Living as close as possible to your ideal self

My ideal self and my real self aren’t exactly the same person. My ideal self is like this:

I’m driving a Jeep somewhere on the west coast, heading up a trail so I can go running or hiking or do a little rock climbing. My husband and son are with me, and all we see are blue skies. It’s a Tuesday morning and we are stress free and ready for fun.

My real self is more like this:

Well, except that isn’t actually me or my son. The point is that my real Tuesday morning is spent writing at a desk, trying to wrangle a toddler, while also attempting to chug a cup of coffee.

I believe it’s important to live as close to our ideal self as possible. I love my job, but I work because I need to. Working provides me with the means to live as close to my ideal as I can and to be responsible for the things I value.

Even though I’m not spending this Tuesday morning driving up a mountain with my family, I have plans to do exactly that on an upcoming vacation. Like I said, my ideal self is as close as possible to my real self.

Problems arise, however, when someone’s ideal self and real self are separated by a giant chasm. The ideal self is never experienced, and guilt, stress, and clutter accumulate because of this disconnect. Someone might see her ideal self as a golfer who plays the most beautiful courses in the world, and she may even have a set of golf clubs in the basement waiting for her to use. But, if she hasn’t picked up a club in a decade and hasn’t scheduled a tee time or saved any money or researched possible golf trips or done anything to make her vision a reality, there is too much distance between the ideal and the real. The golfing dream is just a dream, and it’s time to make it happen or let it go.

Clutter comes in many forms — physical, mental, emotional, etc. — and all of it is unproductive and distracting. Take a few moments to review your ideal self. Decide if the vision of who you want to be is really who you want to be. If it is, do everything in your power to clear the clutter and get as close to that ideal as possible. If it isn’t, let go of those misperceptions and their associated clutter. Make room for an ideal self you actually desire and have the motivation to pursue.

Life is too short to fill it with clutter. Live as close to your ideal self as possible.

32 Comments for “Living as close as possible to your ideal self”

  1. posted by Jen on

    I think that we all need a balance between our real and ideal selves. You mention that your ideal is to spend every Tuesday hiking or rock climbing or something – but if you really did that all the time (like if you won the lottery and did not have to work for financial reasons), would you still want to do that all the time? I’ve always said the same applies to my marriage – we should WANT to spend every minute together, in theory, but we should never actually do it, because we’d get sick of each other. Lucky for us, we have jobs and friends and other things that require us to be apart for large chunks of time and this never becomes an issue. But as much time as we’re able to spend together, we should always want more. We should miss each other during the workday, at least a little. We may have to revise this when we retire! Or at least get some serious hobbies 😉

    And I think you should miss hiking while you’re at work, otherwise it wouldn’t be a special treat when you get to do it. I agree that maybe you’d like to do more of it than you are able to do, but you can have too much of a good thing. It is important though, to have a clear idea of what your ideal is, so that you can focus your energy on that rather than any mental or physical clutter that might be in your way.

  2. posted by Travis on

    Brilliantly said. I totally agree!

  3. posted by Panagiotis on

    Indeed, well raised points. I find it very nice when being able to combine everyday things, such as getting to work, with things you may enjoy, like cycling for instance. It improves both quality of life and keeps you attached to something you like anyway. But obviously, that can not happen with everything you like.

  4. posted by danielle on

    LOVE this!!

  5. posted by Anita on

    I think people whose work life is what they love to do are truly enlightened.

    My inspiration right now is a friend who, after a few years of stable, well-paying but soul-sucking office jobs, became a yoga and dance instructor. She teaches one, the other, or both every day, and in her spare time?… she practices other types of yoga, she takes different dance classes, she’s in a dance performance team…

    I hope to some day soon earn my living through photography and dance. Until then, my ideal self is quite removed from my real, unhappily office-dwelling self.

    Thanks for the reminder to always strive towards that ideal.

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jen — Most days, I spend 24 hours a day with my husband and my son. Our arrangement works for us, and I can’t imagine doing it any other way. That being said, I think the way we live would make other people feel claustrophobic and trapped. What is important is that if you choose to have a life partner, you choose someone with the same level of personal time and space tolerance as you. It sounds like you have, which is awesome, but your way of living isn’t for everyone.

  7. posted by Alix on

    Okay, Erin, who ratted me out. You nailed me with this post. As far as physical clutter does, I am queen of my castle. As for mental clutter… seriously, who blabbed???

  8. posted by Jen on

    @Erin – I totally agree, your way isn’t for everyone and neither is mine. I’ve found something that works for me, and I’m glad that you’ve done the same. It sounds like my lifestyle would leave you and your family all wanting for a lot more time together, and yours would definitely leave us feeling a little sick of each other. I’m sorry if it sounded like I was implying that it was my way or the highway – I don’t feel that way at all, I think it’s a highly individualized choice and maybe what I wrote didn’t convey that. I just meant that sometimes what sounds like an ideal way to spend every waking minute might not actually turn out that way if we actually did it.

  9. posted by Rae on

    Great post.

    I’m my idea self probably two months total in the year. That is a vast improvement over three years ago when it was at best two weeks of the year. This two month figure is growing exponentially as I figure out how to fund this dream life of mine and make it possible for me to be my ideal self every single day.

    One thing I realised last night is that my ideal self can play the guitar but that my real self is hopelessly tone deaf. I decided to give up on trying to learn to play, put a for sale at online, and within hours a very grateful teen picked up his first guitar. I didn’t realise that guitar was clutter until it was gone.

  10. posted by *pol on

    That’s why I love camping… I can be my ideal self a couple of weekends a year, completely cut off from running water or electricity. Depending only what I brought into the bush (and take back out). It feels so good to remember what life is like without convenience and to be limited for choice for those few days! By the time I get home, grubby and mosquito bitten, I am extrememly thankful for what I have, and the experience holds me over for the next opportunity to be that “ideal” again.

    I have noticed I have more than one ideal self too… anybody else? My ideal mommy self would always have time to play, but my ideal work-self is ambitious and ahead of schedule and exceding expectations on every project. My ideal wife-self is buxom and keeps the house immaculate, and my ideal friend-self is available to go hang with the girls at least once a month…. By having so many ideals for myself I can not possibly be any of them entirely, nor would I want to really. Balance and compormise is healthy I think.

  11. posted by daney on

    this really resonates with me, today – just had a similar conversation with a coworker first thing this morning. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  12. posted by Phalynn on

    Hey! That’s my car! Even thought my days can be crazy, I have my dream car. Paid in cash because I got rid of clutter (bills!)! My house is sometimes messy (I have two boys), the papers are in stacks once in a while – but most days they are in the right “In” or “File” box and I am working on my Jan 2011 goal but my June goal is done. Life is good! I walk with you every day via this site and my life is richer because of you! If you are ever in Atlanta, set aside sometime for a ride in the open air and a dinner on me. Keep up the great work!

  13. posted by klutzgrrl on

    Me too. meeeee tooooo. How did you know?…..

  14. posted by gene on

    The real self, the ideal self, and the fantasy self. Is my ideal self created by my real limitations (as in, is not working an option)? Or is my ideal self based on personal fantasy (like how would I live if I won the lottery)?

    I guess in this case your ideal self has to be realistic. But then if it’s too realistic you could call your real self your ideal self, and be on your merry way.

  15. posted by gene on

    …maybe it just boils down to goals. Pursue realistic goals.

  16. posted by A.R. on

    This is exactly why I started getting rid of the clutter. I wasn’t able to do and be what I wanted, because I felt stuck with the clutter. Too much to do, sort, clean, etc. I decided to get rid of what I really don’t need so I have more time to be able to spend playing with my kids or reading/learning about stuff online and especially to have time to write.

    Still have a bit to go, but life is much better without so much clutter.

  17. posted by Andy on

    Was actually thinking about this a few days ago. Sometimes big life events (like having a new baby) cause you to re-think what you’re doing and where you’re going. Thanks for this post.

  18. posted by Linda on

    Oh yeah. I kept a complex “Christmas tree skirt” kit with gold braid, sequins, etc for over 20 years (yep that’s twenty, not two) because my ideal self was a person who would have made something as gorgeous as the picture on the box.

    My real self still uses the red bedspread from my freshman year in college to hid the Christmas tree stand. :~}

  19. posted by Jackie Pettus on

    I can’t imagine how hard it would be to work with a toddler on your knee. A web developer I work with, a work-at-home dad, often apologizes for missing a deadline because of just that. I have nothing against kids, I raised three of them myself. But when they keep him from doing his job it’s a problem.

    After working as an advertising writer for over ten years, I stayed home with my kids because my husband traveled a lot for business. All of those years the “real self” I imagined was in a corner office on Madision Avenue creating award winning ad campaigns.

    The kids are grown, and I’ve finally realized at least part of my dream It may be in San Francisco, and in my home, but I finally got that corner office. Instead of creating ad campaigns I created a website. And I work because I want to, not because I need to. Life is good.

  20. posted by me on

    My ideal self is this:

    But my real self is this:

  21. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    Great post Erin! I think that many people are miserable as they keep their ideal self stuffed away because they don’t think it is possible or even appropriate in our society to live this way. I learned the hard way that the soul will burn out if it is not doing what it is meant to do. I encourage people to make small steps towards their ideal self, such as you are with your vacation.
    Hubby and I would like to travel around the country full time in an RV. We are not at the point where we can work remotely yet, but we just got the chance to buy a used RV. we plan to take a 10 day road trip later this summer, as well as many 3 day weekends. This will help us move closer to the ideal self and life we are longing for!
    Enjoy the hiking!

  22. posted by Karen M on

    I’m with you, Erin, except for the part about using your fun jeep to ruin perfectly good trout habitat. I’d rat you out to Fish and Game in a heartbeat.

  23. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Karen M — Ha!! As you should, if I were to actually do it!! 🙂 Do real people drive through moving water? Isn’t that one of the first things you learn in drivers’ education, not to drive through moving water? I’ve always thought it was an activity just for car commercials 🙂

  24. posted by Mike on

    ‘Tis said that if you are making a living doing what you love, then every day is like a vacation.

    I’m not there yet, but I consider any day to be a good day if I managed some net increment toward that goal.

    I think a lot of us would do this, except that necessity intervenes… in my case, the reality that I have a family to feed. I wouldn’t trade it, and I understand that having a family is the sort of thing that cannot be postponed indefinitely, so I just accept the way it is and continue working toward tomorrow.

  25. posted by Mletta on

    I’m not sure if “ideal” is the word I use when approaching how I live my life. It’s more like “authentic,” which is something that is within my personal power as opposed to some things that are not. “Ideal” as a word sort of scares me because I think I spent a lot of my former perfectionistic life trying to reach the “ideal”, to be the “ideal” in a lot of things. Luckily, I learned that this is not a formula for an enjoyable life and let it go.

    Being authentic is possible even when I’m doing things, working at something that does not reflect my personal goals and aspirations (beyond the ability to support my family). I may not love who I work for or what I do, but I do it to the best of my ability as a professional. That’s the gift I give myself and my “customers.”

    I think the real trick in life, as some have learned and most of us are still learning daily, is to be able to enjoy whatever our days bring us. Because living for the future and the “ideal” often shifts our attention from being in the present moment and finding the joy/rewards/etc. in it. It isn’t always easy to do, but I’ve watched people do it in circumstances I could not imagine lasting in for even minutes.

    I’ve worked with and for people who were superstars in their fields, making millions. Most were unhappy, really unhappy and dissatisfied and truly unappreciative of how much they had on so many levels beyond the security of financial stability (not to be underestimated). I’ve known and observed people who lived on hourly wages who managed to be happy, enjoy their lives and contribute to their family and community despite personal challenges (health, children with disabilities).

    With very limited resources, they managed to wrest joy and happiness from whatever showed up in each day.

    Being our ideal selves is about fully exploring who we are and then showing up with all of it in each day and each moment for those we love and care about first, and then, for our fellow citizens.

    FYI: Erin, you say that you “work because I need to.” Of course, that applies to most of us since we’re not financially independent/wealthy. However, I would say, given your passion for your work and your personal excellence and commitment, which always shines thru, that your current work in fact does reflect your ideal self. I’ve always thought that when one does whatever work they are doing with pride, interest, commitment and professionalism, that this is being authentic and reflecting their “ideal” self, even if it is not their ideal working or living situation.

    PS: In all you do, you ask folks to think. To be mindful and aware as a way of coming closer to living an authentic life. That’s a great message.

  26. posted by James on

    Great post! I believe that it is in these moments of living close to our “ideal self” that we take action in creating it as a reality. Not only that, but as we think about and focus on it, not as an ideal, but as truth and a certainty, we continue to reveal it in our lives.

    Also, while it’s certainly fine to value things that you enjoy, labelling or seeing it as a reward or treat is counter- productive. This defines it as beyond the norm and only available to us if we work “hard” – that we can’t fully appreciate it otherwise. It’s my belief that we deserve to have all we want and we are meant to be happy and always reaching for more. This isn’t selfish or egocentric, it is our true nature which also serves as inspiration for others.

  27. posted by klutzgrrl on

    I wish there was a ‘thumbs up’ facility on the blog comments. Mletta, your comment is very thoughtful and worthwhile, thank you.

  28. posted by Tracy on

    One thing that I have learned (twice) in my life so far is that when you take your “passion” and turn it into your job, you may hate your job less, but you lose your passion. After a while it is still a job. For example, you may LOVE rock climbing. So you start your own business leading rock climbing tours so you can do that all the time. But then you have to deal with obnoxious customers, people who have zero talent and even less dedication to learn, etc.. It takes up a lot of time. So pretty soon you don’t have much time for your own climbing. Furthermore, on your days off, the last thing you want to do is rock climb. So now you have given up that good stock broker money to scrape by leading rock climbing tours, your body is wearing out and you no longer feel passionate about rock climbing. Bleh.

  29. posted by Sam Osborne on

    I couldn’t agree more – in fact I recently made a load of changes in my life to bring it more in line with my ideal self.

    However I agree with Tracey that you have to be careful to hold onto the part that you were passionate about to begin with and try not to get overwhelmed by things that detract from your ideal self – in my case all the business paper work that goes with having my own design and illustration business. I have to make sure that the majority of my time is spent doing the part I love otherwise you fall out of love with the vision of your ideal self and then what have you got.

    It reminds me of what they teach you on these skid pan driving lessons. Don’t focus on where the skid is taking you, focus on where you want to go and constantly steer in that direction – even if that happens to be out of the driver’s side window! Eyes on the prize I guess.

    Great post and reminder that keeping that ideal self image in mind always is very important – many thanks.

  30. posted by Eric Johnson on

    Your post made me think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. He theorized that each of us has to satisfy a specific set of needs before we can attain any level of self-actualization: the ideal self that you discuss in your post. Of course, the ideal self is different for each individual, but there are needs that we all need to satisfy, like the need to eat, be safe, belong to a community, and accept ourselves. Only then can we get close to our ideal self. Getting there is a matter of personal exploration, a journey, and ridding yourself of useless clutter will certainly help you get there.

    I think it may be time for another personal review! Thanks for the reminder.

  31. posted by Aaron Aiken on


  32. posted by Dawn on

    a timely post indeed! i’ve been acutely aware of the distance between my ideal self & my actual-living-this-moment self quite a bit lately. could be the fact that i turned 46 2 weeks ago. could be i’m just over this rat race crutch i’ve found myself in. time for some deep soul searching – thanks for the push.

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