What if the good life isn't really all that good?

written by john c ashworth

I’m sitting in my living room on a quiet Sunday morning sipping a homemade latte. My wife Laura is preparing for her day at the hospital as a nurse. An angel in disguise. The red chair I’m sitting in is the same one I used to use to at my fitness studio on the far west side of town in Middleton, Wisconsin. It’s not as comfortable as it used to be.

Next to me, there is an old table we bought at Costco. An ugly little thing that has been around a long time. A perfect example of the extra things we’ve accumulated over the years. Some of which have provided loyal service over the years. This table and the red chair included.

On top of the table are all of the magazines that come each month. Time, The Atlantic Monthly, Nutrition Action, Vegetarian Times, Clean Eating, and Men’s Fitness are atop the pile currently. It makes me think that you might be able to tell a lot about a person by the magazines sitting on their old table, next to their old red chair. Mostly, I read them on my Kindle, but the subscriptions are cheap and the good articles a little easier to find when you can see the pictures, and the cover. In fact, I would miss the pictures if these magazines didn’t arrive each month. And those cover stories wouldn’t garner as much attention if they didn’t call to me from atop that mesa.

The process usually entails me leafing through the pile to find something that catches my interest, and then going to the Kindle version to do the reading. Reading on the Kindle is a glorious treat that I highly recommend to anyone for many reasons I won’t detail here. The original Kindle, not the newer ones.  Mostly, it’s the clarity of the text and the ability to change its size to meet my needs, and the ease with which I can change sections of an article or magazine. Or, how easily I can move from one publication to the next.

The article that catches my eye this morning is one from the Time Cover on March 12th, 2012 that reads, “10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life.” Immediately, I begin to think of all my personal gadgets like my iPhone, iPad, computers, etc. But when I pick up the magazine and begin to read the list, it’s much more substantial and now I know I have my article. The one article I’ll have time to read before the kids wake and need their breakfast.

I reach to my left to grab my Kindle, and sure enough it’s been a little too long since I’ve charged it, and now I’m running downstairs to find the power cord so that I can plug it in and put it to work for me. That takes me about five minutes and in the process becomes a perfect metaphor for number seven on Time’s List – “High-Status Stress.”

When the new year arrived, I made an important and life-altering decision. A decision directly in line with the purpose of my recent fitness studio move to downtown Madison, Wisconsin, and with other changes I will share with you through this blog as we move forward. I have made it a point to share this decision with many of my clients to make it more real, and to help hold me accountable to get it moving. But the truth is, I don’t think that was even necessary, because I’ve realized that this decision was one of the most important I’ve made in my life thus far. A decision that will prevent me from having to suffer from what number seven in the Time article has identified.

from the article…

“What if the very things so many of us strive for–a high-paying, powerful job; a beautiful house; a wardrobe of nice clothes in desirably small sizes; and a fancy education for our children designed to prep them for carrying on this way of life–turn out to be more trouble than they’re worth?”

Though it’s long been believed that the psychological burdens associated with being a “low-status (poor) individual” grow lighter as one moves up the status ladder, it turns out that this is only true to a point. As the Time article explains, once you get high enough those benefits not only erode, but in many cases begin to negate many of the positive benefits associated with succeeding.

Personally, I’ haven’t yet reached that level of perceived ‘success’ and now I’m not sure I need to. What I realized as I turned my way into two thousand and twelve is that all of my earnest striving for it was more than enough to cancel out whatever benefits might come by achieving it. My fitness studio in Middleton was a perfect example. It was just too much to keep up with and more than I really wanted. Worse, my aggressive pursuit of superficial income related goals drove me away from some of the most precious aspects of my life. And as usual, the perspective I gain looking back is embarrassing. But that doesn’t matter either, as long as I’m learning from it.

So as I move through two thousand and twelve I have not chosen a ‘new year’s resolution.’ I have chosen a new way of life. And as a guidepost, my first mission is not being driven by a few specific meaningless goals, but instead by what has become a mantra for our entire household, “100 Things.” I have committed myself to pairing down my personal possessions to “100 things.”

Now, if you’re like most of the people I’ve shared this with, you’re now saying, “Wow, that’s pretty intense, John. Do you think you can do it?” Or, “How in the world are you going to pair your life down to 100 things? Does that include…you can fill in the blank here…” The answer to both of those questions remains uncertain. The more important part of this story is that regardless of the number, this process has already helped me shift the way I go about my life in dramatic and cathartic ways. That alone has been worth the challenge. That alone has made my life better. That alone has made my life lighter.

Each and every time I rid myself of something I don’t need, including the more abstract things like an old belief system that is not serving me anymore, I feel more liberated. Each and every time I walk away from some part of my life that is no longer serving me or my family, I make room for something new. And that something new is not material, but spiritual. And each and every time that happens, I feel a little more full, with just a little bit less. This feeling is transformative.

I have been granted an opportunity to sing my gifts to the world. This has begun with the release of my first book, and the creation of The Fitness Nomad Wisdom Center online.

I would love to have you as part of this community. And what I love most, is that I can count you as a reader :)

-John

PS You can pre-order the book by clicking here.

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