with Hannah Garland

  • Hannah Garland

E14: What is an uncommon life?

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I realized that, after 13 episodes of this podcast, it might not be evident to everyone what I mean when I say “uncommon life.” Where did that term come from and what could it mean for you? Today we unpack why living uncommonly has been so life-changing for me and how you could apply it to your own life.

In today’s episode:

Understanding your “Whys”

Finding your purpose

Living a purpose-driven life

Make your time reflect your priorities

Don’t look for validation

The only expectations that matter are your own

Hello, everyone!

I realized that, after 13 episodes of this podcast, it might not be evident to everyone what I mean when I say “uncommon life.” Where did that term come from and what could it mean for you? It is a philosophy I created - or at least I like to think I did - and you can leverage its general framework and adapt it to your own life. No matter your age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, whether or not you have children, or anything uncommonly is something that could help you feel at peace and unburdened.

This isn’t about doing specific things or following rules. I’m not going to tell you that if you just revamped your morning routine or adopted minimalism, suddenly you’d be a more content person! There is nothing wrong with those things but, changing your life requires a significant mindset shift. I don’t believe in legalistic rulebooks. Instead I believe in principled frameworks that we can internalize as we adapt them to our lives. That’s why living uncommonly is more of a philosophy than a set of rules.

The core tenets are understanding your “whys,” finding your purpose and living according to it, matching your time with your priorities, not looking for validation for your decisions, and living up to your own expectations for yourself. These will take you down a path that is uniquely your own and one that should feel fulfilling to you.

The important words here are “to you.” What works for me or for you might not work for anyone else. My lifestyle may not be the best fit for you. But, since you’re here, I assume you’re at least curious about what I have to say. If it doesn’t work for you then there’s no skin off my back. But I really want to share because it’s been monumentally life changing for me and I hope it will be for others, too.

I hope today’s episode will leave you feeling really encouraged to start living more intentionally and making choices that are good for you, regardless of whether or not they’re common, expected, or conventional.

I think it’s common to go through life so accustomed to feeling anxious that you think it’s normal. Maybe you don’t have clinical anxiety. But so many of us are tightly wound up or stressed out and it manifests itself in different ways. We are short-tempered, have trouble sleeping, our metabolism doesn’t function as well, we have heartburn or headaches, and, as we go through our days, we find ourselves worrying about the next day, worrying when things aren’t perfect, worrying about our jobs, and hating how busy we are.

It has taken me awhile to figure out how to get past this state of feeling chronically stressed and burdened. I used to have bags under my eyes every day, even when I slept well. I thought that I was just aging but, since changing my lifestyle, they’ve decreased - even after having a baby! I used to have panic attacks at least a few times a year. Concerns about my job, my schedule, my commitments, our future, and our house would constantly occupy my thoughts. I couldn’t dream about the future because all it did was make me grieve the present. I hated how my life was going but I thought I had to power through some rough years so I could live better in the future. I thought that my lifestyle and concerns were normal and that I was just living how I was supposed to - that the busyness and stress were just a function of a normal American life.

Nothing I was doing was particularly wrong, but I had made a series of decisions that had slowly brought me into this anxious spiral that I thought I was trapped in.

I’ve talked about this a lot now but it took a miscarriage for me to slow down. About 2 years ago I had a miscarriage at 10 weeks pregnant and had a slow recovery, both physically and mentally. I simply couldn’t handle anything anymore. My husband was coaxing me to quit my job but I had so many concerns: Don’t I need to contribute? How could I quit if I have nothing better to do with my time? I thought only moms got to stop working to stay at home with the kids. If I quit before I had kids, wouldn’t that just make me lazy?

I had the incorrect notion that productivity or contribution came from working outside the home or from a paycheck, and that laziness was corrected by working in the traditional sense. It didn’t occur to me that my definitions of these terms were awfully narrow and that productivity is a state of mind that you can possess or not possess regardless of your official role.

It also didn’t occur to me that my reasons for continuing to work weren’t well thought through. I thought I was being very thoughtful. See, I was thinking all the time. My wheels were constantly turning, but, I now know, they were going nowhere. I thought that I was thinking clearly when, in reality, I was thinking in circles.

Around this time, I was talking to a woman that I barely knew about my situation and I explained that I couldn’t quit because I don’t have kids so I don’t have a reason to stay home all day yet. The woman I was talking to replied, “Who told you that? That’s not true.” I told her I needed to make money and contribute and she asked, “Why? Your husband said you don’t need to work.” I love how matter-of-fact and clear she was with her responses. She forced me to think deeply about my “whys,” which is now a core tenet of living uncommonly.

I have a side note from this particular story, but it is very related to living an uncommon life. I firmly believe that people can be so impactful on your life if you let them. I feel like sometimes people think that, unless you’re going to be friends with someone for a long time, then there is no point in investing in a relationship. We put pressure on ourselves to have friends for years, or even for life. But this isn’t always feasible and it isn’t really how relationships work. Sometimes you have relationships for only a season. Friends for a season can actually have a great impact because, I believe, that people are put into your life for a specific purpose. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and go deep even if you aren’t sure where your investment will take you or how long the friendship will last. You will never regret the friendships you make, though you might regret those you miss. I opened up to someone I’d just met. She listened, and by simply asking, “Why?” and it changed my life. Imagine if I’d never let myself be vulnerable in that moment. Where would I be now?

Anyway, “Why” is such a simple question but it really made me pause. If my husband - the only other person in my financial world - said that I didn’t need to contribute, then where did my notion that I needed to contribute come from? Why did I think that the word “contribute” was limited to monetary contribution?

Well, it came from culture and from what I thought was expected of women. Where I live, women work, often even if they have children. It would not make sense from a cultural perspective for me to stop working. But that is not a good foundation for decision making. If you go through life doing what you think is expected of you, then you could end up feeling anxious and unwell as you are pulled in directions that don’t reflect your priorities.

Some expectations are good for you. For example, I’m expected to stay faithful to my husband and care for my child. These expectations are good and I believe in them. Therefore, I’ve internalized them and made them my own. I’m not constantly under the weight of someone else’s expectations because I have made them my expectations for myself. But if you are just doing things because of some external expectations for you, then you are at risk of not making good decisions. A big barrier to living uncommonly is feeling the weight of societal pressure and allowing it to affect your decision making.

I was not making good decisions because I hadn’t asked myself why I do the things that I do. I mean, I had, but only at the surface level. And I accepted my own crappy answers like “women can’t quit when they don’t have children.” Without digging any deeper, I never understood my true intention and desires for my life. I was anxious and unwell because I was living a life that wasn’t intended for me. I thought I had to live the way I was living and that it was normal because everyone around me was living that way. However, trying to make it work for me was like trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole.

And so I spent years making decisions without questioning them. Most weren’t “bad” in isolation but the cumulative impact of not thinking deeply about my decisions was that my life slowly drifted off course. I was in a career that sucked the life out of me, filling my life with commitments I didn’t have time for, worrying about what was next, and wondering why I felt drained and stressed all the time.

One day, while on a walk, my husband asked me what I wanted to do and I blurted out “I just want to be peaceful!” Peace became my purpose. It wasn’t about doing a certain job or having a certain role in life; it was about being the right kind of person. It occurred to me in that moment that I would become the kind of person I needed to be if I spent less time concerned with what I needed to do and more time concerned with who I needed to be. This required a mindset shift toward living more purposefully. With my purpose in mind, I could make decisions and take actions that brought me closer to being a peaceful person.

When I started to question why I was in the situation I was in, and defined the purpose that I wanted to center my life around, it became clear that I needed to make some dramatic shifts to my lifestyle in order to be more peaceful. I started to make changes that seemed unconventional but that had a positive impact on my life. Some of the best things I’ve done have not made sense in the traditional sense of the word. They fly in the face of cultural expectations. Six figure job? Gone. Obsession with fitness? Lessened. Jam packed schedule? Cleared. Sure, I have less money and am a little pudgier now. But I’m more at ease than ever before since I stopped allowing myself to get pulled into every direction by expectations that weren’t my own.

Even when I did go back to work, I had a new mindset, and I could fly above the chaos and make more clear decisions than I could before because work was no longer my main priority. I felt like my life finally reflected my priorities and that brought me peace.

The mindset shift toward living uncommonly has changed my life. And I just want it to change other people’s lives, too. I want people to not feel trapped by their circumstances or their own mindset.

So what is the uncommon life and what could it mean for you? It’s about living outside of the norm and’s not at the same time. I don’t believe in breaking borders just for the sake of breaking convention. There is no value in that. However, I do believe that we should make intentional choices for our lives without consideration for what the normal parameters are. You might still end up living a very “normal” life, but you will have gotten there your own way, via your own path, and having made your own well-thought-through decisions.

It all starts with asking yourself “why.” It seems like a lot of people go through the motions of life or assume that their path is obvious and don’t dig very deep into their decision making.

It’s time to get more discerning and intentional with your life. Why do you do what you do? Why do you have a certain job or certain commitments? Why do you live where you live? If you are a stay at home mom but feel guilty for not working and want to go back, why? Is it because you have a genuine financial need? Is it because you feel pressure from some external force to go back to work? Is it that work gave you some validation that momming doesn’t bring you? If you are living somewhere that is stretching you too much financially, why are you there?

It may not be easy to confront these questions or adjust your life but, over time, you won’t regret it if you’ve taken the time to think deeply about your “whys.” You’ll ensure that you are firm in your reasoning for everything you do and that’s such a calming feeling.

If you can’t discern your “why,” consider opening up to a friend or loved one. Have them ask you the tough questions and keep an eye out for bad reasoning. You could have an answer to the question “why,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a good answer. Bad reasons include guilt, doing it because everyone does it, or because you feel like you should. You can avoid bad reasons by digging deeper. In that case, the question isn’t just “why,” but it includes deeper questions like “Why does this matter for my life?” and “Why do I make this thing more important than other things?” When you start asking why things matter for your life, you expand your perspective to, Lord willing, 80 years or more. And suddenly, your decisions seem small and insignificant against the broader landscape of your life and the legacy you want to have.

Along with asking “why” or “why not,” consider what is driving you. What is the driving force behind your decisions and what is the main end of all of your decisions? Your decision making will be easier when you have a central aim that you can work towards. Instead of having thousands of different decisions all with different reasons, you still have thousands of decisions but they all fit within the same framework. This is what it means to be purpose-driven and it streamlines your thinking.

You check everything you do against your purpose or your central aim for your life. Living with purpose sounds nice but, what does that mean for you?

Here’s what I believe is a purpose. It declares why you exist. It defines your life and anchors it in something. It clarifies the non-negotiables by identifying what never changes about who you are, regardless of circumstances. Personally, I’m called to be a Christian. I’ve chosen to take this a step further and ask, what kind of person is this? And to me, it was important to be a peaceful person. In order to be peaceful, I need to trust in God, and so my Christianity is still represented in my purpose. Peace is an anchor in my life and it never changes. This is a life-long pursuit and I can pursue it regardless of my actions, decisions, job, living situation, or any other circumstantial part of my life.

You have to discern your own purpose. What kind of person do you want to be? When you die, how do you want people to remember you? What drives you and anchors you? Once you define this purpose, you can use it to gut check what you do. When I’m confronted with decisions on a regular basis, I can ask myself “Will this help me become a more peaceful person?” and it streamlines my thinking.

If you start to live with more purpose and make more intentional choices, you’ll naturally start to make changes that might seem unconventional to everyone else, but are good for you.

On a related note, check your priorities against how you spend your time. You can likely rattle off your top priorities right now. How does your life and the way you spend your time reflect those priorities? I found that I was struggling with stress and overwhelm because I hadn’t ensured that my time really reflected my priorities. It was exhausting constantly putting what mattered most to me on the back burner. I thought I could get to what mattered to me later. But later turned into years later. How much of your life will you let go by before you order it in terms of your priorities? This will also lead to some uncommon choices. For me, it led to quitting good jobs and staying home before I even had kids.

I was considering taking a different job after maternity leave. It paid three times as much as my old job and was a huge jump forward in my career. And yet, I had always said that I wasn’t career-driven and that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. The only reason I would have taken the job was to make good money for a little while longer so I could feel more secure. Once again, I am so thankful for wise friends. I was debating taking this job while talking to a friend. She asked “What are your priorities and will this job help you focus on your priorities?” And the fact is, it wouldn’t. Though it made sense from a practical, economical perspective, it would have taken me further from being peaceful, and given me less time with my husband and child. That’s the opposite of what I wanted and the money couldn’t compensate for what I’d lose. It might not make sense to the outside world but there is no amount of money that could take me from what I want to center my life around. That’s my uncommon life.

When you start making more intentional choices, especially if they’re outside of the norm, you might come across naysayers or people who question your decisions. It’s so important that you have a good reason for your choices. Not so you can defend yourself. But so that, no matter what people say, in your heart you’ll know you’re doing the right thing and feel at peace about it.

You need to have internalized your reasoning. This means that you don’t look for validation elsewhere. Sometimes people will tell you you’re crazy but, more often than not, you might have people praising you. That’s all well and good but don’t rely on it to motivate you to keep living purposefully. This is still living up to other people’s expectations and living externally. That’s using other people’s validation to motivate you. That’s a fleeting source of motivation. You need to be resolute in your decisions on your own, have internalized your own reasoning and purpose, and, if the praise stops, you need to be able to keep going. The internal satisfaction of knowing for sure that you are making the best decision is such a peaceful feeling. The only expectations that matter are your own. Other people may have good expectations of you but you have to internalize the standards that matter to you.

Finally, you may have to redefine certain words. I had to redefine “productivity” and “success.” Previously I had a narrow notion of these words - that I couldn’t be productive or successful without a traditional job. But, once I quit my job to stay home, I found myself being incredibly productive. Productivity was inside of me. It is not tied to my role or my job. I am productive when I am doing everything I do with excellence all day and am not idle. I am productive when I wipe a baby’s nose, eat cold breakfast standing up, do half a load of laundry and leave the rest, and keep a child alive. You may have to redefine other words like “success,” “wife,” or “mother” looks like. Culture has taken these words and made them mean something else. But you are not bound by culture’s definitions.

Hopefully you have a more clear understanding of what an uncommon life is and how you can start to live uncommonly. It’s not about doing any specific thing. It’s about shifting your mindset toward your own unique purpose and priorities, and not letting yourself get swayed by popular opinion or convention. I have had so much more peace since I started living this way. Decisions feel easier and my burden is significantly lessened. Hopefully you found something you can start to put into place today!

This is your uncommon life. Start living it.

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