Monday night after work, my mom and I drove 10 minutes from our house and took a brisk, 1 hour hike that led us up and around 3 small peaks. It was the kind of evening that reminds me that no matter how badly I want to travel and move and experience different places, NH will always be my home. The fact that, with no more tools than my own two feet, I can trek through dense forests and out on craggy hilltops, my imagination calling the elevated fields the moors of England, is incredible to me. It was post-work at 5 o'clock on a Monday night, after what had been a 'not horrible but definitely meh' day. And there I was, having the kind of beautiful experience I keep stored in the back of my mind under 'bucket lists'.
The thing is, there is nothing magical about 5pm on a Monday. As a current day-job holder, it's tempting to call it the least magical time of the week. But the truth is, we can't spend our days waiting for the magical moments and perfect situations. They don't really exist. Instead, we need to be able to look at our lives with clear eyes and actively pursue the work, people, situations, and interests that will add the most joy.
I occasionally listen to Gretchen Rubin's podcast 'Happier', and I've been ruminating on a point she made a couple of months back (I've searched for the episode, but I can't remember exactly which one it was). Rubin was talking about her family's long, drawn-out decision to get their dog Barnaby. As newbie-dog owners, they were reading everything they could get their hands on about dogs and training, the pros and the cons. Living in NYC, there was no question that choosing to get a dog would mean a substantial life change; but would it be worth it? Sure, having a pet ads a lot of joy to life, but would the extra hassle outweigh the newly-added joy?
Upon reflecting, Rubin thought, "choose to live the bigger life." Spoiler alert: they got the dog, and they are so happy they did. Yes, training is hard. Yes, having a dog in an apartment is hard. Yes, he's added an extra responsibility to their already-full plates. But alongside all of that, he's also made their lives bigger. He's made playtime more boundless, their bonds a little deeper. Turns out, adding complexity can quite often also mean we're adding depth.
"Choose to live the bigger life" has not been absent from my mind since the day I first heard it. It spurs me on to stop playing small, and instead explore the outer reaches of my capability. What would happen if I tried for the better job? Started that side project? Started talking to my friend-crush? Asked someone out? Took that new class? Everything that is great, and exciting, and ultimately soul-filling, is on the the other side of an active choice to do something. Even the simple things.
I've also discovered that living the bigger life does not always mean living the more Insta-worthy, crazy-solo-trekking-across-Europe-life, either (unless, of course, it does). Living the bigger life is choosing not to be satisfied with the same-old, same-old, that leaves you peevish and annoyed instead of happy. You can live your bigger life by starting your freelance gig on the side. Or playing pickup hockey. Or running a 5K. Or having a kid. Or going to see your friend's play. Or turning off the TV and reading really great books. It can also mean taking a job in a different state, going back to school, saving for an adventurous vacation, or working for yourself. My guess is, that for you, living your biggest life involves a mixture of crazy, toe-crinkling adventures, and some ridiculously pleasant hum-drum experiences. The sweet spot is in the balance.
Last Monday, work was boring. I was tired. It was 5 o'clock, and I'd eaten a decent amount of chocolate already. I wanted to lay on the couch and watch Friends, but probably would have ended up attempting to be 'productive', and ultimately scrolling my phone. But instead, I got pushed out of the house and on a hike that has no joke, changed my entire week. It gave me time to catch up with my mom. It helped me re-calibrate after a busy weekend. It gave me time, and respite, to now look out at the rest of my week and know that I've been able to spend time doing exactly what 'dream Gillian' would be doing.
I will always stand by the opinion that we have significantly more power over our lives than we think we do. No matter your situation, you're in charge of what you make of it. I don't want to look back in 20 years and think that I settled or cowered in a corner when life came and offered things that were exciting (and terrifying). Even on Mondays, I can check that I'm doing my best. Trying my best. Pursuing that bigger, more satisfied, more authentic life.