Things I would do

I have a dream. In fact, I have many dreams – things I fantasize about doing and lives I dream about living if I didn’t do what I do now. Especially when I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed by it all, I think of all the things I could do instead.

I would live in the country and have horses. Be close to animals and nature. Listen to the sound of the sea and the rustling of the leaves in the trees, and I wouldn’t have to deal with people, intrigue, and office politics.

I would be a painter and I would paint fulltime. I would be creative and create beautiful things all day long. I would surround myself with textures and colors and steaming cups of coffee. Possibly in Tuscany.

I wouldn’t live in the country, I would move right back into the city and go to museums more often than I do now, see more movies, and pop down to my favorite corner café for coffee. Because I would have a favorite corner café, which I don’t where I live now. I would live in an old building with high ceilings and huge windows and I wouldn’t have a garden because then I wouldn’t have to feel bad about not having the skill or the energy to take care of my over-grown garden.

I would have a garden and I would be absolutely fantastic at gardening. I would know all about plants and what they need to grow. I would watch little saplings develop into gorgeous flowers and trees and I would enjoy the slow pace of it all and I would surround myself with fragrant beauty.

But then I think about what I heard a wise person say not too long ago. She said maybe you should think twice before making your hobby your day job. Because a hobby is an escape, a place you can go to get away from it all, and when you make it your job, suddenly it starts to become a source of stress and anxiety. And I realize that some things I just love too much. Like horses and painting. I horseback ride to get away and I love that being with horses is completely worry-free for me. And I paint only when I want to, and when I have the time and the headspace. I never have to create under pressure when I paint, and I kind of want to keep it that way.

So as I sit here among my weeds in my over-grown garden, I realize that I don’t really want to move to the country. And I don’t really want a corner café either (ok, I do, but I’m also really happy where I am now). Maybe I’ll learn how to garden some day, or maybe I won’t. But it doesn’t matter. In the meantime I realize that no matter what work I do, whether it’s a dream job or not, there is always going to be stress and there is always going to be anxiety, and I will always dream of doing something else. Because the truth is, dreaming big is just the best thing there is.

Opting out = downshifting? (and some advice on how to deal with stress)

A common response I get from people when I tell them that I research opting out is a knowing look, a nod, and the comment “downshifting”.

And I answer, “Well yes, downshifting is a way of opting out, but it is not the only way. “

A few years ago, downshifting became quite the buzzword. It was trendy and you would see stories of people downshifting all over the media. According to Wikipedia, downshifting is defined as “a social behavior or trend in which individuals live simpler lives to escape from what critics call the rat race of obsessive materialism and to reduce the “stress, overtime, and psychological expense that may accompany it”[…] Downshifting, as a concept, shares many characteristics with simple living.”

Granted, those who downshift – much like those who opt out – most likely go through a journey where they gain a sense of authenticity; they start to live on their own (simpler) terms and throw the pressures of career and consumerism to the wind. However, the thing is, of those I have interviewed, few if any have actually downshifted. Yes, they may consume less out of necessity. Opting out of a high-powered career will inevitably mean less income, hence the decrease in spending power. And yes, they might take their life down a notch from break-neck speed to a more healthy rhythm. But that does not necessarily mean that they have downshifted, that they have embraced the simple life. On the contrary, my research has shown that many don’t necessarily work less at all, but have more power regarding where, when, and how they work, which provides them with coherence and just makes their lives easier to handle.

Which brings me to my second point. Not only do many people assume that opting out is the same as downshifting, they also sometimes mistakenly assume that I am an expert on how to downshift. Not too long ago I was asked if I would meet for lunch at some point to help the person in question create a plan for how to scale down and slow down, i.e. downshift. I mentioned this to my family in the car the other day, and my kid, who is very perceptive, exclaimed, “But you don’t know anything about that. You need help with that too!”

I rest my case.

But then my husband suggested I just tell people what I have done to deal with the stress in my life, when asked for help. Excellent idea, why didn’t I think of that? Well here goes: about a year ago I started practicing yoga and I started with Adriene’s 30-day yoga challenge. And it has helped me. It gives me time to breathe, reflect, and accept, while also making me physically stronger and more grounded. So that is now going to be my answer when asked for advice: Google ‘Yoga with Adriene’! I’ve even added the link to save you some time:

I’ve been lucky

One of the biggest differences I have found between men and women in my research is the amount of luck they attribute to their career success. Men will often talk about their success as something planned and premeditated, whereas women will often say that opportunities just came up and that they’ve been really lucky.

This ‘male’ attitude and confidence is good to have in our world of work, where you’re expected to go out and get whatever it is you want and to constantly strive to become faster, higher, stronger. Research has shown that women are more careful when asking for promotions and applying for new positions; they usually play down their competencies while men tend to claim they are better at something than they really are. Also, women are not as good at negotiation terms as men are. All this of course adds to the gender inequalities women continue to face at work and HR professionals often work with women to give them more confidence in themselves, which is important of course.

But I’ve been thinking. My last blog post ended with me saying how lucky I am, and as I published that post I wondered whether I would have ended with a comment on how hard I have worked had I been a man. And it is true, I have worked hard to be where I am, and I continue to work hard. Sometimes I think I need to be kinder to myself, although I am also proud of having such a strong work ethic. I think it is important and admirable to work hard, just like all those men and women I’ve interviewed have done (even though the women claimed to have been lucky).

However, as I work hard, I am also aware that it is also luck and circumstance that have made me who I am. I’m lucky to have been born to my family, in my country – a country at peace and a welfare state where we can’t even imagine the hardship that so many people in the world experience. These circumstances put me through a good school, gave me an education, and put me in touch with people who have been able to help me in different ways on the road to where I am today. Whether or not I work hard, I am hugely privileged, and for someone who hasn’t been as lucky, it doesn’t matter how hard they work, they still won’t enjoy the success that I do.

So yes, we do work hard, but more of it than we like to admit is really just down to luck. Maybe we shouldn’t sigh when women claim they’ve just been very lucky. Maybe we should nod, and recognize it instead as the wise insight into the state of things that it is.