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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