Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, 7,000 miles out

Remote work is in many respects no different than “real work” and water cooler chatter can happen over IM.  One such conversation posed the question on how I’d secured remote work rights and managed to move to a different city.  The essence of the conversation was “if I can do it, so can you, so you should ask if you really want to.”  Consequence: remote work now off the table, including me.  I have until the end of the year to return if I choose, or be offered work on a project basis as it is available.

My friend wanted to leave Dallas, wipe the slate clean.  There were some minor specifics, but overall it was described as something almost resembling an urge.  I could understand that.

“Wiping the slate clean…” It’s *such* a romanticized concept.

What it really means is that the slate is wiped clean indiscriminately, with just as much good as baggage being wiped out. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs figures prominently in figuring out what my urge to uproot my life could be about.

Most needs were met in Dallas, at least on paper.  Thus, coming to New York was a perfect way to nullify most aspects of that pyramid.  Something as basic as “breathing” became a commodity in some symbolic ways when I moved into a room with no window.  A secondary effect of no window was a disruption in regular sleeping patterns.  Remove the BFF, the girlfriend, the workplace community, and now the work itself, and indeed, the slate is quite, quite clean.

Some of this was anticipated, and it was always expected that things would get hard in relatively short order.  The plan for coping was to groom and maintain my core friendships, all of them electronically and over the phone.  Employment and money also came from Dallas.  And though I am nothing but grateful to those that have been my core support system since I left, the net effect feels very much like this:423px-Dykeri,_fig_6,_Nordisk_familjebokWhat matters in life is being supplied form afar: from Dallas, San Francisco, Portland, and scattered places from around the country until I get my “NYC Gills” and can derive these needs locally again.

Much like a diving suit, it is in many ways quite artificial and not a long-term plan at all.. at a certain point, someone in this position wants to rise to the surface, walk on land and breathe air naturally again.  The wonders underneath the ocean do not matter as much.  It may be personal.  One may resist growing “gills” and find that the notion of learning to breathe underwater is in essence to leave some of what was loved and important behind.

An introvert like myself reacts to a major and sudden change to the order of things by… introverting.  Hard.  Such situations can spiral very, very quickly into something resembling hermithood, and things got bad enough that a mental health day was needed.  In a day in age where I consider depression a symptom rather than a cause, something was seriously off and had to be dealt with.

Mental health day started with an Internet search about decision fatigue.  My mind was gridlocked and I felt had no course on virtually any aspect of what was now missing in life or what to do about it.  A forbes article provided some insights: notable ones were that big decisions will never be perfect nor encompass everything that you might want. The trick is to choose 1-2 aspects that are most important and base your decisions on those, choosing to deal with how the secondary concerns of that decision play out.  That little decisions need not sap so much time and energy, something I can be terribly guilty of.

Continued reading led to a famous book called the seven habits of highly effective people. Reading the book is still in progress, but a core idea I’ve latched on to is about making choices for oneself, vs. allowing others or circumstance to make them for you.  “What do I want” is a question that’s been asked of me from everyone from girlfriends to my therapist, and I do not have a concrete answer to this day.

Lacking an answer to what one wants and what one is doing in life guarantees dissatisfaction.  I came to realize that it didn’t matter whether my life in Dallas was good or if it wasn’t.  I had never truly chosen it.  Almost all major life choices made up until the point I drove away were what I’d term reactive choices.  Defensive choices.  Choices one makes when they feel they have no choice. Choices that were effectively a lesser evil over another, or important choices made on a whim without proper articulation as to why and to their long-term consequences.  Even if some had turned out spectacularly well, I didn’t feel a sense of ownership.

Stripping away most of what sustained me day to day has revealed that this is the question that is at the core of everything I’ve perceived to be missing from an otherwise decent life.  It’s forced me to face questions about what is really important and how to base decisions on what I deem to be important.  About how internal convictions might give one the strength to see those decisions through and the fortitude to deal with the painful aspects of adapting to those choices.  I would not have faced these questions had I remained in the relatively comfortable confines of my life in Dallas, so regardless of how things play out in the next few months, this journey is producing many clues as to who I am, and what I truly value.

3 thoughts on “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, 7,000 miles out

  1. Change is always difficult, but the end result will be worth it. You discover you who are away from your comfort zone. I actually love wiping the slate clean and starting over. You get another chance to rebuild who you are, test your values. If nothing else, it makes you far more grateful for the things and people you left behind. Good luck with growing your NYC gills!

    1. Why thank you. 🙂 I have to admit that being outside the comfort zone is indeed.. uncomfortable, but that it is indeed leading to discoveries I could not have made while inside it.

      It seems that you’ve mastered the art of slate-cleaning and enjoying where you’re at to the fullest. Amazing photography! It’s quite inspirational.

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