Give me the simple life.

This is how my date with Dr. Bob made me feel.

This is how my date with Dr. Bob made me feel.

About ten years ago, I had a heinous date with a young anesthesiologist I’ll call Dr. Bob. Over the course of a seemingly interminable evening, young Dr. Bob lamented the state of his life:

Dr. Bob: I’m just so tired of people needing me all the time. I mean, I’m always getting these annoying phone calls in the middle of the night: “So-and-so is having her baby, can you come down right away?” It’s exhausting. I’m so sick of it.

Me: Um…you’re an anesthesiologist. Didn’t it occur to you during your 7 years of med school that people would be needing you?

Dr. Bob: Yeah, but I’m just saying I’m so sick of it. I’m not happy at all with my life right now. I’d rather be traveling or something.

Me: So quit. Do something else. Life’s short.

Magnet by the brilliant Anne Taintor

Magnet by the brilliant Anne Taintor

Dr. Bob: What are you, crazy!? Do you know how much time and money I’ve spent becoming a doctor? Do you know what kind of a lifestyle I’d have to give up? You totally don’t get it, do you?

Me: Check, please!

I went home, closed the door behind me with a sigh of relief, and realized that Dr. Bob had unwittingly just taught me about the vast chasm between “simple” and “easy.” Having invested many years and many more dollars becoming a doctor, Dr. Bob claimed to be extremely dissatisfied and not well suited to the medical profession. The simple answer, as far as I was concerned, was to change course completely and pursue a life that was both personally and professionally gratifying.

But changing horses in midstream, as it were, would invite a fair amount of upheaval and some anxiety, to say nothing of the logistical challenges involved. Such a bold course of action, saturated with the simple truth that life is too short to squander in unhappy pursuits, would not be easy to carry out, which is why Dr. Bob erupted in frustration.

We human beings have a persistent tendency to over-complicate our lives. But the expansive, 360-degree truth of who we are–who we are meant to be–is usually pretty simple, if we take the time to look for it. Oscar Wilde said it best:

Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing.

Give me the simple life.

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North Pole, South Pole

north_pole_MG0233My friend R. is a brilliant guitarist who spends a lot of time on the road. Road trips and trans-Atlantic flights can get long, and musicians tend to be a pretty funny bunch, which is, I suspect, how R.’s “North Pole, South Pole” game came into existence. The game goes something like this:

“Hey, Hil. North Pole, South Pole. Would you rather live in a remote village in Papua New Guinea with all your favorite records OR in New York City, but you’d never be able to hear music again?”

“Okay, North Pole, South Pole. Would you rather write ‘jazz is dead’ 5000 times on a chalkboard OR be forced to transcribe every note of a Shooby Taylor solo?”

And so on.

Now, it’s fun to play “North Pole, South Pole” on an endless road trip or after a couple of beers, but we engage in real-life “North Pole, South Pole” thinking at our own psychological peril. Regarding our life choices as binary, “either/or” propositions can actually leave us with some pretty miserable options:

“I can be an artist and live in abject poverty, OR I can give up my creativity and be financially stable.”

“I can have independence and a strong sense of self, OR I can sublimate my identity and be in a relationship with someone.”

“I can be liked OR I can say what I think.”

“I can have a career OR a family.”

At times, I’ve bought into every single one of the “North Pole, South Pole” scenarios listed above. But, invariably, whenever I start to paint the world in black-and-white, Life comes along and throws a bunch of gray onto the canvas. Free from “North Pole, South Pole” thinking, our choices, our challenges, become about balance. How can we:

weighing_the_balance_587x30…pursue our creative potential while maintaining financial solvency?

…connect wholeheartedly to our partners without losing our connection to our individuated Selves?

…articulate our own needs and ideas with the right blend of assertiveness and compassion?

…navigate the distance between our home life and our life’s work?

Pic2-3aSphereNot surprisingly, the answers to our biggest, most pressing questions can’t be found in a game of “North Pole, South Pole.” Truth, like people, tends to live somewhere in the middle.