Sunday, March 25, 2012

Curiosity Didn't Kill the Cat

I was writing a letter to a friend this afternoon to encourage her to keep following her dreams as opportunities continue to present themselves. As I was writing, I realized I was also writing to myself.

"Follow what's in your heart and your dreams. Keep your feet grounded, but don't let being grounded get confused with fear, because as I've been finding, fear can sound soothingly rational and logical. It will convince you to always stay right where you are. Go with what draws the best out of you. Don't worry that it may sound selfish because by doing what brings out the best in you- you in turn will inevitably bring out the best in what's around you."

By doing what makes you feel your life has meaning, you'll (I'll) be better for those you (I) love. Who's at their best when they can't figure out what the point of waking up in the morning is, or when they reluctantly drag themselves into "how it has to be." What a lie. It's a convincing one though. We allow ourselves to believe our fates are chosen for us, but in this culture we live in- we have the ability to make choices for our lives, and what binds us is our belief that we don't. Imagine what would happen if we collectively realized- truly realized- life is what we make it. Circumstances happen that are out of our control, but that's never a solid excuse for surrendering the power we have over our own lives. By that standard, my seemingly broken and dysfunctional past should cement me into the safety net in which I currently reside. 

The fear is real. Real risk is going to bring out real fear because anything called "risk" means there's NO GUARANTEE it's going to work. Then what? It's that "then what" that makes it scary- it can halt growth. As I've said before, stagnation kills. It drains the life and spirit out of us so we become shells of what we could have been. Don't let it happen. Face the fear. Feel it. Know and trust your ability to navigate through life. In my case, curiosity is what's keeping me moving. I want to know what lies around the bend.

At this point in my life, I can take care of myself without anyone else's help on several levels. I've lost a lot, and I've taught myself how to be alone- how to not rely on anyone to be there because people often say what they don't mean with such conviction it's hard to not believe them. How many of us have heard "I'll always be there for you" and found ourselves wondering if "always" was a euphemism for "never really"? Yes, I realize how pessimistic this sounds, and with all that said, I have found some particularly fantastic people whom I love dearly- and love me too. But old experiences/defense mechanisms die hard, and such a large transition digs six feet deep. I'm sifting through fears I had forgotten I ever had, and when people say "I'll be here to help you" I find myself wondering "will you really?"

Learning to trust may be the biggest lesson I learn here- trusting myself and my abilities, trusting my friends and family, trusting the foundations of the relationships I've built the last several years will endure when it matters, trusting that life is a "playground and not a prison", trusting my belief that there is meaning for me to create beyond just getting by, trusting that I have more to give than I recognize at the moment...

Nobody tells you how hard it's going to be to grow into your Self- that it's going to be incredibly painful and lonely sometimes. It sounds so reasonable to forego that pain, but how will you grow if you don't grit your teeth, and push yourself to endure? A quote from one of my favorite books, House of Leaves,  on passion reminds me that "passion" is greatly misrepresented in our society. 

Passion has little do do with euphoria and 
everything to do with patience. It is not about 
feeling good. It is about endurance. Like 
patience, passion comes from the same Latin 
root: pati. It does not mean to flow with 
exuberance. It means to suffer.

Following your passion is not an easy endeavor. It takes courage because it pierces into the very depths of who you are and what you're really made of- every bit of darkness and brilliant light. Both can be blinding. Trust yourself to navigate what feels like blindness because what feels like losing sight is learning to see and sense through something other than your eyes- maybe that's how we really find our vision.

Friday, March 23, 2012

You Are What You Do

"What you do every day is more important than what you do once in awhile."

Such a basic sounding statement, but it was particularly poignant for me. I've been a little more quiet lately- not because I have less to say, but on the contrary, there's so much I haven't known where to begin or how to process the seemingly contradictory thoughts and ideas flying through my head.

Throughout the course of figuring out the logistics of moving, I realized there's one thing I really do like about my job. I like that I can afford travel both because of time off and money- I can buy a ticket nearly whenever I please, and the thought of losing that was (is) unnerving (along with the thought of not being able to afford basic living, but that's somehow lower on the list of what haunts my mind). I can do what so many constantly say they wish they could. What kind of fool would I be to give that up?

But then I remembered this: I hate my daily life. I have pockets of amazing, but the every day is miserable. It's like a relationship that's great during vacation and holidays, but is soul-suckingly boring and mediocre at best or broken, abusive, and dysfunctional at worst the rest of the time. Staying at a miserable job just for the money is like staying in a miserable relationship just for the sex. Some can make that work somehow... but I've never been one of those people.  It's not enough.

I just can't shake the idea that there's gotta be more to life than this- more than reluctantly waking up and dragging myself into a job to which I've literally been developing physical revulsions.

Finding this quote reinforced what I already know in my head and my heart, while providing some peace to my fears and defense mechanisms:

I want to know what it's like to wake up excited to live my life because the work I'm doing is doing more than just paying for stuff. I want work that brings out the best in me. I have to give myself the chance to find out what I love.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Epiphanies on a Plastic Wall (or Rock)

I recently started climbing again. So far it's only been inside, which is fine, but there's something about being outside that adds a whole different dynamic. Either way, I believe one of the most amazing things about climbing is this: You can learn the nutshell version of just about every life lesson on a wall/rock. 

Don't believe me? Try it. It forces you to be entirely present in the moment, and completely aware of where every part of your body is. You have to face yourself in all your human glory- your fears, strengths, weaknesses, pride, and insecurities. If part of your body is weak, it will strengthen it and the parts that are strong will be capitalized on. It will challenge you mentally and draw out strength you never knew you had. The lessons I've learned translate so seamlessly into my daily life.
  • Be flexible. I can sit and plot out my course based on how it appears from a distance, but frequently when I actually get to what I saw, it's different than I had anticipated and I have to adjust my plan. Sometimes I have to entirely scratch the plan because no matter how I change my angle, I can't reach the next hold from a particular position. I have to go a completely different route.
  • Sometimes, you have to just walk away. I've found points when I have to walk away because I'm so frustrated I can't reach what I know I can get. I take some time to breathe, center, and re-focus. When I come back to the problem, I somehow easily launch to the same hold I couldn't reach the last time. It's not the same obstacle as it was before.
  • Not planning at all = bad plan. I've started off and not planned at all. Usually a bad idea. Even though the course may need to change at some point, having planned out as much as possible prior makes adapting to an unexpected change a much smoother process than ending up completely blindsided.
  • When you are afraid of going any further, ask yourself why you're scared. This is particularly relevant when belaying because I'm tied and anchored to someone else. Provided I trust the person belaying me (and clearly I should if I'm going to allow them to suspend me from high enough to hurt if I fall) there's really no reason to be afraid. There is no real fall- there is simply slipping away from the wall until I grab on again because the person below is supporting me.
  • Trust the people you're anchored to, and the ones who are spotting your ascent. As mentioned in the point prior, why would you be anchored to people you don't trust? If you have people in your life you trust- a devestating fall isn't really possible. Even when bouldering (climbing shorter walls with no harness), there are "crash pads" and/or people below who will help buffer the fall.
  • There are times when you are anchored to no one and there's no one below- still ask yourself "Why am I scared?" All that said about support/anchoring/spotting- there are times when there's no one below to catch me if I fall. That's still not an excuse to stop moving. My moves may be more calculated, but they certainly aren't static.
  • You have to trust yourself, and be fully committed. I've learned that if you don't trust yourself and completely commit to the course (could also be known as your life), you'll inevitably miss your mark. It's not always going to be easy, and sometimes it's going to be downright terrifying, but if you don't ever take a chance and reach for what you want, you'll never get it.
Focus on what you want, and go for it.

Buying Back My Proverbial Soul and Forgoing Rent

For much of my life I was led to believe I needed to have a clear idea of exactly where I wanted to go and what I wanted to be doing. In high school I was supposed to know what college I wanted to attend, why, and what I wanted to major in. Then I was supposed to know why I wanted to major in that subject and know what field I wanted to work in and where. In the midst of that I was also supposed to be inadvertently planning to have a husband, 2.5 kids, a house, and maybe a few animals. 

I felt like a failure for not really ever having a concrete plan to present. I was also really frustrated because it seemed like I just couldn't get it "right" no matter how hard I tried. I shifted my major from English to Philosophy to Art to Nutrition back to English and then graduated from college without a (prospect) fiancé, and an English degree that is currently hanging useless in the job to which I unwittingly sold my soul to pay my rent.

I've spent the last 3 years and 5 months figuring out how I got myself into this situation, and how to get myself out. (The soul-sucking job, I mean, I'm quite content without the former for the time being.)

Through the course of my questioning, I've decided the idea everyone should have their lives all plotted out is a lie. I don't mean I think it's ok to meander aimlessly through life with no goals or direction, but I don't believe we need to have a comprehensive map drawn for our life path either. 

One of my favorite quotes comes from an essay by Paul Graham (

"It's hard to find work you love; it must be, if so few do. So don't underestimate this task. And don't feel bad if you haven't succeeded yet. In fact, if you admit to yourself that you're discontented, you're a step ahead of most people, who are still in denial. If you're surrounded by colleagues who claim to enjoy work that you find contemptible, odds are they're lying to themselves. Not necessarily, but probably."

I don't know what "work I will love doing" is going to look like. But this I know for certain: It's time to buy back my proverbial soul and find and do what brings me (back) to life. I refuse to subscribe to the lie "It's work, it's supposed to suck." I have no romantic delusions that leaving a stable well-paying job is going to be easy. In fact, it's going to be really hard- so hard it seems downright stupid. That's why people lie to themselves and believe they're stuck- because the alternative is terrifying. But it's also liberating. Taking a risk by leaving "cold comfort for change"grants the chance for happiness beyond what "stuff" we can obtain, and gives us the chance to find true meaning for our lives- for ourselves. 

I realize many people have kids, spouses, health conditions, houses, etc- I'm not at all proposing one foolishly drop everything and compromise your family's well-being. I am proposing questioning motives and rationalizations. Believing you're stuck and choosing a means to an end are different things.

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. ... Stay hungry. Stay foolish." -Steve Jobs