Three years ago today, I went to a football party with my ex, a last ditch attempt to relate to his friends. I was the weird yogi art teacher he met in philosophy class, and they were the friends he’d had since his days playing high school basketball. Nice people, we’d just historically had nothing in common. I knew before I left the house that this party was the last place I wanted to spend my Sunday…. but I went anyway. I have a hard time hiding boredom from my face, or pretending piles of chicken wing bones don’t freak me out. My ex was visibly frustrated. “You don’t have to be here” he said with an eye roll.
He wasn’t meaning to say something philosophical, just expressing his ever expanding contempt at my inability to be normal. But what he’d said hit me like a cosmic two-by-four. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE HERE. Holy hell… he was right. I didn’t. Why was I?
It was a personal accountability epiphone/ life-changer moment.
I left the party ten minutes later, spent four hours finishing up the online TESL course I’d been putting off (most likely to do lots of other more socially acceptable things I didn’t really enjoy), then I spent the evening doing yoga and drinking wine and finishing a painting. I went to bed alone that evening while he partied with his friends, not yet understanding why I felt so light.
Something in me had shifted in the moment I walked out that door. As a lightbulb went off about how I almost wasted an entire afternoon being miserable for no reason, I had instantly become incapable of believing my own bullshit when I complained about how the life I had wasn’t the life I wanted. On the drive home, it hit me how many moments I hadn’t even asked the question, “Am I enjoying this?” and was just navigating my world on autopilot, slightly unfulfilled.
Best shift ever. I ended up spending the next month on the lost coast of California doing Tai Chi, meeting really amazing people, and climbing mountains, several months in Asia riding motortaxis and teaching English, and the fall road tripping out West, discovering expansive landscapes and echo chambers hidden inside silos that mirrored the same way I was beginning to open up inside and understand that every decision I made reverberated and came back to me magnified. I was creating every limitation and every opportunity I’d ever had. A ton of responsibility in that realization, but also an infinite amount of possibility.
By the end of year, I refused to settle for anything in my life-when I couldn’t job I wanted, I started an online business. I found new ways to make money that felt less restrictive. I quit wasting weekends going to social events I didn’t enjoy, and as a result found a group of friends who continue to inspire me. I stopped settling for ‘meh, I guess I don’t hate this’ so I could find my ‘hell yeah, this is the gooooood stuff’.
So I may not give two flying fucks about sports, but I love Super Bowl Sunday. Because it’s my anti-excuse day, the day I remind myself:
You are free to do whatever you want, but more importantly… free to not do things. You are free to say no to things that feel restrictive, inauthentic, or not in integrity with who you are. You are free to dislike things, people, and experiences, and choose new ones. You are free to turn down opportunities that make logical sense but don’t give you joy. You are free to find new opportunites, go to a new place, do a new thing. You are free. Don’t waste that, even for a moment.
And sometimes, it’s the day I book plane tickets (!), then take stock of the two new online jobs I have as a result of not settling, and give myself a pat on the back. I don’t even know who plays in the Super Bowl, so I guess I won’t be making any bets. Except this… when we say no to things that don’t light us up to make space for what we love, for the things that make us feel expansive and joyful, we win.