Fish Outta Water Syndrome: When You Are in the Wrong Place or Wrong Era


You live in the Northeast and daydream about Florida and Jimmy Buffett. You live in the desert and you want to be a surfer. You live in the city but you want to be a farmer....

When you are a fish out of water, do you really need to move or can you find happiness impressing your spirit in a place that doesn't seem to match? 

Here's some examples of the struggles - 

you are artist's heart trapped in the uninspiring suburbs

you are a practical engineer in a bohemian seaside community

you are an outdoors adrenalin jockey in the concrete city

you are a romantic figure from the Victorian Era in a modern technology world

you are a farmer in the city

you are a city person in the farmland

you are a nomadic traveler stuck with a home and job

you are introverted and have to live with others in your home

you are a garage band kind of guy in an apartment

I have spent almost my entire lifetime with my mind, heart and soul back East where I grew up with four seasons, green, rain, ocean, and lots to do. But, as I was turning 14 my parents moved to me the desert Southwest and got stuck here since. 

I call myself a Desert Pirate for a reason. I am a surfer/gardern/artist's soul in a dry, hot, waterless location.

The funny thing is, it took me decades to realize that I would never quite fit in, so why should now be any different? 

I grew up in a scary old Civil War hospital estate in the middle of DC's suburban tract housing. The house was famously haunted and often covered in the news. Kids dared each other to sneak onto the property. 

I was never going to fit in.

Where my home had authentic antiques and decorating, the kids in school had modern tri-level homes with recliners and bean bag chairs. I felt like a fish out of water then. 

Now that I'm older, however, I realize that it is a good thing I was. I learned to adapt to whatever situation I was in. It also has meant that I am impervious to peer pressure and don't mind seeming "eccentric."

Here's the first step

List what you hate about where you are/what you're doing and then what you love about it. 

I have found that this generally helps to alleviate some of the anger or frustrations when you really really don't feel you're where you should be.

For me, it's the location that is my issue. 

I hate the heat, sunshine, dry air, lack of plants, concrete, naked mountains, lack of weather systems. I love from November to May weather - the prolonged springtime, ability to swim 9 months a year, no scary weather driving, ability to see a sunrise and sunset on the distant horizon with 180 degrees of sky, and the prolonged veggie growing season. 

I have learned to do lots in the 6 months of mild weather and then move my party indoors or go out at nighttime in the summer. 

Tons of houseplants in my windows make it seem like a green place and also block out harsh sunlight. If I have a source of water to play in and lots of shade, it is much more tolerable. 

On a happy note, I'm able to wear surfer shorts and clothes all year long. Springtime starts late January to June, so we have lots of months of gorgeous weather and blooming going on so spring fever is major and jives with surfer gal. 

The next step - 

If I can't do what I want or go where I want, how can I bring that vibe to where I am? 

For example, I was a skater, dreamed of being a surfer. I love healthy food, growing my own produce, playing in the water, seashells, the greens and blues of the sea, breezes....

Truth: I stay in desert to be near my family and I cannot be a pro surfer any time soon. But, I can grow a garden, hang a hammock, wear my favorite colors, make puka shell necklaces, use a balance board to get my surfer moves on, make sea paintings, listen to surfer music, and lead a healthy lifestyle that gives my spirit energy. 

Let's be honest. If I went to the beach to live, yeah it'd be pretty cool, but it doesn't define the spirit of sea living. The sea wasn't the ingredient, but your reaction to the sea that is the catalyst. You don't go there and suddenly you are all surfer-in-your-soul. It's just a setting. The attitude can be anywhere. I can't tell you how many Jimmy Buffett Parrotheads I know who live in the Northeast or Midwest. 

Don't adapt to those around you. 

My father was in the government when I was a kid and had to work with top level folks, but everyone knew when Stanley Day came in the office, there would be a bear hug greeting no matter what your rank. 

Dad was not going to stop being a man who was full of life and love to become someone stodgy and uptight. And, those he worked with respected his personal honesty and also came to look forward to a bear hug versus a stiff handshake. 

Once you've made a decision such as, "I love my job and it's here in this awful city," it's time to make the place your own. 

If you're a fly fisherman in a suburban tract home, you might consider a wood-paneled den and art images of casting line. As well, if your yard accommodates a small pond, consider putting one in to be around the water. How about a wooden dock-like sidewalk in the garden? Maybe you make a promise with yourself to head out to a fishing hole once every two weeks. 

The romantic born-of-another-era folks will enjoy antiquing and flea market shopping. Perhaps spend some free time refinishing an antique table or sewing a dress from a vintage pattern. Replacing plastic in your kitchen for wood, metal and glass, such as mason jars, wood dish brushes, metal measuring spoons, will give an authentic vibe to your nest.

When it's a job that's the sticking point, it could be political such as a bad boss, crazy aggressive coworkers with drama factor, or simply the work itself being tedious or time-consuming. 

For most, changing jobs is the way out, but if there are reasons you feel you must stay, start seeing your time at work like being in daycare. You're sent there during the day to do tasks that keep you busy and then you leave at the end of the day to start your real life. 

It's a job, not a career. 

It's a way to get money compensation to do the things you adore. It is likely time to amp up your passions, hobbies, goals so that the "real" sector of your life is where your happiness resides.

It is often noted that a friend who has gone through lots of relationships and complains about the same outcomes with a vastly different crowd of suitors, might be the problem in the relationships. The friend continues to play the same role with the same outcomes.

If you find your life is making you unhappy and you are blaming the job, the location, or the priorities of those around you, it comes down to yourself. A person can find happiness anywhere they are if they focus on what they can control (i.e. the Serenity Prayer).

 I am stuck living in a tract house, but I can control how I design my backyard to create the outdoors retreat that feels like I'm in the woods. 

Truly enlightened and happy people learn to work with what they have. You can put them in any situation and they will find their island of contentment. 

I may be stuck in the desert, but I surround myself with the colors of the sea, plants, surfer music, a garden of healthy foods.... 

I figure, if I can't be happy where I am and with what I have at the moment, I am wrong focused. No place, person, or job is going to satisfy the need for self expression. That starts with you allowing yourself to be "other" than what is around you. 

Giving yourself permission to adjust your life to accommodate your personality, passions, proclivities, is the first step to making a fish out of water able to swim.