Earlier this year my wife and I were talking about the future. About our dreams, goals and shared longing for change.
We lived in an idyllic California town in the Santa Cruz mountains, among towering redwoods. We were just minutes from the ocean and Monterey bay.
We had a comfortable home, peaceful garden, established routines and family/friends nearby.
Our 19 year old son had another semester to complete at the community college before venturing off to university life. He had local buddies who visited regularly to play video games.
We owned our home, had no debt, and a really cool brewery just opened up down the street.
In short, everything was perfect.
Until it wasn’t.
Status quo is mediocrity’s best friend
Change for change sake can be a crapshoot. It might work out, it might not. But when you know in your heart that it’s time for change, that’s a different story. That’s your spirit whispering in your ear.
When you hear that whisper, it’s easy to dismiss it. It’s easy to rationalize and come up with reasons why change is bad.
Your family and friends will often dissuade you from embracing change. Why? Because it affects them, too. They mean well, but change is hard. People like things the way they are. They like things comfortable. Familiar.
People like the status quo. But the status quo rarely gets you to the next level. The status quo is a kind of glue, cementing you to where you are. Not where you want to be. Not to the place where dreams happen.
How do you free yourself from self-doubt and the false comfort of the status quo? By combining two incredibly powerful words. Two words that empower you to see beyond the present. What are those two words?
Writer Mike Myatt wrote a piece in Forbes.com titled The Power of ‘What If.’ Here’s a snippet of wisdom from the article:
I’ve always said status quo is mediocrity’s best friend. While static thinking is the best short cut to obsolescence you’ll ever find, why would you want to travel that path? The sad thing is, I observe many more people willing to travel a path of ruin than I do people willing to change their thinking. While companies destined to fail reward average thinking, successful companies reward the bold thinking revealed through the microscope of what if.
The pure elegance of simplicity
Solutions to problems don’t have to be complicated. Often, the answers to our troubles are fairly simple and straight forward. However, that doesn’t mean the solutions are easy to implement.
For example, if you want to lose weight, the solution is simple. Eat less and exercise more. Yet, weight loss is a billion dollar industry. Why? Because even though the solution is straightforward, the devil is in the details.
The actual process of eating less and exercising more is difficult for many people. Their lives are busy. Time is thin. Personal discipline falters. So they turn to diet experts and personal trainers to accomplish their weight loss goals.
With focus, professional help and fortitude, positive change can happen.
It all starts by asking two simple words: What if? Asking these two words can open the flood gates of possibilities, epiphanies and insights.
Asking “what if” can literally change your life.
The solution to asking “what if” might be simple enough, but following through with it can be hard. That’s what separates the successful from the unsuccessful.
Successful people take the answer to their “what if” and marry it to action. They’re willing to endure the pain of change, despite the simplicity of the solution.
Consider early morning joggers. They know they need to eat less and exercise more to lose weight. They’re out running every morning, unlike the folks who are sleeping in. They asked, “what if I finally lost the weight?” and then married the answer to action.
Whether solving problems in your personal or business life, asking “what if” can reveal new pathways to success and a brighter future.
Here’s Mike Myatt again, from his article The Power of ‘What If :’
Much has been written about the power of creative thinking, ideation, disruptive innovation, etc., but little has been written on how to successfully implement these processes. If you’ve ever wondered how to find those “ah-ha” moments, they all begin through observations inspired by asking what if. Just because what I’m espousing today is simple doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. While many so-called business gurus sell profit through complexity, the reality is leaders rarely profit from complexity — real profit is found in the pure elegance of simplicity.
A nascent angst
When I first met my wife, she’d just ended a failed relationship and was ready to get out of Dodge.
She was born and raised in our small town, and its five square miles we’re closing in on her. Sometimes, more of the same becomes stifling.
I threw a wrench in her plans. When we met, I was a successful lieutenant in our local police department, being groomed for chief of police.
We fell in love and my wife shelved her plans of travel and moving to the big city. She sacrificed to support me and my career. Yeah, I know. I’m a lucky guy.
Still, the siren song of new experiences and expanded environs kept stirring in her soul. Like a persistent dance partner, not willing to give up on the dream.
I eventually became chief of police, and for ten years we raised our son and navigated community events, political waters and the joys and challenges of small town life.
Below the quotidian rhythms, my wife wasn’t the only one wrestling with a nascent angst. Outside of my law enforcement career, I had a passion for writing and artwork. I longed to dive into my creative life.
The compulsion for creativity and self-expression can’t be ignored. It’s not always convenient and won’t guarantee a paycheck, but pursuing it definitely feeds your soul.
As much as I enjoyed my law enforcement career, increasingly, I longed to write, paint and draw my cartoons. I knew I had five years to go in order to maximize my pension, but after 26 years in police work, I was ready for a change.
Can moving to another place improve your life?
Writer Dave Reynolds partly answered the Quora question, “Can moving to another place improve your life?” as follows:
I think the key to discerning whether a move will be healthy for you is to ask yourself, “Am I moving toward something beneficial and positive or am I running from myself and my circumstances?” Are you blaming your environment when it might be instructive to look inside?
If you move for clearly-defined, positive reasons, then you will likely experience a huge amount of benefit from the move.
If, however, you are merely running from your circumstances or your own interior life, then all you will likely accomplish by moving is to bring your baggage to the new place where you will still not be content.
Everything was seemingly perfect for my wife, son and I. We loved our home. We had family and friends in town. But in December of 2016, I decided to retire early from the police department. It was time to pursue my writing and artwork.
My wife was a hospice nurse, but after a year of dedicated service and bravely facing the loss of patients, she was worn out. Exceptional nursing is an art form, but it comes at a cost. The best nurses give a bit of themselves, and it takes a toll.
My son announced that he wanted to attend the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to complete his degree in computer engineering.
We have friends in southern Nevada, and like the area where they live. The homes are affordable, and there is no state income tax. My wife loves the diversity of restaurants and things to do in the Las Vegas area.
One night, over a few glasses of wine, we asked the question: What if? What if we moved and bought a home near Las Vegas? What if we embarked on a new life? Not because our old life was bad, but because another life beckoned.
We weren’t running from our interior lives. Rather, we were ready for a new adventure. We drove down to visit our friends in southern Nevada and explore real estate in the area. Before long, we found the perfect house.
My wife and I asked the “what if” question and liked the answer. Moving to southern Nevada put us closer to the university our son wanted to attend. Not to mention, the home we found was a block from our friends. It all fell together perfectly.
The only sticking point was my 83 year old mother with Parkinson’s disease. She was well ensconced in an assisted living community back in California, and unlikely to move with us.
After a lot of discussion, my wife and I decided that the answer to our “what if” was worth it. I would simply commute every other week to California, to visit my mother.
Yes, we would be moving further away from family and friends. But we would also be starting a new and exciting chapter in our lives. Sometimes, even when your present life seems perfect, you need to change things up in order to grow.
The power of life design
Have you ever felt rooted to an area? Some people are just itching to escape their home towns, but others like the security and familiararity of where they’re from. I know I did.
When I moved away to college, I knew I had home to come back to. When I began my law enforcement career in a different town, it was only a half hour drive from the town I grew up in.
It’s nice to feel safe and secure, but sometimes you end up cocooned in the past. Asking “what if” forces you to look beyond the cocoon. You begin to realize that your old life is preempting your future life.
The New York Times’s article Hemingway’s Paris opens with the following:
There is an old familiar saying: “Everyone has two countries, his or her own — and France.” For the Lost Generation after World War I, these words rang particularly true. Lured by favorable exchange rates, free-flowing alcohol, and a booming artistic scene, many American writers, composers, and painters moved to Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, Ernest Hemingway among them.
In Paris, Ernest Hemingway would go on to meet such writers as Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. Writers he was less likely to meet back home in Chicago. By moving away, his writing matured. He grew.
What about you? Are you living in an environment conducive to your personal growth? Have you asked yourself “what if I changed my life?” Is fear or the comfort of what’s familiar holding you back?
One of the exciting things about the age we live in is connectivity. Armed with a laptop and good wi-fi, you can live almost anywhere.
Technology has made it easier than ever to educate yourself, travel, explore, share your creative work, and grow. The best part is that you can still remain connected to your past, your family and friends back home.
In order to become the person you always dreamed of, you have to start asking those two, vital words: What if?
What if I finally lost the weight?
What if I changed jobs?
What if I got sober?
What if I went back to school?
What if I moved to southern Nevada?
It’s important that you ask “what if” in the spirit of positivity, as opposed to negativity. For example, asking “what if I got sober,” is completely different than asking “what if I fall off the wagon again?” Don’t let fear hijack your dreams for a better life.
When we ask “what if,” we initiate a dialogue with our dreams. We wrestle free from our security blankets. Like ostriches pulling our heads out of the sand, we start to look around. We begin to see the possibilities.
The power of life design is freedom and personal growth. It begins with “what if.” You have to have the courage to dream. Stop apologizing for what you’re passionate about. Take action and make things happen.
The people who love you may not like the answer to your “what if.” But once you start designing your life around it, they’ll come around. Because they love you.
For the ones who put down your new life and fail to support you, maybe they were part of the problem all along? Be gracious, but remember, you only get one life to design. Make it count.
Just do it
Nike nailed it with their slogan. Just three words. Short, sweet and anchored in the most important ingredient: Action.
After you ask “what if” and find your answer, you must marry it to action.
Desires without actions are nothing more than dreams.
Remember, taking action is often the hardest part in designing a new life. The old you will chime in, with the usual self doubts and insecurities. March forward anyway. You owe it to yourself.
When my wife and I asked the question “What if we move to southern Nevada?” we set in motion some major life changes. We found the house of our dreams and a new environment to explore.
We situated ourselves closer to our son’s university, not to mention all the shows and entertainment that Las Vegas has to offer.
We found an amazing, assisted living community with a higher level of care for my mother. We sent her pictures and videos of the facility.
We said that we’d love to have her closer to us. We mentioned the awesome, artisan bakery we discovered. Full of the kinds of goodies she loves. We even sent pictures! I know, shameless bribery.
My mother didn’t take long. At 83 years old, with advanced Parkinson’s disease, she wasn’t afraid to ask the ultimate question. What if?
She moves into her new apartment in southern Nevada next week. Because she’s not done designing her life yet.
My 83 year old mother, immobilized with Parkinson’s disease, found the answer to her “what if.” Then she took action.
One more thing
I’m back in California, staying at the home of my in-laws. I’m here to get my mother ready for her big move to southern Nevada.
It’s nearly midnight and I’m exhausted, but earlier today I said to myself, “What if I finished all the cartoons for my article tonight? Then I could publish and share them with readers on Medium.”
So here I am, at the kitchen table, tired but happy that I took action. Marrying action to your “what if” always feels good.
Staying up late to get my cartoons done!
Whatever your “what if” might be, go for it. Stay up late or get up early if you have to. The more you do it, the easier it gets. And before you know it, your dreams just might come true!
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons and write about life. Click on the cartoon below to get on my free email list. In return, I promise to never appear in a speedo again, and I’ll send you eight pages of cartoons and notes about creativity. What a deal!
(Originally published in Medium at Personal Growth)