Sunday, November 2, 2008

To Find Yourself Living the Impossible Dream

Recent events have had me musing on how I evaluate my goals.

Disclaimer: This is not about becoming a parent! There are other big goals in life, you know. Whatever sparked this particular musing, it wasn't impending parenthood. :) .

One can put a huge amount of energy into a goal, and find at the end of it that it doesn't bring the satisfaction that you expected. That's happened to me on both large and small goals, things I've wanted to attain (buy), things that I've wanted to attain (achieve).

It can be easy to get so fixated on a given goal or ideal and how much you want it, that the reality cannot live up to the sacrifice required to enact it, or to the reality of having achieved it. I have it, and so now what? Am I happier for all of that?

For some reason, I have in my head some friends of ours who had high ideas for how they live their life and what they wanted to accomplish. I first met them more than a decade ago, my husband, well before that.

This couple had spent well over a decade living on their large, remote, rural plot of land, living a minimalistic life, using various renewable energy technologies, and building their house from scratch. The house was the long-term project, not just the part about living in a tiny homestead box. So they milled their own lumber from their own timber/land, the did all their own labor, with the occasional tenant who would trade work for rent for another of their small homestead houses.

Renewable energy was really their thing, so of course, the house and homestead both were designed to take advantage of both passive and active renewable energy. This ran the gamut from a small hydropower dam on their pond, PV (photovoltaic) panels for their modest electrical needs, passive solar collectors, raising much of their own food, growing shittake mushrooms on logs, maintaining bee hives for honey, maintaining all the structures and fields and trails on their land, etc. This was not simply back to the land for its own sake, but with the larger goal of living with a minimal impact on the environment. And of course, to build their house without spending thousands of dollars.

They resisted the label of "Simple Living," though. The truly *simple* way of living, they sometimes said, was to rent an apartment and work a basic job and come home and watch television. But they had higher ideals, and they worked hard to pursue them.

I heard that they often questioned whether living in this way, rather uncomfortably at times, was worth it. Whether they were doing the right thing. They spent a lot of time working to maintain their land. They lived far enough away from the nearest larger small town that they could not always socialize easily. It was hard to stay out late after a dance when they had to drive back home later. So they made numerous large and small sacrifices over the years.

It was very inspiring for the rest of us. It was even a novelty to visit them and stay a while. They are really great people. But myself, I could not live like that (homesteading with only small progress) for long.

Well, it essentially killed their marriage. The progress on the house and such moved so slowly (over years!), that one person said - I give up; I can't live like this; I want out. And she left.

This is not to say anything bad about either of them. I really admire them, even after they divorced and moved on, although one of them is still living that life. But it seems like an iconic example of a goal that is so huge that once you are embarked on the voyage, it's nearly impossible to turn back without ripping the whole thing up from the ground and starting over.

I'm wary of these huge projects that require so much investment. It's one thing to have a dream; it's another to find yourself with a soul-pit of a project. If I finally get that thing I wanted, and it's not as wonderful as I expected, I have to adjust my expectation and say, well, it's still a good thing, even if it's not the bee's knees.

It's like the ol' fulfillment curve. One aims for the peak, not for over the top... which would put you on the downside of the curve feeling disgruntled and disappointed, and wanting the next good thing because the thing you got was ... somehow... not enough.

I spend my life now weighing where I am on the fulfillment curve. When is something worth throwing in everything I have to accomplish great things? When do I dare to be audacious and shoot for the moon? When is "the best'" over the top of the curve? When is the ideal just not worth the pain?

One lesson I learned from our friends is that yes, follow your dreams and shoot for those goals, even if they are out of the mainstream. I have nothing bad to say about being audacious at times. (We have done our own renewable energy projects and we don't regret it!) But stay flexible, and periodically evaluate whether the thing you have wanted for so long is what you still want. Otherwise, you may find yourself suddenly at a dead end, so wholly invested that you have nothing to do but to scale the walls and escape.

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