It’s really, really hard to walk through this life without keeping tabs on other people. And I know I can tell you this because you understand what I’m talking about.
That person clearly has more money than I do–look at that brand-new pool! Did you see that new SUV? Ugh. They better be in boatloads of debt or I’m going to hate myself.
That person was just awful to me. Why do people have to be so mean? Why should I bother being nice to him/her when s/he’s such an asshat?
If I have to do ONE MORE LOAD OF LAUNDRY (substitute: wash one more dish, pay one more bill, make one more meal, schedule one more week) I am going to LOSE my MIND. Why doesn’t anybody else around here do as much as I do? Ugh, this house/our lives would fall apart if it weren’t for me.
No one told me marriage would be this hard. Honest to goodness, single people don’t know how good they have it. Why does that couple seem so happy all the time?
Man, those other parents make me look lazy. They’ve got their kids hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise money for Amazonian rainforest preservation while mine play on their tablets as I sit here and pay bills. Why don’t I do more with my kids?
I wish my house were bigger/cleaner/nicer/(adjective of choice). I’m embarrassed to have people over. How does everybody else seem to not care? Are their houses really that perfect all the time?
Keeping tabs: it’s a cycle that has absolutely no end result other than the spiraling of your own misery.
(How do you like that for some positive inspiration, huh??)
Ever since I turned 40, I’ve been steering away from my normal novel-reading way too often to deep-dive into self-help and motivational books. A friend laughed when I mentioned online that I think I’m busy planning my mid-life crisis (“You’re doing okay if you’re actually planning it”), but that’s what it feels like. I’ve been reading all the Shonda Rhimes and Gretchen Rubin and Allie Casazza and whoever else will tell me exactly how I’m supposed to be living an uncluttered life with mindful purpose and upward-facing folded t-shirts. I’m not really that proud of this–which is probably why I’m writing about it because BEHOLD, YE READERS, I’m certainly not going to tell you about it in person–but it’s where I am.
And it’s made me start to notice. I notice why those who have no right to be unhappy are seeking out ways to be. I’m included in that group: I listen to a podcast that tells me all about how to create a life with purpose (like, I actually LISTEN to a 29-year-old self-made millionaire mother of four tell me how to be my best self what is wrong with me) but I think I lived more with purpose when I wasn’t thinking about it all the time.
We’re all so lost.
Is it because we’re all so fortunate?
I complain about not knowing what to do with my life while I’m sitting here as a full-time parent who chose to be a full-time parent, who had the luxury of then choosing to be a writer in the midst of it. That is annoying.
I complain about being suffocated by our mountain of laundry, all the time. But that’s because we have three glorious children who are all spilling things on themselves or wrestling with alligators in mud or something and that’s a fortunate thing to have (muddy alligators notwithstanding). And honest to goodness why am I complaining when we have a MAGICAL MACHINE that does all the work for us. It’s not like we’re out there beating towels against washboards. That would be annoying.
I complain about an argument with David or house repairs that need to be done or holy hell how we’re going to afford to knock a new window into our wall when OH MY GOSH I have a marriage that’s been together for 15 years and I have a lovely roof over my head and who the hell cares if we never get the window because we can just go outside if we need a bit more sunshine. That is beyond annoying.
Do you see? What is the deal? I know you might be able to identify. We have everything to make ourselves happy. But is that it: we’ve just become too focused on ourselves?
I know lots of people where we live who are living out the dream their parents had while they were raising them: they are well-educated, which is what their parents worked so hard to help them get. They have great jobs, either as a result of their education, the contacts made through that education, or the old-fashioned work ethic they observed from–that’s right–their parents. At least where I live, it seems that I’m among a generation that has achieved all that their parents hoped for. Yet–despite this or because of it– they’re lost. They’re searching. They’ve found that having it all doesn’t quite seem to be enough. I see men who wonder why they’re not being appreciated more. I see women scrambling to stay on top of it all and wondering if this is all there is.
We act like we don’t have the freedom to run our own lives.
We act like our lives aren’t important enough just as they are.
We all end up the same way: we’re born, we get to live a little bit, and then–most likely before we’re ready–it’s all over. That’s it. And a lot of us are moaning about making the most of it instead of just relishing the fact that this is it: and look how great it is.
If you’re of this fortunate group, you have the freedom to change things you need to, even if it’s just taking the tiniest step to get there. If you’re someone scrambling to stay on top of it all, maybe consider ditching one or two of those its if you can (it won’t matter if your 6-year-old skips soccer this spring season, I swear). If you’re someone who wants that swimming pool but not the debt that goes with it, you can buy a little inflatable one for less than a dinner out and still invite your friends over–I’m just saying. And if you’re someone who’s sitting around wondering why the people in your life don’t appreciate you more…well, that I can’t help you with. Nobody ever heard St. Joan of Arc whining about not being thanked as she tumbled into battle to save the city of Orléans.
All I’m saying is that sometimes we might consider that our restlessness is a byproduct of our good fortune. And that maybe instead of wondering what our purpose is, we should consider the fact that we’re living it now: providing a happy home for our children, keeping a safe roof–no matter how big it is–over their heads. If we’re still restless after that, then it’s time to look out beyond our own homes not to the richer, bigger, more important ones out there, but to the unhappier ones surrounding them–and I think there you’ll find your answer. If you have extra money lying around, can you give it away? (Anybody need a pool?). If you think change needs to happen in your church, can you volunteer? If you’re wondering why you let that love of writing or art or singing go, can you start a monthly meet-up or a club at your kids’ school?
Purpose isn’t so much a search for identity as it is a need to understand what you already give and build on that. It’s about redirecting our attention.
Consider this if you’re feeling a little lost. And if you still need more guidance, I have a slew of motivational books I can lend you–the spines are barely cracked. I haven’t had much time to read them, after all.
I’ve got a mid-life crisis to plan.