“I was looking for a job and then I found a job, and heaven knows that I’m miserable now...”That line is from a song called “Heaven Knows” by Morrissey, the king of adolescent angst. Every time I listen to it, I burst out laughing because I completely identify with the sentiment. I need to work, but I don’t always want to work. I want to spend time with friends, I want to take walks, I want to enjoy life. Who doesn’t? I want my work to be part of my life, but not the end of it.
In the past, whenever I dwelled on this my solutions came in the form of stern commands to myself, for example, “Quit whining. Suck it up. This is life. Grow up,” etc. And for the most part, that’s what I did. I showed up, I made a buck, I did what I had to do. I got a job that wasn’t perfect, but it paid the bills. Then I got laid off. I was scrambling, and my wife was working long hours to keep us afloat. That was a couple of years ago, and as I faced looking for a job, and then maybe finding a job, I realized I needed a major change. I applied for a job teaching English in rural Japan, and I was lucky to get it, and so I left my world behind.
In my time in Japan, I’ve learned two very important things. First, I realized that I need to be around people like me. I love Japan, but boy do I get lonely out here.
Secondly, and just as important, I learned that I don’t need much to be comfortable. My wife, son and I live in a small apartment. I take home about $2,000 a month, much less than we did in New York, and we never go without. We don’t count our pennies, we don’t feel as if we’re making a sacrifice, we take little trips and we buy what we need. The thing is, we just don’t need to buy much stuff.
So, now that I know I don’t need much money, and I want to be near friends, what to do? I read that the healthiest lifestyle involves low intensity exercise throughout the day. I keep having these crazy fantasies about getting some land, putting some shipping container houses on it, and living with friends on the cheap. A place with gardens, bike paths, and always someone to talk to or start a project with. I have some savings, so this dream isn’t completely impossible. The hard part is convincing others to join me.
I’m not talking about a commune, or even an active rejection of modern life. I’m just talking about a way of life that puts having some fun at the center, a way for people who want to garden, to make music, to play games, or to just have a good conversation, and live cheaply enough that we’re not working all our waking hours to pay the bills on a lifestyle that keeps us in our seats, dreaming of a better life. As I contemplate a return to the US, I realize that I don’t want to return to a life of scheduled exercise, paid for entertainment, and constant worry about the rising monthly costs on a life that I’m barely living. I want to live with friends, have fun, and enjoy this midlife crisis I seem to be having.
In short, I want to make a retirement community for people who want to retire from the rat race, but not from their life’s work. I want to find a way for people to make what they really care about the focus of their life. How would we make a living? I’m not sure. I do know I don’t need that much to thrive and I like to move around during the day. What do you think? Am I just dreaming, or can this be done?
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.