Thoughts on a Life Well Lived

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Technique

I love to drastically alter my life circumstances. I left my engineering career just before turning 27 and am now a few months from 31. In the last 4 years, I have held more than a half-dozen jobs and begun (and ended) several personal business endeavors. I traveled alone for eight and half months. I moved cities and changed jobs within the US on three weeks-notice. I quit that job a year later and moved to New Zealand, again with less than one month notice. Upon returning to the US, Marika and I built a van and have lived in it full-time for the last 4 months. 

I used to describe things in vague terms with very little ownness like: “my life is always up in the air” or “things have just been so dynamic lately.” As with all things in life, its completely up to me. We make nearly everything in our lives happen, invite in all changes, or at the very least allow them to enter. Its finally time to realize that: I love to drastically alter my life circumstances

I love to learn new skills, new activities, and new ways to move. Much like my serial hobby and passion wandering, I love to learn new ways to live. Altering your environment is one of the best (and certainly one of my favorite) ways to drive personal growth.

My most recent transition into #vanlife leads me to some particularly potent insight into how such drastic changes are possible and what about them is so darn fun.

Technique

The first time we try anything new, from a new sport to cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen, we feel a bit clunky. Everything is new, and while the outcome may or may not turn out satisfactory, the process feels anything but smooth. With practice and familiarity, we learn the rules of the game and flow of play, we learn where the utensils are kept and how the new stove behaves. Everything becomes much smoother. We not only achieve better outcomes, but the path to reach them offers far fewer pitfalls and missed turns.

With new surroundings, come feelings of being lost, then of trial and error, and finally of honing our personal best way of operating. You now move intuitively through your kitchen, a vast improvement over the first meal you prepared after moving in.

We are developing technique. 

Technique is our means of becoming efficient and proficient in an environment. It is the personal adaptation that begins the generational course of Evolution.

Our brains are wired to seek out patterns. This is our primary means to makes sense of our surroundings. The initial exploration and trial in any new situation is time consuming and energy costly (brains are gas guzzlers). Once we discover an optimal way to approach any specific situation (or at least a functional one), we simply need to default to the pre-determined solutions and save brain power for other tasks.

This is both a blessing and curse. It has obvious functional benefits. I am quite happy that I no longer need to actively figure out how to brush my teeth every time I do so. The negative aspect of our incessant pattern seeking is that these routines can groove in so deeply to both limit the scope of our vision to ways that we might improve while leaving feelings of staleness and banality from our unchanging daily patterns.

These costs and benefits are well understood and discussed in numerous places. So many sources preach happiness and mental growth through the path of “take a different route to work each day” or “use your opposite hand for the day,” that the original source is obscure.

The other night I realized the most important benefit of developing technique in new situations. We were enjoying a dinner whose preparation was significantly smoother than any we had ever prepared in the van. We feared that the limited space and tools in the van “kitchen” would alter our cooking, and thus eating, habits. Sound nutrition, fresh ingredients, and variety are all core values of ours. We had to compromise many of these values. That is, until we developed new techniques.

Fear of Change

We fear change. We all crave excitement and novel experience, but in making life-altering changes most baulk and never follow through. Where does this fear come from?

It is both a resistance to leave old comfortable patterns; patterns that, despite feeling tired, we feel confident will continue to serve us as they have for years. Fear of change is also a lack of confidence that we can thrive in a new environment.

What those who succumb to this fear fail to realize is that the process of shedding old patterns and developing new ones is both deeply fulfilling and an opportunity for growth.

Driving (Your Personal) Evolution

I stated above that technique begins the longterm, generational process of Evolution. This may seem grand, but when an individual discovers a unique and optimal way to perform a certain task or solve a critical problem he/she is better suited for survival. Others in the community quickly adopt the new technique and thus the species thrives. When passed to subsequent generations, either by example or deliberate instruction, the technique can eventually harden into either cultural tradition or biological instinct (and possibly into physical adaptations if specific physical attributes suite the technique). The process is a key aspect of evolution and comes from an individual simply exploring a better way to function in its surroundings.

While quite possible that your new skill can alter and improve the fate of the human race, we should seek change and novel environs for a much more selfish reason. Change, and the forced new techniques that follow, drives your personal evolution, making you better prepared for your future and much more likely to enter bold situations.

When I sold, discarded, or donated everything that didn’t fit into a carry-on sized backpack, I forced myself to develop techniques to live and thrive with very little. When I moved to a foreign country, I forced myself to shed my lifelong understandings of culture and societal interactions to observe and develop techniques for healthy relationships in my new home. When I moved into a van (and not even a spacious Sprinter), I forced myself to learn to prepare quality meals with limited space, tools, and refrigeration. I could continue this list of situations that forced new techniques for pages.

The secret to all of these life changes, regardless how seemingly drastic, is that none felt very extreme after settling into them. The initial shock wears off as the new techniques for thriving fill in. Not only are the growth and exploration and learning fulfilling, but the new techniques fill the shelves in the library of circumstances that no longer scare me.

New thought patterns and new skills serve only good.

We talk ourselves out of huge leaps for myriad reasons. But rather than fearing a change, see it as an opportunity to develop some new techniques. Like learning a new sport, develop some new and exciting life patterns of entirely your own invention.

Change begets growth every time. With each subsequent shift I have made, my fear of change diminishes a bit more, replaced with excitement for the yet discovered.

Change is nothing to fear. You will develop amazing new techniques to thrive in whatever your new path holds.