Living slow, saying no

Life is a whirlwind, and that’s the simple truth. The dogma of western culture states that an individual has increased freedom with increased choice. This unquestioned thinking has led to what some describe as the paradox of choice. It is so embedded in our culture that it is difficult to stop and think that the opposite could also be true (which it is). That is, the abundance of choices may lead to an overwhelm that could rob us of true satisfaction.

I used to be a “Yes Man”. Born with a strong urge to please others and to be the most helpful I could be, I said yes to everything. I said yes to all social events even though I was introverted, I said yes to peer pressure even though I knew the difference between right and wrong, and I said yes to all projects even though I was stressed and extremely overworked. It garnered me a lot of “friendships” and “accomplishments” and many, many people liked me. But I was tired most of the time, sickly at best, and honestly dissatisfied with a lot of my relationships, including my relationship with myself. Most importantly, I did not have a very strong sense of self. I had a very deep understanding of what others wanted me to be. But I did not know what my own goals in life were, what values meant the most to me, which relationships I truly enjoyed, and what it meant to be truly successful.

Confused about what success truly meant, I said yes to a lot of ideas that were shaping my life to become what others expected of me. I bought a lot of clothes in different styles so that I could be socially accepted by different groups of people. I bought stuff just to shape an image that would be appealing to the public. I bought into the idea of getting married at a young age (at 18, I said I would be married by 21), and buying a home as soon as possible (I was planning my future home as early as 20), and having kids (by 24!). At the same time, I had planned to be a doctor by 26, I had wanted to have a large smattering of friends, and hoped to be working towards a vacation home, a dog, and even more stuff. I never thought of travel. I put my hobbies aside, or rather, discarded them completely. In order to gain this level of “success”, I had three jobs in college, stayed out late partying with random groups of people, said yes to many school events, and studied my ass off. I hardly saw my family, despite the fact that I lived at home during undergrad. I stopped being religious, which isn’t so bad because I still haven’t gone back, but when I was religious, I used to at least thank God every day, and I think a part of me stopped being grateful at that time, so that wasn’t too good. And I never took care of myself. I was sick for months at a time, because I honestly didn’t allow myself enough time to get better. Always saying yes, my life was a mess.

So in 2010, I met a boy who was living slow, and saying no. It was frustrating at first, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around why he would say no to a LOT of ideas, events, and things that a normal person would embrace. Even his movements were slow. He could be described as deliberate. Purposive. Intentional. Calculated. Most importantly, he was someone who was true to himself, and nobody else. He was also the most satisfied human being I had ever met. One day, we were eating breakfast omelettes and potatoes that cost $7 a plate, because we were still living on close to nothing, and out of the blue, I remember him saying, “You know, we are two very lucky people.” He expounded, saying we had everything we need and want, and more, and we had each other. We had things that some people never found in a lifetime. “Life is good.” I married the damn sucker.

It took forever, but he was the first and only person who ever taught me how to live slow and more importantly, say no. Over the years, I learned that time was more important than money. My work goals changed from wanting three jobs to earn money to buy stuff, to working ONE job that I had to love doing so much that it does not feel like work. I quit the librarian position I hated during dental school, which I only had to take in order to make ends meet when I was living at a conveniently located, high rise apartment in the middle of downtown LA. I moved to a small bedroom in Torrance and cut my rent from $1300 a month to $375 a month.  I got rid of clutter and stopped buying junk. I did not go out excessively, except to celebrate important occasions, and I cooked healthier meals at home. The money I saved, I used to travel the world with my partner in crime, and we learned more about ourselves and each other in the process. I started focusing on experiences and hobbies rather than social status symbols. My favorite thing to do in my teens was to hit the mall, scour the sales, and go out with friends. My biggest worries in my teens were the perception of self, and what others will say about me. My favorite thing to do now include taking classes and learning things that improve myself and increase my contribution to society, whether it be art or science. My biggest worry now is whether or not my friends and family will be safe today, whether or not other people in parts of the world are suffering, and whether or not I will do good by my patients through my work.

My relationship goals changed from saying yes to all my acquaintances or people I hardly met, to saying no unless I really, really liked you. I became selective in who I chose to hang out with, and I lost a lot of relationships along the way, but I regained a few that were more important to me anyway, and that was worth it. I learned that you shouldn’t try to change the personalities, beliefs and values of others, that changing the people around you is never a good thing. But you can still change the people around you. I cut out the excess fat. I realized that people who did not share the same values and beliefs as me only take away time from people who do. I don’t mean to say that you should cut out everyone who does not agree with your beliefs, but surround yourself with people who have the same end goal. You and your friend can vote for different presidents, but if both your end goals are to try to improve this world to become the best that it can be, it’s totally okay if the paths you take in order to do that diverge. Diversity is good, but so is working towards a common end. Now if you have a friend whose goal in life is to make someone else’s life miserable by spreading bad rumors about them, then maybe that’s not a friend I would want to keep hanging out with. And that’s just my personal preference, because it does not line up with my values and that’s okay. In return, I see my family more frequently. I built stronger, longer-lasting relationships, rather than transient relationships which last only half a decade. I have surrounded myself with a support system more focused on pushing me to become a BETTER person, rather than a more successful person.

My husband also slowed me down in my ridiculous fast speed chase of buying a home and having kids. Which gave me this opportunity to learn about myself. It gave me a whole new perspective on a way to live life in order to enjoy it most. I now have the time to take care of myself and to grow. He made me question why there is always this constant need for more. Or why there are social norms that we accept to be true. Why is there a timeline that one is expected to follow, a path that people expect you to take. What works for me, may not work for you, and vice versa. In order to live a meaningful life, I had to make room for only the things that matter. And very few things truly matter, in comparison to the abundances of choices we make every day. Some will still argue that with choice, comes freedom. Sure, it does, up to a certain extent. Kind of similar to the idea that money will buy happiness, only until your basic needs are met. Once you have food, shelter, safety, and a stable income, money has little effect on happiness. Likewise, freedom is defined by the ability to choose. However, choosing to say no to a lot of the choices offered to you will arguably give you even more freedom to fill your life with important matters and will lead to a more meaningful life as defined by individual ole you.

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