Note: Today Jacob Sokol (who I met through blogging but consider a friend in real life) shares his story how he got his eyes opened about the senselessness of modern Western life, i.e. trading time for money to buy things you don’t need and don’t have time to use. I found it really interesting and wanted to share it with all of you.
“One of the main weaknesses of mankind is the average man’s familiarity with the word ‘impossible.’ He knows all the rules which will not work. He knows all the things which cannot be done.” – Napoleon Hill
I always felt like there was supposed to be more to my life. Something bigger, better, and deeper…
But what, where and when? I hadn’t the slightest idea.
I mean, it wasn’t like I didn’t have a good life – I did. I can’t deny that. A few years ago I was working for an up-and-coming technology company in Times Square, NYC. I had a few dollars in my pocket, physically I was healthy, and my family loved me. Things seemed great. But underneath the surface stuff, in the deep depths of my core, behind all the Dexter episodes and GQ magazines, I still felt incomplete.
It was as if my soul was trying to say something to me but all I heard was mumbling. “What was that?!” Could it be that society had stuck some masking tape over my soul’s mouth to shut it up? Maybe. All I instinctively knew was that MY LIFE WAS LACKING MEANING and despite the occasional meditation class I took, I wasn’t getting much guidance in finding some.
So what did I do?
I did what everyone does!
I did anything and everything I could to cover up that unanswered calling. Dinners, people, drinks, parties, television, vacations – anything to temporarily take my mind off my life as a whole (and with a hole).
But behind all of the clutter that I accumulated to confuse myself, I was at war with a worthy opponent… MYSELF! On one hand, I knew I had MASSIVE amounts to be grateful for, really, MASSIVE amounts. Yet, on the other hand, a deeper part of me wouldn’t allow myself to deny that I wasn’t at peace internally. I was having really high peak experiences followed only days later by super low feelings of total emptiness.
When something good happened to me (hot date, raise at work, new car), I was on top of the world… sittin, spinnin, and grinnin! I’d feel great about myself in a gregarious state of exaggerated elation. BUT when things started to cool down, that excitement took a poignant plunge. Once the happy emotions associated with whatever EXTRINSIC prize I possessed wore off, I HIT ROCK BOTTOM.
My days felt dark and depressing. It was back to the living the façade: “successful” on the outside but off-balance on the inside. And this went on for years.
Worse than that though, my mind was playing tricks on me. I had an uninvited house guest in my mind that would pop in and speak up whenever I had too many positive thoughts. He was a sneaky little sucker gremlin in the back of my mind who would say stuff like, “YEAH RIGHT BUDDY, don’t even try it!”
“You’ll fuck it up.” … “You’re not good enough.” … “But what about your fear that no one knows about?!”
These types of thoughts almost drove me insane. I didn’t know what the next step was but I decided I needed to get away. After working at my job for 3 years straight with minimal vacation time, I told my company I needed to take a sabbatical. They agreed and I ventured off to Europe, for the first time in my life, alone, for five weeks!
I’m going to share with you three realizations that I had out there. These changed my life.
The first realization was I didn’t like my lifestyle.
I noticed that in many parts of Europe, people “worked to live.” They made enough money to support themselves and then enjoyed having recreational time to do things they love on a daily basis.
It was a shocking contrast to America where most people “live to work.” We Americans work to make money so we can buy crap we don’t need. The irony is that although we accumulate all this stuff, we don’t have the time to use it. This was a huge realization for me.
I realized I would be willing to trade my salary in exchange for just enough money to survive and a boatload of free time to explore what excited me.
The second realization was my thoughts are not me.
I discovered that I AM NOT MY THOUGHTS, and WOW, was that a relief! So just because I had some semi-crazy self-sabotaging thoughts doesn’t mean that I should be on line waiting to become cellmates with Charlie Manson? Exactly!
People’s thoughts are largely a product of their conditioning and their conditioning is largely a product of their environment. Now, some psychologists say that it takes 21 days to develop a habit. Here’s what I love:
Our thoughts are really just habits of our mind… if we can change our habits, we can change our minds.
After about 3 weeks of backpacking and exploring the world, a subtle and strange shift started to occur. The same thoughts that I believed made me who I was – the ones that tormented me back at home and were woven into my identity – those thoughts nearly disappeared from my mind. Hmmmmmmm… There may be something to this!
The third realization I had was that I am not my role.
When people do the same things and see the same people all the time, they unconsciously accept a role in life. Once people have a role, they tend to accept their role as not just what they do, but as who they are. When you meet someone and they ask you “What do you do,” they’re really asking “Who are you?”
And once people start to understand your role in life, they treat you according to that role. It makes changing extremely difficult because other people are constantly affirming to you who you are.
So of course, I was Jacob the Computer Guy. And since I was living in alignment with my Jacob the Computer Guy identity, I didn’t get a chance to authentically express the other parts of me. What about Jacob the Hip-Hop Head… What about Jacob the Personal Growth Guy… And what about Jacob the James Bond?
I realized I wasn’t alone. I met loads of people while traveling in Europe who were sick of being boxed into a role that society told them they should fit into. So they said screw it and hit the road to travel, to wipe the slate clean and start fresh, figuring out who they are and who they wanna be.
Well, when I finally came home from Europe, 33 days later, I knew I could never go back to the life I was living. It wasn’t even an option – my sanity depended on me moving forward.
Granted, I still had a lot to figure out and I wasn’t gonna spontaneously quit my job. But I kept my future plans to myself, and started constructing ways to move on to the next part of my life.
Note: You can learn more about Jacob at his awesome blog Sensophy and you should definitely check out his new guide called “Living on Purpose” that he is officially releasing today.