Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Modern Nomads

Yesterday in Your Other You, I referred to comments Sree had posted regarding Picking and the two trains of thought they'd set steaming ahead in my mind. I wrote about the first one yesterday. Today, I'd like to tackle the second one.  In his comment Sree said:
Also, on reading your three tips under Serendipity, it seems to me to be akin to a nomadic approach to life, in that there isn't a particular home or profession or activity that you're picking and settling into for life. If something catches your eye, you pitch a tent and start working on it. If it doesn't work out after a while, you just pick up and move on to something else, no big deal. As opposed to building a huge structure there and getting basically chained to it.
When I first read Sree's comment I thought, "I've never thought about it that way, but that pretty much nails it. The way Iris and I live is very much akin to nomadism; it just extends the paradigm beyond geographical locale."

Iris and I first met back in 2003. We were both attending a four-week personal development course. Neither of us had an intention of meeting someone. We were there to work on ourselves.

Four weeks later, Iris headed home to the Netherlands where she sold her house, quit or job, gave her car away. She packed a single suitcase with everything she had left and bought a plane ticket from Amsterdam to Boston. With one small back pack, a one large suitcase and not one key to any lock, door or automobile, she left the Netherlands.

We've been together ever since.

From then to now we've lived in five places and owned three different houses. Between us, we've had twenty jobs. We've worked everywhere from Cambridge (USA) to Oxford (UK) to Groningen (NL) to Toronto (CA) to New York City to Las Vegas to suburban New Jersey. We've consistently pursued new opportunities and taken on new challenges. Our work has been as varied as one can imagine, with everything from development of an implantable biomedical device in New Jersey to helping launch a human development initiative at Oxford to performing with a blues band in Las Vegas.

Thinking about it, I guess we've done a lot of stuff in a relatively short time and that's just some of the highlights. The detailed list is pretty extensive and looking at it one might conclude that we work 24/7. We work a lot, but I don't believe that's the key to being able to do everything we've been able to do.

I think the it comes back to Sree's notion of nomadism. For most of us, our lives have been unencumbered by the accumulation and longterm maintenance of stuff. That's where Iris and I are bit different from the norm. Although we've acquired lots of stuff (e.g., computers and music equipment and tools), we only have stuff that we use regularly. If we were to pack up and leave in order to pursue a new opportunity, everything we'd need to take would fit in our car and if you were to leave out the musical gear, we'd each have a suitcase and a backpack.

It's the accumulation of stuff that weighs most of us down and keeps us from doing all we might. By stuff, I mean more than material goods (although for many just the maintenance thereof is all-consuming). Instead, I would extend "stuff" to include things like daily-patterns that have outlived their usefulness or become irrelevant, television series that have lost inspiration, relationships that no longer share common ground, plans that didn't work out or are no longer relevant to where you want to go, or obligations that no one cares to see fulfilled.

I'm sure you can think of other non-material candidates for stuff, but there's something about "stuff" that manages to chew up your day and leave little time for anything else. It sticks to you like the evergreen pollen that covers cars in the spring.

However, in the absence of stuff, you become available to serendipitous opportunity. You see it. You pack your bag. You go.

Limiting your accumulation of sticky-stuff (material and otherwise) leads to a carefree lifestyle. However, being carefree doesn't mean that you don't care. In fact, by not having cares that follow you around, you're free to invest even more of yourself into those things about which you actively choose to care.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that pretty much anyone could do amazing things in the absence of her sticky-stuff. The trick is seeing it and then finding a good solvent to unstick it.

Hmm... So here are some questions.

What's your sticky-stuff? How much of your time and effort does the maintenance thereof consume? What serendipitous opportunities have you missed because of it? What are you going to do about it?

Happy Tuesday,

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