Psst…I did a maybe-weird thing where I recorded this for the more audibly-inclined of you. Have a listen:
Always searching for the next thing.
If I’m too busy, I think what I am missing is free time. If I have too much free time, I think I must be missing opportunities, or not making as much money as I could be. If I’m bored, I must need a larger social network, more to do. If I’m stretched thin socially, I must refocus in on the friends and events that really matter. If I’m just hanging out with those friends, I’m missing so many other interesting people. I don’t hang out with my family enough, but if we spend a weekend hanging out with both sides of our families, it’s time I could have used more productively elsewhere.
I eternally feel that I am missing something, but it also always feels like it is just around the bend, just out of reach, right around the corner, any second now.
Sometimes it’s difficult to realize how far I’ve come, how many of those corners I’ve turned, how much has changed. It’s awe-some when I ponder it for any amount of time, but then it’s also discouraging because you look at all that progress and ask yourself: do I feel better? Am I content now? Am I done?
Part of the problem is in thinking there is such a thing as “done” – we’re always growing and learning and striving, right? But it is similarly dangerous to think that we must always be in motion – to always be asking “what next?”
I’ve come around to this new conclusion: if you’re never bored, I pity you. If it’s never enough, I’m so sorry. It’s such a burden, I know, because I have been that person (I still am that person on my bad days). Part of the great work of growing up for me has been and continues to be becoming okay with being okay. Not great, not fantastic, but not awful, not bad – just okay.
At work and in life we are told we need to work hard, we need to be the best, ace the tests, climb the mountains and then find another, higher mountain to climb after that. Goals are good, ambition is grand. But you have to rest, there are peaks and there are valleys – and it does you no good, when you are in a valley, to spend the whole time longing to be on the mountain again. There are always more mountains, and there are always more valleys – both serve different purposes, and both are necessary.
I’m in a valley in my life right now. By all accounts and outward appearances, things are good. Some days it feels really good. But then I remember I’m in the valley and I get sad – I wonder if it will stretch on forever, maybe there are no more mountains for me. What I am trying to do these days is enjoy the valley – valley’s are lush and verdant, they have a different climate than the mountain peak, they’re gentler and quieter and calmer – or, at least, they have the potential to be, if you let them. The hardest part of the valley is when you are in the shadow just after or before a mountain – when you still remember what it was like being on the peak, and then again when you feel you’ve almost forgotten and you’re compelled to feel it all over again – when that next mountain is just staring you right in the face.
The other thing is, I don’t know about you, but my mountains and valleys don’t usually look like this:
They look more like this:
Each time I meet and surpass a goal, a new, taller, tougher one rises up before me. It casts longer shadows, the valleys get narrower – pretty soon I’m in a valley that is all shadow, no light. That’s sort of what I feel is happening right now for me – I’m just trudging through this dark valley, maybe I’m even at the very first tiny incline of the base of the mountain, but, Jesus, that peak is so freaking far away and I’ve already been climbing for a while.
In times like these, it’s easy to forget: most people don’t live on the mountaintop. It’s inhospitable, unsustainable. Sure, a select few make their homes there – but most of us choose the valley, most of us, let’s be honest, can only handle the valley. And that knowledge – that this is where we are best suited to be, that it’s maybe all we can do – can sometimes makes us feel lesser. I often feel lesser for not being a mountain dweller, as it were.
If you’ve ever known you could do more, but decided not to for your own health, sanity, peace, etc. you’ve probably experienced this sensation. Same if you’ve ever been in the midst of doing more, like you’re 3/4ths up the mountain, and you decide you don’t want to summit the peak after all – maybe it’s too hard, maybe it’s just too hard RIGHT NOW. Maybe you’ll come back to it, maybe you never will.
If you’re me, you’ve done the half-summiting thing before and you’ve spent the last 10 years being mad at yourself for not reaching the top of that particular peak while simultaneously knowing you made the best decision, the right decision. There are few things more painful in life than making the right decision but knowing all along that you wish you could have done it differently, all the same – these are the decisions that haunt you, forever.
So, anyway, you’ve done the half-summiting thing before and you REALLY don’t want to it again because you’ve been there, you’ve done that: it wasn’t pleasant and you still think of it often. I don’t want to set myself up for another regret. I have so few true regrets in this life (I’m not counting regretful pizza orders). I strive to regret as little as possible – but the ones I do have are big, and they eat me up inside and I guess that’s the price you pay for living so unapologetically the rest of the time.
ANYWAY, I’m trying to get myself to a place where not just “the valleys are nice” and “I could live in the valley” but also “it’s okay to fail”. It’s okay to come back down to the valley without even having reached the peak. I struggle, as so many of us do, with walking that fine line between being kind to yourself, forgiving yourself, giving yourself room to make mistakes – and – letting yourself off the hook TOO easily, letting fear keep you from things, justifying what shouldn’t be justified. In this mindset, on this razor-thin margin, it’s hard to know: am I scared or am I right? And the problem is, sometimes it’s both – just like before, where you can regret something you know was good for you.
Ugh, I’m sorry to be speaking in these riddles and metaphors, but I find them helpful to process what I’m going through and maybe they help you, too. But putting it bluntly (and thereby erasing much of it’s magic): I work too much, I have no time to myself, and I don’t know how to solve the problem because the obvious solutions (quitting one thing or another) are not appealing for various reasons, the foremost of which is that I haven’t met the goals I once set for myself. I feel like I’m trying to choose between a life in the valley and a life climbing the mountain. I don’t feel like the peak is within reach, I don’t even really want to go there. So it begs the question: why keep climbing? But, for so much of my life, I have defined myself and I have existed for the climb. I have found the climb in itself purposeful, useful, meaningful. If I’m not climbing, who even am I?