Friday, July 20, 2012

Ditching the "what's next" mindset

I cannot remember a time growing up where I wasn't being exhorted to prepare for the future. 
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.

12 comments:

  1. Good for you, Anandi! This post makes me want to give you a big hug because that's awesome. And I'm with you on not wanting to round up kids' ages. ;)

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    1. Hugs gladly welcomed ;)

      Re: rounding up kids' ages, I find that it also makes me have unreasonable expectations of behavior sometimes. "She's almost 3, she shouldn't be doing that" is very different from "She's 2, does that make sense for her to be doing that?". And usually the answer to the second question is "of course it is, she's 2." Heh. So just another reason for me to stay in the present on that.

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  2. Good for you for appreciating the present, the here and now.

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  3. Loved reading this post!!! You write so beautifully :)

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  4. I think that's one thing that was hard about living out west...I couldn't deal with that mentality. I must be better than everyone else, work harder, make more money, have a more prestigious degree.

    Blech. For the birds.

    I like my job. I want my PhD, but I wouldn't mind staying at work where I am even when I'm done. I like doing my MS because I was able to go to school part-time and spend a lot of time with my kids. I wouldn't mind a bigger house, but I can certainly get by with what I have. Same with my 13 year-old car. Works fine, looks nice, and easy to clean the dog slobber off the seats. Why would I want another? I really worry that some day, I'll be in a position where there is a lot of pressure and stress, and I really don't like that. But at least I'm in a good place now while my kids are younger. Maybe when they're grown up, I can go after some of those jobs with crazy expectations... :-)

    It's all an optimization problem, and it seems like the effort and time to get those other things will take away from my family time, and I prefer the way things are now.

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    1. Ooh, that is interesting to think it might be a regional thing. FWIW I felt that in Pittsburgh too, but that may be due to the whole school/childhood thing.

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    2. It may also be a big vs. small city thing. I noticed things were a bit worse in Minneapolis, but not as bad as out west.

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  5. Love this! Just be. You're comment about two made me laugh. Seems we are entering the age of tantrums a little early with the little one..

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    1. Yeah, we don't have a lot of tantrums unless hunger or tiredness is in the mix, but we do have a TON of "doing exactly what we asked her not to do 30 seconds earlier" and "lalalala, I can't hear you". It's awesome ;D

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  6. I love this post. Very well put!

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  7. Great perspective! I've been struggling lately with just being happy with right now. I really needed to read something like this. :) Good luck with baby #2!

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