I had a weird year last year. A good year! But a weird year. After earning tenure and going on sabbatical, I was kinda having a good, old fashioned, mid-life crisis. I am finally feeling less unsettled, and here are some things I’m taking with me, that might resonate with you:
1) Nothing is guaranteed. And that’s what makes life interesting.
We like to think we’re owed. Either because we worked hard, or because we’ve been given something in the past, or because we know we’re the best.
The fact is: we ain’t owed bupkes. The universe doesn’t work like that. Everything we have can be taken away, for we control very little in our own lives. We have comparatively little control over how and why our lives end (even if Goop tells us otherwise); we can’t control other people, even if romance and familial narratives suggest we should; and a lot of what we win or lose has to do with timing and luck, even when we work really hard at it.
Weirdly, I’ve come to realize that understanding we are not owed is liberating. It means we are actively in this equation. We have to make things happen for ourselves, but because we can’t guarantee things, we also have to be flexible. If we can’t achieve what we think we want, we have to find another route, or another passion, or another reason of being. And sometimes those newly forged paths are as interesting, if not more, than those we thought we wanted.
2) Nietzsche was right: You really do have to become what you are.
Life is a shitshow. It’s frustrating, and painful, and nauseating. It’s not fair, it’s arbitrary, and it’s ridiculous.
It’s also glorious. We’re capable of so much, we humans: such beauty, such passion, such drive. And obviously, all the counterparts of these things: ugliness, banality, cowardice. So it’s up to us how we live. I think the thing I’ve realized most this past year is that it’s not going to get easier. No one is going to come along and make it all better, or fix shit, or take off the pressure.
It’s up to me how I live this life I’ve ended up with. It’s up to me to fill that life as best I can. To accept the love that’s offered, and walk away from that which is withheld. I’m the one who has to witness the beauty. Who has to carve my own path. Who has to insist on seeing my vision and seeing it through. Who has to get myself out of my own darkness–even if that means doing things that scare me, like going to therapy or admitting to a friend I need help with my finances. What if that stuff is scary because it will hurt to do it?
I’ve learned it does hurt. A lot. But then something magical happens: we realize the hurt comes from prodding a wound that is already there. It’s not creating the wound, we’re just suddenly aware we are wounded. Once we’re aware, we can start to heal. And that healing is magical.
In other words, when someone lets us down, or something doesn’t go the way we wanted it to, or something we thought was definitely going to be a success ends up a failure, we have two choices: we can either let that stuff take us under or we can get on our bikes and ride.
And as all fat bottomed girls know, the latter is the only way to make our rockin’ world go round.
I kinda upended my life last year through a lot of reading, and therapy, and listening to podcasts, and being honest with myself about stuff I’ve avoided. There was all this conditioned stuff (expectations of society and family) as well as some long-held bad habits that were getting in the way of me really being me.
Unfortunately, a lot of this baggage I was carrying also meant I gave too much energy to people and things who didn’t deserve it. But I’m a lot better about showing up and showing out, nowadays, for the people who do deserve me. Because another great lesson I’ve learned is…
4) It’s all about Tribe.
And not the one called Quest. Although they’re pretty rad. But for real, the weirdest thing I’ve realized after a year of figuring out no one else can do it for me, is how much I need other people.
That said, I need the right people, because the best way to feel good about yourself is to love the shit out of someone else. Not because you want to fix them or because you want them to define you, but simply because loving someone else feels really good, in whatever form that love takes.
Because it’s ultimately not just about individual ties, but about community. A bunch of people helping each other out, talking things through, providing that little boost of love that means we’re not just robots going through the motions.
Community also inspires us, if we do it right. I want to be a better person when I’m around people who inspire me.
But it’s a different dynamic than living for another person; different than wrapping yourself up in someone else and letting them define you. It’s about being with people who genuinely recognize who you are, even if you’re not entirely there yet. Having them see me makes me see me–and the person they see is pretty rad. She’s also really chuffed she’s found her tribe, because her tribe is bad ass.
And it just keeps growing.
So that’s what I’ve learned over the course of this year. I’ve learned it’s not all about me, even while it’s all up to me. That it’s about building genuine community, not making someone or something else the repository of my self-worth. That it’s about challenging myself, because there’s nothing more dangerous and ugly than stagnation, especially for those of us with active minds.
I can’t wait to see where this year takes me.