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

By — One of many Emotional Health blogs on

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:

 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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