A few years ago, when I was stuck in an office job I didn’t like, I found myself staring out the window. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and I felt like a panther inside a cage.
A colleague came up beside me. “Today is a diamond,” he said. “Workdays are stones. You and me, we’re trading diamonds for stones.”
It was a depressing thought, and I determined to get out of that job and change my life for the better. The trouble was, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
A friend of mine came up with a good idea. He sat me down with a piece of paper and a pen, and told me to write down the best experiences of my life.
In no particular order, here’s what I wrote:
- Sailing with my brother on Lake Kennisis in the summer of 1986, when a hurricane blew in and we nearly shipwrecked.
- Tobogganing in Edmonton, with my nieces and nephews, IN MINUS 50 DEGREE WEATHER!
- Running my first 100 mile race.
- Sitting on the dock with my mom one summer night, while the Northern Lights tarted up the skies.
- Skiing down Whistler Mountain with my visually-impaired friend.
- Hiking through a forest with Shawna and running into that big-ass BEAR.
- Canoe tripping with my dad, in lakes so clean you could drink straight out of them.
- Getting the phone call from my agent that my novel had sold.
I handed the list to my friend. His face lit up instantly. “Good job,” he said. “Now what do all of those things share in common?”
It took me a while to figure it out. But eventually I saw the common thread. All of those events, with the exception of that last one, took place OUT OF DOORS. It sounds obvious, but it was an incredible revelation to me at the time. If I really wanted to be happy in the future, I needed to find a way of getting outside more often. And ideally, I’d do it with the people I love.
Years have passed since then, and while I still have a job that keeps me chained to a desk a lot of the time, it’s extremely creative, and I’m surrounded by zillions of smart, spunky people.
More importantly, I know what I need to do to keep myself sane. A week spent behind a computer screen can gut me like a fish, but an hour on the running trail puts me right.
So if you feel as though you’re trading diamonds for stones, don’t worry. Most of us have to spend some time in the mine-shaft before we achieve the career we want and deserve. The trick is to figure out how to get more sunlight into our lives in the meantime. Figure that out, and the bars of your cage may well evaporate.