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The art of living

How do other people define their purpose in life? And how do they get there? Five lessons learnt from an unusual source.

For a while now I’ve been doing some soul searching. What is it that makes me tick? How do other people define their purpose in life? And how do they get there?

I have been fortunate enough to travel to a lot of places these past few years. Every now and then I have fallen into a ‘what am I actually doing with my life’ crisis, but then bounced back from it pretty quickly usually. On one of my last trips in the summer of 2018 I thought I had discovered it: ‘the art of living’. But how to get there and to how to hold onto it? I mean, I wasn’t exactly living an existence most people consider to be ‘normal’. And surely what I was doing wasn’t sustainable. So I thought. (By the way, by a ‘not normal’ existence I mean I was working a few hours a week and living mainly off passive income whilst bouncing around the world, going wherever ‘the wind would take me’.)

Last summer, I drove thousands of kilometers through southern Europe, Switzerland, Germany, Poland and The Netherlands, pondering this question. What is my art made up of? How am I making this life sustainable and rewarding? Slowly but surely I came to some vague conclusion. But funny enough, soon after that trip during a taxi ride in Ecuador, my driver Alejandro summed it up perfectly!

Alejandro is a 55 year old Ecuadorian and proud grandfather of a ten year old grandson. He used to be a philosophy teacher at a high school. He also used to own four motorbikes and participate in all sorts of outdoor activities. He studied art in school and loves to draw. He explained to me that he was fired from his position a few years ago as he refused to teach his pupils stories about the government and about history that simply weren’t true. He’d rather not work as a teacher than spreading lies. Still, the bills still needed to be paid, so he let go of a few of his motorbikes.
With pain in his heart.
However, he weighed up his options and decided he was happier without the job and accepted the consequences of his decision. He looked for new jobs. Hence Alejandro and I got in touch, as he was my Uber driver.

He is an eager student and loves languages and history. He taught himself English last year. By reading both the Spanish version of the bible and the English one (“the Spanish bible is hard to understand, but the English one even harder”, he said), as well as listening to English music with a dictionary in hand. He was excited to practice his language skills with me. This suited me well as I was jetlagged and my Spanish was very rusty to say the least. Whilst we were driving, he told me historical facts about Quito and Ecuador and drove me around different neighbourhoods to show me his city. After I asked him what he was doing for work, he stopped at the side of the road. He wanted to show me photos of his work.

Alejandro creates mural artwork and paints buildings with his art. “I love what I am doing,” he said. “I don’t get paid much and it’s only part-time, which is why I am a driver now too, but I discovered I don’t need much. I am very happy with my life.”

I was impressed with his work, but also with his positive outlook. Alejandro and I then started talking about all the traveling I have done. And whilst he can’t go to all the places I have been, he said he is perfectly happy with his life style and the choices he made. We agreed that in order to live a happy life, you shouldn’t complain about your situation.

Negative thoughts don’t serve you. Your thoughts become you, so be very careful with your thoughts and words.

Alejandro is the perfect example of someone who has changed his circumstances, as teaching was no longer fulfilling. Perhaps driving people around is also not exactly his dream job, but at least for him it is better than being forced to teach kids something you don’t agree with.

“I am alone, and I don’t need much,” said Alejandro. He had a love for motorbikes, but in order to put bread on the table he had to get rid of some. He lives in a house that is small but comfortable and he understands this is what is needed. A very minimalist approach which I agree with 100%.

An artist at heart, Alejandro was pushed into doing what he loved all along. Though it’s not every day that business owners ask for murals and freelance life is unstable, Alejandro is actually working on his passion.

“My work does not feel like work. I get very excited when I get a new job and I always get such great compliments when my work is done. It is very fulfilling,”

“Although I cannot live off it, it only gives me one or two days per week of work, that’s why I am driving Uber,” he said. But then again, he has learned that that’s what’s necessary.

This whole conversation couldn’t have happened if Alejandro had not, at 55, decided to learn a new skill and master the English language. All by himself! Only one year on in his studies, and he has impressed me, for sure! He also proudly told me that he is much fitter than his 33 year old son, and to be fair he doesn’t look 55 to me.

What a pleasure it was to drive around with this man, to learn about his way of thinking, his views of the world and how he’s embraced his circumstances. That, to me, is the art of living.

To sum it up;

  1. Don’t complain – negative thoughts won’t serve you
  2. Acceptance – either change your circumstances or embrace what you have and make the best of it
  3. Focus on things that matter – minimalism but also passions
  4. Do what you love – work does not have to be work if you love doing it
  5. It’s never too late to learn new things
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