By Natalie Rivera
How Many Minutes is Your Circle of Limitation?
Escape from Darkness
When I decided to Florida from New Hampshire when I was 23, everyone I told responded with pessimism and discouragement. “You’ll be back.” “It’s too hot down there, you’re going to roast.” “There are old people everywhere.” “The water at the beach gets so warm it’s not even refreshing.” “I’ve heard the traffic is TERRIBLE.” Everyone had negative things to say. Everyone except one guy who responded more honestly. When I mentioned I was moving to Florida he paused for a moment, reflectively, and said “I wish I had the balls. I’ve always thought about moving south to get away from these horrendous winters, but the truth is I’m just too much of a chicken.”
I thanked him for his honesty and told him what I had just realized in that moment—that most of the rest of the people I’d told, who had reacted with negativity, had probably also always thought about moving south but that, unlike him, they couldn’t face the truth.
The truth is that they avoided acknowledging their desire for a better (or at least warmer) life out of fear.
They limited themselves to avoid the discomfort of change. So, my brazen and abrupt move to the other side of the country—without a job or a house or a nest egg—threatened the tightly held belief they clung to that it wasn’t possible. It might have been a little crazy, but it was definitely possible.
After the winter we had just experienced—with practically zero snow and temperatures so cold they close the schools for cold—the only thing I saw as “crazy” was living through another year in a frozen hell.
Hunger for Light
I distinctly remember the moment I made my decision. It was February, and the little snow we had was melting and a patch of brown and crumpled grass was showing through. I saw a small green sprout reaching toward the sun. I empathized with it’s hunger for the light. I felt compassion for the months it had spent trapped beneath the frozen earth. I felt the relief of breaking through. I realized it was not the plight of the sprout I was empathizing with, it was my own.
“Never again,” I said to myself in that moment. And I meant it. Fear of the unknown or not, I was not about to submit myself to further torture within a self-inflicted boundary of a state.
I arrived in Florida on April 1st, but I can assure you it was not I who was the fool. 13 years later, I’m still here. I live at the beach. And all of those people’s fears were totally bogus, especially the one about the warm water. 88 degree Gulf Beach water is like a saltwater spa. It is heaven. Stop lying to yourself!
So, the other day I was in the Florida Keys celebrating my birthday with my husband and daughter on a snorkeling trip. On my way there, we stopped to visit family, and at our hotel the attendant asked where we were from and what we were there for. When we said we lived 4 hours away and were heading to Key Largo, he mentioned that he’d always wanted to go to the Keys, but that anything over an hour away is too far. From the hotel, Key Largo was little more than 90 minutes south.
I thought to myself, “too far for what?” For experiences worth having? For opportunities and beauty and adventure? For life to exist?
It reminded me of the limited mental boundaries that I once held for myself. You see, after moving to a giant state like Florida I realized that most people in small states develop what I call “small state mentality”. For some reason, there seems to be a psychological boundary around the literal boundary of one’s home state. For whatever reason, it feels weird to cross it. In Florida, I found myself driving 3 or 4 hours away without questioning it, which I found odd because when I lived in New Hampshire it felt absurd to drive to Boston, which was only an hour away. New York City (2 states away) was only 4 hours away, yet I never would have thought of going. My loss! But, in Florida, you can drive 8 hours and still be in Florida.
This hotel attendant reminded me that it isn’t just people who inhabit small states who develop this mental boundary—it’s everyone—except other people’s boundary is a certain driving distance. It seems so normal for me to drive long distances to experience places I’d like to go that it always surprises me when I meet people who live out their lives within an hour radius. For some, it’s a 20 minute radius.
I find it creepy. Even creepier are the people who live within their radius in the same town they grew up in. Eeek. I simply cannot imagine living such a limited life.
These mental physical boundaries are a perfect example of self-inflicted limits. Whether it’s a state or a certain distance from home, these boundaries are ultimately meaningless. I challenge you to ask anyone (yourself included) what reason they have for not wanting to go beyond whatever boundary they’ve set for themselves, and I assure you there will be no reason. What could the reason possibly be? Sitting in a car is too painful? Slight discomfort or boredom are simply too much to bear? Their brain will explode if they drive too far? They have an irrational fear of being chased by rabid baboons? WHAT IS IT?!
The only legitimate reason I can think of is that they fear that they may experience something beyond that boundary that challenges their belief that their life is what they want and that everything they could ever need or love exists within a 20 minute radius
What’s your boundary? 20 minutes? 60? 4 hours?
What about with regard to your job? Will you only work somewhere within 20 minutes of your house? It’s understandable if you don’t want to waste your time commuting, but what if your absolutely ideal dream job was 45 minutes away? Would enjoying what you spend 8 hours a day doing be worth spending an extra hour on the road? Or, what if you are happy with your job but your dream beach house became available at a price you could not refuse. Would it be worth driving an hour each way to spend your time at home listening to the waves lap upon the shore, watching the sunset, and swimming when you want to?
It’s a toss up… you have to choose between your time and the quality of how you spend your time. Or, you can completely re-think the whole thing, like I did, and create your own job and work from home at the beach.
The truth is that you have a choice but that you don’t allow yourself the full range of options because you create imaginary boundaries of limitation.
Excuses are Choices
I didn’t spend a couple days on vacation in the keys because I have the money and flexibility to do it. I have the money and flexibility to do it because long ago I made a decision to expand my boundaries. At a time when my peers were settling in with their small state mentality and setting up lives that operated within a 20 to 60 minute radius, I was driving across the country with all of my possessions and cat it tow. At a time when money was tight, I prioritized experiences over disposable pleasures like Starbucks, cloths and useless possessions. At a time when most young adults were climbing the bottom rungs of their chosen career path of stability and comfort, I was cliff diving into a path of entrepreneurship and it’s resulting uncertainty and freedom.
I’m not saying I think there is anything wrong with being happy with where you live and living a simple life. I’m just saying that it’s one thing to stay living in your home town, but it’s another thing to NEVER leave it. I think people don’t explore because they fear that life beyond their chosen boundary may reveal what they may be missing out on.
Lack of exposure to the outside world is the best way to ensure you never question the authenticity of your satisfaction with your life.
I understand… humans are comfort-seeking beings. We want life to be pleasant. But, we try so hard to control the world around us that we limit it to only what we know. But, then within that narrow path of certainty we make ourselves miserable. The monotony of our mediocrity highlights every slight disruption. When every day is like the one before we seek the variety and novelty we crave through conflict, drama, or substance abuse.
Ask yourself, have you lived 20 years of life, or have you lived 1 year 20 times?
If this sounds like you, I’m going to tell you the one thing you’ve been trying to avoid hearing… that you have a choice. Every day since the beginning of your chosen limitations, you have had a choice to be different. You have always had the option to cross the boundary, move it, or demolish it. And, every day going forward you will still have this choice. You can say yes to life. You can get in the car and drive farther than ever before. You can sit down and think about what you really want, but that you’ve told yourself you cannot have… or cannot go… or cannot do. You can spend your money differently. You can spend your time differently. You can stop hiding behind comfort and conformity and obligation.
And, if you’re one of those people who loves your home town and wants to raise your kids and grow old where your roots are planted, do it! Every community needs established families to keep tradition and culture alive. But, don’t do it out of fear or obligation.
Many people use this famous quote, by George A. Moore, as an excuse to stay put:
“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”
To which I reply: Sometimes. More often, those who explore find themselves and what they need and love through exposure to people who think differently than they do, through finding beauty and meaning in experiences and places they didn’t know existed. The truth is most people who leave don’t return home. And those who do return home and find that, after all, what they always wanted was right where they began… they first had to “travel the world over” in order to realize it… or at least leave their state!
You’ve never heard anyone say “staying within a 1 hour radius was the greatest decision I ever made.”
Take the risk. It’s the only way you’ll ever know that the only true risk is staying stuck where you are… in the prison of your own making. Only you hold the key. You always have. It’s time to stop limiting yourself with imaginary boundaries.
You’re free to go.
By Natalie Rivera