It doesn’t make sense to work for anyone else, when we need to work hard for ourselves. I can’t slide into a decent paying full time job. I’m going to be a bit selfish and insist on having as much time with my toddler son as we can afford me to. I also don’t have the work background or skills to obtain a decent paying job in the traditional job force. I’m going to really set my sights on growing our new businesses, and become our social media manager. I was born to be an entrepreneur.

7. I feel better when I look better. I’ve cut way back on sugars (of all kinds, not just the refined ones) and only indulge in gluten rich foods on special occasions. Nobody has asked me when I’m due in a long-ass time and all of my pants are saggy. I’m also hiking, and walking, and counting my steps with my new brilliant Christmas presents. My sister-in-law’s awesome boyfriend hacked some trails through our forest (major brownie points scored there, one of the best presents I’ve ever received!) and my loves got me a Misfit Shine. I’m even standing at the bar in Second Cup as I type this, because sitting will kill you, people! I am unashamed of how cliché it is to declare fitness as a personal goal for the New Year.

8. Love, Love, Love. I have a new mantra: Empathy and Vulnerability. My heart needs to open more than ever because that’s the next big step in my ongoing journey in growing. This feels like a good time for that to kick into higher gear. I’m not good at being vulnerable, and hence could be way better at being empathetic. If I can’t be okay with feeling things, it’s hard to be okay with other people’s feelings. Self compassion is the next big thing kids. Check it out!

9. Discipline and routine check ins are the only way to climb the big mountain we are trying to conquer to set ourselves free from debt and embrace real freedom. We three grownups need a monthly pub date to enjoy some alone time together and check in on the state of our Union. It’s a fun way to talk about not-so-fun subjects, and it feels so great to be on top of things. I have vowed to stop getting so hung up on worrying about money, and instead just keep plugging away with a healthy sense of where we are at financially. Spend very little, create a whole lot.

10. I love making things. I so enjoyed making cards and gifts this season, I am flirting with creating a line of my own to sell alongside Tall Earth products at local artisan shows. This may be insane, but I’m going to experiment a little and see where it goes. Best case for me is a fun and creative way to earn some extra cash, worst case is that I just commit to making awesome presents for everyone as I move through the ludicrous amount of craft supplies we own.

And because I believe in the power of manifesting things by putting them out there, here’s my biggest dream to begin hacking away at in 2015:

Building Our Own Living Space

Right now, we’re thinking tiny house guest bunkie cum studio on the property. We can use it for some privacy and for guests. Eventually, when we have the means, I’d love to see us build our own house, modestly and creatively using space that allows for entertaining and play, plus a kick-ass photography/crafting/writing studio. A real pie-in-the-sky dream would be to have a small village of bunkies with a yoga/aerial studio where I can facilitate retreats and workshops. It’s a good one, isn’t it? If you think we should try to crowd fund this, drop me a line!

Okay, your turn. What did you learn over the holidays?


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