I need quiet to sleep well. I need high-speed Internet to work. I need to live in a natural setting to feel at peace.
Until two-and-a-half years ago I believed unequivocally in the truth of these “needs.”
At the time, I lived in a place so quiet I could hear the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of a raven’s wings. I had a well-equipped home office with a high-speed Internet connection that served as the headquarters of my freelance travel writing and photography business. And I spent my afternoons hiking in the dense ponderosa pine forests and white barked aspen groves that blanketed the steep flanks of the southern Rocky Mountains that surrounded the six spacious acres we called home.
Today, as I write this from a rented house in Mexico with extended stays in four Latin American countries behind me, I can get a good night’s sleep amidst a cacophony of barking dogs, exploding fireworks, and blaring music.
I have learned, too, how to work around the slow, intermittent Internet connections that are common in Latin America. In Nicaragua, for example, I adapted to a weak WiFi signal during three months of luxurious hotel living by FedEx’ing photo shoots on external hard drives in lieu of uploading images to online galleries, my usual method of delivery.
I also learned to alert clients to the possibility of delayed e-mail responses by using automated messages like, “I am currently living and working in Ecuador. If needed, I will reply to your message as soon as Internet connectivity allows.” That particular out-of-office reply resulted in new work and a Galapagos Island cruise, when the sender, an adventure travel provider, learned I was “in the neighborhood.”
And as part of our experiment in nomadic living, my husband, Hank, and I - rural people at heart - have transformed into adept urban dwellers. Not only have we learned to appreciate the convenience of having shops, restaurants, cafés and coffee houses on our doorstep, but we’ve also discovered how easy it is to get to know people - neighbors, merchants, restaurateurs, fellow coffee house and cafe regulars - in the course of running our daily errands. Without a car, we’re more likely to stop and chat or say ‘yes’ to the spontaneous invitations and opportunities that come our way.
Perhaps the greatest gift of our nomadic wanderings has been discovering just how adaptable we really are once we let go of our “needs.”
Had we not been willing to consciously choose a mindset that shattered the illusion, however, our experience might have been one of perpetual frustration and suffering.
How To Shatter The Illusion
What can you do when you believe that you need certain conditions to be happy or productive?
Our solution is to question the validity of the “need” and to open ourselves up to other possibilities.
That’s not always easy because when you believe in the illusion it can feel so real that it keeps you stuck. Maybe it keeps you in a job that’s no longer fulfilling, in a house that’s no longer practical for your current life situation, or from traveling and experiencing new places.
Sometimes changes in finances, health, employment or relationships force us to make adaptations we’d rather not. Other times, the choice is voluntary, but navigating the newness can feel just as challenging. This is when a coping strategy can help.
Here’s what I do:
- I take a breath. Even though I trust that there is a solution to every problem, when life feels stressful I give myself some space and time to catch my breath. Then, once I feel calm enough to view the situation from a different perspective, I can realize that my “need” is usually nothing more than an excuse to remain in my comfort zone.
- I get creative. Someone once said there are no problems, just a lack of imagination. That means that creativity needs to become part of the problem solving process. If noise is keeping me awake at night, maybe I can use a fan or a white noise app to drown it out. When I get frustrated by slow or unavailable Internet, maybe I need to learn how to disconnect.
- I change my response. If reality isn’t going to change, I need to change my response to it. Do I really need a reliable home Internet connection to do my job? Could I work from a coffee house or Internet café instead? Is it possible to be offline for short periods of time without dire consequences to business? Could I, in fact, work better or be more productive without the distraction and interruptions associated with being online? Instead of fighting reality, I can choose to change my response to it.
- I beta test. Making the decision to live differently can be overwhelming, because quite frankly it is difficult. We can, however, approach any life change in increments. There is a reason companies beta test their products. With feedback, they are able to polish up the rough edges, correct any errors and then launch with confidence. It’s the same with life. To let go of the need for perfection, I put myself through a beta phase where there’s still time to seek advice and make adjustments. By beta testing before I launch, I improve my chances of success.