Growing up in unpredictable 1990s in a small Hungarian town in a family that was extremely fragile to change it shouldn’t have been surprising that by age 16-17 I was asked (more than once weekly) to finally decide what I wanted to do with my life – until retirement, at least.
The fundamentals were set by my parents (who never changed a workplace or attended a job interview in their lives): the best high-school available, a great university and an intellectual job with some prestige and money. Lawyer, medical doctor, academic career – something along this line.
This idea seems to work more-or-less for my sister who’s pursuing an academic career but it completely backfired on me. My life goals, at age 18 included:
– doing physical work soon,
– living off subsidies / somehow gather a bit of money and live off the interest rates,
– willing to be homeless,
– finding new arguments that life was completely senseless,
& hitting the bar tonight.
I was very determined to prove that my parents’ fears (you’ll starve to death with this behaviour!; you’ll become no one; you’re already an alcoholic; if you don’t finish university on time all you’ll ever become is a trashman!) were not valid for me.
Apart from a system change (in Hungarian Communism/Socialism one was considered a criminal who did not have a job while enterprising was illegal) my parents had been probably over-worried and one-track minded already in the old system.
Being convinced that I’ll never earn good money in life and being radically averse to my parents’ working style (complaints, boss, underpaid, being afraid of change) I set out for independence: something that the protagonists would do from the books I’d read.
Turning 18 and legally becoming adult, I moved away from home after an argue and lived for a couple months alone in the family’s small house at the edge of the town with no heating or water supply. Apart from the oven and the light bulbs I had no electronic devices. I chose the coldest day of the winter to move and I will always remember the first, long night with temperatures below -10 °C and no proper blanket.
Although I had about ~1000 USD savings from gifts and prizes I saved up from kindergarten I’d spend no more than 20-25 USD a month. I knew it wasn’t too sustainable but limiting myself in ways and giving up learning day-to-day, paid language lessons, playing on the computer, listening to music, just “being at home” or eating more than needed (I lost over 10kgs in the first month) brought me plenty of strong happiness.
I’d have showers at school or friends’, created long-lasting friendships, accepted every meal and beer invitation, read a lot in the library (a book every 2-3 days) and would drink plenty (on a memorable evening I rode my bicycle home after ~2 liters of the cheapest red wine, not holding to handle bar – and closing my eyes for 16 seconds: when I opened them, I was just a few milliseconds before hitting the concrete sidewalk with my face – and the next day we had the official photo-shoot).
I returned home before graduation when it got warm. I felt the mission was completed. Graduating (with only excellent votes) found me restless again. In summer I left for the Baltic Sea alone by bicycle (~3000 kms return). Being faster than expected & having more thoughts (mainly about girls) to think through I extended the journey a bit and returned after 37 days and ~4500 kms. I spent less than 5 USD /day including everything.
2007 taught me how to live in the moment. Cruelly cold winter nights and totally unpredictable days on the bike where one couldn’t say at the beginning of the day where he’ll sleep at night -and whether it will it be the rain, police a random person (or who knows what) or a proper rest that’d wake one up- taught me how not to think and worry about the future. Finally, I understood that we are no less than the birds on the trees or the mice in the forests: we stay alive without comfort, worries and fear of the future.
I properly learned to let go. A long life, a career, prestige, responsibility, positions, money, long-term relations are all meaningless if you look no further than the afternoon.
I’d value alcohol, the spur of the moment, spontaneity, love, positive emotions, easy friendships and romances. I had little-to-no worries and fears and would make sure never-to-very-rarely feel any negative emotions. I promised myself not to miss any opportunity, ever.
Paul Kalanithi, when trying to find meaning while terminally ill – wrote: “Tell me three months, I’d spend time with family. Tell me one year, I’d write a book. Give me ten years, I’d get back to treating illnesses. The truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help: What was I supposed to do with that day?”
Back then, I only knew what to do with that one day. I would have failed to answer all the other questions. I even felt that everyone should fail to answer them…
Living in the moment was a radical turnaround. It helped me to leave behind much of the learning from home. I consciously gave up being (too much) socially awkward, reserved, penny-pinching (my father never invited anyone for a beer and failed to buy an ice-cream to my mother on their honeymoon), worried, troubled, dependent and prejudiced.
And I gave up much of being responsible, caring, empathic, long-term thinking, predictable too.
Living in the moment has helped me to:
– form new acquaintances, short romantic relations
– have great parties
– travel extensively
– find jobs easily
– live in different countries
– learn languages
– deconstruct many of my inner barriers.
And didn’t let me be:
– a reliable family person
– a reliable boyfriend
– successful in completing long-term projects (I wrote quite little from age 18 to 25 even though I had stories and ambitions)
– resistant (I took opportunities and offers I knew I should have let go)
– socially sensitive
– serious in cases when I knew it was needed
– part of public events (I wouldn’t know how was Lady Gaga or Angela Merkel)
– appreciative of deeper meaning.
Living in the moment gave me the best stories of my life. I’m glad I pursued this goal that still seems so much more interesting, real and deep than earning money, gaining prestige, working towards goals I don’t believe in, faking life – and a lot more.
But I’m really glad that this period of life ran its course and I managed to let it go. Living in the moment meant for me that I didn’t care about many I should have, I looked down on others with worries, fears, issues: meaning.
Being a great drinking partner is fun and shallow. Being there for a troubled person is not fun but deep. And just as I lived before, I’m getting back to a more ordinary life when I use much of my energy “writing it” rather than “living it” and when I’m being drawn to new, unknown depths of meaning (rather than shallower achievements) as I have become a husband and will be soon a father…