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Fuel

For me, novelty is fuel.

I stoke my inner-fire by introducing my senses to new things. I do this all day long. “Check out these new flavors,” I tell my taste buds. “Or how about this new texture, that’s pretty nice,” I say to my fingertips, running them over a particularly appealing fabric while murmuring to my eyes, “That’s pretty interesting, right? Those colors? The pattern?”

Most days, particularly when I want to make something — to do creative work — I’ll change my work location every twenty minutes or so. It’s not really a conscious, regimented thing; it’s more that I’ve learned to recognize when my brain is getting bored, when my environment is fading into the background, and I relocate to reenergize my awareness. I may be writing or designing something, but there’s still part of my mind that comes alive when I move from the chair to the couch, from the couch to the rug in front of the fireplace, from the rug to the bed, from the bed to the coffee shop down the street.

This craving for novelty is reflected in my lifestyle choices. I travel frequently because I’ve realized that by doing so I maintain a level of peak awareness and mental stimulation much of the time. Learning this about myself has resulted in the happiest years of my life, the ability to churn out a large portfolio of work I’m proud of, and a heightened enjoyment of my environment, wherever I happen to find myself.

Of course, not everyone find their joy in novelty the way I do. For others, a meticulously curated home might be the optimal fuel. For still others, perhaps a collection of well-crafted lifestyle restrictions are what the doctor ordered, stimulating creativity by first limiting it.

There’s no right or wrong, better or worse fuel. But it does pay to know what your fuel is, so that you might bring more of it into your life. It’s okay to not push yourself to achieve crazy heights all the time, but even the most mundane of days can be far more pleasant when you have a surge of energy and appreciation with which to enjoy it.

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Rework or Retreat

Many of the emails I receive each day relate to the topic of imperfection.

More specifically, I hear from people who are trying to determine how they might extract themselves from a lifestyle that seemed to creep up on them; a lifestyle rife with responsibilities and issues that weren’t part of the plan. Whether because of work, or a non-functioning relationship, or monetary issues, or a combination of these and other variables, they’ve found themselves stuck in a rut. Fine, but not great. Making it work, but not deliriously happy. Living, but not living.

It may be that they were led down the path they now walk, told their entire lives it would lead them elsewhere. It may be that they didn’t know what they actually wanted — what really made them happy — until recently, and their former hopes and dreams don’t measure up to the newer versions. It may be that they simply never thought about such things until just recently, and like we so often do in times of disorientation and bewilderment, they opened up a browser window and started Googling as quickly as they could type. Which is how their story ended up in my inbox.

Whatever the path to communication, and whatever the specifics of the story, the solution very often falls into one of two categories. If you write me about this type of thing, I’ll very likely tell you about these two options:

Your first option is to improve upon your current lot, iterating and upgrading the best you’re able, reworking a lifestyle that doesn’t currently fulfill you into something that does; or at least something that brings you closer to fulfillment.

Your second option is to step away from your lifestyle and start something new. This could mean quitting your job to pursue your painting passion full-time. This could mean breaking up a marriage that’s been okay, but not great, and going out into the world as an individual once more. This could mean leaving your home to explore the world, despite the protests of a family that means well, but wants you to stay put. This could mean many things in particular, but in the broad strokes, it’s a retreat. Not in the ‘running from something’ sense, but in the ‘stepping back from something’ meaning of the word. It’s replacing what you have now with something different.

The first option is in some ways easier to implement. It will likely cause less drama and attract less pushback, and doesn’t bring with it the ‘stepping off a cliff’ feeling that the second option tends to instill in people.

But the ‘retreat’ option is a clean break. It allows you to build from scratch, rather than trying to reshape something that may not want to be reshaped; allows you to be a new version of yourself right away, rather than forcing you to build a bunch of newness into your existing structure.

Neither option is more right or more wrong, and either could work for any person. You could even combine the two: plan a retreat, but allow yourself to iterate your current situation until you’re at the point where you can take the leap. If you opt for a hybrid approach, I recommend setting a firm deadline for the complete switchover, otherwise it’s easy to put it off again and again.

Whatever you choose, though, I suggest that you choose something. You’ve got a finite amount of time to live and enjoy and feel good feelings. The sooner you make a change — the sooner you rework or retreat — the more time you’ll have to enjoy your happier, more fulfilling life.

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Real Life

Upending my life to travel full-time was, without a doubt, one the better decisions I’ve ever made. Despite the sacrifices required, and even during the really tricky or troublesome times, I’ve yet to regret that choice even for a moment.

But something I’ve learned since then is that ‘travel’ itself isn’t what I was after, and isn’t why I enjoy my lifestyle so much.

It isn’t the act of locomotion that thrills me, nor the status of ‘living elsewhere,’ nor the passport full of stamps. It’s the experiences I have when I’m pulled out of a familiar reality. It’s the people I meet who have grown up under far different circumstances than me. It’s the novel flavors and alien color palettes. It’s seeing the world from a different point of view, and not just geographically. In every way seeing things differently, for a time.

I bring this up not because I think travel is less than it’s typically made out to be, but because it’s possible to find many of these same things at home. We can expose ourselves to new people and ideas. We can seek out new fields of study and genres of music. We can push ourselves, attempt things that scare us, and try the unidentifiable foods at the restaurant with the name we can’t pronounce.

There’s so much knowledge and opportunity at our fingertips, all day, every day, and it’s easy to forget that. We forget because we have habits and routines. And we overlook this at-home potential for novelty because travel is our excuse to extract ourselves from ‘real life’ so that we might pursue something new and risky…before coming home to real life once more.

It’s uncomfortable to risk the stability of our ‘real,’ familiar, predictable lives. Much easier to only interact with challenging realities in short bursts, and away from our own backyards.

Consider what we might learn, though, and how thrilling each day might be, if we approached our ‘real lives’ the way we approach foreign travel. Imagine how much more growth we might experience, and how much more fun and inspiration might be had.

Take a second and decide what your ‘real life’ will be: a backdrop not worth your attention, or a source of never-ending fascination, intrigue, and interest.

And if you choose the latter, start exploring.