Friday, July 20, 2012
Ditching the "what's next" mindset
Seriously, in elementary school, our teachers said things like "In second grade, you won't be able to do x anymore, your teachers will expect you to do y." Towards the end of elementary school they focused on what would be expected of us in middle school. And of course in middle school, it was all about what we'd need to do in high school, and in high school what we needed for college. In college, it still wasn't over - our professors and mentors talked about what PhD programs would expect or what we needed to put on our resumes to get a good job.
My parents were similar, but took a longer term view - for them it was all about education and getting into a good college and course of study, which would enable me to find a good job and be successful.
It's a natural thing to do, of course, since school has such a natural progression and both parents and teachers are shepherding kids through the growing-up-process to become contributing, well-adjusted adults.
But after hearing that for so many years, it's hard to break out of that mindset. I work for a company that has a lot of smart and motivated people, and it seems to have led to an "up or out" culture, where you constantly need to "do more with less" and strive for that next promotion.
Our peers "trade up" all the time - new cars, new houses, new jobs where they make more money. It's natural to want more, I guess.
But a few years ago I realized, to my great surprise, that I'm happy exactly where I am.
I don't want a newer, more fancy house (though I wouldn't mind making some alterations to optimize our space). I love our house, and we will likely live here until we move out of this state.
I love my car, which is nearly 7 years old now (and has just 40,000 miles on it!). It might be nice to get the all wheel drive version, but otherwise, it's still great.
Job-wise, I'm satisfied, though nervous about how long I'll be "allowed" to work part-time. But if I could, I'd do it indefinitely. It works so well for us right now. I don't need gobs more money, though of course, I wouldn't turn it down if it knocked on my door.
It took me a long time to accept this happiness and contentment for what it is. I still struggle with it.
When people ask me how old T is, my automatic response is "almost 3". Which is true, but really, I'm not honoring where she is right now by saying that. She's 2. She'll be 2 for a few more months, and I won't get 2 back (though in some ways, hell, I don't want it back!). So I remind myself that she is just 2, right now. There's time for 3 later.
I spent a lot of time when I was a kid and a teenager wishing I was older. I wasn't very happy, and wanted to fast-forward to a time when I would hopefully be happy. I used to think things like "When I'm skinny, I'll be happier", or "When I get married I'll be happy". Both of which were sort of true, but only because they catalyzed other changes in my life. And now I'm most definitely not skinny, and the happiest I've ever been. Who knew?
So I've arrived at Happiness and Contentment, and I'm cool to let things be. To experience time as it goes by, without expectations or speeding up to the Next Big Thing. 10 more weeks as a mama of 1 - I'll take it, gladly. Realizing I'll probably never go back to school and get that PhD? Just fine with me. Knowing I'll never be the CEO of any company with more than one employee? Okee-dokee.
This isn't to say I don't have goals or things I want to work on. But I'm not constantly watching and pursuing them, ignoring what's in front of me right now.
Life has gotten much better since I stopped keeping one eye on my next move forward.