I once heard of a woman who crowd-sourced her decision about the changes she was considering for her life. I don’t know that I’m ready to do that, but I am determined to stop capitulating and focus. Is it age that’s making it so much more challenging to focus than in the past? Or is it evidence that I really haven’t hit on the right thing? What has come over me that’s making me lose momentum and focus on ideas? This is soooooooo unlike me.
I guess the first thing I need to do is stop comparing the past to now, and stop trying to predict the future. But how many times have I heard that we’re put on this earth to do one thing. One thing that no one else can do. Can that really be true? Maybe it was true in a time when people’s lives were shorter. I mean, if people didn’t have as many years to live, society could only conclude (assume) that people lived and died pursuing one purpose in a lifetime. Maybe it’s as much of a passing notion as the romantic notion that we are meant only to love one perfectly matched person.
I’m 53 and six weeks old. What if I did my one thing when my daughter was born? (That wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I love being her mom.) What if I did my one thing when I enjoyed success as a professional chef? (I miss being an entrepreneur.) What if I’ve also used up my one opportunity for romantic love? (See week 3)
Do I want to return to doing things I’ve done in the past? (You can never really go back.) Do I want to pursue unlived desires? (Move to a favorite part of the city.) Do I want to do something entirely different for a career? (Am I too old to change again?) Am I already doing what I was put on this earth to do? (How can I be sure…if I were, wouldn’t I feel more settled, self-confident, or content?)
If personal reinvention is the new midlife crisis then it’s possible we’re actually entitled to have more than one “once in a lifetime”…
Right now every idea sounds like a good idea. Well, that’s not entirely true. I seem to have a lot of good ideas – or rather I have a lot of different people telling me, “Wow! That’s a great idea. You should do it!” The problem is while it’s fun to imagine and even sketch out logistics about ideas, I generally know they are not THE idea that’s going to jazz me for the next 20 years or more. How do I know this? Do I really know this or have I turned into one of “those people” who will spend the rest of her life spewing great ideas but never actually taking the risk to make them happen? Arrrrrrrggggggh!
I’m perplexed (and more than a little frustrated) with my lack of clarity. I’m waiting for that undefinable, unaware, subconscious moment when something entirely unknown crosses my path and I’m overtaken by an immediate and unexplainable movement in its direction. This happened to me the day I enrolled in culinary school, and cooking was magical from that moment until I left it all behind. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? Looking back to my late twenties and early thirties, did I really, actually know culinary school and catering were “good ideas”? No way…I had never even considered cooking as a career before that, much less as an educational pursuit. I mean, it did end up being a great idea – a really great idea – and I happily spent many years immersed in passionate pursuit of culinary and proprietary excellence. It was fun! It was a joyful way to earn a living – at least for the most part. I was certainly driven, or “on fire” as spiritualists would say. There were times of stress or pressure, but it was all done in the pursuit of excellence – an excellence I felt I could attain with the right determination and attention to detail. Every meal or event served was evidence of moving forward, completing, cleaning up, reorganizing, and moving on to create the next special experience. I loved that. I love crossing things off a list. I love the feeling of making progress. I love the feeling that comes from attaining and accomplishing a vision, a goal. Doing so gives me a sense of purpose and a sense of fulfillment.
So maybe it does only happen to people once in a lifetime and maybe I squandered my “once in a lifetime.”
Clearly I must think of this another way:
- There are things that I once enjoyed doing, but no longer have the energy (interest?) to do. Counted cross-stich falls into this category. So does cleaning house, but I have to rally all of my resources on that one regardless. Hospice volunteering. Cooking. Baking.
- There are things that I once loved doing, and fantasize about doing again. Playing piano or taking ballet lessons fall into this category. Gardening may be edging its way into this category. Hospice volunteering. Sitting meditation.
- There are things I think about doing / becoming that I know are (and will always be) wishful thinking. Being fluent and literate in another language. Traveling to a country in Africa – any country in Africa. Owning a bed and breakfast.
- There are things I’ve thought about doing / creating at some point in my life that other people are now doing / creating, which leaves me wondering why I didn’t act on it when I thought of it. Why does this happen? Specifically, Fried Oatmeal, Oatmeal for Every Meal, PieFive, Naked Cakes, Never Eat Alone, Pop-up dinners. Getting a certificate in Spiritual Direction…the list goes on and on and on.
- There are things I’ve thought about doing in the last three years – and even pursued briefly – but which have not held my interest or focus. Why is that? Turning my backyard into an organic flower garden every summer and selling organic flower arrangements with delivery service. Naked Cakes. Junk Mail. Cupcakes and cookies. Digital literacy initiatives for parents.
- There are things I think I should do because they would be “good for me” according to society at large. I would have to say that in some cases – like learning Spanish – it is true that I could benefit from (or certainly be of benefit to others by) learning to speak Spanish. Ideas in this category generally weigh heavily on my mind and are ones I just never seem to set aside the time to make happen precisely because I think I know how hard they would be to succeed at. And things in this category are also the things I tend to beat myself up about for not actually doing – especially when I’m in situations where I see plenty of other people attempting and succeeding at them. I have actually made sporadic attempts to master things in this category, but have not actually prioritized and focused on them enough to make them happen. Why is that? These things include finalizing the edits of and publishing The Land of Enough, submitting more of my poetry for publication, learning to read, write, and converse in Spanish, creating a killer LinkedIn profile, improving my understanding of personal finance, getting even more education credentials so I can teach [fill in the blank].
- There are things I wish I could do (or still do) that are impossible for one reason or another. (Have my summers off. Take a gap year. Downward facing dog. Play the piano.)
I am trying to get out of my comfort zone in small ways recently, as if sort of dipping my toe (but only my big toe) in the well of self-confidence and clearing the ground for new beginnings.
Last weekend I walked my first ever charity race/walk:
I took a stellar, spontaneous phone photo (if I say so myself).
I went an entire day without eating chocolate except for the teaspoon of cocoa in my morning oatmeal. Anyone who knows me well, knows this represents a major exhibit of self-control.
I shredded a lot of old documents bearing my married name, which I had legally removed many years ago. (Cleansing!)
I delivered some anonymous gifts to school kids. (I can’t write down the details or it wouldn’t be anonymous any longer.)
I wrote a handwritten letter to a friend and snail-mailed it. Yes, an actual handwritten letter with postage stamps.
And maybe I’m not the slacker I think I am…at 53+6 I actually did accomplish something in my category of “things I no longer have the energy to do”… I cleaned my entire house.
“It is the mind reacting with ignorance, craving, or revulsion that produces the sense of dissatisfaction.” Sangharakshita, Living with Kindness, page 62