I was looking at my computer keyboard today, like, really looking it at. Staring down into the keys that I just wiped thoroughly weeks before, I noticed that despite the cleaning, there are still hints of sticky, cemented gunk and furry, knotted dust caked in the corner of every letter, just below the surface. It’s seriously gross.
Looking at the keys, I was thinking how this could be a metaphor for life or at least one’s self. No matter how many times you take care of the surface needs, there is still that residual debris, crusty fall-out that builds up slowly in the crevices over time. It takes a moment of clarity to suddenly realize you’re staring at years’ worth of junk that should probably be addressed.
My brain immediately started to process this observation in a compositional way, wanting to describe and unfurl and compare. To draw some full-circle sage conclusion or metaphor. I was suddenly conscious that my own inner monologue sounded a lot like the internet wisdom that clogs the various feeds that scrolled my way. Thanks to my full immersion into this culture of excessive contemplation, I sounded like every self-help, motivational, inspirational, and quasi-deep meme, post and article that I’ve absorbed in the last year.
Quite frankly, I’m so over it.
2015 was my year of intense naval-gazing, though that’s certainly not what I had planned to do. It was seriously a year of over-thinking decisions, over-processing problems, over-analyzing feelings and generally driving myself crazy. I was overly invested, overly emotional and overly sensitive and boy, was it ever exhausting. I had no intent of diving so deeply into this, but it sort of just evolved. I think sometimes you emerge at a point in your life with a sudden awareness, whether it be from settling firmer into middle age, experiencing loss, whether it’s heartbreak or death or experiencing gain, like the shake-up of a new baby.
Somewhere at this point of one’s life, between coming to terms with your relationships – spouse/kids/parents, revisiting connections with family and friends and addressing your career growth (or lack there-of), there’s the re-evaluation and re-definition of “The American Dream” – or at least, that’s how I see it. Early on, the goal is clear – get a job, advance into a career path, meet someone and settle down, buy a house, get financially stable and start a family. But once you get to that point, you suddenly realize – or speaking for myself, I realized – there is a lot of ambiguity once you reach that final apex and look down on all the checked-off boxes on the list. For me, this was a time for some intense inner discussions about what it means to get to that point and still feel like something was missing. Or at least, off-balance. Why didn’t I feel as happy and content as I should? There’s still so much grey area up here at the summit, after achieving this so-called dream. But what did that mean for me? I needed to poke and press against the soreness until it was uncomfortable, searching for its source of origin.
The start of my eventual resolution didn’t come from things external. I like my home, my car, my community and my town just fine. Sure, I miss the culture and energy of city-life, but that’s not what was nagging at me. What I wanted was passion. To feel inspired. To feel invigorated, about anything. To feel connected, whether that be with like-minded creative and innovative folks here or with my family and friends, scattered disconnectedly across the country. I needed to get back into what made me who I am and to start sharing that, without hesitancy or guilt, even if it took time, time I felt I was unable to spare.
I asked myself what does it mean to advance in one’s career, even if there is no clear path for advancement? How does one create opportunities for growth and fulfillment? If you’re not pursuing a defined “off-the-grid” career like becoming an entrepreneur or starting your own business, then what? Where’s the instruction manual for someone who wants to capitalize on their creativity, sense of strategy and logistical skills without starting their own version of a self-help motivational brand? What does one do to bring meaning and re-ignite what used to excite them in the first place? And how do we do that while navigating the responsibilities, obligations and roadblocks that come from loving and supporting our families?
When someone looks at my paintings hanging in my office and asks me “WHY are you doing THIS job? You should be doing your art!” it’s a nice and appreciated thought, but more than a little depressing. Know any good patrons who want to financially support an out-of-practice artist? Please send them my way. I also started writing again and while it’s sure not going to make me rich, it’s a way for this marginal introvert to express what I won’t or can’t say in person.
On a more internal level, how do we ride the evolving relationship tide with those in our lives, when the lines between what to address and what to confront, what to fix and what to let go gets blurrier with time and effort? What does it mean to grow and change and evolve both with and without those around us? How do we work together to move on and upwards?
What does it mean to be a good parent, and as “Baba” to my son and daughter, what will our social and emotional journey look like as they get older and start to understand what makes a family and why theirs is different – and also very much the same – as those around us?
That’s a lot of existential crisis going on.
It took a perfect storm of catalysts to bring this over-anxious and hyper-analyzing cycle on, but I CAN say I *think* I made some progress. A little. Probably not proportionate to the amount of gut-eating energy that went into it, but it’s a start.
Today I feel a little calmer. A little more confident. A little truer to who I am. I care a little bit less about what other people think and am expressing myself a little bit more, even if it was out of my comfort zone at first. I feel a little less like a live wire, frayed and ready to short-circuit at any minute. I feel a little more secure in what I need from other people, or really, letting go of expectations of others. I certainly feel more present with my kids, which a years-worth of obsessive inner-processing was NOT conducive to. However, they are a great reminder of the joys of being in the moment and that if I am not tuned in, how those gummy smiles, sticky hugs and quiet moments will pass right by me. I feel more aware of what it means to be a friend and a partner and a spouse and what I need to have in my life as well as what I need to give to others.
Amidst all this micro-progress, I actually learned a lot about what really matters to me – creativity, connection, passion, love, meaning and inspiration. Ah, now, what to do with this? What I CAN say is that the days of stress-inducing, emotionally-draining solipsism is over. 2016 is about clarity, simplicity, trusting in that which brings me joy and the path that will bring me there, whatever that road may be.