intentional living
Slow Living

Intentional Living And Hard Choices

What does it mean to live intentionally? Here’s what I’ve learned about intentional living and difficult life decisions. 

I celebrated my 43rd birthday this month.

And writing that feels strange. Because although I’m not ashamed of growing older, the very idea that ageing is taboo – and something to fight with anti-wrinkle cream – has been so ingrained that shame kicks in regardless.

But I’m not embarrassed of the strands of grey hair and fine wrinkles that come with it.

I’ve found the older you get, the more comfortable you feel in your own skin and the less you care about impressing others.

Intentional living and goals

I accomplished a lot that I’m proud of. I graduated from a top university, travelled the world (even though I never had much money) and worked my way from a small newspaper in Arizona to an international press agency.

But the more I look back the more I realize I’m also proud of what I’ve left behind.

intentional living

I never wanted children and never had any, despite the pressure and the odd questions I still get about my decision. I never bought a house – a mortgage has always terrified me. And though I did once buy a new car, I ended up selling it a year later when I moved overseas.

I’m grateful for the experiences life has given me. But I’m also thankful for having the courage to abandon what didn’t feel right.

I quit ballet despite the years of sweat at the barre. I quit grad school in London despite the effort I’d made to study abroad in Britain. And I quit my job at a business magazine right after I got a raise that nearly doubled my salary.

The aftermath of those decisions was difficult and uncertain. It once meant returning to my parents’ house without a paycheck or hope.

But those were formative years too because they taught me about myself.

simple and slow living

As you grow older, you get to know yourself better. You can distinguish your own desires from social pressures and expectations. You’re more confident in your choices, even if they’re unpopular.

And you’re less concerned about convincing others of your worth.

Or at least this is what I’m learning – chipping away at everything I’m not until the essentials remain.

Great expectations

I’ve pursued things because it was expected or because my family wanted it. Or because society told me it’s what success looks like.

But leaving those goals behind has cleared the way for better things.

It’s a process of elimination as your goals whittle down to a few non-negotiables, and you no longer have the energy to pretend.

We’re constantly told what’s desirable and what success means. If we don’t want the house and the family, then we’re less of a woman. If we don’t want the status symbols, then we won’t be respected.

minimalist life

It’s not always easy to leave behind a life you’ve worked hard towards. It feels like throwing away your effort and starting again with nothing.

But the older you get, the more you realize there’s no formula for happiness that works for everyone.

As I celebrated my 43rd birthday, I thought of all the things I’ve never done. And I realized how grateful I am for not giving in to pressures to compromise on what I really want.

Sometimes the wisest thing we can do is say no.

Read What is Slow Living? for more about intentional living and carving out your own path.

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20 Comments

  • Allan and

    Good post Dee. Too many people think they have to do everything and at full speed to be successful. Retirement has helped me slow down. One of my friends has several binders of what his goals are for gravels, finances, etc. for the next five years. He encouraged me to do a similar project. I was not sure at the time why I did not acquiesce. But, it comes down to the fact that I do not want my remaining years to be one big check list, where success is measured by crossing destinations and goals off as they are accomplished. I ant to enjoy life, family and experiences, rather than stuff. This summer, I achieved a bucket list item that I did not even know I had. I had a father/son hike in the mountain back country. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Allan

    • Dee

      Thank you, Allan! The father/son hike sounds amazing.. I’ve taken my parents on vacations a few times and hopefully I’ll be able to do that again soon.

      Goals and accomplishments are tricky.. There are definitely things that I want in life, but I think we often want too much and our to-do lists and things to try get long and intimidating to even get a few things right. Minimizing and cutting down my goals has left me only with the non-negotiables, but at the same time there are other things I’d like to do but I know I won’t loose sleep if I don’t.

  • Tracey Bacic

    Very thought provoking. I liked learning more about you. Found it interesting how you consider 43 to be – well not old – but older. 43 seems young to me. I am 56 and proud to say it. But I think you’re right, that our culture in general does not celebrate old age. Does minimalism or age enable us to know ourselves better? I think these processes can happen without either – if people have the courage to look, but many people don’t take time to reflect – don’t even realise the importance of it. Travelling has helped me to be more comfortable in my skin, but that was a process that started before. I think it isn’t so much the minimalism of my life now that helped, but being out of a routine, makes it easier to see/feel.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Tracey! I’m sure I’ll look back on these days someday, and I’ll realize how very young I was the whole time 🙂 As for ageing and knowing ourselves better, I think in some respects it does take years because we have to make mistakes and go down the wrong paths and feel a certain degree of frustration or pain before we “find ourselves.” At the same time, there are some incredibly mature people who’ve gone through this process faster than others and they’ve packed in a lot of knowledge and experience into just a few years.

  • Megan

    I love this post. I think you are really inspiring! It takes so much grit to go after what you really want and choose a path despite what others say about you. That’s the kind of life I am determined to build.

    • Dee

      Thanks so much, Megan, that means a lot.. It does take a lot of hard work, but at a certain point you realize it would take even more effort to stay with something you feel only obligation towards.

  • Julie Lichty

    Enjoy your perspectives; it’s always refreshing to ‘connect’ with like-minded people! I especially relate to your comment of choosing not to have children and being perfectly okay with that. So glad you mentioned it b/c that’s been my choice too and I’ve always been aware of how authentic that choice is for me yet it’s clearly the ‘non-conforming’ path.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Julie, and how nice to connect with you as well! I think society is more accepting now of women who decide not to have kids – I like the term “child free” that’s sometimes used. But there are still so many misconceptions and I think it’s important for women’s voices to be heard.

  • Christina Bulley

    This post resonated with me. I have been grappling with staying in a job that doesn’t satisfy me but working to pay the bills versus venturing out on my own to do something far more satisfying, for a while now. I think there is so much of societal expectation that governs what we do (rather than what we really do). Being comfortable with who I am and in my own skin is something I am now very gradually coming to terms with (albeit slowly). Thank you for the post. It helps to know that people have taken a plunge and survived (not just survived but thrived).

    • Dee

      Thank you, Christina, I’m happy to hear it resonates.. I think venturing out on your own is always risky and difficult at first, and there may be a long period of time when you’re not making as much. I don’t think there are any miracles. But in the long run, if you’re consistent, then hard work and passion always pay off.

  • Alice

    Love this post! I’ve recently realized that I’ve put my life on autopilot without even questioning what I actually wanted. It turns out I don’t want to have children right now, I may change my idea in the future but it’s a big NO for now. However, when I fantasized about my life, I always thought about the things I had to accomplish and do before having children because I never questioned it since it’s what EVERYONE expects from you! I’m surrounded by people who don’t approve my choice and look at me like an alien when I say I don’t want to have children (my mom is one of those) and it’s sad because I think it’s such a personal choice that people shouldn’t judge. Minimalism is helping me so much to reconnect to my inner self and to recognize my true values in life and I’m so grateful for that.

    Happy belated birthday!

    • Dee

      Thank you, Alice! It’s really such a huge decision, isn’t it? I’ve had plenty of people tell me that I’d change my mind about kids after I became a mom, but I always thought that was a very risky gamble.. I know of women who’ve spoken out about this issue honestly and said it doesn’t always work that way.. Ultimately I think that if you have to be shamed and pressured into having children, then it’s definitely a bad decision.

  • Andi

    “As you grow older, you get to know yourself better. You can distinguish your own desires from social pressures and expectations. You’re more confident in your choices, even if they’re unpopular, and you’re less concerned about convincing others of your worth.”

    “It’s a process of elimination as your goals are whittled down to a few non-negotiables, and you no longer have the time or energy to pretend.”

    “Because there, too, we’re constantly told that more is better. If we don’t want the house and the family, then we’re less of a woman. If we don’t want the status symbols, then we won’t be respected.”

    Great statements.

    Thank you for sharing this openly to the world. I just turned 35 and I’ve been feeling this way for the last few years, not giving a shit about what others expect of me. I’ve come to terms with rejecting some of the society norms, however I am still struggling to find what I really want to do, after negating the things I know for sure I don’t want, which sometimes throws me off the conviction that I’m leading a life that’s right for myself. There is so much wisdom in this post that I’m glad to read.

    I know women like us exist out there, but the majority of them don’t publicize their thoughts online. I want you to know that you’re doing a great service to those who need more encouragement to continue their own independent paths.

    Thank you Dee.

    • Dee

      Thanks so much for reading, Andi. Happy birthday, and that’s such a great age to be! I think it’s a time when we finally start letting go of such expectations and we gain the confidence and experience that can only come with the passing years 🙂

      Though it still surprises me how much backlash and stereotypes there are about women who carve out their own paths, even in so-called liberal and tolerant societies. We have a long way to go and it’s important we speak up and stand together.

      I’m really grateful that you’ve found some encouragement in my words.. The fact they’re being read with understanding really means a lot.

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