Last night I dreamt I spoke with Neil Gaiman.
(And yes, I know stories of other people’s dreams are always terrible, but please bear with me).
I’ve never met Mr Gaiman, but apparently when my subconscious wants to tell me something, it has decided that he is the go-to voice of wisdom who might be able to Yoda me to a better way of thinking.
Or he’s my spirit animal.
So this conversation never actually happened. It was a dream, so it’s completely fictitious. But also as a dream, it seemed to reveal a far deeper truth than any amount of reality ever could.
So here’s roughly how the conversation went:
Me: Does life have to be so tough? Is it even possible to juggle everything? To have that successful career in meaningful work that pays well? To go places, do new things, meet interesting people? To eat well and stay fit and healthy? Well… to get fit and healthy?
Then add in all the other things that make a truly fulfilling life – friends, family and the things that matter. All while trying to find some time, any time, to write?
NG: There’s always time to write. Maybe not time to write well, but there’s always time to write something.
Me: But did you ever feel like this? Did you ever feel that something’s got to give? Did you finally get to the point where enough is enough?
NG: When I started out things were tough. Really tough. It felt I was working every hour. Even at weekends all the fatigue and feelings of having the weight of the world on my shoulders would mean I could never relax. It was always Saturday for recovery, Sunday for existential crisis about what I was doing with my life. And roast dinner.
Me: So what changed?
NG: Me, I guess. I wanted it all. The high paying job. To be seen in influential social circles. To write. To make a difference. To make money.
Until one day I took a day off to just sit in a library. I love libraries, always have.
And I wrote.
I started short stories, I began writing books, and I attempted articles galore. But I just kept writing. And all the while I was waiting for that inspiration. That spark that would grow into a muse of fire. And eventually something came to me. So I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote some more.
What came from that day was hugely important.
Me: Was that when you started Sandman or something?
NG: No, no, the spark itself eventually never went anywhere. But the idea that came with the spark has never left.
Me: What was that?
NG: Well there I was, sat in my local library with a packed lunch of a packet of smashed up Frazzles and a home-made cheese sandwich that had gone slightly curly around the edges by the time I remembered to eat it. I’d grabbed a coffee from a local greasy-spoon café at around midday to keep me going (which had about 16 sugars in to cover the taste of the polystyrene cup). The whole day had cost me next to nothing.
I’d just spent the most wonderful day pursuing a dream. And do you know what I noticed?
The world hadn’t fallen down around me.
So I thought, what if I could repeat this tomorrow? And the next day?
We tell ourselves that we’re important. Which of course we are, in our way. But in the great scheme of things we aren’t that necessary to the universe. The world will carry on without us. So our job should be – has to be – to make the best impact we can in the flowing rivers of life, while not getting swept away in the current.
Suddenly I wasn’t Atlas. I was unleashed.
So I asked myself, how much money would I need to make to make that day, which had been simply wonderful, a recurring event? If I was able to cover my rent, food, bills and spend every day doing that, wouldn’t that be a meaningful life?
Everything else is me doing something I don’t want to do, but doing it for other people – the expensive meals, the new gadgets, the need to show off.
When we meet people we we want to know what they do for a living, and hope we can work out their wage as an indicator of their worth. But while they’re doing something for their living, I could be doing something with my living. Spending every minute of every day with the freedom to do what I want, unencumbered with the worry I could earn more doing something different.
When it came down to it, my happiness, my actual get-up-every-morning-with-a-smile-on-my-face happiness didn’t need much at all.
You say enough is enough. Maybe it’s time to think that enough may actually be enough?