I don’t specifically remember what caused it. Maybe I had gotten an email that added a ton of additional work to my day. Maybe I had gotten some news about how one of my projects lost a resource and consequently just got a lot more complicated. Possibly one of my many ideas filled with insight and brilliance that I shared with my boss may not have seemed so brilliant or insightful from her perspective and commensurately got shot down. Regardless of what caused it, I distinctly remember collapsing into my chair in my office and minimizing all of my open windows on my computer desktop to see the background image. It was one of several that I had set up in a custom theme. It’s always the same subject:
a white sand beach with perfect blue water and a rustic beach bar. It’s the kind of watering hole you only see in the Caribbean. The photos show bars decorated with driftwood and sea shells, surrounded with sun worn, but still colorful, chairs and tables and several people enjoying the perfect day. I’ll sit quietly and stare for a few moments and dream again about being there. Of course I can’t stop being me even in my daydreams. In my fantasy, I’m not one of the people sitting at the colorful tables drinking. No, in my momentary mental health distraction I’m the guy serving drinks behind the bar with a view of the beautiful perfect Caribbean Beach. As I’ve discussed previously, I am a workaholic even when I need a mental moment away from my office.
So what is a Daydream destination? To me it’s that thing you need when you have that moment where you say to yourself screw this s*** I’m out of here. As pressure ratchets up, the speed of decision-making and activity increases, the need for something like a momentary distraction as a short-term pressure valve is obvious. Apparently I’m not the only person who has this sort of escapist fantasy readily available at work. In the modern era many people also use the backdrop of their computer for an image of an escape of some sort. Some people keep photos from their vacations and others go old school and have a physical photo. There’s somebody at my work who has a framed photo of a tiny house on a small island in the middle of a large river. When I say house on a small island I literally mean the island is so small that you would have a hard time walking around the house without getting your feet wet. The house is so small I doubt you could have more than two people stay in it. When I asked my coworker about the image she said she sometimes thinks about how great it would be to get away to that place and not have anybody be able to bother her because they would have to cross the river. She goes on to say that the place is so small it’d only hold her so her kids couldn’t ask to move in. Her Daydream is literally to get away from it all and be separated by a rushing river.
In another story that was somewhat similar I knew a sales rep who always used to say that he was going to leave his job and go sell popcorn on the beach. He was a businessman and his reasoning was fairly sound. Popcorn sales are a low-cost business to start one that has very high margins. He decided he was going to name his business “Pretty Good Popcorn”. He reasoned that he didn’t have to have a high-quality product because of where he was going to locate his business. In his own words “It doesn’t have to be great popcorn, just pretty good, because that’s all you need at the beach and it will still sell”.
Why do we have them? We have these Day Dream Destinations? I think it is because life is tough. There is always a challenge. The challenge usually comes from work where many of the professional class are under tremendous stress by design. Nobody ever gets hired by an organization that says “we are ok with someone who can only single task” or “We are ok with someone putting in less than the 40 hours because there are no real challenges with this job”. The reality is a life where you are locked into a cubicle for 40-60 hours a week with hundreds of emails, or thousands of digital tasks of some sort. Even if you have a certain measure of fulfillment in your job, the load can often become exhausting no matter what you do for a living. Some of us get to leave the office quite often, but that doesn’t stem the tide of emails or the stress related tasks that are continually funneled to us.
It’s not just our professional lives, it’s also when you’re not at work. We need little daydream escapes from the stress of everything at home. These escapes have been excellently parodied in the Pixar movie Inside Out. Remember the Brazilian helicopter pilot player who at some point used the line “Come. Fly with me, gatinha” on many of the women in the film? Cars breaking down, busted water heaters, calls from the school requesting a parent meeting, dealing with our family scripts and all the pressure they bring. Home, home for the working professional at least, is not nearly as relaxing as most generally wish it would be. No matter if it’s home or work, It’s that little escape, that little safe place that we all find so valuable as the aforementioned pressure relief valve of life.
If looked at a little askew, there is much in common with the Day Dream Destination and the Life Placebo. One is a place you would like to be that seems like nirvanah, the other is a pretend paradise that you want to project to the world that exists, but doesn’t really. The challenge with the Daydream destination is very similar to The challenge with the life Placebo. If you spend all of your time staring at the photo of the beach trip or looking up websites that tell you how to move to Grand Cayman and buy a business, then you may lose the focus needed for dealing with the issues that you wanted a little relief from. The Day Dream Destination can be exactly like any other distraction from life where a little is good, but a lot is bad. It all Depends on how far you take it.
One of the questions that naturally occurs is could you even do it? Could you support yourself with a small business selling popcorn on the beach? Could you live in a small house in the middle of a body of water? Could I own a small beachfront bar on a quiet white sand beach in the Caribbean? Well The answer is probably a technical yes. All of these things exist, well maybe not specifically popcorn, but there are definitely people who make something resembling a living selling refreshments on beaches across the world. So why not do it? Why not go live the fantasy? Well there are many reasons for this.
In Larry’s Smith’s excellent TED Talk entitled “Why you will fail to have a great career”, one of the questions he posits is: ‘Do you really want to blame your kids?’. Honestly, I do, because it’s true. I may not be able to blame the children for not having a fantastic upwardly-mobile career but I can definitely identify their existence in my life as a reason why spending all of my time serving daiquiris at a remote beachfront bar in an economically depressed Caribbean country is not a viable option for me. The same can be said for living in a tiny house with no utilities in the middle of a river. It’s kind of hard to have the neighbors come over for a playdate if advanced boating skills are required to get across the street.
Ok, i’m having a little fun with the need to care for our children, but it’s not just the kids. It’s retirement, it’s healthcare, and it’s the great reset switch that happens when you make a move to a new job that you did not plan for and coordinate very carefully. One of the biggest criticisms that I have with the younger generations is that they make decisions, even big ones, based upon what is directly in front of them, that moment. There is little thought put into what the big decision will mean in a year, or five years, or a decade, or even the rest of their life. It’s slightly frustrating in my role as an observer of humanity and an intellectual. It’s insanely maddening when you see it in your own kids after years of trying to teach them the value of thinking about planning for tomorrow. The important point about the reality of these little is escapes Is that they are never good options if you want to plan for the future. Maybe this is why so many retiree expatriates move to the islands or to the lake? It’s because that’s the period of their life where they don’t have to worry about the future. You need benefits, you need retirement savings, and you need social infrastructure if you don’t want your kids to think begging change from tourists is the best option as a way to spend their lives.
The point of the Day Dream destination is to have a ‘happy place’ you can go to momentarily. But what if you could go there permanently? What if you could go there for real? It’s a free world afterall. Would I really do it? Should you? This is a question that has to be answered individually. For me, the answer is Yes, with the caveat that it would only be if I lost everything. If I were ever in a position where I didn’t have my job and family, of course I would go. I wouldn’t trudge on where i’m currently at. I would find a home for my dog, assuming I couldn’t take him with me, put everything I had left in storage, and exit stage right. I may not have retirement and healthcare and my final years may be spent in a shared room at a medicaid assisted living facility, but at least I’d have funny stories of beach drunks to tell over and over again. The way I see it, if I ever did find myself choosing this option, at the very least I won’t starve. I’ll work out a swap with my buddy up the beach and i’ll just live off of popcorn. It won’t be great, but it’ll be pretty good, and I guess that’s good enough for a Day Dream.
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