Early this month, a long time friend asked me (as he does every few years) why I lead my life the way I do. He’s not critical. He’s genuinely curious. He has defined himself out loud to me as ‘boring.’ In any objective demographic measure I am pretty much his polar opposite. White man; Black woman. Same job for thirty years; Fourth career and counting, pretty much a new job every two years. Still driving his 199X Toyota Corolla; lease so I’m never out of warranty, never have to pay for service. Own; rent. Et cetera.
I actually like being asked that question because it forces me to check-in with myself and make sure I’m still living in a way that feels true to me. This morning while daydreaming about where else I might like to live, I was visited by a little clarity on this question.
I didn’t grow up in the house my idealistic parents bought with their meager savings, or a wedding endowment from the grandparents. My parents weren’t fifteen, ten, or even five-year job holders. They were crafters who made our living with their hands a little bit at a time every day, and went out to sell it in person-to-person trade most weeks of the year. So I didn’t start life with eyes already trained to the shrine of stability, or the burden of expectation that I would duplicate or improve on my parents’ model living. The constancy of my external environment or circumstances has never been my touchstone.
But the epiphany was this: my life changes frequently and apace because I set very short timelines for my goals, no matter how large. When I want something, I usually give myself a maximum of two years to achieve it. Because that’s about as far as I can project my interest and commitment. I don’t always make the goal, but the effort to get there in two years means frequent evaluations of progress and re-assessments of the goal itself. And if I hit the two year mark and I haven’t achieved, I trust my emotional choice of whether I should renew, change, or abandon the goal.
I have kept my life fluid (don’t own a house, eagerly take on new job roles to gain the most flexible skills, etc.) so I can turn on a dime at those two year marks. Things I care about never drop off the goal board. And with this frequent cycle of re-evaluation, I can see what matters to me most, and keep moving toward the best balance of all those valued experiences.
To be clear, I’m not having it all. I’m only having this. By choice. Some people want marriage and children, and home ownership and retirement funds, and gradual promotion to the head of the company. Pondering (and often executing) a complete refresh of your life every two-ish years is not a good fit with those goals. But if you want a life that is not about those things, go get it. It’s worth the effort.