I’m writing this article looking out at a desert landscape, a wide open, dusty plain, peppered with browns and greens, cradled in a circle of mountains that surround us in all directions.
I’m sitting in my retired-ambulance-turned-mobile-tiny-home, and the wind is blowing through our windows as my cat, Diego, positions himself to catch the scent on every passing breeze.
Talking about this is what I do for work. This is my home. This is my reality. And I built all of it. With a lot of help from my partner, that is.
If you’d told me even just two years ago that I would be living in a retired ambulance and traveling the country, I would not have believed you. But now, it’s sort of my mission to tell you that in just a year or two, you could also build a reality that’s totally “unreal,” AND one that is so aligned with your needs and wants in life.
So…how do you do that?
First, I’ll acknowledge that not everyone’s dream life involves living in 50 square feet and going (nearly) off the grid. My partner and I also have the financial privilege of holding stable jobs for several years, saving to buy a house, selling that house, and using the proceeds to pay off all of our student loan debt.
Depending on your situation, your reality may need to look different from ours. But, whatever the case may be, you can always break yourself free from “reality” as we know it, if you truly want to see change and find fulfillment. And I’m going to tell you how to get started with just three steps.
Before we can talk about constructing your own reality, we first have to define what “reality” IS.
Reality is totally, 100% subjective. Meaning, everything that we define as “real” is only so because we have decided that it is as a society or culture. A term I like to use to talk about this is “consensus reality.”
Here’s a great definition, albeit from Wikipedia:
“Consensus reality refers to the agreed-upon concepts of reality which people in the world, or a culture or group, believe are real (or treat as real), usually based upon their common experiences as they believe them to be; anyone who does not agree with these is sometimes stated to be ‘in effect… living in a different world.’”
Some examples of realities constructed by consensus include (and I’m focusing on the US, where I have been socialized):
- A Square. I’ll give a very simple example first. A square is only a square because someone named it that, and now our society agrees that a four-sided geometric figure with equal sides is a “square.” If someone can give something an arbitrary name like that, you can certainly create your own reality as well.
- Being an Adult. Get educated, get a 9–5 job with benefits, buy a house, get married, have kids, stop dreaming and having so much fun and just “settle” down…maybe you can add more to the list of what we’re “supposed to” do? I remember feeling like SUCH an adult with each line I could add to my resume, when I put that ring on my finger, and when I bought a house in the ‘burbs. Defining my own adulthood looks a lot differently, and actually includes permission to be more childlike — because, hint: it’s SO much more fun that way.
- Religious Influence. We see this as Christian “family values” and other “moral” codes that are somehow influencing lawmaking in the US AND used to judge and hold regular people to standards. Our culture seems to forget that other cultures and other religions have their own moral codes and values, and ways of life.
- Whiteness & Colonization. I actually heard a great example of consensus reality on the news the other day, stated as fact: “That’s what we do in America. We chase the money. We go after bigger and better.” — this is exactly the mindset of the colonizers who came to this continent and drove out the Indigenous people who were already living here, because they truly believed that everything was theirs for the taking (there’s also some religious influence in there) and that they were superior to those Native civilizations. We saw this perceived superiority play out with slavery as well. That “reality” has carried over to melanated individuals actually internalizing a feeling of inferiority and a striving to assimilate. All because the dominant culture has said this was so for so many generations.
- Perfectionism & Productivity Culture. Also tied up in our white supremacist culture, we are told we have to be faultless and that in order to be of worth as a human, we have to be a “productive member of society.” We strive toward achievement, toward success, and stress WAY too much about how others perceive us and whether we’re “fitting in.” I’ve definitely been in that frame of mind.
- Success & Happiness. Similar to the last point, our society has specific definitions of success and happiness that we are “supposed to” achieve. Success may look like having a lot of money, having a lot of letters after your name, or going to the most exotic places. Happiness tends to mean feeling “good” all the time, and we think that if we don’t, then there’s something wrong with us. Both of these definitions were more harmful than helpful to me as I entered the “real” world as a young adult out of college, until I realized that I did not have to hold the same definitions.
If I were to sum up all of these examples of consensus reality so that we could properly define reality, I might say, “reality is in the eye of the beholder.” You create it. So let’s help you do that for your own life.
Step 1: Get Super Curious
Question. Everything. Ask, “why do I believe this?” Or, “why do I do it this way?”
There is absolutely nothing wrong with holding a certain world view, so these questions aren’t to convince to you “change” anything. They will, however, help you to discover the inconsistencies between what is important to you (your values) versus what beliefs you’re actually holding or actions you’re taking. If a shift or change needs to be made to come into greater alignment with what values you hold, then these questions give you the opportunity to do that.
Three years out of college, I had already had four different full-time jobs in the nonprofit communications industry. I took what would be my final job in that field, as a Marketing Manager for a large nonprofit organization. As I was jumping around to different jobs, I thought I just needed to work with an organization with different values, or that I needed more of a challenge, and at this job I felt like I had an important title — one that pointed to my “success” in “climbing the ladder.
For the first six months, I would cry every morning on my way to work. I couldn’t quite pinpoint why I felt so heavy. Sure, the workload was HUGE, but I was doing good work with a great team — why did I feel this way? I got desensitized to it eventually and just went about my life with my head down as much as possible, to get through work and back to Netflix at night to escape the overwhelm and ignore what I was feeling.
A year later, I made a 5-year plan: I would stay at that job, gain valuable skills, and then quit to become a remote digital marketer. It wasn’t until a year and a half at that job when I actually asked myself… “Why?” Why would I stay at a job that makes me feel totally numb and stressed, and drains me of the joy I used to have? Why am I (quite literally) ill all the time, not to mention having some weird medical issues that a person my age should not be having.
By the end of that second year, I had submitted my resignation. Instead, I was going to take a part-time job working as an outdoor educator at a local organization — taking people on hikes and kayaking…exactly where my passion lies. To make ends meet, I also drove for Lyft and worked at Starbucks. It was an exhausting time of life, but I was full of joy.
All of a sudden, my life didn’t look conventional anymore, and it didn’t look like anything I could have imagined. It certainly made people ask questions and treat me like I was “lesser than,” especially as a barista. But it was aligned perfectly with my passion for the outdoors and for customer service.
Step 2: Dream Bigger
You’ve probably heard responses to your dreams before, like, “Oh, that’s so unrealistic,” or, “Well, that’ll never happen.”
Here’s what I have to say to that — and similar phrasing is used in magickal circles as well as in activism — Dream of the future that you want, and keep dreaming it. That’s the only way you’ll ever get it.
Whatever you want the future to be, ask yourself, “If that dream is 100% possible, then what else would I want?”
Here’s where I started in my own journey. We’ll pick up from the point in my story where I left my full-time job to pursue my true passions.
I didn’t know I was asking myself the “what else” question at the time, but my partner, Anthony, and I started to dream bigger together. It was as if my constructed reality had started cracking, and I could now reach in to pull the edges of the box apart, to reveal even more.
As we both realized how much more “me” I was working several part-time jobs and loving them all, we started talking more about what was important to us individually, and as a couple. The first things we realized?
- We love our families, and we want to be close to them.
- Anthony revealed that he was not a fan of suburban life.
That revelation from Anthony is what sent what was left of my constructed reality tumbling to the ground. This house, the china cabinet filled with EVERY type of glass for any beverage you would want (and multiple cheese trays), the kitchen we remodeled specifically for hosting, and our very “adult” matching bedroom furniture set, were all what I had built to showcase and “prove” my adulthood. What would happen if I tore it all down?
In the words of David Plotkin in his book Soulcraft (approximately, I can’t find the quote online), “it is like there is a storm approaching that you know is just for you, and you know you have no choice but to walk out the door and directly into the tempest.”
And I sure felt like I was in a tempest. I knew that something wonderful was waiting on the other side of this wall I’d built out of paint and green lawns and cheese boards, but it was an incredibly painful process to go through to actually tear down this reality.
This is all to say that dreaming bigger isn’t always pleasant — in fact, it can be the complete opposite. But in the end, Anthony and I became snowbirds, traveling back and forth from my family in Pittsburgh, PA in the summers and his family in Phoenix, Arizona in the winters. We’re currently at the end of winter, about to head back to Pittsburgh for the second time. A year ago, we bought Arnold the Ambulance so that our home could move back and forth with us. And it is the best dream we could have created together (though we are not stopping there!).
Which brings us to Step 3:
Step 3: Own Your Life
When I say “own your life,” there are a few things wrapped up in that.
- Committing to painful self-awareness. Good god, get a life coach and/or therapist. Had I gotten those earlier, things would have been a lot more easeful — not easy! Having a true partner to help light your path for the journey is something that is valuable beyond measure. Anthony, as my life partner, can not offer an external or unbiased perspective because he is in it with me. This is SO important because a) you have to grow a lot of humility to admit that you need guidance AND that your previous version of reality could have been “wrong.” That’s tough to do. And b) having someone else point out lingering inconsistencies in your actions & beliefs, and nagging “shoulds” or socialized expectations is the way to make true and lasting transformation happen. This is a painful and vulnerable process that will make or break the construction of your own reality. You can read my starting steps to “adventurous living” here.
- Throwing off external pressures and expectations. As you build this new reality for yourself, you’re going to hear responses of fear from others in your life. People want to know the plan. And sometimes building your own reality requires more uncertainty and trust in your adaptability. Sometimes you won’t have a clear plan. Sometimes your new lifestyle won’t be palatable to your parents or their friends. It really freaks people out to hear that you’re doing something unconventional. Learning to delight in that comes with time. Remember that you do not have to have a conversation with someone about your transitions if you don’t want to. You do not have to prove yourself or validate your decisions. And you will have to repeat yourself over and over again…so again, it would be so helpful for you to have a coach and/or therapist on your side to help build your confidence in holding your ground.
- Reminding yourself that your reality is up to you. Making changes toward the lifestyle you want takes time, commitment, and consistent awareness. The way I remind myself of my autonomy in this life is to do a check-in with myself every morning. I go outside whenever I can, to remind myself that I’m in community with and not exploitative of, the natural world, something very important to me for breaking out of a colonizer mentality. I speak out loud what my intentions are for the day — what I want to do, how I want to show up, and what I want in my bigger dreams. I commit to maintaining visibility of the path forward, reminding myself that every step forward is my choice alone.
By committing to moving forward in conscious alignment with what is important to you and with your bigger dreams, you are taking ownership of your reality.
Next up, my partner and I are traveling for two months on our way back to Pittsburgh, PA. We look forward to building our unity with nature, educating others about their potential for transformation, and our connection with family.
What’s next for you?
Please leave any questions, or your own experiences, in the comments! I’d love to write followup articles based on what you need to make transformation happen for you.
To your adventure!