How We’re Really Missing Out

DSC_0052

A few months ago, I made the decision to rejoin Facebook.

I loved reconnecting with my friends and family up north, as well as sharing ideas in a less in-depth venue, with the many blogging buddies I met during my time away from FB.  I had found the muse once again with blogging, and I found the three blogging groups I joined to be very helpful in my efforts to increase exposure.

It was great.  And then it slowly began to take  over.

First, I found myself playing catch-up after days when I didn’t log in.  I had to read everything in my newsfeed, and one day off could lead to a lot of time spent making up for it.  Because what if I missed big news from someone?

I (mostly) stayed true to my commitment not to discuss politics at all, but I clicked on everyone’s links, even when the articles they led me to were anything but uplifting.

I made sure to visit everyone’s blogs in my blogging groups, so that I could comment on their posts before it was “too late.”  I was spending a great deal of time reading about everyone’s adventures.

And of course I had to login on a daily basis, to be there for my online friends who were going through challenging times.

And then there was the drama.  Facebook has been a hotbed for that lately.  And watching it has been like watching a train wreck.

A couple of days ago, I caught myself rushing home to start up my computer and check in on the latest drama.  And I finally had to ask myself, what am I doing?  What am I getting out of this?  Aren’t there things I would rather be doing?

This moment of clarity really led me to think about the time I spend online and to rethink my use and perception of this tool.  I had fallen prey to Fear of Missing Out.  And in doing so, I was missing out on opportunities for joy and happiness that were right in front of my face.

DSC_0107

Here are a few of the lessons that I learned:

  • We don’t always need to be around “like-minded” people.  There is something wonderful about connecting with people who share ideas and are living in the same counter-cultural way that we are.  Before we moved to the marina, I knew very few “minimalists” in real life.  It was through my conversations with other bloggers that I learned how to live as simply as we do, and gained the courage to take the plunge and do it!  However, there is a danger in viewing ourselves as “separate.”  We are a part of humanity, not just a small subgroup.  Having friends who are different from ourselves adds some color to our day and allows us the chance to learn from each other and grow.
  • It’s okay to miss out on the details of someone’s life.  It is okay to not get caught up on your newsfeed.  It is fine to miss someone’s blog post.  If somebody has big news, they will contact you personally, if they need to!  There is no need to miss out on the world around us, because we are busy getting caught up on everyone else’s world.  And I won’t hate you if miss a post here–nobody else will, if you miss one of their posts, either!
  • Online “friendships” need to be kept in perspective.  It’s true that you never know everything about someone else, but we see a very limited picture of those we interact with online.  Even when we try to keep it “real,” it is a very censored version of ourselves that others see.  It is valuable to share ideas and gain support from people we meet online.  But these are not the same as friendships and relationships in “real life.”
  • There is no persona that we need to protect.  We become involved in drama, because we feel the need to defend the person that everyone online thinks we are.  The drama we see online is much more intense and prevalent than the drama we encounter in “real life.”  This could be because everyone works so hard to create a “face” for themselves online, and we feel the need to protect the way we appear.  There is nothing to defend though.  If a total stranger, on the other side of the globe, “judges” us, so what?  In the grand scheme of things, does that matter at all?

Keeping these lessons in mind, I am finding it much easier to be intentional with my time spent using social media, and my online time in general.  With a little practice, we can learn to use this tool to enrich our lives, rather than having it use us.

DSC_0105

Lesson #11: The Internet (It’s Complicated)

Note:  This post is one of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.

DSC_0108

 

It is interesting that this is the next lesson that I will be talking about, because it has been something that has been on my mind a great deal lately.

I have a complicated relationship with the Internet.

Two year ago, I gave up Facebook.  I found it sucking up my time, and I found myself drawn into non-productive political debates.  I desperately sought connection, and on Facebook I felt alone in a crowd.  So I deleted my account.

But that doesn’t mean I was never online.  I began e-mailing a number of other bloggers and developed some very close friendships.  And through these friendships, I found the courage to make some major changes in my life.  In that basement, I spend the vast majority of my time online.

And that was okay.

DSC_0106

After we moved, I found that I was kind of at a loss with my writing.  My personal journey became more private, and I found my inbox filling up with unanswered e-mails.  I spent more time reading, more time looking within.

A number of my blogging friends quit writing their blogs, and I wondered if this was the next step–if it were the “right” thing to do, when I reached a certain level of “maturity.”  I began to see my time online as a vice, and went through a cycle of forced digital breaks.

And that was okay too.

DSC_0104

And now, I kind of feel like I’ve reached a balance for the moment.  I’ve rejoined Facebook, so that I can check in with everyone, and save the more occasional in-depth discussions for e-mail.  I’m happy with the frequency of my blog posts, and I’m glad that y’all have come back to restart the discussions!

What works, is what works for me in this moment.

And that’s okay.

DSC_0100

So, my thinking is a little different than it was when I wrote that lesson #11 was “The answers aren’t online.”  I no longer think that a certain amount of Internet time is “good” or “bad.”

 But I do have a few thoughts on the issue:

  • Beware of using the Internet out of boredom.  Sometimes, I find myself refreshing the same 3 pages, just biding the time.  This isn’t “bad” or “immoral,” but it also isn’t something that I enjoy or something that makes me happy.  When I catch myself doing this, I ask, “What would I rather be doing?”  Sometimes, I’d rather write a book or take a walk.  Sometimes I’m just tired or hungry!
  • Online time can become an escape.   When something is bothering me, I often find that I get involved with discussions or search for a diversion online.  Again, that’s not good or bad.  There is nothing wrong with an escape, when your mind needs it!  But escaping is a short-term solution.  Eventually, we need to deal with whatever it is we are trying to escape.
  • You don’t need to try to change the world.  I have sworn off political discussion, because they only led to anger and hard feelings.  But I’ve found myself sucked into other discussions, feeling like I needed to advocate for something.  It’s good to inform and to share your ideas, but it’s also fine to bow out if the discussion becomes emotionally draining.  A great example of this for me has been all of the discussions that have started after Robin Williams’s death.  For my own mental health, I’m only engaging in those, in moderation!
  • Everyone you meet is on a journey.  Through my online interactions, I have met some people who have shared amazing ideas and completely rocked my world.  But it’s important to remember that these people are not fully enlightened beings, they are just people on a journey, just like me.  They have ideas, but they don’t have the Answers.  And they bring their emotional baggage to the table, just like I do.
  • Online interactions are great practice for “real life.”  While I don’t really buy into the whole introvert vs extrovert thing, I do realize that I haven’t fully developed the skill of being assertive.  So I practice online.  The conversation is slower, and there is time to think through my responses.  I’ve found this to be a great way to practice, and it does gradually transfer into my “real life” conversations.

I think the most important thing to remember is that the Internet and the many communities on it are tools.  Use them to help you in your journey and to get closer to finding your answers.

Just remember that then answers themselves are not “out there.”

DSC_0099

Time and Understanding

Throughout this move, I have learned a wealth of information.  And I have shared it all with you.

Thank you for accepting my honesty, and for seeing what lies beneath the masks and behind the walls.

I hope I have inspired all of you to live more authentically, and I hope that you are taking off your masks and tearing down the walls as well.

I appreciate all of your kind words, as I have struggled with the direction my writing should take.  Your encouragement has meant a lot to me.

So much to me, in fact, that I have been seeking it out, rather than breaking forth into the “real” world, as I have said I would.  I have been hiding in this safe community, desperately seeking what it can no longer give me.

It’s time for the praise, the kind words, and the encouragement to come from within.

Recently, I had a wake-up call when I developed a ridiculous amount of skin hives all over my body.  I was diagnosed with an unexplainable, likely stress-related inflammatory condition, and the doctor was recommending oral steroids.  I negotiated down to a cream, but I do realize that by not managing stress, not taking care of myself, and not dealing with what needs to be dealt with, I am harming my body, as well as my mind.  I know that stress can do much worse than this, and that my physical and mental health depend on my restoring the balance.

I will keep writing.  I’m working on my book, albeit a bit behind schedule.  And I will go forward with the Advent Calendar.  I will continue to give two away each day, to subscribers (selected using a random number generator), until November 17.  Then, they will continue to be for sale, for $1.99.

But I am going to take a break from blogging and (most) e-mail, probably until Black Friday.  I have talked about such breaks, frequently, but now I see the seriousness of my situation.  I see how being constantly plugged in has increased, rather than decreased, my stress level.  I see how I have been seeking approval for myself, rather than truly sharing my life lessons.

I will be back, and I will have a lot to share with all of you.  Don’t worry about that.

But, in the meantime, please spend most of your days away from that screen. The answers are not online.

DSC_0030

Less Muscle, and More Compassion

Why do we do the things we do?

Why do we gorge ourselves on sweets, when we’re trying to lose weight?  Why do we have that extra glass of wine, when we know we shouldn’t?  Why do we spend so much time glued to that computer, when there is a real world out there?

I used to think that I didn’t need to know why.  I used to think that all it took was more muscle.  If I could just will myself to give all that up, things would be better for it.

But we need to know why, because all of those things serve a purpose.  What if we’re overeating for comfort, because there is something stressful we haven’t wanted to deal with?  What if we’re having that extra glass of wine, because we want to forget about something?

Changing our habits, and improving ourselves requires more than just muscle.  And that’s why it’s so hard.  Making lasting change requires understanding and compassion, and it takes time.

I have realized this, in my efforts to spend less time online.  The community we’ve all created here, is safe.  For years, I had put up walls.  I felt alone and unworthy, and I was constantly running from what I believed to be a shameful past.

Whatever it was, I thought I was the only one.

Through your friendship, you’ve helped me to open up and to let love in.  My message now is, that we are not alone.  That there is no reason to be ashamed of the lessons we’ve learned, and that not a one of us is the only one.

You’ve created a safe place for me to learn and grow and share my message.  And that’s why it sucks me in.  That’s why I find it irresistible.

If you met someone on the street, who had been fearful for years, and had finally found somewhere safe, would you force them to never go back?  Would you tell them to will their fears away and leave?  Certainly not.

Moving forward from here is a process.  My journey now is to find the same safety and the same love in the “real” world.  Everything I’ve found here has been positive, but it’s time to find that positive outside of that computer screen.

Every single one of us is real.  We all live in communities.  So I know that love exists out there.

Do you struggle with online time, for the same reason?  What habits have you discovered in yourself, that you should view with compassion, in trying to change?

DSC_0023

My Advent Calendar is still for sale, and I will continue to give 2 of them away every day this week!

The Valley of Love and Delight

There is a funny universal, among the minimalists I have met and corresponded with. We all feel the need to “confess our sins.” If the conversation goes on long enough, someone will say something to the effect of, “Well, I’m not as minimalist as some people…You see, I have [service for 8, two cars, a winter and summer wardrobe, a couch, a television—with no or limited cable, of course–or some incredibly indulgent cultural excess like that].”

Even here, I’ve felt the need to “come out” as a hypocrite. I worry about my own authenticity. Yes, I have a 12-piece wardrobe and 3 plates. But I’ve also got three cars, a tent full of mopeds, and even a projector that we use to watch movies. Who was I to call myself a minimalist? If I purged more, maybe…I have to admit that the whole 100 possessions thing kind of appealed to me, because I would have a concrete way of knowing and showing that I’d “arrived.”

Arrived where, exactly?

What is the point of minimalism? Why are we so drawn to the concept, to the purging and decluttering? What are we trying to accomplish? Are we trying to gain acceptance into a very small, very elite clique? Are we trying to find an identity for ourselves? What are our motives?

I think, to a degree, we are searching for our identity. We are trying to gain acceptance, among like-minded people.

But we were like-minded before we worried about gaining acceptance. There was something else that drew us to this lifestyle.

I often find myself thinking of the folk song, “Simple Gifts,” which is, more than anything else, a summary of the philosophy of voluntary simplicity. “’Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free. ‘Tis the gift to come down, where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘twill be in the valley of love and delight.”

When we find ourselves in the “place just right,” we will be in the “valley of love and delight.”

That is our destination, and that is what drew us to this lifestyle. It’s the belief that by living simpler than the rest of society, by having just enough, we will be happier with our lives.

It’s about spending less time accumulating and managing possessions.

It’s about living in a calm and uncluttered environment.

It’s about being more mindful of the world around us.

And, yes, reducing the number of material possessions that we own is central to accomplishing these goals. Before embracing minimalism, I found myself constantly stressed out, unable to multi-task and make decisions as well as I would like to. I did not have time for hobbies, because I was always cleaning my house (which never looked clean, by the way). I found myself unable to relax at home, because everything was so cluttered and unsightly. We never had guests over, because our house was such an embarrassing mess. We spend a crazy amount of time looking for things that we needed, but couldn’t find, because they were buried in the clutter.

So we’ve pared down. We’ve pared down a lot. And we’ll pare down some more, over time. But the paring down has all led to making our lives easier.

I have only one outfit to wear, each day of the work week, so I don’t have to spend time wondering what to wear. I go to the closet, grab the day’s outfit, and go.

We have three plates, so that our dishes do not pile up. We eat, wash the plates, and put them away.

We don’t keep things that we do not use, so that our house looks clean and uncluttered.

Because we have less to put away, we spend much less time cleaning.

It’s all about making things easier, less stressful. Not about being as “extreme” as possible with it. It’s about finding the “place just right.” And it’s different for everyone.

If you host frequently, your life will probably be much less stressful if you do have service for 8.

If you both commute to jobs in different towns, you probably will be happier with two cars.

If you want to sit and watch PBS in the evening, to unwind, go for it!

The funny thing is, this all seems more common-sense than counter-cultural. But it is counter-cultural, because our culture is all about excess. We’re shown images of consumption, of trendiness, of houses filled with “conveniences” (that really don’t make life more convenient). It’s gotten to the point where we have to train ourselves to just have what we need, to live a simple, sane life.

It takes some time. I’m not sure we ever actually “arrive.” But I feel like we’re getting closer to the valley everyday.

Minimalism Struggle: Online Time

So far, I’ve shared two minimalism successes (my kitchen and couple time) and one minimalism struggle (our moped garage). Today, since we all fall short of our ideals, I will be sharing yet another struggle I have with minimalism.

We understand the importance of limiting connected time, and I even gave up most of my Internet time during Lent last spring. Still, I learned that some time online is really necessary for my mental health. What is important is finding a balance.

And finding that balance is my struggle. It’s so tempting to check in online, and read article after article, wasting a perfectly good evening. There have been times when I could have been playing a game with Jelly Bean, but I found myself surfing he ‘net instead.

What I see happening, honestly, is Internet usage replacing television in our household. Which really defeats the purpose of eliminating the television. We’ve done a great job keeping electronic devices in their place (I will share more about this tomorrow, when I tell you about a success), with the exception of those laptops..

What I don’t want is to waste real life by spending time “connected.” It’s the real experience that matters. It’s not about reading about the sea, it’s about going out there and feeling the wind in my hair, actually riding the waves. True, life on land isn’t as exciting, but there are people to talk to, gorgeous leaves to see, to listen to the crunching as we walk on them. There is Beanie, going through her childhood only once, and I don’t want to waste a minute of it.

So, what can we do about this problem? I’ve found that I do best when I set limits. If I manage to get up early enough, I incorporate 15 minutes of online time into my morning routine. Then, I get 15 minutes during Beanie’s bath. I do my blogging mainly on the weekends, or for 30 minutes to 1 hour in the evenings (after an adventure, usually).

Keeping to these limits can be a struggle, especially after a stressful day. However, I have found that family time and a good walk seem to do much more to release stress than visiting “time waster” sites. My mind feels calmer, less cluttered, and I am much less angry when I use my online time to connect with friends and fellow bloggers, and not anything else.

There is a real world out there, and we all need to explore it more.

“You Can Do It All” and Other Lies We Believe

Three months after I became a mother, I attended a staff retreat. I had shown off newborn Beanie, then sent her on her way with Daddy. I then found myself in a conference room, meeting with my colleagues and our former department head, who had been promoted to administration.

“There won’t be a department chair this year,” he said, addressing the three of us. He went around the table, pointing at each of us in turn, “First year teacher, second year teacher, first year mother.”

I didn’t realize he had given me a gift.

The one fault of the feminist movement is the belief that we can do it all. That we can continue to climb the ladder at work while not missing a beat at home, raising our kids. This has led to the insecurity, the “mommy guilt” that is all too common. This has led to perfectionism, to us beating up ourselves because we’re only human.

Being a mother—being a parent, for that matter—is going to mean making sacrifices. Period.

I remember, later in that same school year, talking to one of my colleagues about the difficulties I was having, balancing work and family. She gave me another gift. She said, “I know you’re an excellent teacher. And I’m pretty sure you’re a great mother as well. Just remember that you can’t give 100% to either.”

So, really, all that remains is for us to decide how to divide up the pie.

Some parents choose to give the entire pie to their little one. Rob has given the vast majority of it to Beanie. These people are able to enjoy and celebrate their kid’s childhood—all of it. But they sacrifice adult interaction, and the chance to have a “career” outside of parenting. It is a trade-off, no doubt about it.

Some people choose to continue achieving at work, as they had before. In this case, the working-outside-the-home-mother and stay-at-home-dad set-up truly is a role reversal. Or the child is being raised by a village, as relatives and day care providers are as involved as the parents, in raising the child. The upside is the chance at a career, and the chance for leadership. The downside is that the parent has much less of a role in raising the child.

A lot of us fall somewhere in the middle. That day, at the retreat, my boss gave me the gift of being able to give up leadership—which I would have liked, pre-child—so that Beanie could have a larger piece of the pie. I do make sacrifices as a mother as well, though. I have missed a number of her milestones, and every summer is a surprise to me, seeing how much she’s grown and changed. However, I am all right with this. I know that I’m doing the best I can for my students, even if I am a team player rather than a leader. I know that Beanie is growing and being loved, and that she is benefiting from being as close to her dad as she is to me.

The challenge is accepting that we have to divide up the pie. It’s accepting that parenthood is a sacrifice. We just need to realize that, and realize that it is worth it in every way.