Last weekend I attended the New Zealand Tiny House and Alternative Living Conference. The event has been running for a few years now, usually in different places around New Zealand, and brings together a bunch of amazing and inspiring people.
Speakers included people who have been living in tiny houses, busses or even yurts (round tents), people who have built their own tiny homes (many with very little prior building experience), people who built tiny houses for others as well as people who are knowledgeable around the compliance and legal aspect of alternative living and land usage. On top of that, there were tiny houses and busses on display and a range of exhibitors around products and services for alternative living.
Needless to say, it was a super informative and inspiring day. But it also made me doubt some of my own recent choices.
The first speaker of the day was Phil who has been living in a house bus with his family for several years now. I don’t think the organisers could have picked a better person to kick off the day and Phil could not have picked a better way to start his presentation, opening the day with this little video:
The video resulted in lots of chuckling and even more noding heads. There was a shared understanding in the room: This is why we're all here today. Because, we don't want to simply follow everyone else - anymore or ever again.
Phil was followed by several other amazing speakers who shared their alternative living stories. From Amanda who is building her own tiny house without any prior building experience and Dave who did the same while also looking after his two young daughters, to Pete who lives in a yurt with his wife and Olivia who is building a houseboat and many others with equally inspiring stories.
For me personally, the stories of those people who chose alternative lifestyles because they wanted to get out of the rat race and have more time to enjoy life and do what they love, resonated most. But they were also the ones that challenged me the most.
Here I was, listening to people who follow their dreams and live a life of freedom and choice, even if that meant building their own home without any building experience or living in a 7m, 1972 Vintage Bus that needs major renovations with a family of four. Meanwhile, I'm back living in a house in the city, spending 40+ hours a week in front of my computer worrying about money instead of chasing freedom and adventure. Listing to all these people living their dreams, I could help but feel like I'm going backwards. I couldn't help but wonder if the choice I made to stay put for a while and focus on working and earning money isn't smart (like I've been telling myself) but is just me being dragged back into the rat race, doing what everyone else is doing, mainly just because I should.
Am I a lot more like the girl in the video that I would like to think?
Yes, partly things are a bit out of my control right now. With the van still out of action and the insurance dragging their feet, I can't live in it, even if I wanted to. And even if the insurance covers some of the cost, there still will be a big chunk left for me to take care of. And I do think it's smart to keep some savings locked away for the really hard times so it makes sense to focus a bit more on earning money. And housesitting in Auckland is the best way for me to find work easily while saving.
But despite all of that, I can't help but feel a bit like I'm giving up on the dream. The first sign of trouble and I'm back living in the city, working hard, feeling stuck and frustrated, lacking motivation and inspiration, and worrying about money...
Meanwhile, many of the conference speakers seemed to be able to live their dreams with even less money than I have and didn't let the many challenges they faced get in the way.
But as I was thinking about this during the days following the conference, I realised two things. First of all, I don't actually know the speakers and how they truly feel right now and have felt during their journey. All I know is what they shared in a 20-minute presentation. I don't know if and how often they had to put their dreams on hold to focus on other things. I don't know how often they doubted themselves and thought about giving up. I'm sure many of the stories about failures and setback are funny stories now, but at the time, they might have been devastating and probably made the speakers doubt themselves and their choices just like I do now.
And the second thing I realised is that the problem with the video Phil shared with us (see top) is not that the girl gets up when everyone else does. There is nothing wrong with doing what everyone else does! The problem is that she doesn't know why and doesn't ask (at least as far as we can tell from the video). She doesn't know why she's standing up when she hears the sound. She seems to think it's easier to follow everyone else than to ask questions, challenge thinking and behaviour and understand her own behaviour.
There is nothing wrong with doing what everyone else is doing.
But I think there is something wrong with following everyone else's behaviour blindly and without understanding why.
All of this has changed my perspective on my own situation. Yes, right now I'm back in the city doing what everyone else is doing. I'm back in the rat race. But I know why!! Focusing on earning money now will give me the freedom and flexibility to chase my dreams in the future. It will enable me to repair my van or buy a new one while still having enough savings to feel secure and comfortable. It will allow me to focus on, more important projects at other times, for example, promoting my book when the time comes.
But I've also realised that I need to be more proactive and take responsibility for making this time as much fun and as valuable as it can be. I realised that I've been letting some of these negative thought get to me a bit too much. I've been feeling mostly negative about the current situation when there are actually a lot of good things associated with it and a lot of opportunities to still live my best possible life even if it involves more computer time and city life.
So I sat down to come up with some rules on how I can make the next six months the best they can be:
Spend time with my friends - having them close is the best part about being back in Auckland
Make time for little pleasures like going to see the sunrise at the beach or going out for a nice coffee
Allow myself time to write - even if it means I get less work done. I struggle to spend more than 8 hours a day at the computer and often feel guilty about taking the time to write since it means less time working - but writing is really important for my well being and I also need to remind myself that, in a way, writing is work (I have just sold a book after all)
Enjoy work! I do actually really like the work I do. I just need to remind myself of that occasionally when I feel stressed.
Enjoy the different places where I stay. Explore the areas and check out local cafes. One of the great things about housesitting is that I get to explore different parts of Auckland.
Have one day a week where I don't work!
And most importantly, make sure it really is only temporary!! Don't get sucked back into it for good!! So if we get to the end of the year and I'm still not back out there chasing freedom and adventure, please give me a good kick in the butt (unless of course, I'm super happy doing whatever I'm doing).
So there we go. After a little identity crisis, I'm feeling a lot more positive about the next few months now and am confident that I'm doing the right thing for me!