Many Little Lives
Updated: Jan 2, 2021
Maybe we live many little lives. Not all of them may be beautiful. But, they all lay, foundations for the next which will be.
As we draw into another year, after what has been a rather shit year, it has given way to me philosophising rather heavily about the notion that rather than one life maybe we live many little lives. Most scholars agree that our personality type, such as that suggested by the Myers Briggs does not change, but we learn through experience to react to life differently. There is a physiological reason for this; neuroplasticity, which is also why we can, for example, unlearn anxiety responses to certain stimuli through talking therapy. With this in mind, and considering the notion of "many little lives," it perhaps helps us to understand why our younger self or a period of our life feels so un-tangible today when we reflect on it - nothing more than a memory only confirmed in pictures.
However; culturally we still focus on the "long life" and "end goal"; buying a house, meeting a soul mate, studying for a specific career, entering into lengthy financial agreements, having children, working a set amount of time to earn a certain amount of pension, having an answer to that dreaded question;
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Yet, over the past 50 years, economic, industrial and social change has led to career jumping, short term renting, birth rates plummeting and prolific dating.
So perhaps this discord in societal goals vs what is achievable/desired leads to many little lives. Perhaps, it is easier to stomach our new post chrysalis self with the death of our past little life. Personally, for me, I see my little lives as being divided by travel, relationships, career moves, home moves, experiences - each having lasted for a different duration and each either resonating with my current little life or not at all. Either way, the compartmentalisation of each life helps me to, either box what has happened, understand the new me or appreciate that no matter what in the future there is hope for a more beautiful little life.
The psychological term; compartmentalisation, refers to a healthy level of acceptance. Perhaps it is more palatable to consider our life as divided and compartmentalised rather than one long unchangeable journey. Through removing weighty long term goals, we allow ourselves to be free to live life a little differently.
As Sarah Kay (1) points out, it is, hard to cope with the weight of only being allowed to live one life, when as a child we imagine we are going to do and be everything. Well, maybe we can? Maybe, we should stop saying if and start saying when. Maybe, when I grow up I’ll be a beautiful blend of all the things I want to be - who am I kidding, I'll never grow-up.
As Emilie Wapnick (2) puts it “to pick one thing, (is to) deny all of my other passions, and just resign myself to being bored”. Throughout life, we are pushed down singular paths of choice rather than being able to explore several and yet as Emilie also points out “It is rarely a waste of time to pursue something you're drawn to, even if you end up quitting. You might apply that knowledge in a different field entirely, in a way that you couldn't have anticipated.”
Experiences allow us to create a connection (as supposed to disconnection), with people who have a different frame of reference from our own. How can we empathise when we have no understanding of another's perspective? Within our, occupation are we not more likely to work as a strong, link in a chain if we appreciate how other elements of that chain think and work?
Trying to live a little differently and be led more by your gut can be difficult when you've always been fed your next step, to choose, means to rely more on intuition. A study (3) looking into the notion of intuition suggests it is the process of non-conscious emotions affecting behaviour without relying on an analysis of the situation. So perhaps honing intuition and avoiding reliance on what is put in front of us by society could lead to many fabulous little lives.
Society often encourages us to repress feelings, not shout when something is unjust, not question why, not say how something has made us feel, yet we know repression leads to dis-harmony and long term mental ill-health. Meditation, journaling and generally philosophising are, shown to help us break out of the constant cycle we find ourselves in, through, exploring our non-conscious emotional information. Information that, may lead you to your true path(s).
Using intuition is shown to be harder, as we get older, as we become more used to ‘doing as we are told’ if we consider the ‘why’ stage many children go through, it is symbolic to the fact children are yet to be chained into those set societal pathways. Perhaps we too should be asking ‘why?’ more.
As you prepare for 2021 I hope you get to choose your next little life purposefully.
Happy New Year!