Simon Says: Going Through the Motions

We re-booters understand what it feels like to be stuck in a routine, doing things simply because it’s expected we do them. Just last week, in fact, I was fussing around preparing the house for a gathering and I paused, asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” At times, life can feel like a giant game of Simon Says where we do what we’re told when we’re told to do it. Of course, the underlying premise of the children’s game is that the players agree the only time you can act is when Simon says you can. Anyone who deviates from this formula loses.

Why is this game fun?

The way I see it, some games are worth getting thrown out of. You can have a whole lot more fun on the sidelines.

Now, while I’m somebody who loves having a schedule, I recognize the perils of getting lost in routine—we can find ourselves in a rut without realizing we’re stuck. Of course, with any worthwhile goal such as building a career or raising a family, there’s a lot of drudge work that simply has to get done, but what I’m talking about here is when our routine responsibilities become so burdensome as to suffocate our enthusiasm for the long term goal. To cope, we often end up deadening that part of ourselves that holds our insistent spark, transforming into automated drones drifting from one set of chores to the next. We wonder what happened to our life?

Back in the day when I was gainfully employed, I felt as if my days were defined by an endless rotation of dreary shifts: work, exercise, chores, repeat. By the time the weekend rolled around (when I wasn’t travelling for work), I was so drained that I had no enthusiasm for socializing or engaging in a favorite hobby. All I could do was sit and stare into space. It was awful. I was doing exactly what I believed I needed to do in order to have a successful career, a successful life. While I was grateful that I had people I cared about around me, I had almost nothing to give. I did what I had to do and that was it; happy moments were few and fleeting. Too many people were counting on me to deliver. I was counting on me. Sound familiar?

In the adult version of Simon Says, Simon can be anything: our spouses, our careers, our family’s expectations, our own fixed ideas about who we are. If Simon says it, then that’s what we do. End of story. Simon is one ruthless bastard. How many times have you seen examples of men who bury themselves in work to provide for their families while studiously avoiding the mess at home (made only worse by their extended absence)? How many women feel chained to the hearth—whether they work or not—feeling abandoned and forced to carry the domestic mantel alone? There’s always another meal to prepare or child needing attention. The deeper the ruts get as we trudge along, the more removed we feel from our partners and ourselves. We can’t remember why we wanted this. The responsibilities we so eagerly embraced in our twenties now feel like an unbreakable yoke. That’s not true, of course. It’s simply how we feel in the moment.

The thing about re-booters is that we are the kids who decide we’re not going to do as Simon says. Yes, the price is that we’re thrown out of the game, but so what? We can invent a whole lot better games that are way more fun than the group sitting there touching their elbows because Simon told them to. As someone who agonized over getting thrown out of the game, who desperately wanted to be part of the crowd, who tried her best to be the very model of a Simon Says champion, I understand and sympathize with the struggles re-booters experience when on the precipice of making an unauthorized move. Simon didn’t say we could.

But here’s the thing: doing what other people tell us is all fine and well when we are children because we need the guidance, it’s just not ok as adults. In fact, inherent in the definition of being a mature adult is having the freedom to make our own choices. How many choices do you have? All too often, we lock ourselves into this game, but it happens slowly, like a frog in boiling water. We don’t realize things have gotten as bad as they have. We don’t recognize how our lives have become something else. We’ve gotten lost in the shuffle. Having assumed certain responsibilities and having people count on us means we have to deliver—and we do. We’re tough. Nobody promised us a rose garden. We can manage. But, when we keep taking on just a little bit more, and a bit more after that, slowly but surely our freedom ebbs away, and so does our joy.

Remember that insistent spark I mentioned earlier? It’s sort of like our pilot light; it provides the source fuel we need to keep going. What keeps that spark alive is carving time out for us to be us—not to be the parent or the spouse or the dedicated worker—doing things the way we want to do them, in our preferred order, never mind that doing so puts us on the sidelines. Why be one of the bozos touching their elbows? When you think about it this way, the playing field is a narrowly defined space. You’ve got way more room to be you away from it.

Simons Says2

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