I fell into an old familiar trap recently: that cycle of critical self-evaluation, comparison with others, and looking at the disparity between where I am now and where I want to be that inevitably leads to depression, restlessness, and a kind of soul-crushing existential crisis that saps my energy and sucks the joy out of life.
I’m not dramatic or anything….
But seriously, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all experienced similar seasons in our lives to different degrees. It’s a natural part of being an evolved human. For some, the time is fleeting. For others, it drags on for months. For me, it’s been a bit longer.
I would love to over-simplify my personal pity party by chalking it up to a recent biggish milestone birthday. But that would be at least partially incorrect, and a disservice to others who might occasionally feel the same way. And while the big b-day may be a contributing factor – the months of “it’s coming and I can’t stop it” coupled with the knowledge that I’ll be in a different decade on the other side of it have left me feeling panicky and anxiety-ridden with an almost overwhelming urge to just run away from everything – it would only be part of a bigger truth.
I promise, I’m not dramatic…
The real truth is that for the last few years, I’ve been hyper-focused on the end-goal and completely absorbed with where I want to be to the exclusion of all else. And, despite how often I preach the mantra that “Shoulds are Dangerous,” that nasty little word still manages to worm its way into my psyche, into my inner monologue, and wreak havoc with my sense of well-being. “I should be further along in my career.” “I should be more financially ahead.” “I should have it all together.” And for me, all those shoulds act like a brick on my life’s accelerator pedal…pushing forward…faster and faster…at breakneck speed…more and more…trying to accomplish all those shoulds in record speed…trying to make up for lost time…and…(you see it coming, right?)…eventually…inevitably….I crash.
OK, maybe I’m a little dramatic. But aren’t we all at least a little dramatic once in a while?
The word “crash” may be a bit strong, but it went with the accelerator pedal analogy. And it can feel like a crash of sorts. It can feel like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. The windmills in my life are all the “shoulds,” and I am Quixote (except without the cute sidekick), winding myself up and running full tilt only to ram full force into a seemingly immovable object. Then I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again. It’s exhausting.
The problem, or one of them anyway, is that I’ve forgotten to enjoy the steps along the way. I’ve been so focused on how fleeting time is that I’ve neglected to actually take time to enjoy life. Sometimes it can feel like “taking time” is “wasting time.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
WARNING: Cliché Cluster Ahead (Sorry – I couldn’t help myself. You’ve been warned.)
As I took some time this week to work in my garden and smell the flowers, I realized I felt a little happier and a little more at peace after completing the task. The sun was shining. A light ocean breeze cooled the air. A butterfly floated around me. Hummingbirds busily buzzed over my head. My Black Eyed Susans and Gerbera Daisies were bursting with blooms. And in that rare moment of tranquility, a kernel of truth dawned on me. That famous quote we’ve heard a million times, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans,” is actually true.
As I look back on the last year or so, I’ve been so focused on the next step that I haven’t been able to enjoy the now; so focused on looking ahead that I haven’t bothered to look around. And all that stuff around me – the air, the sun, the flowers, friends, family, and yes, even birthdays – are just as significant as my big goals. In fact, they may be even more so, because in the end, it’s the little things in life that mean the most.
Now, I’m not advocating throwing away all your plans, all your dreams, and just dropping out completely. Big dreams and big goals are still very important. I’m just sending this reminder to myself, and to the world, to take a little time now and then to be in the moment, to enjoy the little things. Give yourself permission to slow down once in a while and soak in the sun or the fresh air or, yes, even to smell the flowers. Try not to be so focused on the future that we completely miss the now. (I warned you about the clichés. Have you been keeping count?)
The reality is that even when I do achieve one set of goals and dreams there will only be more goals and dreams on the horizon. My big life goals are an ever-changing, ever-expanding mark. So those goals cannot, and should not (OK, the one instance when a “should” is acceptable), be our be-all, end-all destination. They are merely guideposts that help define our path. It’s the path itself – the journey – that is the real destination.