Last night I was sitting around a small bonfire and having a heartfelt conversation with a close friend. At a break in the conversation, he asked me what led me to my life leap. I initially went into the story that I usually tell about being fed up with depression and being eager to have some adventure of my own rather than just reading about others.
Then I stopped myself. That wasn’t what he had asked. He had asked me ‘what’, not ‘why’.
I paused and thought about it for a while before restarting my answer.
Staring deep into the fire, I started again “Well, it was sort of a long process. I didn’t wake up the first day, tattoo a deadline on my ass and move to Argentina. There was a bunch of small stuff that happened first. It wasn’t one event, really I meandered into my life leap.”
I meandered into my life leap.
That was something that I had never internalized before. My real first step was barely even a step at all. It was just a reaction to the life environment that I had crafted. I finally understood that there were actually many micro-events that happened before the macro-sized leap.
The Life Leap Environment
I was feeling stagnant. If I would have sat around a bonfire at that point in my life, I would have described my life as great. I would have said it with a smile but those looking closely might have noticed that the skin around my eyes didn’t wrinkle correctly. It was a intellectual smile, not a real one.
On the surface my life was going well but deep in my mind, I was lying. Lies that took place not with words but with my everyday actions.
At my job I was only giving 40% of myself to my work. I had spikes of successful projects, enough to keep me employed, but everyone knew I could be doing better. I had some deeply important aspects that I liked about my job (co-workers, the comfy routine, the subject matter, the steady income) and subsequently was stuck in a golden straitjacket.
Outside of work, my life was mediocre too. I wouldn’t easily have admitted this at the time but deep down I knew it.
My love life was a freaking disaster on repeat. On the rare times that a relationship would bud, I would inevitably find an incredibly stupid way to ruin it. The process went on ad nauseam.
Health-wise, I was getting fitter but likely using this as a outlet for my internal frustration.
Socially, I was wasting my money living in a beautiful penthouse apartment where I was showcasing a life I knew wasn’t the real me.
Financially, I was flat. I was making about $90,000 a year as a 23 year old and spending just as much. It was way more money than I needed but was stuck on the escalator of salary.
Fight for a promotion, get it, feel valued for a while then once that wore off, fight for another promotion.
From an accounting perspective, I was making no progress.
I was living something that wasn’t true. My problem was I just didn’t know of another way.
A Reaction, Not A Decision
This was the environment where my life leap was born.
I didn’t know of a better way to live but eventually a new one started to grow. I came up with the idea of a life list.
It started as nothing more than a uplifting text file on my computer. It was full of unrealistic ideas and had no timeframe. It was a mess but I started to grow attached to it.
At parties, I started telling people about it. Through taking mini-adventures, I started to slowly interweave my life list story into the story of my life.
As I made steady progress on the easy items, my intangible list started to have more meaning than the inauthentic life that I was living. Like a wise mentor, my subconscious has started to build the solid foundation I had secretly been seeking.
Then external things started to fall into place.
My best friend of the time moved away and invited me to join him in California. (I initially declined. I had a “great job” in Seattle.)
I got dumped for the umpteenth time. It was the worst breakup I had ever had and it left some wounds that still seer when I think about it. This actually worked in my favor in that I re-channeled that energy into pursuing my life list.
My party talks about my list started to make their way into my everyday actions. With the support of my family and close friends, I started to manifest a new reality.
Then despite my objections, the final piece moved into place.
I was fired.
I had been giving only a small percentage of myself at work and everyone knew it. This led to an awkward breakup.
My boss, who I had actually hired over me, sent me an e-mail explaining I was being let go. We met in person and I immediately tried to negotiate a move within the company. With the strongest of my intellectual power, I fought to keep the job that was tethering me to my old life. I didn’t see it then, but it was a humbling sign of how magnetized I was to maintaining my stability.
My negotiation tactics failed.
Defeated, I walked head down to my desk. My cheeks were visibly red and my back abnormally curled. I collected my computer and fiercely avoided eye contact with my co-workers as I walked out of the office.
This isn’t easy to say, but frankly, if I hadn’t been asked to leave, I would likely still be at that job. I don’t think I would ever have mustered the courage to quit on my own.
The next two weeks went by in a blur. I had already made a fair amount of progress on my list so my next series of actions were easy.
I was finally free to make my leap!
I decided to start the South American leg of my life list and chose Buenos Aires as my new home.
I broke my lease, threw a going away party and left the only region I had ever lived.
About a year later, I made my life list the purpose of my life.
When I recount the story of the meander that led to my life leap, it strikes me that this version lacks the hollywood flair of the easier climatic version. Even still, this one is better. This story succeeds with something more important, it is real.
While I did take a leap, it wasn’t an isolated event. It grew slowly in a potent environment. An environment that may be similar to the one you are living in right now.
While the mileposts of our lives are marked by big life events, the real life-changing moments are actually happening on an every day basis. They aren’t decisions in the traditional sense, instead they are more like reactions. They are the tiny actions we all take in response to our daily environment.
But our daily environment is not our life. It is separate and more importantly, it is upgradable.
I have no idea what the next chapter of my life will look like but I can take comfort in knowing that my next adventure is likely already underway. I don’t need to worry about miraculously summoning the courage to take a leap, that energy will come when I need it.
Instead, I need to focus on improving my everyday actions. That is what fuels the bigger changes. That is what defines the lives we live.
P.S. If you know of someone who is living in an environment that they don’t like, consider sending this post to them. It is the little things that make the biggest differences.