Live, Don’t Survive: How I Realised My Life Was Ready For A Shake-Up

By Rebecca Papillo

Do you sometimes feel like you’re just surviving? Only just hanging on?

I had a vacation-induced epiphany recently where I realised that so much of my life seems to be about just surviving (in the not-living-life-to-the-fullest sense). Just making it through the day. Or the week. Spontaneity and fun are pushed to the back burner while my long list of to-do’s take pride of place.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? It’d help to know I’m not the only one who’s treading water, holding out for the next weekend, long weekend or holiday to get on with all that living I have planned.

Before getting into my whole ‘holiday-epiphany’ thing, there are a few questions that keep popping up and pushing their way to the front of my overcrowded and overstimulated mind that are in no small way linked to this whole idea of living vs. surviving.

Why am I trapped in a cycle of constant obligations?

The idea of ‘obligations’ has started to haunt me. I’m not sure if I read it somewhere or how it manifested itself deep inside my subconscious, but I’ve started to measure time in terms of how many obligations I have. For example, if I wrote a list of every activity I did in a given week, I’m fairly confident that over 80% would be categorised as an obligation.

Now when I talk about obligations, I’m not talking about a promise I made to someone else necessarily, just things that I am (or think I am) required to do. I’m talking housework, groceries, family commitments, work…it goes on.

Another way to think about obligations is anything that you preface with ‘should’. For example, all those social commitments you feel you should attend but don’t necessarily want to.

Once I’m done with all my obligations, I get this strange feeling like there’s very little time left for those things I actually want to do. Sleep, read, work-out, write, create, visit my sister-in-law to rub her growing bump (soon-to-be first time auntie over here!), taste test the latest recipe from my sister’s blog and JUST DO GENUINELY FUN AND SPONTANEOUS FUN STUFF!

To summarise, obligations = surviving.

Am I putting off truly living?

My mate Tim Ferriss (whose must-listen podcast I wrote about here) talks about the idea of a deferred-life plan (and why it sucks) in his New York Times Bestseller, The Four Hour Work Week.  Essentially, he can’t understand why we’d spend the best years of our lives – those when we’re at our fittest and healthiest – slaving away for the man for 40+ hours a week only to save our biggest dreams and goals for retirement.

To counteract the deferred-life plan, he presents a step-by-step alternative to automate cash flow and liberate yourself from the binds of the traditional, location-dependent workforce. Needless to say, there’s a bit more to it than that (approximately 370+ pages more but I’ll leave you to dive into that).

And while a lot of the anecdotal stories in the book are about these amazing digital nomads who base themselves out of a different city each week, or families who create a life traversing the most exotic corners of the world, kids in tow, for years on end, I’m not so interested in the extreme case of total mobility. I’m actually a bit of a homebody. Ok, I’m the ultimate homebody. I love routine and consistency to a fault. I still want some structure and to come home to my cosy house at the end of the day. I still want to watch Offspring on a Wednesday. I want to cook my own dinner and curl up in my mint green dressing gown and fluffy slippers and call my mum to discuss the latest controversy on Survivor Australia.

What Tim and his deferred-life plan have done, though, is make me want more. More time for the fun. For the living. Less time spent on obligations. I’m not about to quit my job and buy a one way ticket around the world, but I want to make sure I’m prioritising the good stuff in life, and not saving it all up for later.

Where has all the fun gone?

So how has all this even come to be?! How did I get so mixed up in this life of obligations and deferred-living? Why is it that I’m only surviving when I could be living?

To answer this question, I refer you above. ‘Ultimate home-body’. ‘Love routine and consistency to a fault’. Not exactly the qualities of a wild and adventurous young spirit, ey?

Somewhere in the last few years, years of growing up and settling down, this need for comfort and routine has seen me push back against anything remotely outside my comfort zone and fall deeper into the cushiony, predictability of what is safe and what is known.

In some ways, I can now see that starting my blog was an early and subconscious rebellion against that sameness. An effort to stretch myself outside that comfort zone by putting myself, my thoughts and my writing out there. But it took my recent vacation to really shake things up a bit.

Ready to live, not just survive

The first flash of ‘living’, of that strange foreign sense of exhilaration, came on my first day of my holiday, swerving haphazardly through peak hour traffic on the streets of San Francisco, one of hundreds of bike riders taking part in the monthly Critical Mass bike ride. While I selected a sensible combination of black skinny jeans and a bomber jacket as my attire for the ride, many of my fellow riders were dressed somewhat more elaborately. There were dinosaur tails and sexy Christmas outfits, pink tutus, and for a few brave souls – nothing at all – their modesty socks thrown to the wind as we took off from our starting point. And what occurred to me as I pedalled (for the first time in years) down the Embarcadero, the sun slowly setting, music blaring from boom-boxes fixed to the backs of people’s bikes, in this crowd of eccentric and colourful strangers, all smiling encouragingly at me as I accidentally cut them off or hovered dangerously close to a parked car, was that I hadn’t felt this light, this free, in years.   

And now I’m home. Head again swarming with obligations but at least now I’m aware of it. Aware of the fine line between living and surviving, and committed to retaining some of that spark, that fun spontaneity I rediscovered while abroad.

I don’t yet have any tried and tested techniques or tools for helping me strike a better balance other than just to revisit the ideas of obligations and deferred-life plan, and to remind myself that life is for living. To remind myself to take every chance that presents itself. So dig out that long-lost passion and get back to working on it. Turn that hobby into a side-gig and that side-gig into something bigger. Take that class you've always wanted to but keep putting off. Say yes, even if it’s scary, to something new and exciting.

How do you strike a balance between living life and your mounting list of obligations? How do you ensure you’re living your best and most exciting life?

Rebecca Papillo is a full time corporate who moonlights as a blogger at The Modern Ascent. The Modern Ascent is for and about women working it the modern way. But, as Rebecca knows all too well, sometimes, even for super women like us, the elusive path to having it all can be tough. Through The Modern Ascent, Rebecca creates a place where we can all find a daily dose of inspo from kick-arse women doing brilliant things out in the world. A place where we can connect with others and learn from their experiences. A community that gets us - that understands that we’re all finding our way through this modern day workplace together.

Rebecca is a big advocate for finding and nurturing your passions! Her greatest passion in life is writing, followed closely by connecting with like-minded superstars. She loves meeting new people so head over to the blog to take a look around, follow her on Instagram, 'like' her page on Facebook and drop her a note at bec@themodernascent.com.