“Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.” –Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
About a year ago, I read Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod. The book chronicles her journey from fed-up office worker with a dearth of vacation time to her decision to save money and then quit her job to travel in Europe. I am sure that many of us dream of living that scenario, but how practical is it? How can we justify dropping everything to live a dream? It seems wrong and selfish from everything we have been taught to want and taught to value.
The goals we set for ourselves, that we are given from a young age, to get a good job, to get married, have kids, buy a house and car, tend to weigh us down with expectations. When we do not meet those expectations by a certain age, it is as if we have failed in some way. Haven’t met the perfect spouse by age 30? Failure. No kids or (gasp) do not want kids? Not only a failure, but selfish. We tend to be judged against the potential that other people see in us to be like them, and, when we fail to become the person in those potential versions of our lives, it leads to dissatisfaction and a feeling of being lost.
MacLeod’s account is not very specific when it comes to financial planning. She arbitrarily decides on saving $100 a day, is able to sell artwork and make money buying and selling stocks through methods that she does not completely explain. However, she is savvy enough that she meets her goal, cuts down on clutter, and is able to pack her life into a suitcase and travel. Through her journey, she discovers a means of earning an income without going back to an office job.
I have thought a few times of taking a risk like MacLeod did, but each time I am stopped by a feeling of selfishness. It seems wrong to complain about a life that is pretty stable when I have a job and people who care about me. Perhaps I need to be more grateful. Apparently, lots of people keep gratitude journals, though I cannot say for sure that that kind of positive reinforcement would work for me. Feeling forced to make a list each day would possibly lessen the gratitude, no?
Instead, I am trying to stay focused on what is around me, to be grateful for sunshine and good weather, flowers and trees and shade on a hot day. And to see the possibility that the life I want is not as out of reach or as selfish as the world leads me to believe sometimes. There is sunshine in Europe too. And castles and Cadbury Crème Eggs. Perhaps, with my meager vacation time, I can see some of the world, and, if I save enough, I can take a trip like in Paris Letters.
Part of the message of Paris Letters, to get rid of unnecessary clutter and expenses, to live a minimalist life to save for the things that matter most, is something I can implement today. And perhaps those small changes can help me to accomplish something larger.