I stumbled across this terrific essay that questions a lot of societal norms, including the pursuit of happiness, the idealized life, and the “dysfunction” of the creative mind. Here’s a tidbit:
Many of the people who have made the biggest contributions to our collective history—intellectuals, researchers, composers, writers, artists, and so on—have lived lives that, from the outside, seem fairly pathological. They have often been deeply solitary, have had trouble forming enduring relationships, have been consumed by their projects to the point of obsession, have plunged into the depths of despair, have doubted and disparaged themselves, and have had to endure the coldness and sharpness of the world\’s judgment. Yet who is to say that these lives are somehow less poignant than those that seem more wholesome?
The whole essay is worth a read and some thoughtful consideration: Happiness and Its Discontents – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.
This is a terrific mission statement for life.
So, today is my last day of gainful employment. Don’t worry, it is by choice. I have chosen gainful unemployment not due to “this troubled economy” but rather in spite of it.
For me, this day has been a long time in coming. I am grateful for everything I have learned during the 8 years I spent in my job, and also for all the wonderful people I had the opportunity to collaborate with during that time. I do believe that a life progresses in cycles, though, and that it is not good for us to remain stuck in an old place when a new cycle is ready to begin. I seem to start a new phase every 10 years or so. First, I was a child, and then a student. Then I was a writer, and then a project manager at an international nonprofit. Now… who knows? But I am excited to find out.
I am planning to be a full-time mom for a while, while I figure out a direction for the next phase of my life to take. I already have some possibilities in mind. But for now it is good to take a breath, pause, be in that moment of stillness between the end of one thing and the beginning of another.
I have felt stuck lately. I have always found that February is the most unproductive and depressing month. (August comes in second.) That’s why they made it the shortest month of the year. Last year it was nice because I was 9 months pregnant and I had no choice but to hibernate. But I think February should be set aside for hibernation every year. We should not try to get things done when the weather and the news and life in general are all conspiring to get us to go back to bed.
One can’t help but be depressed by the constant doom and gloom being trumpeted on the news right now. I can’t decide whether the nonstop talk about the economic woes is contributing to the problem or not. But I do see an opportunity here, and others have written about it too (see The New York Times and The Daily Telegraph).
If you are forced to stop or slow down due to losing a job or business slowing down or just trying not to spend money, that is an opportunity for reflection that should be seized. It is a time to re-evaluate how we are spending our lives. No one can deny that the culture in America has been centered around spending, consuming and working long hours to make money to spend and consume. Perhaps chasing money and material things for happiness have helped us get into the situation. And I think it has largely been a futile chase.
Now we have the opportunity to decide if this is the life we choose to lead. This time too will pass. And when it does, will we return to our old ways and repeat the cycle all over again? Or will we realize that happiness may come from scaling back on work and spending in order to spend our time on more meaningful activities, such as being with our families, pursuing creative endeavors, getting in touch with our spiritual sides or learning something new?
I feel apprehensive about the time we are in, not because I am worried about the economic situation per se, but because I am afraid that we will let another opportunity for meaningful change pass us by. The last time I felt like this was immediately after September 11, when I believed that we were faced with an opportunity to come together as a society and make some important changes in how we lived. But we let that opportunity pass and now, nearly 8 years later, we are unquestionably worse off as a society. Will we let another opportunity go by? We can’t wait for someone else to do something. It is up to each of as individuals to take this moment to reflect, set priorities and take control of our own lives.
These are some things I’ve gotten better at. I’ve gotten better at listening to that still, small voice inside me that tells me what it needs. It tells me when I’m feeling a little worked up that a walk in the warm evening air will calm my scattered thoughts. It tells me when my neck is in knots that a long, hot shower will ease the stress and tension of my day. I’ve gotten better at not arguing with it anymore, but just listening.
I think when I get so tired and listless in the middle of the day that my voice is screaming at me — still in its whisper, though, but a whispery scream — that something is wrong. It’s telling me that my energy is gushing away like blood from a severed artery, which means it’s time to get moving, to make a change, to shake it up, to just get the hell out of there, even. I need to get better about listening to that voice then, too.
I have gotten better about not rushing through one thing to get to the next thing. I am trying to let each thing, even something as simple as taking off and hanging up my jacket, take its own time.
I have gotten better about letting myself be. When that shrill, critical voice starts up, I tell it to hush, as if that voice belongs to some hectoring, judgmental shrew I don’t even like and that I certainly didn’t invite over. I tell it to shut up so I can hear my still, small voice again.
Do not be the boat struggling to row against the current, always fighting to go against the natural course.
Do not be the boat that does not row or steer at all but floats along wherever the current takes it, sometimes spinning without direction in its wake.
But be the boat that uses the power of the current to move it where it wants to go, that takes advantage of the rapids to propel itself forward and takes advantage of the quiet pools for rest.
Rather than fighting the current of life and the world, rather than surrendering to it completely, use it, merge with it, become partners with it.
Recently, my husband and I took a vacation on the Oregon coast. It was one of the happiest times of my life, certainly the happiest I’ve been in a long year of sadness and discontent. I realized a few things on that trip, and I want to remind myself of them often, to keep from losing them again. They are:
- Enjoy the day you’re in.
- Take some time to walk outdoors and look around each day.
- The past and the future are merely distractions from the now.
- Recharge is a necessity for everyone.
- Really taste your food and wine.
- Stop worrying so much and lighten up!