Monday, May 16, 2011

Getting Back to Basics (Or “Digging a Deeper Hole”)

Yesterday, after an exciting morning of surfing, I decided to just hit the beach in the afternoon (yeah, I know, life is tough in Australia...). Initially, I was hoping to get some reading done, but the book I'm currently working my way through didn't really pull me in, so I ended up in a half-reading, half-lazing-around daze.

At some point, I started subconsciously playing around with the sand with my right hand. I picked up handfuls and crumbled them through my fingers. I wish there was some mind-bending, clever metaphor regarding the nature of sand that served as the underpinnings of this post, but that's not the case.

When I was younger, my brother and I always used to find creative ways to spend time on the beach, generally involving either building a “wall” to prevent waves from encroaching further up the beach, or digging a big hole to...well...just for the hell of it, most of the time. Sometimes, we'd combine the two in the search for the perfect system of moats and walls to try to control whatever ocean we were combating.

Perhaps driven by these memories, at some point yesterday, I just started digging. And digging. And digging some more. I must've dug three feet down by the time it was all said and done. Sure, there were other people on the beach, probably wondering what the hell a grown man was doing digging a big hole in the sand, but I kindly direct those people to rule number 4.

It felt fantastic. It was like rediscovering a long-lost part of myself that had long ago been left behind. Somewhere along the line, something in my mind told me, “you can't dig anymore, you're an adult!” And for some reason, I bought into this wholeheartedly. Adults just don't dig holes! If that's the case, why did it feel so good then?

A lot of times, as adults, we're told that the kinds of fun that we used to have as kids aren't any good anymore. At some point, the old toys are thrown out, and we're told to “grow up.” A lot of people try to fill the void with fancy new toys, like cars, clothes, and watches, hoping that these will bring them a similar kind of happiness to that they enjoyed with the old toys. Some people even really enjoy these new toys, to which I say, “great!” But some people get one or two of these fancy toys and think, “is that it?” Worse, sometimes immediately after buying one, they're met with buyer's remorse--”was that the best new toy I could've gotten?”--or worse still, “I wonder if this toy is better than my neighbor's toy.” This is a vicious cycle, one that leaves people empty, wanting more, and compiling a collection of pure shit at the end of the day.

Maybe the answer is to sometimes just go back to what made you happy as a kid. If you liked digging holes, dig a hole (after checking with your utility companies, of course). If you liked drawing or coming up with stories with Ninja Turtles, maybe try that again, too. If you directed all of your energy to sports or dance, maybe take that up as a hobby again. If you liked building things, take up woodworking or sculpting. If you have kids, all the better—let them in on the fun. If not, well, then you should have more time to try to rediscover what made the kid “you” happy.

Some of you might think that reconnecting with what made you happy as a kid is...well...childish and stupid. “I'm a grown-up! I have a house and a car and a job and responsibilities!” Lighten the fuck up, already. Life isn't some serious, punch-the-clock exercise in futility, wasting time until your number's up. If you're even a little bit unhappy with the direction your life is headed, maybe rediscovering what made you happy on a very basic level, without those responsibilities, is a step toward reclaiming the life you want. And if not, then what are you out? An afternoon? Not all that big of a gamble in the grand scheme of things.

Since I'm preaching action as opposed to idleness, I'm going to try to start putting “Action Items” at the end of posts. “Now homework? You're fucking shitting me!” It's not like it's mandatory or anything, and I'll be doing the same things, this is more of a “follow along at home” for those who want to try to better themselves. If you don't do these things, I won't be offended—hey, at least you're reading—but I figured laying out some measurable steps (when applicable) could only help those that actually want to make affirmative progress toward their goals.

Action Item: Try to remember one game or activity that made you happy as a kid. Try your best to recreate it sometime in the next week or so, and see if it leads you to any realizations about what you really want to be doing or how you can live a more enjoyable life.

Also, feel free to leave any stories in the comments.

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and recovering attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

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