Recently I have moved out of the house I grew up in. I moved with my girlfriend of three years across town to an apartment to start out on our own and live our own lives. The process has been exciting, scary, and for us filled with luck. However with all of the luck we have had, we have also made mistakes. Highlighted on January 9th from page 91 of my copy of Packing Light by Allison Vesterfelt is a single simple sentence, “I am going to give myself freedom to make mistakes.” For me this is a new line of thinking, and one that is not easily adopted. I graduated Cum Laude from college, have found a great job, and love to stay physically fit, but none of that helps me be prepared for just how difficult life can be when you work 40 hours a week and have to maintain more responsibilities in your post-graduation life. I have strived to work hard, make good choices, and achieve a level of perfection in the things that I do, but lately I have come to understand that as part of growing and learning in life, I will make mistakes. What Allison’s quote says to me is that it is fine if you make mistakes.
Living by the quote means that we accept our imperfections and understand that we do not know everything nor have all of the answers for life. In a society where we hide every imperfection of our lives and project our highlight reels on Facebook as if they were our every day lives, accepting that you will fail, struggle, and mess up from time to time is not a frequently accepted mindset.
When I started to understand that I would make mistakes and accept that I would not do everything perfectly I began to feel more at ease. I was able to picture myself in the future as someone who was constantly growing and learning from mistakes and unreasonable expectations. The best part of living by Vesterfelt’s quote is that the pressure and stress that I felt before, when I expected things to be easy and perfect, has melted away. I can go into a situation and try to be as aware as possible, and understand that it is ok if I make a mistake.
In the United States we really like the idea that things are either good or bad. My personal belief is that we get locked in to these “either or” ways of thinking because it is easier than trying to process information. Good or bad, Republican or Democrat, lazy or hardworking, all provide shortcuts in our mind for us to classify people and decisions. In Packing Light, Allison Vesterfelt writes “sometimes there are not right and wrong decisions. There are just different choices with different benefits, different ramifications, and different baggage.” This quote unpackages so much in my mind of the hold-ups that I have when looking at other people. When you watch mass media, politicians are portrayed as good or evil (or often evil and more/less evil) and their decisions are often criticized as either good or bad for society and the country. It is so difficult to imagine how many decisions go into a single piece of legislature, and all of the different benefits and ramifications that go along with a single decision in any piece of legislature. After reading this quote and trying to stop seeing things in the black or white, I have noticed how often it is that we take a mental short cut and describe something as being either one thing or the other. Vesterfelt’s quote helps me realize that we cannot simply ascribe categories to any one thing. Looking at something as an “either/or” limits your understanding of that thing or person. Our lives are very complex, and the decisions we make come from the web of complexities that we see our lives and choices through. For an outsider a decision may appear to obviously be right or wrong, but we have to remember that in that situation we are filtering that decision through our own perception without having and vision of the pressures and factors that went into the decision for the other person.
By simply accepting that nothing is either right or wrong, and that nothing fits into the duality and dichotomy that our mind seems to love, we can take a softer position on other people, our own actions, and the composition of the world. When you try to analyze something to understand what part of it is a plus or a minus, you not only gain a deeper understanding of the world, but you stop making hateful decisions, and can build compassion in your life. We all make decisions with some of them being easy, difficult, great, or not ideal, and by not berating ourselves and others for our decisions but by trying to be mindful of why we or others made decisions we can broaden our vision, and understand others better.
With Vesterfelt’s quote, the core of her idea is that we can spend too much time worrying about our own decisions and become stuck in a routine that rewards inaction versus action. When you are so caught up worrying if the next decision is the right decision, you get to a crucial point where the decision must be made, and it is easier to take not action and remain in the status quo. This is where Vesterfelt was building an awareness of her decisions so that she could avoid classifying any decision as right or wrong. She began to see that any decision she made would have both positive and negative consequences, but that the only way for her to grow is by embracing the consequences and fully applying herself to whatever decisions she makes.
In her book Packing Light, Vesterfelt also writes, “Most of life is unfolding on the road in front of us. The “outcome” can change as fast as the scenery.” This quote is important for me because it represents a lot of the thoughts that I have about my future. I am unsure of what I really want in life, and often have trouble with answering questions along the lines of where do you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years, or any length of time. In the past I know that I was locked in to an image of what success was, and I knew the outcomes I wanted: a big house, a classic muscle car, lots of medals and awards from running races. Over time, I have had to try to identify what skills I have and what opportunities present themselves to me, matching the skills I have. With this process I have had to look at what goals or images of success I had in my mind (the outcomes) and get to the base of those goals and ideas of success to try and understand where they came from.
With life constantly changing, and new opportunities presenting themselves to me I have learned to let go of the outcomes, and focus instead on trying to be the best version of myself that I can be. It is an incredibly stressful process because I am constantly looking for security, but the things that seem to be “secure” to me don’t seem to be interesting or rewarding. Learning that the outcomes can change, and allowing the outcome that I desire to shift has allowed me to have a more dynamic approach to my every day life. I do not feel so locked in to a particular goal or vision of success, and allowing those goals to change reduces the stress I feel, and also seems to provide me with more time to allow myself to reach a state where I feel successful with the person I have become.
The next quote from Allison Vesterfelt in her book Packing Light is one that has proven to be hugely important for me recently. She wrote, “We can’t measure the value of our decisions based on outcomes.” This simple idea was true for Allison before she took her 50 state road trip, and over the course of her journey it held up. In my life this idea connects back to our American image of success, and the importance of money in determining success. Listening to a recent podcast, I can’t remember which podcast or who may have been the guest, the guest on the show said that we tend to make judgements about people and gage how successful of a person they are based on their income. He said that we do this not because it is the best metric of success, but because it is the easiest. Money he said is not always the right way to measure success, and wealth accumulation is not the best way to judge our value.
For Vesterfelt the quote represented the idea that we do not always have to make decisions on what actions we will take with an end goal in mind. For instance with this blog, I don’t have to worry about having followers and achieving any outcome, it is simply a place for me to reflect on what I have read, and process my thoughts as I revisit and write them. In my personal running, each run does not have to have a desired calorie burn level, and the end goal of running consistently does not have to be winning races. If I approach running as each day getting the opportunity to do something that feels good and that I enjoy doing, then in the end I will be more successful. Somehow this idea is easier to apply to the non-monetized aspects of our lives. I struggle daily with understanding the value of individuals, and seeing people as successful, even when their bank account, car, house, and clothes do not align with the American standard of wealth and success.