I have always felt that there is who I am, and who I was meant to be. – steadily skipping stones
Earlier this month, averageinsuburbia wrote a compelling blog post about life and happiness: Who Said Life Was Supposed To Be Happy? That led to my friend over at steadily skipping stones writing her own follow-up happiness post entitled: Is Life Supposed To Be Happy? Both blog writers often challenge my ideas and cause me to think deeper about certain issues. Skipping stones’ quote above made me pause at the time, and all weekend I thought about identity and acceptance.
Averageinsuburbia’s original question (who said life was supposed to be happy?) caused me to nod my head in agreement, mainly because anytime someone uses the words “supposed to” there’s a part of me that immediately wants to do the opposite. Perhaps it’s my inner rebel, or all those years of having to keep to a rigid schedule as a elementary school teacher, but I have to agree with the thoughts behind the question.
Of course everyone would like their lives to be happy ones, but a lot of times they aren’t. I think the tough times are important, and teach us to appreciate happiness when it does appear. Some of the strongest, smartest, most interesting people I know are the ones who’ve had to overcome huge obstacles in their lives, especially when they were children or young adults.
And, besides, what is happiness? Safety? Comfort? Satisfaction? Not worrying? I don’t know if it’s possible to be truly happy all the time.
After a lifetime of wanting, wondering, and striving to be happy, I think for me it’s nothing more than acceptance of what is. It means not fighting the things I can’t change. It sounds simplistic, but I really believe it comes down to that.
So what does this have to do with who I am versus who I was meant to be?
When I was fifteen, on the cusp of adulthood, I remember struggling with who I was. I spent hours each night scribbling in my journal, knowing I was just a few years away from independence. My life could take off in any number of directions. I couldn’t wait. I had so many dreams for the future, but I was also shy and nerdy, and didn’t know which parts of my personality and interests were the real me.
At fifteen, I really didn’t know who I was. But now, looking back, I haven’t changed all that much, even though I think I know myself well. Is there a core part of each person that never changes, even though the circumstances of our lives do?
A few weekends ago Michael and I worked a water stop at a local race. I was having fun, being silly with my friends and the runners, and enjoying the day. Michael said to me later, “See, that’s the real you, the one who’s extroverted and having fun and not worrying about anything.” He never believes me when I tell him I’m an introvert and not comfortable at parties or in large crowds.
His whole idea of a “real” me is bothersome. I like to think that the quiet me can co-exist with the outgoing goofball me, that they can be two sides of the same coin. Why does the real me have to be outgoing and fun, not quiet and introspective? Why is one more real than the other?
To me, thinking there’s a person you were meant to be, someone other than who you really are, displays a certain dissatisfaction, a yearning for something you consider to be better. I’ve never met steadily skipping stones, but I know I would like her if we ever met in person. From her thoughtful, insightful blog posts I can tell she’s smart, caring, honest, earnest, introspective, and not afraid to ask the big questions. She’s a great person, and the fact that she struggles to be something beyond who she is speaks volumes about how much she cares.
But it also makes me sad because I happen to like who she is, and hate that she feels she was meant to be anything more than who she already is.
If the person you were meant to be means you should be doing great things with your life, do those peripheral actions make you a better person? If who you are is measured by what you do, are you a lesser person if you’re satisfied with your life and your actions? Should you always be striving to be a better person? Who determines what is “better?”
This is a slippery slope indeed. I’ve always ascribed to the idea that actions are stronger than words. I once loved someone who would tell me twenty times a day how much he loved me, but did things that showed me otherwise. I told him his words were meaningless. I’d rather have someone treat me with care and kindness and never declare his love. I need something I can hold onto, and sometimes words just don’t cut it.
He was a good person, but I expected more than he expected from himself. I knew I couldn’t change him, or force him to be a better partner, and I ended the relationship. The problem was mine because I couldn’t accept who he was. It wasn’t enough for me. I only saw who he was meant to be–but it was my idea of “meant to be,” not his.
Kind of like he was “supposed to” be a certain way with me.
So I’m a hypocrite. I’m not always satisfied with who I am. I want to be a better person. I want to be more patient, more optimistic, more accepting. I’m still working on it. I think most people are doing the same.
But I honestly don’t know if there’s a person I was meant to be or not. With all apologies to Hamlet’s soliloquy, is it better to just be, or to strive for more?
What do you think? Do you think there’s a person you were meant to be?
Taped to the bottom edge of my computer is a small, green post-it note that says acceptance. It was written by me in black permanent ink, a reminder to myself for weeks like this.
It wasn’t a particularly bad week, but it was a frustrating one. For some reason I didn’t sleep well all week, and and I woke up several times each night from bizarre, vivid dreams. It made me feel tired during the day, and I didn’t have any motivation. Everything seemed to take so much effort, and I questioned if anything was even worth it.
So I sat at my desk and watched the eagle cam on one monitor, and stared at the word acceptance on the other.
Those who know me have always commented on how cheerful and happy I am (though those who really know me know that isn’t always the case). I know how to put on a good face in public and muddle through without doing too much damage. But sometimes it’s hard to break through the wall of gloom.
Oftentimes when I struggle with a situation, I ask myself: what advice would I give someone else in the same predicament?
I would tell them to stop beating themselves up for feeling less than their usual selves, that this is just the way things are today. It’s not the end of the world, nothing bad has happened, and everyone gets a little down in the dumps.
Everything changes, even bad moods.
And it did. I did some yoga and worked in the garden, settled down with a good book and listened to music, spent time working in the garden, and remembered all the good things in my life (and, yes, there are many things to be thankful for). The fog lifted, I focused on other things, and I realized I felt better.
It’s so difficult to accept things without trying to change them. Certainly there are things in life that are unacceptable and need to be changed, but the more mundane things in my life–like a bad mood–can sometimes be the toughest to shake. I spend so much energy fighting stupid things like this, and it’s senseless.
It’s like beating your head against the wall–or fighting acceptance, once again.
Is it possible there are things you have to give that you haven’t yet discovered?
Last week on television someone asked this question: How many gifts are in you? I wrote it down to think about later because I liked the idea of each person having gifts within themselves to give to the world.
I believe that people are intrinsically good. People can do horrific things, but there is always some kernel of goodness in each person. We make choices, and they aren’t always the right ones, but it’s up to us to work on finding the wisdom to make those choices from the place of goodness within ourselves.
I think even the most vile and evil persons have that same kernel of goodness within. It doesn’t excuse the choices they’ve made, or the fact that they may pay a high price for those choices, but there’s always the potential to find the good again and to be forgiven for those choices.
I love the idea that who we are–that which makes us us–can be seen as a gift. A gift to me is something that’s given without any expectation of gratitude or acknowledgement, something that doesn’t need your name attached to it.
Maybe it can be something as small as a smile you give to someone you don’t know, a door held open to the person behind you, or paying the lunch bill for the person sitting alone at the table next to yours.
These are small kindnesses, but kindness is a gift.
I can’t say that I’m always the nicest person, but I try. Thinking of my life as a series of gifts I can give to others makes me want to search for the gifts I’m not yet aware of. What are those gifts I have left to give? Are there others I don’t know about, that lie hidden so deeply, waiting until the time is right to be brought forth?
These are things I used to think about when I was fifteen, alone in my bedroom, wondering who I was and what I wanted my future life to look like. Is it possible that I haven’t figured it all out yet, that 35 years later I’m right back in the same place as that teenage girl, knowing it doesn’t matter where I am on this road, that I can focus and redirect my life in any direction I want to take it?
This is something I struggled with as a teacher of inner city kids, that so many of my ten, eleven, and twelve year old students had already given up and weren’t able to see the gifts within themselves. Many of them didn’t understand about choices and the idea that life is bigger than their own small worlds. They were so used to seeing life as something passively happening to those around them, not knowing that each person has the power to make life happen, and that it can change and be better.
It’s one thing for a teacher to bring out your gifts, but quite another if there is silence at home. Or screaming.
We’ve all seen people make miraculous changes in their lives, and it can be inspiring. People lose weight, leave a thankless job, turn a passion into a career, or decide there’s something better than what they’ve known.
It starts with realizing you’re more than who you think you are.
Knowing there are gifts that each person can give to the world is a very powerful idea. If we viewed each person we meet as having something wonderful to give, something they might not even be aware of, we might see that person very differently.
And if each person actively worked to realize their own gifts, and to bring those gifts to light, what a different world this could be.
Last week was a “dark night of the soul” kind of week for me. I felt unmotivated, untethered, and lost. I have a great life, but suddenly it felt as if I had gone off the path and into the brambles. I had lost sight of what gave my life meaning.
We all have weeks like this, weeks where we feel as if we’ve lost our way. I think a lot of people live lives like this, never knowing in which direction they should be headed, and never expecting anything better.
Last year I quit a job I used to love. It reached a point where I felt as if I was selling my soul every time I went to work. I didn’t believe in what I was doing any longer and I walked away.
I think a lot about meaning these days. What makes our lives meaningful? Does it just happen, or can we create meaning?
I mostly believe life is what you make it, that we facilitate a meaningful life by the things we do, the relationships we build, and the experiences we create. Sometimes, though, you have to search for meaning, and it’s not always easy to find.
After a week of soul searching, I finally figured out that most of what I’ve done this past year has been solely for the purpose of making money.
We all have to eat and make our way in the world of work, but focusing mainly on how to make money completely changes everything. Whereas I used to look forward to writing, it became a chore, something that might possibly lead to a way to make a living. My writing changed, became less personal. I found ways to avoid sitting at the computer. I found excuses. Having to write took all the joy away. I started to resent the constant pressure of having to write something every day.
If I’m writing only because I hope to make a living from it, it will probably never happen. I don’t want to write because it will put food on the table; I want to write because it’s the food that will nourish my soul.
I had forgotten that without meaning, without having things we do for no other reason than we love doing them, life becomes stagnant and hollow.
What did I do? I sat down and wrote, for no other reason than I wanted to. I wrote without an agenda, without an ulterior motive, without expecting anything to come of it.
I’m going to try and write poetry again. I’m going to knit something beautiful. I’m going to grow green beans.
Your passions may be something other than mine. It could be painting, gardening, cooking, running, knitting, photography . . . the possibilities are endless. Hopefully you have more than one passion.
Whatever brings meaning to your life has to be nurtured and allowed to breathe. It has to be something you can’t live without doing, something that encapsulates your entire life into one single, small moment of creation.
Find time each day to do something creative, for no other reason than the pure act of creating something. Do something just because you love doing it. It will bring meaning back into your life.
Death is something we don’t like to think about. I, for one, can’t really wrap my mind around the fact that one day I won’t be here any longer. The idea that I’ll be gone, and life will carry on without me, just doesn’t make sense to me. I secretly harbor a tiny belief that I’m going to live forever, if only because I can’t believe the opposite is really true.
Is this all a little too macabre for you?
I actually think about death a lot. It’s not even a middle age thing. Ever since I was involved in a minor motorcycle accident when I was 18 I’ve been aware that life can end at any moment. When a close running friend died unexpectedly a few years ago, it only served to push the point home even further. In the blink of an eye, someone’s entire life can be extinguished. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with the thought that one day I’ll be gone, and it puzzles and saddens me.
I used to think that if I could choose my own death, I would like to have time to get used to the idea. I would gather my friends and family around me, looking wane but still fresh, staring death bravely in the face, and tell them something wise and unforgettable before I crossed over to the other side. How melodramatic. I’m sure it’s rarely like that. Now that I’m getting older, I think I’d rather choose something quick, something that happens so fast I won’t have a chance to be scared or feel any pain. Sort of like death coming up from behind and whispering “boo” in my ear before it whisks me away.
Of course, the point is that I already do know death is imminent. It is, after all, inevitable for all of us; we merely don’t know exactly what the timeline is for when it will happen. That means I better put my house in order while I still have the chance.
This morning I came across an article that made me think about any regrets I may have when I die. I’ve heard people who’ve worked with the dying say that no one talks about their money, possessions, or how many hours they worked when faced with death. I like to think that’s true, and I’ve used that knowledge in the past when asked to do more and more unpaid work at my job, and made to feel guilty for saying no.
Here are the top five regrets from the article and where I stand on them:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. I think I’ve actually done pretty well with this one. I’ve always tried to be true to myself, even when others didn’t agree with or understand why I did certain things. I generally haven’t cared much what others thought of the way I lived my life, and I still don’t.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. This would have been true up until last May when I quit teaching after 20 years. I wish I had quit sooner. All those years of stress, working 10+ hours a day, and evenings and weekends spent grading papers, making charts, and designing lesson plans certainly took their toll. I loved teaching, but I’m glad I’m done. Life is slower now, less stressful, and makes more sense. I’d rather have less money than more stress.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. I don’t see this as a big regret of mine. I can be blunt at times, and I’ve certainly been known to stick my foot in my mouth, but I do believe there are times when nothing said is better than the wrong words. I suppose there are still some things that need to be said, but not expressing them doesn’t come from fear. It comes from an acceptance of what is. Sometimes words won’t help.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Agreed. I haven’t always been the best about staying in touch with old friends. I’ve always been the type of person who needs a lot of time to themselves, and I’ve lost friends because of not wanting to give up time away from my children, or myself, to do things with them. I do have regrets about some friendships that weren’t nurtured, but only a few. Surprisingly, I’ve reconnected with a lot of old friends on Facebook, and I’ve really enjoyed catching up and filling in the gaps.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.This would certainly be number one on my list. It seems so simple, but I’ve struggled with this in the past. I take things too seriously. I wish I had said can’t less in my life, and more yes, I can. There will always be something to worry about, but that doesn’t mean I have to. In other words, I need to lighten up more and just have fun. It really shouldn’t be that hard.
As someone who runs marathons, I know that running is 98% mental. If I’ve trained consistently and put in the miles, the body knows what to do. If any obstacles arise, either during training or the last miles of a race, I’m almost always assured that it’s my mind getting in the way. This holds true for everyday life as well. I’m ready to turn these obstacles into words and take the sting out of them.
I noticed last year that certain things kept coming up in my writing, words that I wrote over and over. Probably the most frequent thing that came to the forefront was the idea of acceptance, especially acceptance of things as they are, not as I want them to be. This is also tied in with no control, awareness, and not judging. I went through a short phase where I tried to meditate every day after yoga, and those three concepts kept coming up each day. The actual words would appear in front of my eyes out of the darkness, unbidden and nagging, since I was trying to clear my mind. Eventually, when I got up to 20 minutes of meditation and it became harder to focus for so long, I turned them into a mantra, saying the concepts aloud in my head on each out breath. Acceptance . . . awareness . . . not judging . . . no control . . .
We all know how our minds can mess with us, how we can turn the smallest obstacle into something huge. I have a memory from childhood that stands out as a symbol of the word FEAR. My family had gone to Six Flags and we were high above the ground on a wooden deck in the trees. To get to the other side we had to walk over a suspended bridge. I remember being petrified of walking across that swaying, unstable bridge, and I refused. I threw a hysterical fit. I don’t even remember what it was that scared me, because I’ve never been afraid of heights. In the end, I think my dad had to take me down a spiral tree slide to get back to the ground below.
I still don’t like bridges that bounce, but not to the extent I did as a child, when irrational fears are somewhat more acceptable. Nowadays my fears tend to be more based on something that could happen, which might be the silliest fears of all. For instance, a few months ago Michael and I spent a day in Ft. Worth filming the race course for the Cowtown Marathon. Michael wanted to get some footage of downtown Ft. Worth, so we drove to the Trinity River levee and parked the car. Michael lugged the camera equipment to the top of the levee to film. I had visions of dead bodies in the river and gangs of homeless people attacking him. In the meantime, I sat alone in the car, in an empty parking lot behind a ballpark, watching some construction nearby. As a woman, I was afraid. I felt out of place and alone, like I shouldn’t be there, and was convinced someone would show up and hassle me.
Of course nothing happened. The construction guys didn’t pay me the slightest bit of attention and Michael didn’t see one single dead body or dangerous homeless person on the levee. It was the fear of what could have happened that caused more stress than anything that did–or didn’t–happen.
Last year I had a lot of lessons on acceptance, one of them due to training through an extremely hot summer. In the end, I had no choice but to accept I had no control over the weather. Either I accepted it, and ran anyway, or I got angry and stayed home. My training was therefore inconsistent and led to two nagging injuries. I’m sure I still have more lessons on acceptance headed my way, but at least now I recognize it when it shows up.
This year’s obstacle to be turned into a word is fear. I never would have called myself a fearful person in the past, but I think in many ways I am. I don’t like being pushed out of my comfort zone, and prefer to dip one toe in slowly until I get used to a situation. In a more literal sense, I’ve never been one of those people who runs screaming into a cold body of water. I go in slowly, inch by inch, at my own speed. I’m going to work more on being a screaming jumper, not letting fear hold me back.
I’m ready to turn these mental obstacles into nothing more than words. By doing so, I think I take away some of their power. Words can be turned off, left unspoken and therefore unacknowledged. As long as the concepts take up space in my head, in the form of obstacles, they can do damage. If I turn them into words only, with no experiences to back them up, they remain meaningless.
The Christmas/New Year season is always a time of reflection and introspection for me, as I suspect it is for most people. This year has been no exception. Reflection and introspection are the main reasons why I love a new year.
Since Thanksgiving I’ve written very little, mainly because I’ve been incredibly busy. I’ve run a half marathon, traveled a little, cooked a lot, knitted some, and spent not nearly enough time with my children. Not writing became an activity in itself, even though snippets of future posts kept bubbling to the surface at odd hours of the day and night, begging to be written.
New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite days of the year. There’s such a sense of fulfillment that comes from having lived another year, and a feeling of anticipation for the year to come. This year the day coincided with my regular Saturday group long run, which is almost always culminated by breakfast at Fuzzy’s Tacos. Though different groups run different speeds, everyone always comes together afterwards to eat, visit, and talk about our run. A lot of Saturdays I enjoy breakfast much more than my run.
Being able to visit with so many great friends, old and new, on the very last day of the year made it that much more special. I had come full circle, running with friends who were with me when I began training for my first half marathon almost five years ago.
The older I get the more I realize: the relationships we build with others are truly what matter the most in life.
Even though it is “just another day,” the first day of a new year brings with it the idea of a new beginning, a chance to start again, a brand new, fresh, blank page. Ever since logging the morning’s temperature on January 1 each year in my little five year diary when I was a kid, I usually take some time to reflect and write something on New Year’s Day. I’ve always loved buying a new agenda for the year and filling it in with birthdays, future races, and vacations. This year, because of my son’s unexpectedly generous Christmas gift, I’m doing it all electronically on a brand new iPad2.
I’m not one for resolutions. They’re almost always forgotten within a few weeks, if not days. I usually prefer to think about what I want to do more or less of in the new year. I remember one year’s plan was to “find more joy.” I think I’ll always work on that. This year, my plan is to have less clutter in my life–and my house. I think I’ll always work on that as well.
Mostly, I want to get out and do more. Staying home doesn’t create memories. Adventures do.
I’ve always wanted to be somewhere else. Even when I’m on vacation in the most beautiful places in the world, I’m planning my next trip. Call it restlessness, call it dissatisfaction, call it nonacceptance . Whatever it is, I’m still working on learning to accept that wherever I am is where I should be.
And it truly is about the journey, not the destination.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone! Here’s to a great year of adventure, acceptance, and a clutter-free life (and house).
A few months ago, towards the end of my last days of teaching, I became frustrated. I don’t remember the particulars of why I was so frustrated, but I do recall it had something to do with a work colleague not doing their job. The last month of school is always chaotic and impossibly busy, and everyone’s nerves are frayed and fried to a crisp. When one person doesn’t do their job, and others have to pick up the slack, it’s stressful for everyone. Just do your job became my personal rallying cry that last month of school, and eventually it took on a life of its own.
All of a sudden, all around me, I became aware of how many people weren’t doing their jobs. By job I don’t necessarily mean a paid job. Your job could be anything you’ve said you were going to do, or a responsibility you have, or a task that you’ve inherited, for whatever reason.
For instance, if you’re a parent, your job is to take care of your child. You get them to school on time, make sure they have their homework and lunch money, and you get them to bed at a decent hour each night. If you just do your job, your child will more than likely have a good shot at adulthood.
If you tell someone you’re going to do something, your job is to do it. No questions, no excuses, no backing out. Just do what you promised.
If your job is to answer phones and direct calls, you answer the phone and direct the call. Simple. No arguing required. That’s your job.
My marathon running friends have got this one down. If you’ve trained for a marathon, then your job is to run 26.2 miles. For that one day, no matter what, you’re going to do everything humanly possible to power through those 26.2 miles. Your life focuses down to that one pinpoint of activity, and you get the job done–even if you have to crawl those last 6 miles.
I hadn’t thought about my rallying call all summer until this past week. I discovered some fraudulent activity on my credit card and decided to close the account and request a new card. Things like this tend to stress me out because I know the simple act of calling and getting this straightened out will turn into a big hassle. I was right.
First, there was the recording and endless menu options. After I figured out which option I needed, and which number to push, the line kept hanging up on me. Not once, but four times. Finally, I reached a human voice and managed to get the negligent charge investigated. I was assured that I didn’t need to close the account, that this company would not be able to make any future charges on my card. I hung up, somewhat satisfied.
Next, I decided to check the most recent card activity online, and noticed another company I hadn’t done business with had charged me $0.00 just the day before. Even though they didn’t actually charge me anything, I decided to call them up and find out what was going on. A very nice man told me that this was a common practice, and it usually means that someone was “trying out” my card number to see if it could be used. In other words, my credit card had probably been compromised.
Finally, I decided to call the card in as stolen. Again, I had the same problem and kept getting disconnected. I eventually managed to get through, spoke with a very helpful, pleasant woman, and got the card cancelled. She even asked if I could wait a week for the new card, then offered to overnight it, waive the fee, and I would have it the next day. This woman was awesome!
Only, as you’ve probably guessed, she really wasn’t.
Of course the card didn’t arrive the next day, nor the next, nor the next. Four days later I called the credit card company again, wondering if it had been lost. Another very nice woman told me there was no way I could’ve been issued a new card and had it overnighted (which I know for a fact is not true), but that she would check. Come to find out, a new card was issued, but was sent regular mail and should be arriving in two more days. She apologized “for the inconvenience,” said she would “make a note about the transaction,” and that was that.
Of course, my first thought, as I hung up the phone was, just do your job. What a waste of time and such a stupid hassle. I didn’t need the card overnighted, but the woman offered, free of charge, so I agreed. When it didn’t arrive, as promised, a whole new cycle of annoyance began.
All of this makes me wonder, what would the world be like if everyone just did their job?
I’m pretty sure the planet would rotate smoothly on its axis and little blue flowers would sprout spontaneously across the meadows of the world.
If you tell someone you’re going to do something, just do it. If you have a job, just do it, no matter what that job is.
It really is that simple.
We all know anger. It rears its ugly head when you least expect it, and it bites faster than a rattlesnake on a hot afternoon in Texas.
A few mornings ago my running group met before work for our long run. We ran on a Friday instead of our usual Saturday morning because one of our members had a memorial service to attend the next day and we didn’t want her to have to run 16 miles on her own. We’re a tight group and that’s how we roll.
We met at the impossibly early hour of 5:30, but the weather was perfect. 58 degrees, no wind, and clear skies. There were four of us and the run was surprisingly tough, but mostly uneventful. We ran down to our local lake, did an extra 3 miles out and back, then ran the full 9 mile loop and back up to where we had started from. Since it was a work day there wasn’t the usual mob scene of runners and bikers vying for supremacy on the road and path. Everyone behaved themselves and the run was incident free.
Well, there was one small unintended incident, and it caused some anger.
Around mile 9 I realized I needed a bathroom break. At mile 10 I realized I had missed the port-a-potty. At mile 11.5 we suddenly spotted one and everyone came to a stop. We were tired, it was early, we had already run a long way, and we weren’t paying attention. Someone took a step over the dividing line on the path and almost got plowed down by a cyclist. I apologized for us, he started yelling, I mumbled under my breath thanks for letting us know you were there (because he didn’t say on your left as he passed) and he yelled back WELL, THANKS FOR LOOKING! We were in the wrong, we didn’t do it on purpose, it all happened very quickly–as most accidents do–and we had apologized.
I honestly only mumbled what I did because he started yelling at us, and I wasn’t mean about it. It was merely an observation.
This battle between cyclists and runners is an old one with no winners. Because he was dressed in a sweatshirt and plumber’s shorts (yes, it was gross) we knew he was probably just someone from the neighborhood and not a serious cyclist. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt because we should’ve paid more attention.
But my friend was so right when she made the comment as he rode away: People are SO ANGRY these days. It’s like everyone’s just a thread away from snapping.
I’ve been noticing the same thing a lot lately, too. All you have to do is look around wherever you go and you’ll see lots and lots of very angry people.
Now that I’m home during the day, I have much less stress in my life and my moods manage to stay fairly even keeled. (Usually. I’m not perfect, and I do live in Dallas.) But just driving a few miles up the road to the grocery store is like a violent video game come to life. People do the most ridiculous things from the anonymity of their cars, and most of it is just plain mean. And stupid. And sometimes dangerous.
The same friend who stepped in the path of the cyclist the other day has been telling us about the “psycho dads” she’s had to deal with this year (she works in a public elementary school). On three separate occasions in the past seven weeks of school she’s had fathers fly off the handle over small matters involving their children. In my last few years of teaching we all noticed that more and more often we were up against parents who liked to yell first, blame everyone else next, and ask questions later. It always involved something that didn’t warrant that level of anger–and they certainly weren’t setting a good example for their children, who usually stood by embarrassed because of the scene their parents were making.
Turn on the TV or internet these days and you’ll quickly see that this country has an anger problem. From politics to trashy talk shows to angry, rude comments on news websites, there’s a lot of anger out there.
What are we all so angry about?
There are all the usual reasons: work, stress, relationships, money, time, and so on. Those will never go away and anger will always exist. But can we really continue as a society if we don’t learn to keep our negative emotions in check? I don’t believe in pretending not to feel something that’s there, but I do think we must find better ways of dealing with our lives than indiscriminate anger.
And lest you think I’m sitting up here on my high horse, I’m just as guilty as everyone else. I’ve been known to say a few choice words under my breath while driving the streets of Dallas, and nothing can set me off more than someone who is purposely rude and mean. I grew up in a family filled with anger and I’m quick to become defensive and indignant when provoked. But I also make an effort to be considerate of others–even strangers–and to not make a fool of myself if I can help it.
When someone does something that makes me angry, like cut me off in traffic, I try to remind myself, that could be me, I’ve done that before, too. Or when I hold the door open for someone and they walk through without even a glance, I try to remind myself that I don’t need their thanks.
The bottom line is, all I can do is be aware of my own reactions and my own feelings of anger when they arise. I can’t change anyone, I can’t make them do anything, and getting angry about things usually doesn’t change them.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know the change has to begin with me.
The one thing I struggle with most in life is handling disappointment. It can knock me off my feet, cause me to sink into a deep pit of pity, and paralyze me with sadness. It’s like being twelve again. Nothing, nothing causes me more pain than feeling disappointment.
This weekend I found out some plans we had been making weren’t going to work out. The plans were a very unexpected work-related surprise when we were first told about them two weeks ago. They involved living and working for three months in San Francisco.
San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in the world.
We couldn’t believe our good luck. I was so happy. We started planning and discussing things we would do in our free time. I would get to see my son, who works one hour outside the city, and we could even drive up to see my daughter in Portland. We could visit Yosemite and Redwoods National Parks, and I was looking forward to running some serious hills and trails in much cooler temperatures than I’m used to.
Then I caught myself. Wait a minute, this is too good to be true. I told M I didn’t want to talk about it anymore until we knew for sure that it was going to happen. He assured me it was going to happen, in one form or another, and that I would go with him. I told him I was going to be so disappointed if it didn’t work out. Then I heard the small, quiet voice in my head whisper: It’s not going to happen.
I shushed the voice. I was optimistic, and I believed.
A week later we were told they might actually only need M for a month, starting either in the middle or end of October. He had a week of vacation between contracts, and since we would be driving out west anyway, he decided to make it a staycation and do things around the house. I had wanted to go camping, but was more than happy to stay home since San Francisco was coming up.
Except for a marathon in Death Valley in February, I haven’t been on vacation in over a year, and haven’t had a long road trip in over two years. I live for long road trips.
On Thursday the dream turned to disappointment. M checked his email and discovered he would be flying to San Francisco on Monday and returning Thursday night, then doing the same thing the following week.
The tickets were purchased and I wasn’t going. Nothing could justify the cost to fly me out for such a short time. End of the San Francisco story in my head.
I cried. I froze. I went comatose. I went silent. I didn’t want to hear another word about San Francisco, I didn’t want to think about it, I didn’t want to believe it.
I was so disappointed.
I stayed that way for three days, deflecting all of M’s attempts at cheerfulness and normalcy. I had let my guard down, I expected too much, and it turned around and bit me. Stupid, stupid me.
And that’s been pretty much the pattern all my life. I’m sure my overreaction to disappointment goes way back to something I no longer remember, but I can’t shake it. Over and over again, disappointment just paralyzes me.
Disappointment and expectation go hand in hand. The trick, I think, is to live without expectation. That’s a tough one for me. There are days I actively attempt to live without expectations, to accept whatever comes my way with no desire of anything other than what is. It never lasts more than a few hours before I unconsciously start expecting things again, but it’s a start.
Is it realistic to live without expectations?
It’s not just the disappointment of things not working out a certain way, it also extends to people. I can also have high expectations of myself and others, and part of that comes from being a teacher for so long and always expecting the best a student could give me. But who am I to decide what is “the best,” especially now that I no longer teach? And do I really have the right to expect anything from anyone else, and then judge whether or not it’s good enough?
Am I not merely setting myself up for disappointment anytime I expect something? If I have an expectation, and don’t accept what doesn’t happen, then I will be disappointed. It happens every time, over and over.
Sounds like it’s time for a change.
Simply stated: expectation + nonacceptance = disappointment. And disappointment is not a good place to live.