How To Live: The Difference Between Having a Life Philosophy and Actually Living By It

Since I started classes again in September and building a tiny house at the same time, my personal time has been…limited. Things finally came to a head this week when I heard myself describing my daily feelings of being in a vice that gets turned a little tighter every day to see how much pressure I can take before I burst or start oozing at the seams. Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 12.25.20 PM

It was Mr. W’s supper break from work when I was describing that feeling to him; it was Thursday afternoon and I had just finished writing a Holocaust theory midterm exam (which, needless to say, has been heavy), after which I was supposed to come home and start reading a book about taverns in colonial Canada (insert snoring here) for my history of gender in North America class, for which a full review was due on the following Monday (three days away). After that submission, I would start reading another book – a 400 page memoir of a woman’s experience in Stalin’s USSR for my Soviet Experiment class – for which a paper was due the following Tuesday (seven days from the submission of my first review). To top things off, I had put more work into the reading and note-taking for the Holocaust theory exam than any other classes this semester, and I did not do as well on the exam as I should have or as I usually would have. Looking ahead on my assignment calendar that evening, as I often do, I saw that within two weeks after submitting the Soviet Experiment paper, I would have a class presentation and a 20 page research paper due for Gender and the Global South and a research paper proposal due for the history of gender in North America. This alone was totally overwhelming.

But of course, school is not my life, and there are other things on my calendar as well that are important to me; first is a tie between time to spend building the tiny house with Mr. W and time to walk my dogs on a regular basis – two of the things that make me the happiest and feel the most rewarding. Next is time to make the dog’s cookies when their jar is empty (as it is now), sweep the floors when my socks start getting covered with hair just from walking around, going to see movies at the theatre, taking as many shifts at work as I can, and having time to leave town to connect with my family (preferably without feeling stressed/guilty about the school work I left sitting at home).

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The thought of doing all of these things that I want to do, overlaid on my caleScreen Shot 2014-11-02 at 12.50.28 PMndar of school stuff that I have to do was actually making me miserable. After a brief chat with my mom and then looking over at my dog’s snoozing next to me, not having been for a walk in a couple of days, it all dawned on me at once. I realized that I was living a life that I don’t believe in living. I was living in a daily state of stress – not the good kind that amps you up and makes you productive but the kind that makes you feel as if a physical weight is pushing you down and drives you to eating ice cream and staying in jammies and watching too much Netflix before bed (because it feels easier to pretend none of it exists than to try to attack the mountain of work that feels impossible to complete anyway).

That day, I also received an email from the school registrar’s office, reminding me that October 31 was the last day of the fall semester to drop classes without any academic penalty. Convenient.

I started toying with the idea of dropping a class, which of course would mean that after this year I will not have completed enough credits to have an honours degree – I will be short one full class (6 units) or two half classes (3 units each). The thought of this made my head swim with thoughts of failure and time wasted and a bunch of other feelings related to inadequacy. But it was looking over at my dogs that helped me to snap out of it and see my reality…

I realized that I was spending the major majority of my time on school work, trying to get an honours degree with a minimum B+ average (which was difficult for me with that workload anyway) so that I’ll have the option in the future to go to grad school in case I possibly ever want to go to school again (even though grad school would not have to be my only option), missing out on my dogs and on building the little house that Mr. W and I are building for the purpose of getting away from these kinds of stresses in the first place. I was living against my strong belief that the most important thing in my life is doing things that bring me joy. I was not feeling joy. When I was taking time to feel joy, it was under the constant pressure of knowing I had a ton of work I should be doing. And the view of the near future (until the end of this school year in April) was looking equally as busy and joyless.

Some people thrive on being busy and having all of their day’s minutes filled with a task or goal. Not me. I thrive on having time and peace and doing things at a pace that I feel allows me to put as much as I can in and get as much as I can out of whatever it is that I’m doing. I want to wake up at 7am and not feel like I’m wasting too much time in the day by making myself a delicious, healthy breakfast (basically just some jazzed Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 1.07.33 PMup toast) that is eaten and cleaned up by 8am. I don’t want to choose between studying and taking a shower before class. I really don’t want to choose between studying and walking my dogs or studying and building the house. And I really don’t want to walk by the dog’s empty cookie jar anymore, promising them that I’ll fill it soon but knowing in my head that I just don’t have an hour to spend on cookies!

Maybe it’s selfish, but I want it all. I want to go to class, I enjoy the things I’m learning and I want to absorb them, not just skim over them to remember enough to spew onto an exam booklet, never to be articulated again. I want to mash up cookie dough with my hands and give my pups tasty, healthy cookies that I know are good for them. I want to build the tiny house with my mind and my hands.

I dropped a class on Friday morning – the history of gender in North America. It took talking it through with Mr. W and hearing my feelings articulated out loud before I could do it without succumbing to the small amount of panic that I felt for turning away from what I saw as the path that I should choose – the one where I buckle down and study my ass off and sacrifice the things that bring me joy for academic success. Truthfully, that is not the kind of thing that I would look at to judge anyone else’s life success by, and certainly not my own. Success, to me, is in finding all the puzzle pieces and putting them in the right places so that I can live a life of joy and fulfillment with limited sacrifice. And this is how I am trying, every day, to live by my philosophy of life now, and not just in the future when the tiny house is built. I have to remember that my life is now.

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6 thoughts on “How To Live: The Difference Between Having a Life Philosophy and Actually Living By It

    1. Yes, fun! I heard a program on Tapestry on CBC today that talked about fun and how it’s not always exactly what we think of as being fun, it can be as simple as being mindful and not being terribly stressed :)

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  1. It is easy to get so caught up- in obligations we place upon ourselves. To see the balancing that needs to be tweaked and adjusted is the key. Once you realize- and I like your thinking!!- that you are heading in the opposite direction you want to be going in, and take the time and effort to make adjustments, then you start getting back to where you want to be. It takes courage I think, to get life up and working the way you want it to. Precious is the life that you CAN control. Awesome piece of writing there, and I love that picture!!

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    1. Aunt Carol, that reminds me of the E.E. Cummings quote, “it takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” And as I grow up I’m finding that it really does, especially when who you really are isn’t quite what other people might think you ought to be, or even what you think you ought to be in order to properly fit in!

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