Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

The Best Things in Life are Not Things

It’s been five months since I’ve written.  Not for lack of material, but rather lack of confidence.  Although I had proposals and manuscripts drafted, I couldn’t put them all together.  Fear of imperfection, fear of rejection, and fear of ultimate failure paralyzed me.  I was too frightened to go after what I most wanted in life.  Instead of writing I focused on things.  Job things, handbag things, other people’s imperfection things.  No, no I’m not going to write about my mistakes again.  Rather, I am going to focus on what really matters in life, hoping to propel myself back into action.

Someone once told me that the best things in life aren’t ‘things.’

At the time I was fresh out of college living a simple life in Portland, Oregon.  Weekends were filled with camping trips, barbecues, and organic markets.  My young self was too impatient to appreciate it. I wanted to rush into a different life filled with different things.  I wanted a nicer car, a higher salaried job, and lavish adventures where I would finally be recognized as the next Charlize Theron.

Now, many job changes, wrinkles, and humility lessons later, I live in San Francisco in a small abode amid the whirlwind of web startups and venture capital.  Everyone is on the fast track trying to get ahead. ‘Things’ are constantly traded up: homes, jobs, spouses, or the next round of funding.  However, the happy few don’t get caught up in race for more. After all, true happiness is wanting that which you already have.

If the most important things in life are not ‘things’ then what are they?  Everyone has their own list, but I have three that resonate for me.

1. Simple Experiences

I’ve been very fortunate with life’s roulette wheel.  I’ve been to six continents, learned various languages, and have been to exclusive parties in chichi locales where they serve fancy hors d’oeuvres that no one is really supposed to eat.  However, my happiest time abroad was not bikini clad in some Richard Branson pool party, but rather wearing a dodgy “Om” t-shirt in a southern Indian Ashram. I slept on a straw mat, got up at 5.30 every morning to meditate, and ate vegan.  Society’s expectations were removed and even without goat cheese and chocolate, I found myself in complete bliss. I was happy to be inside of each moment. Instead of living on the rush of adrenaline and flattery, which leaves you depleted once it’s over, I lived in gratitude for the warmth of sunshine on my face and the time to think…a gratitude that can last to this day.  All it takes is stepping outside of society, slowing down, and noticing of the tiny spot of sunshine breaking through the fog line.

2. Good People

Experiences can be enjoyed solo—but what would life be without good family and friends to enjoy them with? People are the easiest thing to take for granted, yet the most important part of our life journey.  The ones to be cherished aren’t always the best heeled or most well known, but rather those that love us for who we are…in every phase of ourselves.

I was going through a hard time recently and told my sister in law about it over dinner.  She has seen me at my best and my worst…and I regret to say that I haven’t always been as kind to her as her generosity deserved.  That night she listened to me in great detail, patiently allowing me pathetic repetitions and multiple glasses of wine. (She probably should have cut me off on both…self-indulgence and I have an unhealthy love affair). However, she simply told me she knew all of my faults but loved me anyway…because she was also able to see the goodness inside.  She isn’t the only one I am grateful for. My mother sends me daily quotes gifting me with inspiration and my girlfriends have been there with tambourines to cheer me on in everything I have ever tried, whether it is a race, a new career, or this seemingly futile writing project.  There is not a container large enough to hold all the appreciation I hold for them.  I just need to tell them more often.

3. Internal beauty

A few months ago I was driving across the windy seaside road to Stinson Beach with my boyfriend. To the left was a grand expanse of deep blue. To our right was wild greenery fiercely hanging onto rocky cliffs.  The savage beauty exhilarated me. However, I worried that unlike nature, my own would fade and I would one day become insignificant.  I felt that most of my worth was tied up in my face, not in my words.  I asked, “If I age and lose beauty will people no longer find me valuable?”  He looked at me, smiled and said, “Well then you’ll have to work on that internal beauty, won’t you.”

He was right.  The most beautiful people radiate not from their even skin tone, or botox flattened forehead, but rather from their eyes.  The ones we want to most be around are not the best dressed but the most generous.  At times I struggle with generosity.  My mind can quickly judge and my tongue can be harsher than my heart intended. However, by trying to focus more on loving people in all their human imperfections, I noticed this amazing shift inside of me.  Letting go of negative impressions and focusing on other’s beauty actually stopped my judgements!  With practice I found criticism almost a challenge…it had suddenly become far easier to appreciate than to judge.  I am not sure if this makes me more beautiful but it certainly makes me happier, which is the end goal anyway.

Life is short. And life is what we choose to make it. We can choose to amass external ‘things’ or we can instead focus on the experiences and people around us that fill up our insides.

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