I’ve enjoyed simple living for the past twenty or so years, and while I did not know that how I was living my life all those many years ago had a name (Voluntary Simplicity), I knew that it was a life choice that was different from the people around me. I also knew that I loved the freedom of living simply and that I was fortunate to be able to live how I wanted, regardless of the societal, economic and cultural values attempting to pull me in the opposite direction.
Now, before I continue, let me state that living a simple lifestyle hasn’t always been easy. There were many moments, especially in the beginning, where I questioned my own values, motivations and intentions.
“Why should I be any different than everyone else!?” “Why can I not just go with the flow!?” “Why am I not NORMAL!?”
These were thoughts that I had to struggle with at times, especially when work wasn’t coming in and my bills were piling up, or when there wasn’t any money coming into buy a small amount of food. Thankfully, it never got to the starving artist point as I kept on pushing forward, making things work for me until those thoughts vanished completely. It also helped that I was, and still am, a single person with no dependents, This made it easier for me to pursue my life choices without impacting the lives of others.
So, how did I fall into living a simple life? Three events transpired to make me see “the light”.
First off, let me begin by stating that since the age of 14 all I wanted to do was be a working musician and play my guitar. Life however had other plans for me, that is until I took back control of my life later on. More on that though in another post.
The first major event was when I was laid off from a “Joe” job that I hated, but did for five years because “that’s what people do” to exist. This was in 1992 and it was one of the BEST days of my life! It was a Friday and I just got back from lunch when I got a call to drop by the controller’s office. When I walked into his office, I could instantly tell that something was up and that it wasn’t good. The controller motioned for me to sit down, and as I did he handed me the proverbial pink slip along with an envelope containing a check for my 4%. Then he shrugged his shoulders…(said in the voice of the school teacher on all those great Charlie Brown animated TV specials)
“Sorry Lyle, times are tough and blah, blah, blah. We need to lay you off effective immediately and blah, blah, blah.”
It was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and I had a smile from ear to ear, which I’m sure confused the heck out of the controller. I jumped out of my chair, reached for his hand, shook it vigorously and said “thank you!” Then I was out the door feeling happier than I had been in a long, long time. I wasn’t even sure if I was supposed to complete the day, but I didn’t care. I hurried to my desk, threw what little personal belongings I had into a bag and was out the door within five minutes.
That weekend, which started early, was a wonderful two and a half days of total freedom and I was on cloud 9…until Monday morning. Surprisingly, and this has happened to me on more than one occasion, when I woke up Monday morning, with no work to get to and no routine to follow, I felt quite depressed. The first time this happened to me, I couldn’t understand why. “Shouldn’t I be happy!? “Isn’t this what I have been wanting for a long time!?”
Eventually I worked it out that it wasn’t the job that I was missing, but the people I connected with on a daily basis and the routine. Once I realized this, I was able to accept my “disruption” with a “this will pass” attitude and sure enough, a day or two later, I was feeling great!
Normally, I would have taken a week or two off then begin looking for yet another dead-end job to continue the cycle. But not this time. Something in me snapped and I vowed never to work another 9 to 5 job again! Which I am happy to say, with the exception of a much needed job in 1998 for a few months, I have been able to stick to. Thankfully I had no debt to worry about and my rent was super cheap so it wasn’t all that difficult to make ends meet. I was also doing an undergraduate university degree at the time in Sociology, but tuition was ridiculously inexpensive and not an issue.
I had gotten a part-time job, and more importantly, fun job at a local video store just down the street from my place and it was enough of an income to take care of my financial needs. I also loved the interaction I had with customers and getting to watch movies all day wasn’t a bad thing either. I was 32 at the time and while some saw this “career choice” as unfitting for a guy my age, I could care less! I loved the flexibility that a part time job offered me along with the stress-free environment of that particular job. I worked there until 1999 when it sadly closed “thanks” to Blockbuster and Videotron opening up video stores close by.
In 1995, I also began picking up TA and RA (Teacher’s Assistant and Research Assistant) work as I began graduate studies in Sociology. This not only helped to supplement my income, but I was having a great time and really enjoyed what I was doing. AND I was getting paid to do work that I ENJOYED!! I truly thought I had found my “bliss” (Joseph Campbell).
In 1998, my mother passed away at the age of 86 from natural causes, followed by the passing of a favorite uncle a year later. These two occurrences sparked another wave of personal growth and reflection which I hold onto to this day. Without going into too much detail, I began to wonder if both my mother and my uncle had died satisfied with what there lives had become. My uncle for example, always wanted to be a musician and had the skill to do so, both as a singer and a guitar player. However, he gave up that dream when he married young and had to provide for his wife and soon to be four children. He of course did what he felt he needed to do and I never heard him complain. But I couldn’t help but wonder after he passed, if he regretted not going the distance. Not following that dream. Not finding his bliss.
I thought the same when my mom passed away as well. She never talked about the dreams or ambitions of her youth as she raised me as a single parent, but I often wondered if she too had unfulfilled expectations, dreams that she had to abandon for whatever reason.
Had I done the same? For years I had thought about music on and off and while I still loved playing, it took a definite backseat to Sociology. My school work had become my priority and I thought I was on the right track. It was after my uncle’s funereal that I decided to reclaim my bliss. And with that decision I began to once again get serious about my musical abilities and my future. I finished what I needed to at school and once that was done, I never looked back. Now some might think that all the years, time and money I spent at university was just a waste. But I think differently. I enjoyed my time there and I made some close, life long friends, and for those reasons alone, it was worth it.
My decision to get back to music I feel, could not have been done had I not been blessed with the notion of living simply. If I needed the prestige of a tenured track teaching position, if I was consumed with wanting the best and latest of anything and everything, if I felt the desire to have just as much or more than my peers and neighbors, then I would not have found my love for teaching children and adults how to play guitar. Had I not been living a simple life, I would have been aghast at the fact that I only made a little over $14,000.00 last year…and that was a GOOD year!! Without embracing simple living, I most likely would be doing quite well financially, loaded with debt and wondering why, at the pinnacle of my success, was I so “freakin’ miserable!?”
The third life-changing moment came when I was flipping through TV channels one day and came upon the last five minutes of a PBS show, which I never got the name of, that talked about enjoying the fruits of living a simple life through the embrace of a slow, but developing movement called Voluntary Simplicity. I quickly grabbed a pen and paper and jotted down the unfamiliar term. Then with the help of Google, I began to unravel this mysterious lifestyle that a marginal few at the time had adopted. I came across some books and a few websites and quickly fell in love with living life simply.
A few days later I happen to mention this new ideal and how I was excited about it to a close friend. He looked at me and said “Lyle! You’re describing YOUR life! This is EXACTLY how you’re living!”
I was floored…he was right! I had been living this way for so long that I didn’t recognize it in the terms and explanations I had been reading about (I’m slow that way at times!).
I began re-reading all that I had previously read and YES, it WAS me…it was MY LIFE they were living and writing about, with a few exceptions of course. The cool thing was realizing that I wasn’t alone! I wasn’t a weirdo for not wanting a CD player opting instead to be happy with my vinyl collection and turntable that I had since I was 16. I wasn’t strange for not wanting to work a typical 9 to 5 job so I could impulse buy and rack a up a large credit balance. I wasn’t deranged for not wanting to own a car instead of opting for a bicycle and walking. And I wasn’t cookoo for buying my clothes used from a second-hand shop instead of buying the same clothes off the rack at some big box store for ten times the amount. I was just me, living my life how I wanted to and happily doing so.
Fast forward to the present and I have been teaching guitar as a profession for about six years now. I also do some web-design work as well as perform with a variety of bands and musicians. I am also the creator and editor of a very popular online magazine devoted to Jazz Guitar and I help people with their computers when they have technical issues. At 52, I am happy and satisfied with the way things are going. Sure, I could always use a few more students, and yes, maybe the rent is sometimes a little late. But I get past that because my needs are few and I am grateful that I have the freedom and time to live my life according to how I feel, rather than how others think I should feel.
THAT’S IT FOR NOW
Well folks, there’s my story. There’s a lot more that has happened in between the time frame I mention, but that may come out in future posts.
Does any of the above ring a bell in your life? Have you found, or are you looking for your own bliss? Please feel free to comment on how you have gone about your journey and how you feel about simple living, I’d love to hear from you.