Something I read in a novel once has always stuck with me.
I don’t even remember what the book was, but I remember this scene very clearly.
The characters are sitting on a terrace high above the sea, sipping wine. It’s late evening and the chairs have been pushed back from a table filled with emptied plates.
The main character suggests a game. He asks each person around the table to describe in detail how they would spend a full day, assuming that everything had been granted to him or her.
You don’t have to work. You don’t have to anything you don’t want to do. This is your ideal day.
I’ll always remember what he said next.
“The life being described is the life the speaker lives or a life he has already lived. The setting may change, but no one will make a fresh start or do anything new.”
Now, you could read this in a pessimistic way. People are creatures of habit, stuck in their ruts, and no matter how many times they say they want to change, not only will they never make the effort or stick to a plan, they don’t even really want to, anyway.
Or you could read it the way I tend to interpret it.
I read it as saying that we already have the answers within us.
Sure, we might take on grandiose aspirations, sometimes from societal pressure or from a feeling of our own goals not being worthy enough. And so we chase executive salaries and massive houses, or we volunteer our lives away for a charity because, deep down, we want others to think we’re a good person.
But we don’t have to look very far to know what really makes us happy and fulfilled. It’s right there in the things we gravitate towards when no one’s looking, and when we have no other obligations.
I got thinking about this last night as I was trying to fall asleep.
I sometimes use this blog as a sounding board, a place to write out my thoughts and figure things out, in the same way that I use writing about travel as a way to understand the deeper meaning behind a trip.
Well, I wrote a piece last week about hating my phone, and about how being constantly connected has changed the way we travel and the way we move through the world.
I was thinking about this some more last night. Not just what I wrote, but what I should do about it. What is the ideal life I want to move towards?
Have you ever asked yourself that question? If not, then please stop reading for a second and ask yourself right now.
I have a very clear idea of my ideal life. It’s the routine I follow when I’m feeling most fulfilled. And it has nothing to do with material things.
My ideal life would be to wake up around 8:30 or 9am, and read a chapter of a book with a cup of coffee. Just one chapter of whatever I happen to be reading right now. It makes for a pleasant start to the day, and it gets the words flowing in my head.
After that, I would go to my desk and write for 2 to 3 hours. Concentrated, focused writing. On screen if I’m in the middle of a project, or in a notebook with a fine point pen if I’m not.
Only after I’ve finished the day’s main writing would I connect to the internet or check my email. I know if I log on before that, then I am done for the day — forever rushing from task to task, responding to the demands of other people and never catching up.
So I’d check my email only after I finished my morning’s writing, and I might answer any truly urgent messages before getting up to eat a light breakfast between noon and 1pm (before that, I only take coffee).
I’d do something active in the afternoon. A trip to the gym for a workout, perhaps, or a long walk around the city with a notebook in my pocket for observations.
I’d catch up on emails and correspondence before supper. All those routine bits of business we all have to deal with. And then I’d set it aside and shut it off for the night when my wife got home from work.
My evenings would be spent as I most love to spend them: reading for two or three hours, followed by a film if we felt like watching something.
And then I’d get up and do it all over again the next day, only interrupting that pleasant, productive routine when it’s time to travel, which is where I step out of my comfort zone or gather new material.
That’s it. That’s my ideal life. Reading, writing, a bit of exercise, and travel. I really don’t need much more than that to feel fulfilled.
Sure, there are luxuries. A nice bottle of wine, or a good meal once in a while. But I wouldn’t want those every day even if they were on offer. I appreciate them more at intervals.
Of course, that isn’t the total picture. It never is. An ideal life is a creation, and creating something isn’t just about what you add. It’s also about the things you edit out.
When I think about my ideal life, it also becomes very clear what’s not in there.
The first thing I would cut is work. And by “work” I don’t mean productive effort that brings a financial reward. I mean all those things I do just to earn money.
In that ideal world, I’d only earn money from writing, and from writing those things that I want to write, not the sort of freelance work we all do just for the pay.
I’d probably also cut my online business. It was something I got involved with in order to fund my travels. It was never something I had any sort of “calling” for. Then again, I have enjoyed going back to my old ninjutsu material this year, pulling the most helpful lessons from two decades of dedicated training and creating something new with it. That’s been fun, and I like working with my close collaborators on it. But I would never publish or market a fat loss or physique product again.
I would also cut my phone — or most of the things associated with it.
Whatsapp would be the first to go. Its constant buzzing shatters my concentration when I’m trying to write. I could also happily go through life without ever looking at Twitter again — not that I look at it much now. Instagram hasn’t really caught on with me, either. I’ve tried using it to promote my writing, posting travel photos connected to articles. But after that initial burst of enthusiasm, I’ve found it a struggle to remember to check it once a week.
The only social media I’ve used with any consistency over the years is Facebook, and I have increasingly negative feelings about it. I loved it in the beginning. It was a way to reconnect with people long forgotten, friends I’d grown up with or people I knew in high school. It became a great way to stay in touch with relatives, too. All those cousins I haven’t seen for years and would have lost touch with because we live so far apart.
Facebook was also good for promoting my work, but my blog links stopped getting any visibility when they started penalizing anything that took people off their site.
These days, my entire newsfeed is cluttered with posts related to work. All I see are posts about Malta — the same tired corruption stories that never seem to change, except to get worse — or posts about internet marketing. Sure, they’re useful for work. But they stopped being something I enjoy looking at a long time ago.
So the jury is still out on Facebook. If it stayed in my ideal life, it would only be after a massive purge. And my phone would go back where it belongs — sitting in the corner of a distant room, picked up only when I need to use it.
Those are the things I would take away. But I prefer to think about the things I would add more of.
Reading, writing, a bit of exercise, and travel. That’s how I would spend my days if everything had been granted to me, as the character in that novel said.
How about you?
What is your ideal day, and your ideal life?
And what’s stopping you from living it right now?