Here’s what they don’t tell you about life: it’s mostly made of being uncomfortable. Sorry, I know, what an opening line.
People always says “Beginnings can be tough!” and “Endings are so sad!” but you know what they aren’t saying? “Getting your feet under you is a really confusing and energy exhausting experience.”
Whoops. Left that one out, world, you creeps.
Listen, I get it. I’m not one to slow down and take stock of things either. I like to decide on a path, get on the path, walk the path and keep walking it until its over. And even when it’s over I like to stay on it a little longer JUST to be sure it’s completely done. I mean, what if this path isn’t as ‘over’ as I feel it is? What if my intuition is wrong? What if this career/relationship/city/etc is ACTUALLY where I am meant to be and this fear/exhaustion/unhappiness is part of the path!? I mean, come on! Suffering is part of life, right? So why not suffer for a few weeks/months/years/decades before really understanding that this path I’ve been walking has been grass for miles and now I am one hundred percent lost in foreign territory.
That’s kinda how I like to do things anyway. Or at least, it has been…up until now.
I am writing this from my childhood bedroom having just turned 30. Have I mentioned that yet? Probably not. Well, there it is. I’m taking a break for a minute. Mostly because waking up every day miserable was not a good choice for me. That’s not living, thats surviving. Just because you have the capacity to live on the edges of an emotional spectrum doesn’t mean you should. That’s like constantly running a 4 minute mile. Your body can’t run that fast for long. Either your speed or your distance will give out. In this case either your heart or your sanity. I pulled the break on the train before any more damage was done.
I suppose you think I haven’t mentioned the fact that I am home because I’m embarrassed. You would be wrong, I am not embarrassed. In fact I am the opposite. I like it so much here I have completely forgotten why I left 5 years ago.
There are people here who love me, who care for my well being. I eat dinner with someone EVERY NIGHT! Can you believe that!? I can’t! Every night someone sits across from me and we share food AND conversation.
My phone is in this magical place that I forgot existed since moving into an apartment…it’s called “upstairs”. (Upstairs, for those of you who have forgotten too, is just like downstairs except it is connected by a flight of stairs.)
Sometimes the temperature is different between floors, sometimes the sound is quieter up there.
I have a whole room of things, precious and tiny and also junky and boring and I am not worried that they will get stolen. Isn’t that absurd? No locks needed!
Also there are trees here, trees and birds and flowers and breezes and weather and traffic and trashcans and neighbors and traffic jams and nighttime silence, and crickets and sunsets and a whole world of other normal and perfect things that, in my zombie state, I had noticed but not recognized as reality.
Unhappiness will do that to you.
So that is all fantastic, limited complaints and I’m very grateful. Although things are much lovelier here I am experiencing a big problem with a part of my life I am calling “WHAT’S NEXT”. It’s just like that dumb question everyone asked you at high school graduation, literally as you are still wearing your cap and gown, as if magically the turning of a tassel would allow that question to have an answer. They’ve been asking us since we were about 6 years old “what we wanted to be when we grew up”. And you see back then, we could all roll our eyes and get away with it. For a grown woman to do such a thing, it would be rude. And also, like it or not, I’m grown. So…why such a struggle with answering the question for myself and others?
I’ve always had a plan, you know? A career plan, life goals, personal timeline. Goals and plans, plans and goals. But I am sitting here before you lacking it all and any clue on how to get started in finding any of them.
My mom asked me a few months ago to put in order the things I wanted most to least. I couldn’t even write the list. I had gotten so turned around I didn’t even know what I wanted any more.
“What do you want?” is a pretty simple question to answer. Woe befall those who are unable to answer it and stare blankly, their mouthes opening and closing like a fish (Ex: me).
My Dad always says: “It isn’t whatt happens to you, it’s how you deal with it.” Clearly, my father has never been an actor. Because being an actor means mostly nothing is happening to you and when it is, it’s disappointing. They never tell you THAT either; that life is a status of mediocre with interruptions of really terrible. That’s how you know you are alive. You are going along boringly and then BAM something awful happens or irritating or aggravating and you say “Hell no, bring back that boring, mediocre life! I want it! I’m sorry I said anything different!” Too late though, the bomb has gone off, your life is in smithereens and you are 100% unprepared. Time to grow.
Shit. I know, who wants to grow? No thanks! I’ve done puberty, I’ve done grad school, I’m done, God! You hear me?! Done!
Well, friends, it doesn’t work that way. (And that is a good thing).
If you aren’t in control of what you want and how to get it, life is a series of beige days punctured by nasty moments. I don’t think life has to be this way. I think there can be more, but sometimes you need to let it all fall apart to get back on track.
Ugh, I know. How hideous. I am also not a fan. But here I am, gritting my teeth trying to find my way.
My number one flaw? Letting things alone until they blow up in my face. I think they call this personality type: human. I’ve lost control of the horse and I am riding bare back in strange terrain.
Funny thing about horses, they know when they can manipulate a rider. And once they know it you have to work extra hard to get them to listen. Which is exhausting and painful and probably against your nature right? No one wants to be strict. Strict is boring! Strict is why you became an adult in the first place! You wanted to change the world for kids everywhere, less strictness! Less homework! More time to do whatever you wanted with no rules! So being strict sucks, but you know what sucks more? Being lenient with your life and realizing too late that you’ve been handling too many years of bullshit from a someone who takes you for granted. Or being lenient with your life and not fighting hard enough for that position you really wanted at work. Or being lenient with your life and becoming someone who collects weird things from second hand stores, like rubber bands made before 1900. With a little care and guidance, the horse know’s who the boss is and you don’t have to dig your heels in so hard to get the results you want, the results you know you deserve.
Now I say all this because I am coming to the humble realization that this is different than a life plan or a path. Demanding of yourself an excellence with the things that matter to you is not stupid or too much work, its necessary and feels great! That’s what I hope anyway. You just need to know what you want in order to begin.
Perhaps the first step though, and the step I have just completed, is stopping on the path and taking a break. Maybe getting off the horse. Maybe sitting beneath a tree for a moment and really asking: “What do I want? Who do I want to be? What makes me happy? How can I get there?”
And then, harder still, to do something really scary and find a new path. Maybe you bring the horse, maybe you leave the horse, maybe you take the horse back to the barn and get a new one. Maybe you never ride horses again. Maybe this horse metaphor stops working eventually. I don’t know. But I do know part of this takes guts and the other part of this takes hope, mix those together and you have faith.
They don’t tell you that either; faith is a key. Faith in yourself, in the bigger picture, in the love your friends and family feel for you will get you through. Sometimes it makes you feel bad to be so needy but you take the kindness and you are grateful. And perhaps that is the second step: gratitude.
I asked my friend Drew a few weeks ago:
“How long am I going to feel like this? I’m so sad all the time. I don’t know what to do.”
And his response was:
“You will probably feel like this, until you don’t any more.”
And that was that, simple and elegant, if not maddening.
We are all one thing until we are another. We are all in pain until we are not. We are all walking a path until we find a new one. Life keeps moving, you have to too. You have no choice, and that’s a good thing. You don’t need to be fast, just honest.
I don’t have step three for you yet. I’ve only done the first two. But I promise that when I know more I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t keep that kind of secret. Granted, you probably won’t believe me even when I say what happens next, it’s most likely going to be annoying and simple. Full of mistakes and missteps, impromptu joy and unforeseen happiness. Hard work, lots of laughter and a deep desire to pay attention.
I guess, they didn’t need to tell me that, that I have all the answers if I just pay attention. Somewhere I knew that, in the magic of my bones and the marrow of my soul. I knew all this all along. It’s just taking me some time to read the stars and way-find my course. Every path I ever take will always lead home.
And home is within me, or home is no where at all.
Maybe I do know more about step three than I realize…