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November 26, 2012 at 3:05 PMComments: 7 Faves: 0

Fulfillment Vs. Responsibility: Spending My Time (And Not Losing My Mind)

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This Author

I've been thinking a lot about the way I spend my time this week.

One of my closest friends has been gone since September on a cross country bike trip and he's managed to make his way from Michigan to California biking several hours each day, sleeping in a cocoon-like canopy tent, and eating less than $40 worth of food on his whole trip. I did my best to convince him not to go. I mean, four months (He's promised he'll be back before new year’s.) is a really long time to be away and while I know a lot of other people, I'm kind of shy, difficult to impress, and not close with many. I miss him. In the end though, he said he felt he just needed to do it and I respect that.

catsWe’ve been friends since we were kids, but in all the time I've known him, he's never had a job for more than a year steady. His rent is cheap because he shares a house with a bunch of other people. When he buys new clothing, it's at thrift shops. He wears a lot of suits because, as he explains, they are considered one piece of clothing there and he can get a whole outfit for $5 that way. As for food, he buys as little as possible. He goes dumpster diving at grocery stores, gets free donuts from gas stations at the end of the day (the ones they were about to throw out) and enters food eating competitions. Thanks to the Grand Coney, he can live off chili cheese dogs for the rest of year, free of charge. He bikes everywhere, so he doesn't have a car or car payments. He and his cat are his only responsibilities and that's the way he likes it. He works just enough to get a couple thousand saved up in the bank and lives off it until he can't anymore. His spending is so modest, that that small amount has made it possible for him to live without a job for a full year. In short, he’s got a lot of freedom and not much holding him back.

He spends his time pursuing his interests and working on the things that fulfill him – art, adventuring and his friends. Besides the everyday junk food diet and ultra-modest digs, it really seems like an ideal, virtually stress-free life. But he says he was bored with it. He had “time, but too little drive” and all his days were “melting together.” So he left because he needed to do something he could be proud of, and I stayed because I had too many responsibilities to leave, and as time has passed these past few months our lives have become even more disparate.

I follow his progress in the Facebook posts he makes when he stops by a library.  Here are just a few:

  • Oct 1. Last night I slept on top of an abandoned prison... (This morning I found a way IN and explored the creep out of it)
  • Oct 15. Yesterday, I captured, killed, skinned, gutted, cooked & ate my first prey animal!(snakes... are mostly bones)
  • Oct 22. Today I: biked 70 miles in 5 hours (vs. 20 mph crosswinds), saw Rachel again (alive), played with my first (alive) armadillo, found a grill that will give me a 3 pound hamburger "if" I can eat it in 30 minutes & biked up a hill with a palm sized spider keeping pace! (...thats terrifying, right?)
  • Oct 29. Yesterday, I went by Palo Duro Canyon (Americas second-largest) and Hereford (Americas "beef capitol"). Hereford has flocks of birds who live in (and occaisionally pour out of) the sewers (probably, because the air SMELLS like Americas "beef capitol") AND a thundering herd of cattle ran along-side my bike for a mile! ...I cried a little. (I made 130 miles, against 15 mph headwind in 10 hours! My brain was all like, "well never make it!" but my body was just, "SHUT UP and feed me candy. I got this!" ...NEWMEXICO!)
  • Nov 1. The past 24 hours have been some of the most adventurous, of my life! Going into Lincoln National Forest, I climbed 8,800 feet in 70 miles and...I hung out with a wild stallion (20 feet away), passed a BUNCH of waterfalls and rivers, went to a terrible petting zoo, biked with frolicking deer (20 of them), watched lumber-jacks jack up some trees, broke my kickstand, slept in the 24 degree forest, heard a BUNCH of wolves around my camp-site ...slept in a considerably warmer/safer public toilet AND un-climbed 8,800 feet in 17 miles! :D! (ALSO, when I was entering the mountains, I saw some big thing, which saw me and ran behind some bushes. I stopped my bike and yelled "WHAT in the name of terrifying things are you!?" then I went over to where it had been. There was a young deer with its throat torn out, bleeding to death. I looked over to the bushes the thing ran to and yelled "HEY!" then, considering the situation, backed away repeating "...hey." to myself... I biked away VERY quickly.)
  • Nov 17. Arizona was hot and awesome! I played with a tarantula, spent a night camping with Olaf (a fellow bike-adventurer) ate a cactus-pear, got cut up by crashing into some kind of needle/bush, watched the sun rise on the mountains, climbed a sweet mound of boulders, hammocked two cactus's, found hundreds of pesos (...which is still like $19!) fixed my ripped tire with electric-tape AND got giggled at (but not searched very well) by the cute girls at the California border. (I'm inside of California now... by the way) :D!
  • Nov 18. California = WIN! I've gotten free dinner from a casino and a new tire from a stranger and a lot of fruit from the local trees. I've been hit on by a cute girl in Desert Center and told to hop barbed wire by a cop in Yucca Valley. I've carried my bike for miles, with a popped tube and slept between palm-trees in a torn hammock. I've biked through rain-storm and dust-storm, hot days and dark nights, desert and forest and mountain. I've been called "incredible" and "a bandito" "inspirational" and "crazy" ...mostly the last one.(BESIDES all of that, I've made it to Rancho Cucamonga, CA!!! The place my grandma lives and where I was born. I've finally biked across America! ...So, what now?)

 My Buddy Path Across the US

…YEP. That’s my awesome best friend making me proud and also miserable with my own lack of accomplishment.

While he's out inspiring and adventuring, I'm working and paying bills and grocery shopping and doing laundry. I OFFICIALLY work the average 40 hours a week, but in reality it’s much more than that because when I’m not at work, I’m still thinking about work, and when I’m not thinking about the work I get paid for, I’m doing un-paid work around the house. When he was around to do such things with, my friend and I had argued about this fairly frequently.

the plushies Erin makesI used to be so much fun - spontaneous, and creative, and more like him. It wasn't SO long ago that I used to make weird plush toys and write stories and go out and do crazy things. I worry I've let myself become old and boring. He'd scold me about how much of what I had to say for myself was work-related. To be honest, I hated that too, but I’d defend myself saying “That’s just what happens when you grow up! I need to support my family and do whatever I can to make sure Ivy goes to a good school and lives in comfortable home. I have more than myself to worry about!” I often pick him up or drop him off in the car I pay for. We hang out at my house, because there is almost nothing inside his. When he comes over, I make him food. I’m happy to offer what I can give to my friends, but all these things are the fruit of my labor. “How dare he question my lifestyle choices? He’s just not being realistic.” I’d complain.

But then I look at my life right now, and think he’s got a point.

I'm not really satisfied with the way I spend my time. Where I am is not "just what happens when your grow up." Working and accomplishing for yourself outside of work are not mutually exclusive feats, it's just that I am so intense and demanding of myself in whatever I do that when the necessary work is done, I am completely drained and completely stressed. I haven’t the energy or will left to do much more than curl up in bed. While I can’t live as cheaply as he does, or take off, family in tow, on a bike trip across the United States (for one, I am NOWHERE near that fit!), I don’t want to continue on this way forever either. As with most things in life, I know I need to find a better balance.

I need to carve out time that is exclusively for a project that fulfills me. I need to leave work at work and I need to remind myself that a happier me is a me that is better for the world. I’m often asked for advice, but maybe it’s time for the advisor to listen to (and apply!) her own words. How can I be happier?

“Do the sort of things that make you proud to be you!”

This week, that will be my challenge for myself and hopefully, I’ll have something really good to report next week. See you all then!

Photo Credit: Profound Whatever's

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  • that's super cool that he just got up and followed one of his dreams!

  • *nods* He's pretty darn fearless and cool. Definitely inspiring.

  • wow! bike across the usa is kind of amazing. i find it particularly awesome that his first prey animal is a snake. that's what i'm always thinking would be easiest to catch?!

    sounds kind of weird, but i find that a large part of being happy is not being unhappy. yes, your friend is doing something awesome, so be happy for him, not unhappy for yourself. you have a daughter (hence the responsibility)... which is infinitely more awesome than a bike trip, so be happy for yourself, not unhappy that you're kind of tied down. the might-a-beens leave us longing unhappily because they look deceptively perfect, but wouldn't be so if we were there looking at our current life as the might-a-been.

    and i'm not saying you shouldn't follow your dreams and do awesome stuff. fear not failure fair froehlich! mix it up. don't feel like you're stuck where you are. yeah, you have a house (they sell), a family (kids are extremely flexible), a job (you can always get another), and friends (you're still friends with your buddy who is thousands of miles away for months). those things don't glue you into an inescapable spider web of misery. heck, i moved 700 miles because i needed something different in my life.

  • Sprouty-

    I really appreciate the encouragement. That means a lot. And, yeah, I think you've hit on some big underlying parts of my problem.

    I've been responsible for a child since I was 15 and while I seriously wouldn't change that, it has meant that I'm not able to do all the same sort of things my friends can. I had to grow up quickly, and that's hard, but even still, I've managed to do plenty since I've had Ivy, so being a parent isn't really a good excuse for not working on something for myself outside of work.

    Having a home and job do also interfere, for sure! They take time and energy away that could have been used toward other pursuits, but people have those things and do things for themselves besides also.

    Without comparing myself with anyone else, I think it really just comes down to me to challenge myself. I don't think the way I'm doing things right now is wrong PER-SAY, but I haven't been pushing myself to potential I think I have in me. It's so much easier and more comfortable staying the same and doing the same thing. I've been too self-indulgent and self-pitying lately and it's not doing me any good. I (like most of us, I think) need to be a little less comfortable.

    I'm going to try recording what I do each night this week. I'm hoping this little bit of accountability, seeing things written out on paper, will make me want to try harder to make it sound better. We'll see how it goes!

  • Happiness, peace, fulfillment, these are personal virtues, not universal truths. Your friend has a modicum of courage, there is no denying that, but his accomplishment is fleeting. Once he has reached his endpoint, he will look for the next best thing, and the next, and the next, constantly longing for a fulfillment that lasts beyond merely a fond memory.

    I am no expert, but I would say that raising a child is one hell of an accomplishment, especially if you find fulfillment in the process. Not only is raising a child an accomplishment, but it is one that continually gives you joy as you watch an actual human life that you brought into the world become an adult. Your entire life has a purpose, and while it may not be the purpose you dreamt of while a child yourself, it is a purpose that brings peace and fulfillment.

    It is easy to look at the outside world and see it as exciting, much like it is easy to admire a courageous individual, but in the doing we lose sight of the greatness in front of our very eyes.

  • E-

    I appreciate your encouragement as well and I agree that we are probably less appreciative of the things we have than we should be. Doing well as a parent is definitely something to be proud of, and I am. I know probably most parents say this, but Ivy really is a fantastic kid. Everyone always tells me how sweet and well-behaved she is, how creative and smart. But in the end, I want to be more than just a great mom - and I hope Ivy will want that for herself.

    Fulfillment and happiness are subjective and personal, and yes, they are also temporary, but I think that's sort of besides the point. I'm under no illusion that biking across the US or any other singular feat is going to make me fulfilled and happy ever after. My friend is done biking now. He'll be flying back to Michigan after Christmas and then he'll have to find something new to work towards and be proud of.

    I just worry I'm not using my time as well as I could be. I have more to offer than I am offering. I admire people that push their selves and can recognize the difference between the important and non-important things, like my friend does for the most part. I've been too concerned with indulging and comforting myself and not concerned enough with actively shaping my life. That's not the sort of person I want to be or the example I want to set for my daughter, my friends or anyone else. I think most of us could stand to push ourselves a little more - spend a little less time vegging out and a little more time cultivating our talents towards a better us and really, ultimately, a better world. That's all I'm saying. :)

  • I love this! I want to try it on horse back.

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