Saturday, May 10, 2008

what makes you come alive?

Note - In my last post I said the pity party was over, but here's another angsty rant I wrote about a week ago. I didn't post it right away because I feel like I do a lot of complaining here on my blog. I also feel like a complete jerk when I complain about my life because there are other people out there with real problems and hardships and painful memories that make my life look utterly perfect. But what the hell. I started this blog to purge all this stuff so I wouldn't spew frustration and misery all over my family. I'm happy to say that since I started writing this blog all of the relationships in my life have significantly improved. I feel happier and more fulfilled than I have in a long time. If writing daily complaints on my blog helps with this, then so be it. Furthermore, this post deals with my Quote of the Day (to the right on my sidebar). I'd like to change it, but I was holding myself to some silly promise that I wouldn't change it until I'd analysed it's contents. What has prompted me to finally post this rant was a great quote left by Jennifer in one of my comments today which said:

"A work of art is good if it has grown out of necessity." -Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke

I love great quotes and I want to post this in my Quote of the Day, so I must move on with my angsty rant. Here it is:

A while back I wrote a post about Elizabeth Gilbert and how she said a bunch of things that got me thinking about a bunch of things. At the end of the post about the bunch of things she said, I said I would proceed to examine a couple of things in my life that related to the bunch of things she said. In particular the things she said as they related to my happiness.

And if you understood any of that, congratulations, you passed the test. That was the hardest part.

So here I am, back at examining those things.

I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing about this, but I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m not happy right now. I know a lot of it has to do with stagnation. I’m not proceeding forward. I’m asleep at the wheel of my life. I’m not making plans.

And it’s frustrating. I'm frustrated. In fact, I'm more frustrated than I am unhappy. Luckily I’m not as bad as I was a few months ago (pre-blogging, or PB) but I still feel frustrated or angry about my life on a regular basis. Or, even worse, I feel apathetic. Indifferent. I can’t be bothered to make a change because I really have nowhere to go. I’m stuck. And sometimes I’m not sure I care to get myself unstuck.

There’s something about the word indifference reminds me of a phrase I absolutely hate:

“Suit yourself.”

I’ll never forget the first time anyone said this to me. It was a guy. A guy I had dated for an entire summer. At the end of the summer I was leaving on a trip to Europe and the impending trip left our relationship in limbo. It wasn’t a super-serious relationship, so I wasn’t too sure where we would stand when I got home again. The night before I left to get on the plane, the guy and I spoke on the phone. I quite liked him and hoped he would say something about looking forward to seeing me when I returned, but instead, when I asked him if I should call in six weeks he said, “suit yourself.”

I was gutted. I would rather have had him say, “No. Please don’t call me because you’re stinky and kissing you reminds me of kissing my grandmother.” But instead he said, “suit yourself.”

In other words, whatever. You leave no impression on me whatsoever, so I really don’t care what you do. How much does that suck?

Well, that’s how I feel about my life right now. I feel like I am leaving no impression whatsoever. I feel like my life is talking to me over the phone and if I asked it whether or not I should get out of bed tomorrow and take on the world or if I should mope around all day in a state of apathy, my life would say, “suit yourself.”

Whatever. I don’t care if you do or if you don’t.

But shouldn’t I be making an impact? Shouldn’t I be leaving an impression? My psychologist always told me that we should banish the word “should” from our language because there is too much guilt involved when we say it. "Should" implies duty instead of inspiration. So maybe I "should" turn those questions into declarative statements: I want to make an impact! I want to leave an impression!

But how? How now brown cow? And did you notice I still said should, even when I didn’t want to?

I keep telling myself that the life of a stay-at-home-mom is not full of the same go-go-go that my life used to be. And I’m desperately trying to be okay with that. But I’m panicked. I feel like there is so much more out there for me to do and say and write and read and see and think and yet here I am sitting in my house, stagnating. Sitting on the sidelines. Avoiding life. Or maybe life is avoiding me.

Whatever it is, this upsets and frustrates me. I want to be okay with waiting out this part of my life, that I chose, until the next big adventure starts. I don’t know why, given my vivid imagination, that I have such a hard time imagining or embracing the idea that I’ll have to wait until Csilla is much older before I have the freedom to take on anything new or exciting. I’m extremely impatient. I don’t want to wait.

Do you ever have this idea that you are meant for something more? I’ve always had these larger than life ideas of myself. Delusions of grandeur so-to-speak. I call it the "The-Oprah-Syndrome". I think so highly of myself that I imagine sitting on the set of Oprah being interviewed by her about some amazing, human-consciousness-changing or life-altering thing that I’ve written, said or done. And I get panicked when I see my life passing by without ever making it onto her stage. Am I the only one who imagines that I belong on Oprah?

I’m speaking metaphorically of course. I don’t actually think I’ll ever be on Oprah. Or maybe I do. I guess I’m frustrated because I don’t know how or what I need to do in my life to become so extraordinary that I’d end up on Oprah. I have greatness in me. I know I do. I’ve seen glimmers of it in my life so I know it’s there.

My biggest fear in life is not living up to my own potential.

I am terrified of reaching the end of my life having wasted all of my gifts and talents on meaningless, immature or unimportant pursuits. And wouldn’t it be an especially painful tragedy if I ended up on Oprah for being pathetic? I can hear it now…

“Monday on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Pathetic people living apathetic lives… how not to end up like them.”

What do I do to avoid being the main event on that episode? But here’s the thing. I feel somewhat unwillingly trapped in my own apathy.

First off, I’m sitting in The Second Kid limbo. I don’t want to make any huge leaps because we’re trying to get pregnant and another baby would certainly put any grand plans on hold for a while. But even if we do have another child, I still want to get all my ducks in a row and figure out what my next move is.

Secondly, I have all sorts of ideas about what I want to do, but they all seem, well, too small. I’ve talked about this graphic design stuff, which I love, but when I get right down to it, I’m not sure such a career would have enough impact for me. It doesn’t feel significant enough. With all due respect to graphic designers, I feel like I’d be wasting myself if I did that for a living*. Furthermore, I am a people person and isolating myself in front of a computer all day would be a mistake.

This reminds me of a great analogy I once heard from a career advisor. She told me to write my name on a piece of paper. I did. I wrote with my right hand, because, well, I am right handed. Then she asked me to do it again, only this time, with my left hand. It was awkward. I felt clumsy and it looked ugly. The career advisor told me that if I wrote my name with my left hand for the next twenty years I would probably get good at it; that my writing might even look beautiful eventually. But it would never feel effortless. I would always feel like I was writing with the wrong hand. I was right handed and I should never fight it.

This is how I feel about being a people person. I could do a job that would require me to be isolated from people; and after twenty years I might even get good at it. But it would never feel natural. I would always feel like I was fighting to restrain a part of myself that must come out. I am a people person and should not work for a living at something that isolates me from that very fundamental part of my personality.

Moving on.

I’ve also toyed with the idea of getting into interior design, and although I would be interacting with people to do this job, I always come to the same conclusion. It feels too small. Wasn’t I meant for something more? How can I have real and lasting impact on the world while picking out paint colours for people? Again, with all due respect to people who choose those pursuits as professions, but what if I want a bigger life than that? Doesn’t it make me incredibly arrogant to think I deserve more? Who do I think I am?

And even if I did find some huge and meaningful way to impact the world, what would it look like? And how would it fit into my life? I should probably have an idea of what it looks like if I’m going to create it for myself.

I know I’m asking more questions than I’m answering right now, but this is part of my process. I guess.

And here’s the part where I return to something I wrote at the start of my post. The Elizabeth Gilbert thing. When I wrote about Elizabeth Gilbert before, I mentioned that there were perhaps some answers to these questions in my Quote of the Day. (You know, the one that hasn’t changed in over a month up there at the top of my sidebar.)

I told myself I wasn’t going to change my Quote of the Day until I’d had the chance to fully analyze its contents. Here’s the quote, in case the font in my sidebar is too small:

I’ve been letting ideas percolate on this quote for over a month now. What makes me come alive? What makes me come alive? What makes me come alive?

I often pose my brain questions and see if my subconscious can sort it out while I’m sleeping. Sometimes when I do this I find that answers will just pop into my head out of nowhere. My writing is like that too. When I’m scrapbooking I’ll often leave the journaling aspect of a page until the end and if it doesn’t come to me I’ll walk away for a day or two. I often find that the words I’d been so desperately trying to find just a few days before will often arrive in my head fully formed with little or no effort whatsoever.

That’s my subconscious. Doing the work for me.

I think déjà vu is all part of this too. When I experience déjà vu, I believe it represents my physical reality catching up to what my soul already knows. It’s as if my subconscious has already experienced my entire life and my physical self spends the rest of the time playing catch up. But every so often, my soul and my reality fall into sync and that’s when I experience déjà vu. My soul has seen this before and for a brief and fleeting moment I was in touch with my future self. I try and pay attention to moments of déjà vu in case there is some deep, important meaning hidden in the moment, but it’s usually too ethereal and fleeting to capture. Or, even worse, I don’t recognize it until it’s too late.

But, once in a while in moments of déjà vu I am able to snatch a piece of my future, shed some light on it and recognize that I am something special and amazing. In those moments I feel it.

This is why I feel so strongly that I was meant for something more. Because in quiet moments where my soul’s purpose is in alignment with my authentic self I feel it is true. There is greatness within me.

But what if I don’t recognize my own greatness until it’s too late?

Am I making any sense? I’m just working stuff out here… seeing where these rambling thoughts will lead me.

So I’ve been letting my brain work on this Whitman quote for a while now because I want to know what makes me come alive.

The conclusion?

I don't know. Or at least I'm not sure. I truly don’t know, concretely, what makes me come alive.

I'm very good at many things, but I’m not excellent at anything. I have hints of greatness, but I’ve never done anything truly great.

Sometimes I wish I were one of those people who knew what my passion was from deep within my soul. I have a friend who is an extraordinary actress. She’s won many prestigious awards in Canada for her work both on stage and on screen. Sometimes I feel jealous of her because her path is so clear. She knows what she wants and what she needs to do to get it. She knows – really knows – what makes her come alive. But her struggle is perhaps even more difficult than mine, because although she is amazing at what she does, she still has trouble making a living at it. Would I be even more frustrated to know what makes me come alive, but couldn’t actually be monumentally successful at it?

It seems like there isn't enough room for us all to be extraordinary. Even for the ones who actually are.

Meh. I know this isn't true and there's some quote about "scarcity" that would help me right now but I can't seem to put my finger on it.

I’m dodging around this issue. I still don’t know what makes me come alive.

It occurred to me that one way to get to the bottom of this question would be to examine some of the peak experiences in my life. I have a few things that stand out that I might want to look at, perhaps over a few short posts instead of one long and verbose ramble.

And in no particular order, here is a list of things that I am, or was, truly good at, or have a passion for, or which fall under the category of extraordinary peak experiences in my life. Some of these items represent times in my life where I was completely and totally myself; where I was in my element and hours could pass without me looking up because I was so completely and totally enjoying what I was doing that it felt effortless. I think there are some answers in these things.

This list of important-things-that-stick-out-in-my-mind won’t make much sense to you, but it makes sense to me. It’s for future reference as I explore them in posts to follow:

Rowing coxswain
Camp Malibu
Public speaking at William Armstrong
Leadership Award in high school
Drawing all day as a child
Anthropology/Linguistics at UBC
Delivering toys to an orphanage
Customer service on the cruise ship
Art History and the Picasso Museum in Barcelona

That’s all I can think of for now. I may come back and add to this list later (not that anyone would notice because it’s not like anyone would read this stupidly long post twice!)

Hopefully in examining the contents of this list further, I might be able to really figure out what makes me tick and how I can best serve this world. I know I have so much to offer, I just don’t know how to offer it.

Moving on.

While I’m sorting out my thoughts on all this, pop over to two of my favourite blogs and read these posts which say succinctly and eloquently, some of the same stuff I’ve touched on in this post (only they’ve said it much better). Jennifer and Suzanne are both excellent writers who both intimidate me and inspire me at the same time:

Trading Places with Myself.
Have You Ever...?
OMG, I Forgot to Get Married!

Thanks for reading and thanks for your time. I know we all don’t have much of it, so I appreciate yours as I try to figure out my life.

Come back again soon. Or don’t. Suit Yourself.


Actually, please tell me what makes you come alive. And how do you know? Write a long comment, send me an email or write it in your own blog. Because, like the quote says, what the world needs are people who have come alive. I want to know if you have come alive and how you made it happen.

*in case you’re wondering, the design project I’ve been working on for a friend is on hold right now until I get a few questions answered that prevent me from moving forward.


Jennifer H said...

I am heading out the door in just a few minutes to take the kids swimming at our friends' house, but I will come back later and respond to your post here. (Also, I want to give it more thought before I respond. I love your big ideas and want to give them more attention.)

Thank you for the kind things you said, and for the links. xoxo until later.

Aoj & The Lurchers said...

Do you mind if I ask how old you are? Because I sounded just like you 15 years ago. I knew I was destined for more than I was doing. I knew I was destined to leave my mark on the world somehow. I just didn't know how and it caused me incredible amounts of angst.

Then I found my niche. It was no more than I had already been doing, it doesn't leave a mark on the world, at least, not a stomping big footprint anyway.

Not that I'm now radiantly happy, far from it, but I'm more comfortable in myself. Perhaps that's something that just comes with age.

Maybe rather than actively searching for what it is you're looking for, perhaps you need to step back and wait for it to come a little closer to you first. Stop squinting into the distance and let it do the work!

That might sound a little fatalistic but if it's one thing I've learnt it's that letting life happen to me has been a damn sight better than me forcing my way through it and fighting it all the time.

I've also learnt that I seem to write much better in people's comments box than I do in my own blog. Go figure!

Kaycie said...

I think it's a matter of impact, Carolyn. Do you want what you do in your daily life to matter on a large scale or would you be satisfied with achieving something wonderful on a smaller scale?

For instance, if you never do anything other than raise Csilla into a contributing member of society, your role in the world will have mattered. It matters to you and Balazs, to Csilla, your parents, Balazs' parents, and to Csilla's future friends and family.

I think what you do every day with your life already matters. I think what you are searching for might have more to do with you feeling fulfilled as a person. You don't have to achieve anything monumental or significant to the world to feel fulfilled. Just start doing the things that you like until you figure out what makes you the happiest. Then run with it. It's not about perfection, it's about satisfaction with yourself.

Aoj & The Lurchers said...

You know what? Kaycie just said what I was trying to say...just better.

Kimberly said...

I think you're too talented for your own peace of mind! It's hard having varied interests mixed with equal proportions of hope and ambition. What to do with your wonderfulness? A tricky question indeed.

I have similar ponderings. I don't exactly dream big, but I want more from me than I'm currently giving myself, if that makes sense.

GoneBackSouth said...

Blimey, how long did it take you to write all that?! I will throw my thoughts in, for what they're worth:

You're a different and more magnificent person now you're a mother (as well as all those things you used to be, and still are, deep down), so think of the next few years as a journey of discovery of the new improved you.

And it kind of doesn't matter what you do next, just do something. Fun and sociable, preferably. It doesn't have to be a glittering career move, or anything particularly ambitious to start with. Because the satisfaction that comes from walking down a road comes not from arriving at your destination, but from the people you meet, the ideas they inspire, the experiences you have, and the side-roads you stumble upon along the way and decide to walk down instead. Sounds a bit up-yer-arse, I know ... but I can't help that. What I'm really trying to say is that I recognise the feelings you're expressing, and I think I concluded that I couldn't create any OUTPUT because I wasn't getting enough INPUT. Does that make any sense at all?

Daryl said...

This is a wonderful whine, rant .. exploration .. at least you have the guts to verbalize what a lot of us internalize ...

When I read Jennifer's moving on post, I felt much the same way as I do now.

That you recognize, can verbalize is putting you on the road to getting somewhere .. doing something .. being happier. Whether or not there's another child in your future, you are now right now a wonderful mom doing a good job raising your daughter .. that's something

I admire you


Daryl said...

BTW aoj & the lurchers .. you said it quite well!

Tammy said...

I know where you are right now because I have been there. When all three of my were in diapers and Don was out of town three weeks out of the month depression and frustration were my constant companions.

My neighbor came over and asked me to draw a pictures using the characters on a small scrap of wallpaper border. Once I did, she took the paper and disappeared. Three day slater I was told that I was hired. Of course I had no idea what for.

I was hired by a couple of doctors to paint a mural on their daughter's room. The catch was that this daughter had severe neurological problems. She could not walk, crawl, eat, talk, laugh or even smile.

I painted her room in three days. On the fifth day, after the fumes had disipated, they carried her into the room. her eyes searched the walls looking at all of her new friends on the wall. To their surprise she smiled for the first time and attempted to clap her hands. Sometimes, our small actions, little that they may seem, can create miracles.
Hang in there!! You will make it!

Corey~living and loving said...

I am pleased that Kaycie said EXACTLY what I wanted to say. :) Now I don't have to say much more than, "what she said!"


Anonymous said...

Oprah's 4 interviews with Jill Bolte Taylor were the first that Oprah did after Eckhart Tolle and they take everything Tolle talks about to another level. Oprah's copy of Jill's book, MY STROKE OF INSIGHT, was dog-eared and all marked up and kept reading from it the way she read from A New Earth and recommended it highly.

Oprah's recommendation was enough for me. I read My Stroke of Insight and I loved it too. This story is as inspiring as The Last Lecture or Tuesdays with Morrie - and even better, it has a Happy Ending!

I bought the book on Amazon because they have it for 40% off retail and they also had an amazing interview with Dr Taylor that I haven't seen anywhere else - Here is the Amazon link: