For a long time, you’ve known something needs to change. Things have been crazy, haven’t they? You’ve wanted to slow down, to stop even. All this running around stresses you out and you never seem to get anywhere.
So you’ve decided to make some changes you hope will lead to greater sanity. You’re going to stop buying so much. No more worthless trinkets. No more buying whatever everybody else is wearing. Maybe you’re going to get rid of cable and do more reading. Maybe you’re going to start eating some of your meals at home. Maybe you’ll bake something for the neighbors.
Whatever specific changes you’re planning, you’ve decided to pull back from the life laid out for you by the culture, the ever-striving, ever-buying consumer circus you’ve been reared in. Instead, you’ll be aiming to live with greater depth, self-reliance, and purpose. From now on, you’ll be taking your cues from your values rather than from advertisers.
Well, you’re going to encounter some problems. Some will be external conflicts. Friends and family won’t understand. Your boss is going to pressure you. The most significant conflicts though will come from your own heart. Here are three inner conflicts to anticipate and some thoughts on how to handle them.
1. You’re going to get lonely.
By choosing to pursue a less materialistic lifestyle, you are necessarily choosing to do something different from what most people do. You’re going to feel that.
Sometimes you’ll sense the distance your new choices put between you and others in glaring ways. When you decline to spend another 20 bucks to see the newest CGI spectacle in theaters with your friends and find yourself at home learning to can instead, you’ll feel the space between you and them.
More frequently, you’ll sense the difference in subtle ways. Your satisfaction with your choices will grow, as will your sense of peace. You’ll quiet down while others continue their frenetic existences. You won’t need to say anything about it, but you’ll know something real separates you from the masses now.
From time to time, you’ll get lonely. Don’t let this get you down. Instead, determine to be proactive, take responsibility for finding new friends, a community of people who share the same vision. Chat with people at the farmer’s market. Let people at church know what you are doing. Join a book club, whatever. One way or another, connect with as many people as possible who can help you in your resolve to live differently. The whole world is designed to move you away from your values; you need help to stay anchored.
Online friends can’t replace flesh and blood, but they don’t hurt either. Read blogs, join Facebook groups, frequent the right forums. This way, you’ll know that even if you’re having trouble making real world connections, your people are out there.
2. You’re going to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing.
Every force in your life has urged you to be a functioning member of the consumer culture. Teachers in high school sent you to college to get a “good job.” Of course, what constitutes a “good job” is one that ensures the freedom to pump your earnings back into the consumer treadmill. Advertisers make it clear that everything you need to be a decent and acceptable person is available at your local retailer. Everyone you know assumes the only reason to be alive is to be constantly entertained.
The point here is that there is a massive and well-financed societal structure whose function has been to lay out a life path for you. If you are going to deviate from that path, it makes sense you’ll feel a little disoriented.
Fortunately, resources are available to you. You have a lot to learn and there are teachers everywhere. Get started with this list of online resources. Maybe you don’t even know what you want or need to know. That’s fine. Read at random until you find something that draws you in. In the meantime, be comforted that while your peers are making the 750th lap around the mall, you have embarked on a journey of learning destined to carry you toward the essence of life.
3. You’re going to fear being judged.
Let’s dispel any anxiety you have over being uncertain whether some people will judge you negatively for your choices. They will. You can be certain of it.
People are narcissistic. They will look at what you do and assume it is a commentary on them. Once you depart from the consumerist script, all your choices imply that you think the way most people do things is wrong. People will feel your pursuit of a life more congruent with an alternative set of values is a condemnation of their choices. Some will respond with condemnation of you and your new projects. Their condemnation might come as ridicule, cynicism, or even indifference, but if you pay attention, you’ll notice it.
Other people will respond in more complicated ways. Lots of those caught up in the prescribed, mainstream cultural lifestyle are ambivalent about it. They like it and they wish they could escape it. This will influence how they respond to you. They will express their admiration for your decision to center your life at home, to downsize, to plant a garden, to home school. At the same time, they’ll stay away. Your resolving the conflicts of your own life increases the conflict they feel. They express this by avoiding you.
Dealing with this gets easier as you begin to see the fruits of your new choices. The rewards make it easier to deal with others’ skepticism. Your foundation grows more solid. The waves of others’ condemnation strike with less force.
Remember this: people’s condemnation, however it is expressed, reveals more about them than about you. They are telling you who they are when they deride your choices. And this is one blessing of your new way of living. You can see others more clearly. Use this information to weed out people who consistently detract from what you are cultivating. Plant better friendships in their place.
Withdrawing from the consumer culture isn’t easy. It takes effort and planning, but more than anything it takes courage. Knowing what to anticipate will, I think, make that courage easier to find. Sooner or later, you will see the rewards your courage has brought you and, in the glow of your satisfaction, soothe the pain of the tough choices you had to make.
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