December is the bookend month. The month to reflect the months before it. The close of the year. For me, it also represents another year around the sun, also known as: My birthday. Like a new years resolution, every year I promise myself that I am going to do something great by the time the next birthday comes around. I vow to run a marathon, write a book, learn Mandarin, land my dream job, etc. Then comes December and I am hit with a gut full of regret, feeling like I wasted the year before me, wishing I could start again from the beginning. Birthdays and the end of the year are a reminder for me that I am not where I thought I would be- where I want to be.
Reflecting on this last year I can get stuck on the things I have not done, but if I pause my worries and let myself reflect deep enough, I see baby steps toward the things I have done-the changes I have made towards my goals. I started a blog this year. This has been a teeny tiny step in allowing me the space to write my thoughts, as well as keep me (semi) on a writing schedule. I did not run a marathon, but I trained this year and was able to run my fastest mile ever. I did not learn Mandarin, but I traveled to China two times since my last birthday and that is when I figured out that Mandarin was the language that wanted to speak and I found online lessons for when I am ready. I did not land my dream job, but I quit a job that was unsatisfying and took a chance on a job more rewarding and is pushing me out of my comfort zone; teaching me skills that will benefit me for the next step in my work career.
I can beat myself up over the fact that I did not complete all the things I wanted to accomplish, or I can acknowledge that overall I had a pretty great year and did a bunch of different things that I enjoyed and that pushed me to be better. I get caught up in what I am “supposed” to be doing by accounts of what Pinterest and social media quotes think I should be. Pins and Posts tells me to “follow your bliss” and “find your passion”, but what if I have no idea what my bliss or passions are? What if my bliss is just a day at work where I do not have a panic attack? What if my passion is laying in bed with my dog, eating cookies, and watching re-runs of The Golden Girls? The “follow your passion” mentality is such horse shit, to put it kindly. No one is constantly passionate about what they do, even if they say they love it. I enjoy writing, but sometimes it makes me want to bang my head against a wall and I feel insecure posting my “white girl problems” for the world to judge. Even people with the best jobs and lives have hard days-it just is not something that gets advertised.
Recently, my husband, Paul and I were taking a drive, which is usually when we have our deepest discussions. We were chatting about life in general when I brought up the fact that I felt stuck.
“Everyone else seems to be happy and capable of pursuing multiple things and I can barely take a shower without feeling exhausted and spend most of my time working a job that gives my more grief than joy, instead of following my passion and going on adventures. Just seems compared to everyone else, I am lost, and it makes me feel inadequate and unhappy,” I complained.
He did not even pause before replying matter-of-factly, “Of course you are unhappy. How can anyone actually be happy with these ridiculous expectations we have created-as a society-for ourselves? We are constantly told that we have to buy more and be more. Living outside our means, up to our eyeballs in debt, trying to chase the lifestyle we are told we “deserve”. Just to prove to people that our lives are impressive. Who can be happy forever chasing the unattainable?”
I nodded, reflecting on his words. “I feel like I am forever trying to be someone I do not have the capacity to be in order to have feel like I have a fulfilling life.”
I may never be the person who wakes up when the sun rises to workout, who can wear a white shirt without getting some part of my lunch spilt on it, or who has the energy, money, or photo editing abilities to make my life appear like it is put together. Most likely, I will never be more than middle class. Which is a blessing in itself to be middle class, but will mean my house will not end up in a magazine, I will not find the cure for cancer, and my vacations will not be to the Maldives. That does not mean that my life does not have value or that I will be deprived of happiness.
Why is happiness and passion the ghosts we are always chasing? As if happiness and passion are concrete instead of fleeting; as if it can actually be bought. It is seen as a destination instead of a product of a well-lived life. If you go out and interview thousands of people on the streets, asking them what they wanted most out of life, I bet you they would reply with “to be happy” (or to be rich, which they think will make them happy). Yet, each person defines “happy” differently. Reading makes me feel happy, but to Paul it is misery. Golfing makes him feel happy, but it is one of the last things I want to spend my day doing. It is assumed once we get to the state of “happiness” that life halts. That’s it, we made it, and we no longer have to try. The pursuit of happiness is future oriented. I catch myself saying, “once Paul is out of school and we have more money and time together, then I will be happy” or “once I land my dream job that I am passionate about, then I will be happy.” If we are always happy then it loses its magic. Like daylight savings, we spend the winter praying for summer and revel in the light once it comes, but if it were light all the time, we would become desensitized and would take it for granted.
So my goal for this next year around the sun is to stop pining and punishing myself for not having the life I wish I had and to stop waiting to be happy. Instead of trying to “find my bliss” I am going to work hard towards things that bring meaning to mine and others’ lives. Hopefully when I look back next year I will have made progress curating the life I want and will also have no “ragrets.”