On Saying No and Finding Simplicity in the Midst of Chaos

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View of the sun rising over the Caribbean Sea from our cabana in Belize. June 2012.

In the past year, I have abandoned the career paths laid out in front of my by college and graduate school in favor of entrepreneurship. I have been working on building my own business, and it has been growing, little by little, over the past three months. Each month, I move a little closer to being able to support myself through my business. This has not been easy, though. I have been working two part time jobs and relying on savings to get me through as I grow my business. My days tend to be packed and a little bit chaotic. As someone who claims to prioritize simplicity in my life, opening up my calendar to a day full of appointments and commitments sometimes feels like I’m drifting away from my core values. I start to question my decisions, and I find myself wondering if life wouldn’t be simpler if I just took a full-time job. Pretty soon I’m conducting a job search again. If I pay attention in these moments, I notice that my breathing becomes more shallow as I start to consider filling out applications and sending out resumes. As I begin to add these things I “should” do to my already busy schedule, it becomes increasingly difficult to take a deep breath.

It can be hard to ignore the voice, external and internal, that whisper doubt. If you are following your own path, you’re probably not conforming to society’s expectations. When we stray from what’s expected of us in favor of what is right for us, those voices come up. How can we tell when to listen and when to tune out? How can we tell which messages coming through are potentially helpful and which are the result of our collective social programming? Slowly, I am learning to rely more and more on the physical cues that my body gives me to answer these questions for myself. If I find myself able to breathe fully in the face of a challenge I’m facing, for instance, it reassures me and helps me know that the challenge is worth it. If I find that I cannot take a full deep breath, or, worse yet, I am overwhelmed to the point of nausea or other physical discomfort, though, I’m learning to let myself say no. I’m learning to let go of the fear of missing out on an opportunity and recognize that not all opportunities are fit for me to begin with.

Last week I had a casual job interview. It started as a meeting to discuss the possibility of doing some freelance editing work, and I went in with an open mind and open heart. I wanted to see where the meeting would lead me, even though I knew in the back of my mind that I probably wasn’t going to have time to take on the extra work and still put the right amount of energy into my yoga business. As the meeting unfolded, it became clear that company was aligned with almost all of the fields in which I’ve spent time in focused study. It’s an information company, and my master’s is Information Studies. There would be the possibility of taking on a position as either a writer/editor, or an instructor, and I have a background in both education and writing. Plus, the core values of the company seemed to be closely aligned with yogic philosophy and practice. And this company might offer me the opportunity to earn more money than ever before. As I sat there, trying to absorb all of this information, I was struggling. On the one hand, I was intrigued by the work this company was doing, but, underneath my curiosity, I was resisting it all because I knew it would absorb my focus and my own business would suffer.

I walked away feeling very excited and confused. I talked to my close friends and family about it, did a little bit more research on the company, and came to the conclusion that this job opportunity was not for me. There were lots of little red flags that came up, many of which had to do with the structure of the company and their business model. It was my own physical response that ultimately led me to say no, though. When I started trying to explain the company to people, I felt overwhelmed. I felt energized and excited, but also edgy and confused. When I would inhale, I felt like I was only breathing into my lungs; it was really difficult to take a full belly breath, and that is always an indicator of my stress levels. Once I had decided that, in spite of its appeal, this company had nothing to offer me but a distraction from the path I’m meant to follow, my body told me I’d made the right decision immediately. My energy levels smoothed out, and the air flooded back into the deepest corners of my lungs.

It’s in moments like this that I’m reminded of why I value simplicity, but also of the idea that the simple path doesn’t always look simple. It might seem like the simplest path would be to seek out a single career that could meet all of my needs, one that I wouldn’t have to carry home with me. If I had that kind of job, I would have plenty of free time after work to pursue the things I care about, and plenty of money to throw at my hobbies, too. That seems logical, right? The problem is that I would end up spending most of my time at work, and I’d probably grow tired of the job within a year or two. On top of that, I’d have limited vacation time again. The complete freedom of my after work and weekend hours would not be enough to balance out my waning enthusiasm for my work and the lack of vacation time.

My work life right now does not look simple at all, but I really value and enjoy what I’m doing. Sometimes the end result is more important than the relative simplicity of the project. Sometimes I feel like I’m running around all over the place, trying to keep up with my growing number of commitments, but I love every minute of it. I know that eventually my business will become more sustainable, and I will be able to work fewer hours at other jobs, and I’m eagerly looking forward to that point. In the mean time, I am thoroughly enjoying the process of building my business and all the chaos and excitement that goes with it.

Even though my work sometimes feels scattered and anything but simple, I uphold simplicity as one of my core values in other areas of my life. I am pretty good at distinguishing between wants and needs, and I love DIY projects. I value friendship over facebook, so I try to limit my online time, especially when I am around people I care about. I ride my bike a lot, and I visit the public library often. I seek out camping trips and potlucks rather than resort vacations and expensive restaurants. I make the decision every day to prioritize the things that are important to me and value the experiences that life throws my way. And I know that these lifestyle choices have enabled me to take the risks involved in starting my own business and following a path that is screaming my name. For those reasons, I’ll take the cluttered schedule over the simple mainstream career every time.

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One thought on “On Saying No and Finding Simplicity in the Midst of Chaos

  1. Julia, I love your thoughts and the point you make that simplicity doesn’t mean “simple.” Living this kind of life demands tough choices when we’re confronted constantly with loud and alluring options out in the world (and even from our past habits and choices) and often demands that we do what is far from easy. That’s such a courageous choice–to really listen and choose what your whole being is telling you and not what conventional logic might argue. Thanks for sharing this… inspiring and affirming. 🙂

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