I once had a professor give me some advice for life. He posed it as a thought experiment. He said,
“There are three things in life, work – what you do to occupy your time, paid or unpaid, place – where you physically are, and relationships – your interactions with other people, romantic of otherwise. Of these three things you can only expect to have control over two at a time. If you have control of all three expect something to go haywire, if you have control of one, pick another and go for it, and if you feel you have control over none of them get up off the couch and start walking.”
The thought experiment was as follows,
“If you had to pick just two of these to have control over, which would they be?”
The answer to this is always changing throughout life. When I was in a committed relationship I choose that first, and then let what I was doing during my free time be out of my control. Generally, when winter comes. I choose place over everything else so that I can do what I love and ski as much as possible. This requires large compromises on the work I do and the relationships I have. I see my family in the fall before the season starts and then not again until the spring, and I work waiting tables.
For everyone the balance of place, work and relationships is different and changing. I have found it a great tool for making and analyzing tough life decisions. By seeing decisions through this lens, you don’t regret the compromises you make, but can rather recognize that you can only expect to control so much of your life, and the rest will figure itself out.
This summer I have been making a ton of compromises. I absolutely love my life, and wouldn’t change a thing, but getting to that point takes compromising and relinquishing control over the third piece.
To begin, I live in a basement. An unfinished one. With 4 loud pumps (not sure what a house needs 4 different pumps for). And a ceiling that is 5′ 10″ (I am 5’10.5″). And I am too cheap/lazy to buy/find a bed, so I am sleeping on a sleeping pad. And the sleeping pad has a pinhole leak in it, so if I don’t fall asleep in an hour I start feeling the ground and have to blow it back up (if I fall asleep I am fine until the next morning).
Home sweet home
This may sound like hell to many people, and I’m not saying it is my paradise, but I really don’t mind. The pumps just force me to be a sound sleeper. I don’t spend much time down there, so the ceilings are whatever. Inflating the bed nightly is just training for my lungs. And on the plus side the basement is a constant beautiful 65 degrees and makes for great sleeping when it is 85 and humid upstairs.
For work I am perusing Craigslist daily looking for odd jobs and landscaping gigs. The pay is pretty good actually, but it is certainly not steady work. It ends up this has worked out great and I have been able to spend a large amount of my time preparing for the winter logistically and training physically. I certainly let go of most of the control I had in the work I was doing though.
But really, I am happy to make these compromises because I am looking towards the future. I am scrimping and saving for the winter. I am living with friends in one of the most beautiful parts of Vermont. I have amazing access to mountain biking, so I can train. I have a veggie garden for the first time in years. Like a bear going into torpor I’m loading up on place and relationships for the coming winter. When December 1st hits I will be 100% committed to work. Granted I love the work I will be doing, I will not have the balance. I will be in places I love, but I will also be travelling a lot. And relationships, well my touring partners will be the extent of that.
Life is about finding that balance that works for you. That balance can be a current one or an evolving one. For many people the balance needs to be in constant equilibrium, for others they can front load the balance and correct later. I find the balance is much easier to keep when you relinquish control over one element and let it just fall into place. When I try to control all aspects of my life, my stress levels start to rise and all the aspects start weakening.