I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how I define myself and how that is changing with our new lifestyle. The reason I have been thinking about it is that when I am out of my comfort zone I often mentally catalog my accomplishments. It is my way of grounding myself when I am in a situation that is unfamiliar or scary. Essentially, it is my way of taking a deep breath and counting to ten. I do realize though that the list of accomplishments is continually changing. Partly because my life experience itself is changing (which makes sense) but also because what I value changes. When I think about who I am and what I have done, certain things matter in that moment, but later in life those same accomplishments don’t seem so spectacular. A great example is when I achieved my bachelors degree I felt really great about that at the time (and it made the internal list), but it was later supplanted by the MBA, and then ultimately supplanted by the more generic fact that I spent 13 years simultaneously going to school, working, and raising kids. So as I get older what I view as an achievement changes and as my life circumstances change that changes the criteria as well. It’s not surprising then that becoming full timers (the second biggest change in my life next to having a child) has that internal list all in a jumble.
For a long time my list was pretty traditional. Raising kids has always topped my accomplishment list, but the older the kids have gotten and the more their accomplishments are truly their own the less impact that has. It does feel a bit like resting on laurels at this point. Yes, I did it, and arguably I will never do anything more important, but most of the heavy lifting (although you never stop being a parent) was done in the past. Education was always very important to me and will be something I carry with me forever, but as time passes those accomplishments also become more distant. There are more esoteric items of course. Being a good person has always been on the list, but how I define what a good person is has fluctuated. It’s also complicated because being a good person is also tied up in my faith and I am constantly reevaluating how to be a good person and still have limits with people. In any event those three items have been on my list since adulthood and will remain there in some form probably forever, but the other criteria is undergoing a huge change with this lifestyle which is what prompted this post.
Owning a house was a really big deal for us. It took us years to build the financial stability necessary to buy our first home and subsequently ownership of a home was a huge accomplishment beyond the physical entity itself. It stood for achieving a level of adulthood and responsibility and represented safety and security. When we started this lifestyle we knew we could give up the house, but I don’t think I truly understood how we would also be giving up those other feelings. I know I am not alone in this, many people struggle deeply with the concept of being “homeless” and it is a major emotion most people have to deal with when becoming full timers. You can make the case (and many do) that the RV will take the place of your home, but for me it is different. Again, I am talking about my home as an accomplishment and base of security, not the physical entity itself which is an important distinction. This has required a major shift in thinking on my part and has removed one of my pillars of accomplishment. That sounds a bit dramatic but becoming a home owner was a really big deal for me. Along those lines I think this is a good place to talk about comparisons.
Most people tend to compare themselves to others based upon that internal list of things they value. It’s an incredibly subjective measurement of success of course, but most people’s early list is defined by their parents, family, friends, and society they grow up in. Unless we are unusually self-aware we often don’t realize how subjective the list is until much much later. Personally, I was raised in a small town, non-diverse community where what qualified as success was VERY clearly spelled out. It took many years of being exposed to diverse people (along with my husband who has a totally different measurement system) to understand that how you define yourself and whether your life is a success can and should vary from person to person. The worst thing you can do is use someone else’s measurement system to define yourself. But if you do have to compare yourself to others, this is important: make sure it’s an even playing field. For years I beat myself up because we didn’t own a house earlier (as compared to some of my peers) but later discovered that many people we knew who bought houses earlier than we did had significant down payments given to them by their parents. So you would think at my age I would have learned to judge myself only by my behavior, but the desire to in some way “keep score” seems to be deeply ingrained. What does all this have to do with full-timing? I have absolutely no idea how to keep score in this new life, and seriously since the whole point of the thing is freedom why would I want to? It happens though, because people are people and I have seen judgement made on whether you are a full timer or part timer, what kind of rig/truck you have, how many days you can boondock without emptying your tanks, etc. As soon as you start defining something, some people start categorizing and assigning values to it. Although while we were in the research stage I bought into some of that, now that we have been doing this a while I think all that is pretty silly. I definitely subscribe to the “No One True Way” mentality when it comes to how people full-time. That’s good, but it still leaves me with this problem. I would love to say I had evolved past the need to judge myself, but I am just not there yet. The traditional categories don’t make any sense anymore so I am left with trying to define some “success” criteria that makes sense.
As much as I hate to use what you do for a living and how much money you make are pretty traditional ways of determining how well you are doing. Other commonly used ones are how many toys you have, the kind of car you drive, or the neighborhood you live in. But here I am in a lifestyle that by its very nature defies those sorts of categorizations. The vehicles we use are functional, we don’t have an address, we have very few toys since we don’t have room for them, and although I have kept my job and my title I am trying to live a lifestyle where my life doesn’t completely revolve around that job…it’s one of the major points of the whole change. So I am thinking that if I absolutely have to find a way to judge myself maybe I should go back to the beginning and start with what I value. Not what others value, but the mature, hopefully evolved me. I value kindness. I value contribution to society, which can take many forms. I value hard work, transparency, and inclusiveness. I value constructive rebellion, nonconformity, and courage. (I truly value those last three but I am not very good at them). I value friendship, and my marriage. So how do I create subjective criteria in these areas? I have absolutely no idea. But I do know I need to find a way to change my mental list to reflect these values which hopefully will lead to a day when I am truly comfortable in my own skin and can give up the list altogether. Either way it’s a work in progress, but as they say, the first step is recognizing the need for change.
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