January 14, 2005 6:25 PM   Subscribe

I recently had a major epiphany. The kind that has resulted in a rather radical shift in how I live and the choices I make each day: "You don't own the stuff-- the stuff owns you." Sure, you might think it facile or cliche, but since this new framework suddenly, deeply and firmly established itself in my noggin, I have stopped buying stuff all the time (like I used to) and I have been relentlessly getting rid of all the crap I had accumulated over 15 years. My question is what major epiphany have you had most recently and how has it changed your life?
posted by wtfwjd? to Grab Bag (57 answers total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
The secret to accomplishing anything big (moving to a new city, opening a business, writing a book or an album) is to ignore all the reasons why it won't work, and just do it.

It sounds dumb, but I agonized for years about why I couldn't move from one city to another. Then one day I just bought a greyhound ticket and hopped on the bus. And then I was in that city, so I had better find a place to stay and a job. And then I was living there.

The story plays itself out again for the business/music/etc.
posted by Jairus at 6:28 PM on January 14, 2005 [11 favorites]

Looks like you were an obsessive compulsive buyer and got out of it ! Excellent, not only big savings but also more control of yourself, which is always good. Just don't overdo, it's fine to get some gratification every now and then.
posted by elpapacito at 6:54 PM on January 14, 2005

I learned that's it's okay for my interior monologue to be a dialogue, as long as it's between two positive aspects of myself and not giving voice to that part of me that is entirely made up of self-loathing. Before that I was a little ashamed that I didn't think in one coherent voice and compensated by having the second voice be brutally negative. Not healthy.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:59 PM on January 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

I recently realized that many people fall into the "artistic" scene not because they are artistic, but because the intellectual set is generally more accepting of the shy and the weak willed.
posted by orange clock at 7:01 PM on January 14, 2005 [4 favorites]

But to gauge a true epiphany, ready Araby sometime.
posted by orange clock at 7:18 PM on January 14, 2005

My epiphanies (each totally changed my life):

My job as a theatre director is similar to that of a jazz musician who improvises around a standard. I must (a) make the entire cast understand and respect the story elements that must be played the same way (or similar ways) every night. If I don't, the story may become perverted beyond recognition. I call these fixed elements "posts." I must (b) encourage, persuade, push and manipulate the posts, so that each performance is different.

Free will is an illusion.

I can't NOT have the illusion of free will.

School/Education is "religious" for most people. Criticizing educational traditions (grades, required classes, etc.) in school is like dissing Jesus in a Church.

I am a complete Atheist. I used to disbelieve intellectually, but I had -- at times -- a weak feeling that there was a higher power of some type. I especially felt this when I was in a crisis. I would find myself saying, "please, PLEASE don't let this [bad thing] happen." It was a sort of vague prayer. Gradually, this faded. Now, no matter how bad things get, I don't do this. I don't even have a feeling of God as a fiction. If someone proved to me that God existed, I would say, "interesting." But I doubt I'd feel anything.

I eat mammals (cows, etc.) I am a murderer.

I thought I was so good at "psychology," I could figure out exactly what was going on in someone else's head by the tiniest clues. It made me feel superior. Most of my intuitions were non-falsifiable. Then a friend, who was equally people-savvy, got into a fight with me and told me what I was thinking. I was horrified, because he was totally wrong. But nothing I could say could convince him otherwise. This was deeply humbling. I now NEVER assume that I know what someone is thinking. This has made me change my entire way of relating to people.

Ten-years-old: when Dad yells at me, instead of yelling back, I'll just agree with everything he says. Then the fight will be over quicker. This made me feel very powerful. It was a horrible mistake, and I'm still reaping the consequences. I can't easily express anger.

All modes of communication are equally valid. Clothes/fashion is (for many) a way of communicating. [This changed my outlook after I'd scoffed at fashion-conscious people for years.]
posted by grumblebee at 7:23 PM on January 14, 2005 [4 favorites]

I recently learned to not hold my friends to my own personal moral code. Too bad they can't do the same for me.
posted by jackofsaxons at 7:44 PM on January 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

I had the same realization you did, wtfwjd. I still want an iPod shuffle though.
posted by josh at 7:50 PM on January 14, 2005

grumblebee, I want to say that I completely agree with everything you said, and have had all of the same thoughts. Incidentally, I've been both an actor, director, and musician at different points.

The free will thing was the most recent one. I like the way you phrased it.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:10 PM on January 14, 2005

Don't be ruled by your fears (or, what Jairus said).
posted by cali at 8:46 PM on January 14, 2005

I eat mammals (cows, etc.) I am a murderer.

Logical disjoin, or did you just forget the poor little fishies? :-)

My epiphanies come constantly. I am constantly reminded how adults really know little better than children in many scenarios. I kinda felt this as a child, but now I know it.
posted by wackybrit at 8:52 PM on January 14, 2005

ludwig, you might enjoy this fascinating book on free will:
"Freedom Evolves" by Daniel Dennett.
posted by grumblebee at 8:54 PM on January 14, 2005

wackybrit, I don't see the "logical disjoin."

I am a mammal. I consider other mammals to be people-like. Killing anything person-like is (to me) murder. That's how I define murder. I don't actually kill mammals, but I eat them (I reap the benefit of their deaths). Hense I am a murderer.

Granted, what you define as "person-like" is arbitrary. Many mammals (seem to) feel pleasure, pain, love, etc. This is what makes me classify them as "people."
posted by grumblebee at 8:58 PM on January 14, 2005

I had one this morning: Do self-aware species inevitably self-destruct? Almost certainly yes. Want proof, just read this site for a few weeks. I have not had time yet to understand how this should change my decisionmaking but I'm sure it will.
posted by billsaysthis at 9:34 PM on January 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

Money is everything, after all, and it can sure as fuck buy happiness. Only the well-off think otherwise, because it mitigates their guilt.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:36 PM on January 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

Happiness is often a measure of how much control you have over your life and daily activities. More control = more happiness. Less control = less happiness.

Profanity is often a sign of feelings of impotence or helplessness.

Anything can be analyzed to death -- sometimes you just have to stop analyzing and make a damn decision already.

Ties are evil and must not be allowed to remain the norm in business. Comfort is King -- and it's about time that corporate America realized it.
posted by davidmsc at 10:09 PM on January 14, 2005 [6 favorites]

Recent epiphanies in order of importance:

I love my parents despite the fact that they raised us in a very stressful environment. They did the best they could with what they had and who they were, and this knowledge is helping me realize I have more choices than they did. My family is pretty neat.

My constant daydreaming is not getting in the way of my work, but in fact aiding it.

I can actually see myself finishing grad school.
posted by oflinkey at 10:43 PM on January 14, 2005

Around the age of 19, I realized that I didn't have to rely on external factors for happiness. I could just.. BE happy. And pretty much just like that, I was happy, and have been since. (I was miserable before.)
posted by agropyron at 11:05 PM on January 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

From Eckhart Tolle:
Jesus' words,"Forgive them for they know not what they do," also apply to yourself.
That recent epiphany helped erase more Catholic guilt than all the beer and shrink visits I could throw at it. (Much thanks to whiskeyriver for the Echart Tolle citation and a host of other thought provoking quotes.)
posted by TomSophieIvy at 11:23 PM on January 14, 2005 [2 favorites]

Dude, kill yourself, just for a while.
posted by goofyfoot at 11:53 PM on January 14, 2005

There've been a shitload of them, but they've all been connected, it seems.

The paranoid delusions I had as a teenager about the world being a totally fucked up place ruled by evil people were neither delusions nor paranoid. Science and logic are wonderful things, but so are intuition and irrational thought; ideally, they should all be used in concert. It's entirely possible that, even though everyone thinks you're crazy, you are in fact correct. Other people think they're different from me, but they're just in denial. Destructive behavior is appealing; it just is. Politics is simple; groups of people get together to score power, money, and resources for themselves; all the rest is just justification and bullshit. Ego is a serious impediment to pretty much everything. Failure is always an option but, more importantly, it's a virtue. Schools do not exist to benefit students and should be regarded as something between an infringement on one's free time and a human rights violation. Morality is more important than everything else.

That probably covers the most important stuff.

On preview: Goofyfoot... huh?
posted by Clay201 at 12:04 AM on January 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

Me? I meant it in a meta way.
posted by goofyfoot at 12:35 AM on January 15, 2005

At 17, I stopped being an atheist.

At 26, my girlfriend told me one of the most important sentences I would ever hear: "You're too cynical," and I stopped being cynical.
posted by brownpau at 2:37 AM on January 15, 2005

If I'm not happy, I don't have to put up with it.

I've been treating my jobs like romantic relationships, and it's really difficult for me to "break up" with them. And I'm slowly getting myself to the point where I don't feel that way.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:00 AM on January 15, 2005

Truth is a construct used to describe reality.
posted by seanyboy at 4:05 AM on January 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

it's just your job, not your life.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:16 AM on January 15, 2005

Money is everything, after all, and it can sure as fuck buy happiness.

money can buy comfort or stimulation. If those comforts or stimulations work the way you want them to, they may bring you happiness. Money cannot buy connection, insight, excitement, fulfillment, etc. I am much happier now as a student living on crap money than I was 5 years ago as a designer making a decent salary.

I realized what everyone knows, but I finally got it through my head, that you only live once and you better do what you actually want to do. I realized it's okay to pursue a somewhat esoteric career that doesn't have strong utilitarian results. I realized that it wouldn't really be worth curing cancer if there was no poetry, art, philosophy, etc...

it's just your job, not your life.

I realized that for me, this was never really going to be the case.
posted by mdn at 5:51 AM on January 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

Just off the top of my head some of the ephipanies, I've had (as I reflect back.)

You can't change people. Quit trying. If they ask for your advice, they often still don't want to hear it. If they insist, then a nugget of the your opinion is useful.

Don't argue with people about religion or politics. You can't change people's beliefs. If it was a logical opinion, then perhaps, they might listen.

Most of the world is too stressed to see beyond their own nose

Forgive yourself. Nobody else will do that for you.

Making people's lives easier, instead makes them harder. You need obstacles to grow.
posted by filmgeek at 6:59 AM on January 15, 2005 [4 favorites]

Here's some things I've realized that I knew from my first year in therapy in awhile.

- Being ironically detached from every situation doesn't make you more powerful, it makes you disconnected from other people and contributes to being quite lonely.

- Confronting people on things that make you uncomfortable or hurt you doesn't have to turn out to be a knock down drag out fight, if you follow the simple rule: "When you do ___ (behavior) it makes me feel ____ (emotion) because (reason)", since it is phrased to avoid putting someone on the defensive.

- Just because you've always been friends with someone doesn't mean you have to stay friends with them, especailly if they're toxic to your happiness.

- Learn to enjoy the journey and live in the moment and the rest will fall into place.

- Simple pleasures are the best

- The way to control negative or self-destructive behavior is to accept it. Once internalized (rather than being distanced from yourself and out of your control), you can revise it much more easily. Or, more simply...don't fight it.

- Always bring your towel
posted by softlord at 7:11 AM on January 15, 2005

I realized that for me, this was never really going to be the case.

i think you completely misunderstood me. my job was doing what i wanted to do, what i did in my spare time, what i loved doing, and what i took pride in.

someone took that and exploited it. they won't do so again.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:13 AM on January 15, 2005

It's not recent, but... About 15-20 years ago, I used to be completely ignorant, ambivalent and short-sighted about finances. Eventually, I amassed a huge tax debt, while at the same time had a terrible job, and no prospects. Then, practically overnight, with help from my family, I changed. Made a budget, identified goals (short, medium and long-term), tracked all my money. I think it helped that they didn't just yell at me or condemn. They just pointed out the facts, and I just... saw it.

I wonder who else has had their epiphany occur as it does to addicts/alcoholics - one has to hit rock bottom to realize there is a problem.

And I've got to say.. There's some great stuff here. Thanks Jairus, grumblebee, filmgeek, et al.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:36 AM on January 15, 2005

In many cases, time is much more valuable than money.
posted by Prospero at 8:02 AM on January 15, 2005

Everything is perception. Some people are born with money and privilege, others are not. It's not what happens to you, it's how you react and deal with it. Transcend. Every time in my recent life (10+ years) I have had some hardship, I've managed to walk through the fire and come out on the other side, mostly unhurt. Just that sense of being able to transcend has changed me, fundamentally.

Everything is like water off of a ducks' back, now.

The only person I can change or control is myself and my actions.

In terms of a single, distinct event:
I was in a long term relationship, and it was completely not right for me. Being "in" it, I could not see past the moment, and didn't realize that I would be miserable if I continued on that path. I went on a business trip and spent a night with someone, and that led to the rapid germination and crystallization of a set of thoughts that led me to self-awareness. It was the classical "lightning bolt" or realization. I realized that I would've almost certainly gotten divorced in the future. I broke off the relationship immediately.
posted by exlotuseater at 8:14 AM on January 15, 2005

This year, I've had two contrasting epiphs. and one Meta epiphany.

1. For work, follow your Bliss
2. Also for work, Stick with what you're good at and know well.

Meta epiphany:
Find work that is blissy and that you are also very good at.

Still working on attaining the Meta.
posted by Dag Maggot at 8:22 AM on January 15, 2005

Something that changed my life forever started with my college therapist telling me I could choose my family. Once that sunk in, and I stopped talking with my mother, I felt free. I could finally deal with my own problems instead of hers (plus mine). I still don't have anything to do with her and I don't regret it for one minute. I'd never be the person I am today if I hadn't (sane, out of my depression, etc).
posted by evening at 8:32 AM on January 15, 2005

After reading Fast Food Nation and watching Supersize Me, I've stopped going to fast food restaurants, stopped buying ground meat, and started buying only organic free-range poultry, beef, and pork.

Not only is it healthier this way, but I'm not supporting a system that offends me intellectually, morally, environmentally, etc.

Related epiphany: Every little bit helps.
posted by conquistador at 8:34 AM on January 15, 2005

that living by myself was a good thing for me, that i don't have to have a relationship
posted by pyramid termite at 9:10 AM on January 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

From the book Feeling Good, your habitual automatic negative thoughts are a cause of depression as well as a result. You can change these thoughts with measurable results. Zoloft works great, too.

Telling everybody what they're doing wrong isn't actually helping them. Even if I mean well.

There is no God. There is no Judgement. Life isn't fair. All you need for morality is empathy and reason. It's okay that religious people honestly think that you're a bad person for not being religious sometimes. They're wrong. You've got to follow your own compass - it's your life and it's the only one you get. Religious people usually believe they are doing what is right even when you disagree. Often this happens when their religious views conflict with empathy or an understanding that there other ways to live.

You have a choice of doing the minimum effort needed to maximize what you want in return or putting yourself into whatever it is you do and doing it sincerely. I'm not ready to say one of them is better.

If you practice mindfulness, it's practically impossible to be bored. Also, it helps a lot with anxiety and chronic pain. Chronic pain is often caused by anxiety.

Good relationships are beneficial for both parties -- it's not just about having fun.

It's a lot easier to eat less when you eat more protein and fewer carbs. You can probably eat more calories than you think and still lose weight.
posted by callmejay at 9:59 AM on January 15, 2005 [2 favorites]

Always buy comfortable shoes. It's worth the extra money.
posted by enrevanche at 10:04 AM on January 15, 2005

Being ironically detached from every situation doesn't make you more powerful, it makes you disconnected from other people and contributes to being quite lonely.

Only if you think being disconnected from other people is a bad thing. One of my epiphanies has been that trying to change so other people will like you is far more stressful and depressing than just getting along without those people. That is, relationships have costs, and in some situations, the costs exceed all possible benefits.

Related epiphany: alone is not necessarily lonely.

Second related epiphany: what makes other people happy will not necessarily make me happy, so I should stop looking to others for advice on being happy.
posted by kindall at 10:48 AM on January 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

This may be my favorite AskMe ever.

I've been working consciously on re-aligning my personal philosophy lately, not really having 'epiphanies' but erasing some disproven assumptions and working out more logical conclusions. The previous answers here have given me enough to keep my grey matter busy all week.

I have already used some of the 'free will' comments to come up with a potential bumper sticker slogan (with apologies):
posted by wendell at 11:49 AM on January 15, 2005

How about just

posted by grumblebee at 12:00 PM on January 15, 2005

Lately I've been thinking a lot about how and why I get in my own way. Prozac notwithstanding, almost everything I have been doing for years now (my whole life?) I have done with/despite a constant undercurrent of dread and anxiety.

But that in itself wasn't the big epiphany. I realized that dread and anxiety can be put aside (kind of like what softlord said).

Hence, these equations:
Chores - dread = routine.
Also, in my case, work - anxiety = pleasure.
posted by GrammarMoses at 12:45 PM on January 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

The concept of "self-definition" by people (of themselves). You can understand so much of why people do what they do if you can figure out how they're internally defining themselves. Moreover, you are defining yourself somehow, and it's probably best if you're conscious about what it is.

The dark side of this -- and equally important to know about -- is that the most vicious way to attack someone is to attack their self-definition. The biggest insults in my nursery school were to call somebody by the wrong sex or the wrong age (particularly, too young). And why not? We didn't know enough about ourselves yet to have any other forms of self-definition.

I'm lucky enough to be able to hang a great deal of my self-definition on my professional life. My recent epiphany was that most people out there aren't (duh), and many of them substitute material possession. "Today I acquired a new object = today I improved myself. I look around my beautiful house far away from anyplace I'd want to go and know that I am a success."
posted by Aknaton at 1:05 PM on January 15, 2005 [3 favorites]

I am a mammal. I consider other mammals to be people-like. Killing anything person-like is (to me) murder. That's how I define murder. I don't actually kill mammals, but I eat them (I reap the benefit of their deaths). Hense I am a murderer.

Granted, what you define as "person-like" is arbitrary. Many mammals (seem to) feel pleasure, pain, love, etc. This is what makes me classify them as "people."

That's an interesting (and, in hindsight, obvious) observation. I've never factored the 'being a mammal' thing into my moral standards. As far as I've been concerned, killing a rat and killing a fish are the same act. Intriguing. That's why I saw it as a logical disjoin, as I hadn't considered people rated mammals above other forms of life.
posted by wackybrit at 1:24 PM on January 15, 2005

Epiphany: the mental state I am in when I have something like an epiphany leads to vague, useless, and typically wrong ideas that shouldn't be taken for granted once I leave that state. Also, anything I write in that state turns out to be awful.
posted by advil at 3:05 PM on January 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

>Being ironically detached from every situation doesn't make
>you more powerful, it makes you disconnected from other
>people and contributes to being quite lonely.

Only if you think being disconnected from other people is a bad thing. One of my epiphanies has been that trying to change so other people will like you is far more stressful and depressing than just getting along without those people. That is, relationships have costs, and in some situations, the costs exceed all possible benefits.

I should clarify. When I said disconnected, I didn't mean "as opposed to having your every feeling dictated by others," I meant "As opposed to being engaged and open with people with whom you enjoy spending time and sharing with". Agreed on your relationship cost-benefit-analysis statement. I recently stopped talking to someone who I previously considered one of my closest friends (and who turned out to be a man-hating pathological attention-whore), and have never felt better.
posted by softlord at 3:14 PM on January 15, 2005

I had an epiphany that epiphanies are trite as fuck.
posted by angry modem at 3:15 PM on January 15, 2005

I realized that nothing ends up as big or life-changing as you think. People thought the communism wouldn't end, or if it did it would involve the end of the world. Instead, it just sort of stopped.

Most of life is an anti-climax.
posted by stoneegg21 at 3:55 PM on January 15, 2005

1. I'm weird and that's OK. I like weird things, do weird things and own weird things and I don't have to hide it. In fact, people seem to be much more comfortable around me when I just let go and embrace my inherent oddness.

2. My mother's refusal to get help for her alcohol problem is not something I should take personally. (That was a big big big one.)
posted by LeeJay at 4:44 PM on January 15, 2005

Hmm, actual epiphanies as opposed to rules-of-thumb...

1. No-one can force me to do anything I don't choose to do.
2. Anything I do, I did because I chose to. Saying 'it was necessary', 'there was no other option', etc, is just a cop-out.
3. No matter what happens, I'm going to be okay.
4. One day I will be dead, and that is also okay.

Money is everything, after all
No, money is like air: unimportant if you possess it in sufficient quantity, and a constant source of anxiety if you don't.
posted by Ritchie at 7:13 PM on January 15, 2005 [4 favorites]

I second basically everything here, and I'll add my piece, too:

The paranoid delusions I had as a teenager about the world being a totally fucked up place ruled by evil people were neither delusions nor paranoid.
Right. But there are 6 billion+ of us on this planet, and the evil total fuckedupness can't reach every place and corrupt everything. It's a statistical impossibility. I've had two epiphanies this year based on those two pieces of information. The first is that the world is so big that there's always a place that fits you, you just have to be patient and devoted to finding it. Not only do you not ever have to be afraid of what other people think, but you are guaranteed that somewhere out there is an entirely credible and good reason to be exactly who you are and live however you want. Morality and society and chasing happiness are zero-sum. There are places and people who you can help. Have faith in that and continually seek out and move toward those places, while not forgetting to carry what's comfortable to hang on to with you, and you are guaranteed happiness.

The second, I guess, is that I wasn't wrong when I felt like I could trust people when I was a kid. I've never believed in inherent badness or futility or anything, and I had that confirmed in my life this year. The only places evil exists are in cannibalistic closed systems, and those systems are only the results of someone missing an important detail somewhere. And my instincts were right about that. The epiphany was that those long-persisting feelings about specific things are usually right, and it doesn't do any good to fight them.

Another is that faith is absolutely essential. Not in god or anything, but you have to be able to have faith where your information isn't perfect. The only things that you have perfect information about are the things you've done before and paid very close attention to. Faith (trust/risk/blahblah) is the bridge between the possible and almost possible. There are some things that are remotely possible, that are almost impossible, but for those kinds of goals there are baby steps.

I sound like Gary Zukov and I'm going to be quiet now.
posted by saysthis at 3:32 AM on January 16, 2005

Sex, fooling around, etc don't imply feelings or equate to the beginning of a relationship. Many people don't connect the two.

and relationships (friends/lovers/family) are the most important thing in life. not the internet like i had previously hoped.

damn im a sappy mf.

great thread, im loving it.
posted by gtmcknight at 10:02 AM on January 16, 2005

I realized that whatever my solutions were to political or emotional problems, they would probably include breaking other things that worked about that system, or at the very least introduce downsides. Trying to make the brokenness and/or the downsides least harmful is more important than getting everything working perfectly, which, truth be told, it probably will never do, not if there's humans involved. So, like saysthis, I'd rather trust people and be occasionally let down than never trust anyone and be more secure risk-wise.

I ignore people who say "you can't do that like that" when I used to listen to them.

You can always make time for things that are important to you, telling anyone you can't isn't cool. Be clear about your priorities to yourself and others.

No matter how secure jobs and laws seem, they can be changed significantly by the next administration. If you need stability, buy land and plant trees.

Dorothy Day has said "In the history of the saints, capital was raised by prayer. God sends you what you need when you need it." except for the god and prayer part, that has worked out well for me so far.
posted by jessamyn at 12:48 PM on January 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

My big one recently was that a safe, comfortable routine can turn into a limiting rut.

But then a friend of mine and I were talking about these weekly kickball games she organized over the summer which were great fun, and she said, "people need structure in their lives." And she was also right.
posted by mai at 1:12 PM on January 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

When I realized that I had a bettter chance of happiness without my (then) wife than with her. There was no guarantee of happiness either way, but leaving the marriage was my better bet. It was, without question, the most difficult decision I've ever had to make.

I was right, by the way.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:10 AM on February 2, 2005

"I wonder if the fact that my father's an alcoholic has anything to do with why I'm neck-deep in drugs right now."

"I could stop doing drugs and be myself instead of him."
posted by jokeefe at 11:18 AM on February 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

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