This Is Life

My heaven.

My heaven.

Recently I took a week off and went up to my cabin. The cabin is a fantastic place for doing what I love; I spent a part of each day hiking with my dog, kayaking, biking, cooking, napping and reading. It’s a little like heaven. The cabin is also good for thinking. There are fewer distractions, plus it is much easier to think about life when I am well rested and relaxed then when I am running from one thing to the next.

Yesterday I wrote about coming to accept that I don’t have a “big dream.” That was something I spent a lot of time thinking about. One morning I took the kayak out and spent time thinking about passion. We all are familiar with people who have always known what they wanted. They have a drive and a passion and go after it with determination. Then there are others that have dreams that they wish they could do, but have accepted that they may not become reality. I have a dear friend who recently said that if she was given millions of dollars she would open a wildlife sanctuary in Africa. She said it with such conviction that I was impressed, even though we both know that for a variety of very good reasons she probably won’t make it happen in this lifetime.

Then there is me. When I thought about what I would do with millions, my first thoughts were mighty mundane: install insulation in the attic, build a sleeping porch on the cabin, take a trip to Ireland, and so on. What didn’t pop up was some big dream. It is frustrating because I am a planner. This is why I am very successful at my job. I am very good at identifying goals, mapping strategies, making budgets, setting goals and figuring out the best way to achieve them. Not having a big goal or an endpoint is difficult for me. I keep struggling because I feel like I should be working towards something… I just don’t know what.

Then a thought hit me… what if I had already achieved my goals? I have a pretty darn good life; I have an amazing network of people I love and who care about me in return, I have not one, but two, houses filled with books (and one is by the water!), I have a silly but awesome hound dog and my life is filled with doing things I love. The last couple of years I have been working on my weight and my health, and I finally feel good about that too. Sure, not everything is perfect: I never have enough time with my loved ones, one of the houses… no both houses, have roofs that leak, my dog has had a string of very expensive illnesses, and so on. But what is perfect? There isn’t such a thing. Even if you have the perfect house, for example, entropy will come in and things will break (or the roof will leak.) It’s true with everything in life – stuff happens, things go sideways, and even if they don’t, we change ourselves. So what was “perfect” five years ago may not be perfect today.

It slowly came to me that I have been spending a lot of time thinking about “what’s next?” (it is originally why I started this blog,) and I haven’t been taking time to enjoy what I have right now. And at that exact moment, I looked up to discover that I had paddled halfway around the lake in deep thought staring at my knees! I hadn’t been enjoying the beauty around me. It brought home the point perfectly. After that, I tried to take off the thinking cap and instead be very “in the moment” and really enjoy the rest of the trip.

life movesLater, when I got back to the cabin, my first thought was from Ferris Buller’s Day Off. Remember this:

But it didn’t quite fit with how I was feeling. It’s not that life is fast or short or long, it’s that This Is Life. Right now. Everything I do is part of my life. Even the things that don’t seem like “life” like going to the grocery store, sitting at a doctor’s office, brushing my teeth – it is all my life. I’m not just putting in time waiting for something better to come along, this is my life right now, the good, the bad and the ugly.

I’m not saying that I’ll never have a big life changing dream. Anything can happen. But I keep running in mental circles trying to build a foundation for an unknown future, and frankly, it’s exhausting. I’m realizing I need to bring my focus my closer. I can work on smaller goals – like fixing at least one of the leaking roofs and figuring out how to spend more time doing what I love. I have what I need, it’s more of a matter of enjoying the here and now.

This Is Life.

Happiness isn’t Made with a Cookie Cutter

Lack of passion

Oh, shut up.

I’ve been thinking a lot about passion and happiness. It started with a question – if I wanted to change careers, what would make me happy? It seems like it’s a pretty straightforward question, but I didn’t know the answer. When you think about it, it’s ridiculous how we choose careers. Unless you know from birth what you want to be (and some people do have passion like that,) it’s hard to know what to pick. There should be some kind of “try out period” where you can sit in on different jobs and see what they are like before you commit. (And no, I am not talking about college.)

Trying to narrow this down I asked myself a couple of questions: 1) What would I do if money wasn’t an issue, and 2) What do I enjoy doing now? The first question wasn’t about a career, it was more about how would I spend money if I didn’t have to worry about earning it. I didn’t mean the lotto, because that’s a whole different kettle of fish, I just meant if whatever it was that I did paid “enough” what would I do? Most of the things on my list were pretty practical – I’d remodel the downstairs bath, I’d get another kayak, I would take more fitness classes. The only thing that really popped on my list as “extravagant” was that I would travel more.

Then I looked at what makes me happy now. Again they were simple things: walking with my dog, being on the water, spending time with people I care about, reading books, cooking and so on. I quickly figured out that while there are a lot of things I love, none of them were things I wanted to do as a career. I love to cook, but I don’t want to be a chef, I like paddling around in my kayak but I am not looking to become a guide, and so on. In fact, what it seemed like I would be best at was being retired!!

That’s when it hit me – I had gone through this same cycle when I was in my 20s and in college. I was trying to decide what to major in. My passion at that time was community theatre – as a volunteer, I didn’t want to be a professional actor or stagehand. So ultimately I decided to find a career that I enjoyed, but that was also stable, interesting, challenging and could support my “theatre habit.” I ended up in marketing since it beautifully combined my love of art and writing.

Now that I am in my 40s, all that holds true. I might be on a break from theatre, but the basic premise still holds true – I want a job that I enjoy and that I am good at that will support my lifestyle. I don’t have one huge dream to chase after, instead, I know what I want in my life, and I have set up my career to support that.

I admit that part of me feels like this is a let down. That somehow I should have this big… goal in my life, some grand dream. I don’t though, and you know what? That is okay. I can love riding my bike without having to race in a triathlon. I can have a career that I am proud of, without it being my “lifelong dream.” I can be good in business without feeling like I have to start my own. We push ourselves so hard to go big, to be the best, but how about just enjoying what we have right now?

That seems so unAmerican, right?

I’m tired of feeling like I am not meeting some kind of expectation because I’m happy with some fairly simple things. And I am tired of justifying those simple things. I’m fixing my life, but not by making any big changes – instead, I’m simply finding small ways to enjoy what I have now even more.

 

Anxiety and Me

Here’s what my anxiety looks like:

  • It’s the hyped up, heart racing jittery rush of being over caffeinated. It’s as if I consumed a half dozen expressos, a couple of candy bars and few handfuls of PopRocks. My breath feels short, I’m sweating and I have a stress headache.

    I'm so disappointed...

    I’m so disappointed…

  • There is a nagging feeling I have forgotten something, something really important. It’s a “I’ve left the oven on in Patrick Stewart’s condo and it’s going to burn down if I don’t turn it off soon.” kind of feeling. (You can pick any celebrity here, or anyone from whom it would be devastating to hear the words “I’m not angry, I’m just really disappointed in you.”) The problem is, I don’t actually know what it is I have forgotten. Truth is, I haven’t forgotten anything, but that reality doesn’t change how I feel.
  • I’m distracted, irritable and frustrated. I react too quickly. I want to punch the coworker who stands to close, sneer at the woman wearing that obnoxious shade of purple and scream at basically everyone on the road at the same time I am. While this is happening, I am perfectly aware that it is all me, so I try to be nice, I try to be calm. (It isn’t easy.)
  • At the exact same time, I am fragile. I am afraid of offending or hurting someone – particularly the people I care about.
  • I have a hard time settling down. I’m thinking about everything… and nothing all at once. My brain latches onto a thought and I run it around and around in circles in my brain, gnawing at it, until the thought becomes completely abstract. It loses meaning. Then another thought pops in.
  • I rush through things I should enjoy. I can’t relax in the garden, I have to hurry through it… though I don’t know why. I go for a walk on a beautiful morning, but I don’t enjoy it. All I can think about is getting back home, even though there is no reason to hurry.

The good news is that my anxiety isn’t debilitating. I can go to work and function just fine. At most, my coworkers might notice that I am a bit more quiet and considerate. I am aware of when anxiety is getting to me, so I take special care not to say, or do, anything I will regret. However fortunate I am that I can still work and take care of what I need to, it’s still hard.

The last couple of days I have been struggling with this. I went to boxing class last night hoping that I could work some of it off. Boxing is so intense that I was hoping I could release some of this uncomfortable energy. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as well as I had hoped.

To start with, there is a reason why boxing is called “the sweet science.” It isn’t about just flailing away at something as hard as you can. There is a level of concentration required in how you hit. If you aren’t being deliberate, the bag will start to spin. As my instructor said, “Now you are hitting him in the back of the head… that isn’t so bad for street fighting, but it’s not allowed in boxing.” The class was a good distraction, (it’s hard to think about anything but the class,) but it didn’t give me quite what I was looking for.

The other problem was that I tired. My whole body was exhausted. I think the SUP class I took earlier in the week was harder on me than I realized. I didn’t feel as strong in the class as I usually do, and at the end I was completely exhausted – but not in that giddy “I left it all on the floor” kind of way that I usually do.

In fact, the best moment of the evening was when I was riding my bike back home from class. I was tired, but it was a beautiful night and the ride felt great. As I neared home, I decided to go an extra block and take the long way around, just for fun. I found out that the street leading to mine is one long, slow downward hill. I had this beautiful moment of sailing down the road at my top speed – wheeeee! Plus I knew that my house was at the bottom and I didn’t have to go back up! (Which is what I’m usually thinking about when I am coasting down a hill!)

So, I am just going to take care of myself this weekend and try to relax and remind myself of this quote by TS Elliot:

quote-T.-S.-Eliot