The Real Meaning of Living Life On Your Own Terms
When I lost a career position ten years ago, one of my organization's board members made a remark that I'll never forget, and have been fathoming its depths ever since, even since my moving to Mexico.
He said that whatever I did next, whatever I chose to do would be on my own terms.
Given the circumstances, that sounded encouraging, like that I would get what I wanted. That, as I would find, was not always the case.
What I've learned is that living on your own terms doesn't mean being strident, nor does it mean not compromising. It only means setting your purpose or even several purposes. They in turn inform your terms, what you will accept and not accept.
If a person turns down lucrative jobs in different cities because he wants to be surrounded by people whom have known and loved him his whole life when he dies, he's living his life on his own terms. Living on your own terms is not synonymous with striving or ambition.
Plenty of people live their life on their own terms quietly, yet joyfully. I have a Skype Spanish practice partner whose architect son was in a snowboarding accident, losing the use of his legs.
His purpose is supporting his son, which in turn, defines his terms. When we were setting our practice schedule, he made clear that he would have to miss a practice if his son needed him. Those are his terms. He may be the happiest, most enthusiastic person I know, and a great example of how terms don't equate with getting everything you want out of life (That would be for his son to be cured) but still living it on your own terms.
One of the best things about getting older is that setting your own terms is more accessible than ever. If you are over 50 and tell your friends "Screw it. I'm going to become an artist," you will likely hear a lot less squawking than if you'd said it at age 30.
Your friends and loved ones have grown up enough themselves to understand that you have to do what is right for you. They have learned through their own losses and mistakes how to be better friends. I know I have.
By midlife, mortality has made a gesture to most of us. Everyone is coming around to realize that each of us should do what makes us happy (and perhaps keep us solvent) in what's left of our lives. If your friends don't realize that, you need new friends.
Even with their sign-off, living on your own terms has its risks. You have no one else to blame if things don't work out the way you planned. People will still cause you to question yourself.
The biggest hindrance to living your life on your own terms is the temptation to accept someone else's terms because their lives seem to work out so well for them. I used to do this all the time (still do!), creating a channeling experience whereby I would make their purpose mine, even without their temperament, their education or their hair.
One thing I learned at my last fork in the road is the value of forced, disciplined introspection when you are at critical junctures. That means no television, no social media, nothing but you and your thoughts, probably for hours and hours if you're really at a crossroads.
The biggest mistake I ever made when I lost that career position was not taking the time to reflect. That mistake cost me five critical years.
Developing the ability to be alone in a room may be the most difficult cost to bear, harder than handing your money over to a therapist, harder than asking for advice from other people, harder than keeping busy with all the things you can find to do that delay you from finding a new purpose and setting your terms.
Many people die without ever defining any other purpose other their jobs, current or past. This is fine if you can work until the day you die, but for most of us jobs go away.
Circumstances change and sometimes purpose has to change with them. If researchers find a way for people with spinal cord injuries to walk again, my friend will have to find another purpose (We can all pray that the day will come when he'll need to.) We always should be marinating our future purpose or even multiple purposes. We always need to dream.
The purpose that older expats share is to retire in dignity and comfort, which Mexico can fulfill. Their terms are of course that they have to move.
For younger expats and travelers, living in Mexico also serves the purpose of living a minimalist lifestyle or the purpose of creating a peaceful space around themselves where they can more fully appreciate simple things.
My purpose was to retain an interesting life on a budget, to continue to have stories to tell (even if I don't tell them). Daily life in Mexico is an adventure, one that doesn't require youthful stamina or a big bank account.
Cultural differences continue to surprise and delight me. Most of the time, I try to converse in Spanish, a process that's provided me many experiences; poignant, funny and self-actualizing (learning a second language changes you).
Take time, lots of it, to reflect on your purpose. Set your terms by it and create a life worth waking up for.
Related link: How having a purpose and not giving a shit are related.
Most recent: Throw away your sweat pants when you come to Mexico. You have guests.
Kerry Baker is a blogger and author of two books, "If Only I Had a Place" is a guide to renting luxuriously in Mexico for less, written specifically for aspiring expats. "The Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online" is a curation of the best free Spanish language tools on the web, with links and lesson plans to help you create unique lesson plans every day.