Monday, June 18, 2012

Riding the Medium Chill

Contemplating crab shells on the beach...
A friend on my LiveJournal list posted an article yesterday that addressed a concept called "medium chill". I'd never heard this term before, but it intrigued me. In a nutshell, people who might describe themselves as medium chill are people who have taken it upon themselves to question the whole concept so many of us are sold as children -- that life is and should be all about constant and ceaseless striving to achieve on a career level. They eventually come to the conclusion that they are happier with fewer things and less disposable income, but more time to spend with family, doing things that truly make them happy. Once they have "enough", they're satisfied and don't particularly feel the need to continue trying to get "more".

The older I get, and the more questions I personally ask myself about my own values, the more I'm discovering that there are quite a few things that I thought I believed, but that really aren't coming from me at all. They were ideals that belonged to my parents and wound up getting drummed into my head as a young person. They were empty concepts sold to me by society and the rest of the world in general. They weren't my real values and that being the case, they didn't lead me to happiness or prosperity when I tried to live by them.

I guess I first started noticing that there was some kind of disconnect when I didn't get the pay-off I was told I was supposed to upon achieving certain things. I was told that girls are supposed to want to be super pretty  all the time and that they're supposed to feel gratified when heads turn to look at them on the streets. I just found that being noticed and looked at -- even appreciatively -- made me uncomfortable and I wished people wouldn't do it. I was told that it's good to be social and have lots of friends... but actually having what most people would consider a full social life was just tiring to me and I found myself wishing I was at home by myself with my books, and my music, and my cats. 

However, the biggest discrepancy seems to be with the values I was taught in regards to career. I grew up believing that you are your job, so it was important to strive to have a job title other people can respect. It's important to earn a lot of money so you can have lots of things and a massive savings account. It's important to own your own home, your own car, and your own property. If you don't have all those things, you are a failure as a human being. God help you if you don't actually want those things, if "good enough" is as far as you want to go. Then you're lazy and shiftless as well, even if you have a job and work hard. It has to be the right job and the right salary or it simply doesn't count.

The problem with me is I've always been medium chill and I didn't even know it until relatively recently in life. I tried to do what my parents wanted and pursue more serious, stable jobs than the retail and service positions I was relatively comfortable working. However, jobs like those required almost all of my time and way too much of my commitment. I was lucky if I got one day off a week. Many weeks, I didn't even get that. Don't even get me started on the actual length of my workdays. I would often show up at 7 or 8AM and not get home until well after 8 or 9PM... if I was lucky. If I wasn't lucky, I might have to stay until midnight or so. I often didn't even have time to get a full night's rest or eat a proper dinner, let alone unwind in front of the TV for a while or spend time doing anything I actually enjoyed.

Also, the mentality of the people I worked with was completely alien to me. Those I worked with didn't want their days off or their vacations and they didn't think I should either. They didn't work to live. They lived to work. I didn't like my co-workers and they didn't like me. I was miserable. However, I've always been told that I was miserable working positions like that because I was lazy -- I was the problem, not the jobs... and I needed to change.

I'm only just now finding out that that wasn't and isn't the case. I just care about different things than those people cared about. I care about what I truly consider to be the important things in life. I care about having time on a Sunday afternoon to walk on the beach, or read a book, or take pictures of flowers. I care about spending lots of time with the man I love and the people in my life who are important to me. I only care about earning "more" if I'm in a position where I can't pay for the roof over my head or I don't have enough of the basics. However, as long as I have the essentials, I'm pretty satisfied and I probably won't feel any particular need to keep climbing the ladder at work. What for? To impress people? To buy a bunch of crap I don't even really want? No, thank you.

While I still think owning a home might be kind of cool, I don't like the idea of a lot of the responsibilities that come with being a homeowner. My mother bought a 3-bedroom home. I don't really see where it or the jobs she's had to work in order to pay for it have given her more security or more happiness, just more to worry about losing and more to worry about paying for. Also, I don't even need or want a big living space per se. A little cottage or a condo that's big enough for me, Seth, a couple of pets, and perhaps the occasional guest will be more than enough for me and I don't really care if it's rented. I only care that it's affordable. I don't want a fast, fancy car either. I'd be satisfied with a Volkswagon bug or something.

As far as lots of money for other things? I'd rather buy experiences than objects and I'm finding that really nice experiences don't actually cost very much. Plus, they make memories and forge bonds with others that you can cherish forever. "Things" just gather dust and give you more to clean when it's time to do your chores. You throw them away or replace them sooner or later. These days, if something doesn't have a purpose and isn't something I'm going to use near daily, I'm not going to waste my money on it. I'll save it toward the next possible vacation or fun event in town instead.

After a lot of thought on the matter, I'm actually glad I learned this lesson sooner in life, as opposed to later. I'm pretty sure that most people don't wind up on their death bed wishing they'd worked more. They almost invariably wish they'd spent more time with people they loved or more time actually pursuing their real passions. Personally speaking, if I don't have time to do those things, I don't consider myself to be living a very good life. That's where my focus is and I'm beginning to realize that that's exactly where it should be.