No More Vicarious Living

Have you ever experienced, vicariously, the apotheosis of your deepest darkest longing?

Who am I kidding? If you watched Must See TV on Thursday nights in 1995, then you saw Ross and Rachel kiss in the Central Perk coffee shop. You know exactly what I am talking about. If you ever watched Morticia’s wrist get devoured by Gomez, then you know exactly what I am talking about.

Since 1999, I haven’t had a television. We do not have a subscription to any streaming platforms, and haven’t kept up with any series since Lost ended. So, it has been a good, solid decade since I have been caught up enough in any fictional characters lives (besides the ones I myself write) to experience that thrill of Ross finally finding out, or Desmond and Penny being reunited, or, (gloops) Morticia coolly receive Gomez’s adoration.

I haven’t been to a movie theater in…well, let’s see. Since my scalawags were born, so at least six years. I believe the last movie I saw at a theater was Imitation Game. While a thrilling, moving, devastating story, it was not one I could imagine plunging myself into.

There is such thrill in screen entertainment, isn’t there? We get to experience all the emotions, all the ups, all the downs, all the payoff, without having any skin in the game. It’s safe. It’s cookie-cutter, but exciting. It is a parenthesis in our everyday lives, because after the swordfight or the end of the war, we get to get back to normal.

It is also, without passing any judgment at all on anyone who partakes (and with all due respect to the artists and creatives and people I have known since childhood, people I love, who make movies and television) what keeps us from pursuing our Ideal Lives.

I’m not just talking about the time we spend watching other people do bold, daring, scary, romantic, heroic things. I’m also talking about the emotional energy that we would need to do the bold, daring, scary, romantic, heroic things that we might dream of doing.

Channeling my inner Einstein

I’m just going to go ahead and quote Einstein for a second, pardon my erudite references if you please:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Albert Einstein

Why do we not do great things with our lives? Because of the decisions we make. Period.

“What decisions, Lily? I’m not making any decisions. What exactly are you accusing me of?” cries my reader, defensively.

‘I am first in my class of time-wasters, so I am casting no stones,” I reply. “But I beg to differ. We are making decisions every single moment.”

If someone said, “Oh, I would love to run a marathon,” but then every day got up five minutes before he had to be at work and then sat down in front of the TV when he got home, we would know, we would all know why he never got around to running that marathon.

There are things you would like to do with your life. Me too!!!!! Me, I want to be a best-selling novelist. I want to make the world a better place. I want be an aerialist. I want to be kind to the planet.

If I told you I wanted to do these things, but you never saw me doing anything, never heard me talking about the tiny steps I was taking to do them, then…I would hope you and I are close enough friends that you would call me out on it.

What about you? If you are not, even in the tiniest, most microscopic ways, making itty bitty efforts: changing your mindsets, rethinking how you use your time, making tiny tiny bits of daily progress towards your Ideal Life, but still expecting that your Ideal Life is going to be handed to you, then you are, according to Einstein, being a bit zany.

Your choices make all the difference

It doesn’t matter if you want to be an aerialist, run a marathon, write a novel, raise well-behaved children, take care of the planet, learn to speak Russian or be a good neighbor.

These are all the same. They are wishes; wishes which require some investment of time, a degree of competency or willingness to learn, and maybe a small investment.

By actively pursuing a wish, we are committing to make choices towards that end.

This feels like sacrifice sometimes, and sacrifice is uncomfortable. Growth is not as much painless fun as watching Spiderman learn about how his powers work. It does not numb our mind as might getting lost down an internet rabbit hole about refashioning projects to make with a men’s shirt (Guilty.)

Unwillingness to sacrifice does not prove that you are incapable of doing that thing you wish for, but that you are unwilling to become the kind of person who does that thing.

Unwillingness is a trap

Without going into all the details, for years, I was unwilling to even think about having children. People would, rather indiscreetly, and frankly, often, rudely, ask me why we didn’t have children. My defensiveness on the topic varied, depending on how the question was asked, but it was always some variation on the theme of, “Oh, we just haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

But I knew in my heart that I would never get around to it…certainly not if left to my own devices. I was absolutely unwilling.

I am going to make a suggestion, and I don’t want you to feel targeted by this. It isn’t for you, it is for that one reader who will read it an know exactly what I am talking about:

There is an area of your life over which, for whatever reason, you become intensely defensive when anyone gets too close to it. You may not even know why you get defensive about it. But you turn into a spiny porcupine the minute the conversation even innocently hints at it. For me, it was that I had no children. For you, maybe it’s the fact that you can’t hold down a job. Maybe it’s that you don’t have a partner.

On the surface, it is easy to justify: I didn’t want children. I didn’t even like children. For you, it’s that your bosses have been losers or the salary wasn’t right. Or that no partner has ever treated you well, or no one has that perfect combination of charm, passion and intelligence.

While those are the things you might say today, I am going to posit that the deeper reason is something much, much older: some trauma, some mistake, some ungraceful exit, some dark secret, some humiliation.

Your defensiveness is a way to protect that part of you that is unwilling, unable to face the reality of that past. So you’ve piled on protective barriers, protective shields.

It is much more entertaining and far safer to watch Infinity Wars than to dig into that well-guarded fortress that has become your heart. But may I humbly suggest that by living vicariously through those characters, you are making a choice to not live your own life.

Stop delegating your dreams

Tiny, tiny, tiny steps are the building blocks to any dream, but sometimes we have to demolish a fortress to get us to start on a clean slate. Tiny, tiny steps of willingness are the building blocks to demolishing the fortress. Willingness to examine our hearts. Willingness to ask ourselves tough questions.

Sometimes progress comes in drips, sometimes in rivulets, sometimes in torrential floods. Eventually, those fortresses will be unable to resist.

Is your dream worth sacrificing for? Is it worth changing your thoughts for? Is it worth giving up your comfortable internet rabbit holes for?

You and I need to stop living vicariously through others. If we ever sparkled, if something ever lit our fancy and that dream won’t leave us alone, then we owe it to ourselves to at least take a tiny step towards that dream. But we need to start by examining our unwillingness to change.

Quite honestly, we owe it to the little pairs of eyes that are watching us; they deserve to have parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends, aunts and uncles who live their dreams, who follow their bliss, who are fully alive. Isn’t that what we want for them? To live their dreams?

How will they know how to live their dreams if we don’t set the example?

Suggested reading:

If this spoke to you at all, then I want you to go back and re-read the series about finding the treasure that is buried in our own backyards.
Part One: The Shame of Plenty
Part Two: My Bags of Gold
Part Three: What’s in a Name?
Part Four: On Heaven and Dinosaur Poop
Part Five; Just Blame Me, Okay?
Part Six: You used to Sparkle
Part Seven: She Sparkles, an interview with Izabela Rabehanta

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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