I’m a person who likes order. I like predictability. I like feeling in control. The first half of my life, I had a plan. Things went according to this plan. I had no reason to question why plans wouldn’t be a good idea. Until the plan stopped working. As soon as I no longer had a plan, I floundered. I believe they call this “your twenties.”
At the end of my twenties, I came up with a new!improved! plan. I went to graduate school. I learned things. I found work that paid better and was more satisfying, until it wasn’t. I left that job, spent a couple years working with a therapist, and felt that my life was getting back on track. I tricked my brain into thinking we had a plan.
Which leads me to today. From the outside, things are great! Awesome! I have a fantastic partner, a good job, and time to work on my writing. This was my latest plan. Get a job that supports my writing. Except … this plan isn’t working quite the way I thought. I felt I had set my expectations appropriately. It would take time to adjust to full time work and I probably wasn’t going to be writing A LOT. I’ve created a structure to support my writing – I meet up twice a week with friends. I’ve been writing, and mostly just wandering around in the weeds (cf. “floundering” above).
I thought more about my current dissatisfaction. Why was I so unhappy? I mean, my life is good. I realized it was The Plan. Plans come with built-in expectations, like old Craftsman houses with built-in cupboards. Unlike the Craftsman cupboards, though, these built-ins are often promises that don’t work out.
I thought about what Greg (my therapist) would say to me, when I was feeling like utter crap. “You don’t have control, but you have a choice.”
And then he would ask me:
What do you want?
Those four words seem so simple. It turns out I *always* know what I want. Kurt Vonnegut knew that. He said, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” My desire is clear, and yet complicated by American culture. Many of the things I want are not what I was told were desirable. I have a strong desire to please others, but ultimately, I have to please myself. Not at the cost of others, but not by sacrificing myself either. This is a delicate dance for me. I yearn for a bit more narcissism, so I can stop caring so much about what other people think of me.
The other thing I know about myself is that structure supports me. I feel best and get the most done when I have structure. Structure. Plans. Control. I assume by now you are detecting a theme.
The problem is, these things aren’t working for well for me. I thought I just had to get through winter and I would feel better. (Yes, I’m still judging my feelings. That’s probably a whole other blog post. What if feelings were just feelings, and I didn’t have to categorize them?)
Back to the theme (another structure! The layers of meta run deep.) – what if I could let go of my plan and just focus on what I WANT? When I asked myself that yesterday, the miasma and shame and sadness started to lift (or maybe it was the handstand). I wasn’t a failure, just because The Plan wasn’t working. Some of you know I’ve spent some time considering what failure is and what it means to me.
What if failure is the inability to access and respond to our own desires?
I decided that rather than focus on the future (i.e. The Plan with its attendant expectations/results) I need to return my focus to the moment. What do I want? Like meditation, I expect (ha!) this to be challenging, but instead of pushing satisfaction to the future, I can focus on creating it in any given moment.
My good friend Kristin is a huge inspiration for me. She’s got a laser focus and she just wrote a post about focusing on what you want.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I’m replacing plan with want. What do you want?
Jill, I love reading your wandering around in life posts like this one because it makes me feel less alone. I’ve received plenty of judgment (stated or not) about my lack of a career. I’ve gone from job to job, done what I wanted to do and moved on. I just try not to judge myself, but it’s hard. There’s that protestant work ethic that’s ingrained in my psyche which doesn’t jive with my part-time work, part-time volunteer, part-time slacker lifestyle. To answer your question, though, I want to wander around the woods, mountains and beach, eat really well and convince my husband that he wants to do these things too!
Thank you Ranger! I couldn’t agree with you more about the Protestant work ethic and that lie that we’ve all bought into. Breaking away from it is very hard.
I love your desires! What a fun way to live!
‘accessing our desires.’ Hmmm. Yes, I think about what it is I want, since I’m pretty sure I can have it, but the thinking is a trap.
Do not get fooled by the thinking! Exactly. xo
I want sidewalks. Instead, I’m surrounded by freeways. I want to live in a condo downtown, within walking distance of a food store and a hop away from the light rail. Instead, I’m a 1-hr walk away from the closest grocery store and a 2-hr bus ride from the closest light rail station. I want all my friends to be my neighbours, but they’re at least a 3-hr flight away. I want a clean woodworking shop with high ceilings and perfect hand tools. I want to make a new instrument every week… I want the joints in my hands and arms and shoulders to stop hurting. I want to make the world a better place in an Elon-Muskian way but I also want to play luthier…
I’ve lived most of my adult life running after what I want, which meant moving homes a lot, changing professions at the drop of a hat, and so on. I wanted year-round sunny days, but not if it comes with 120-degree heat. I now realize that what I wanted was great walking weather. I want to walk everywhere! The wanting never ends, eh?
In the past, when I clocked enough complaints and dissatisfaction, I would say, “Enough!” and would then focus my resources into chasing my wants. Everything seems perfect after a big move, geographic or occupational. Things are new and exciting. We feel new and exciting. For a while. And then dissatisfaction sets in again. I can’t bear being dissatisfied too long, so I change. Except this time I’m too tired to change my circumstances, so instead I’ll try something different. I’ll try being content for the next 9 months. I won’t allow room for “if only __________, I could be happy.”. I will not want. After the 9 months are over, I can open the dissatisfaction vault again and decide if it’s full enough to send me out on the chase. I shall report back in 9 months 😉
I love that you are so in touch with what you want, and recognize there’s a deeper need that can be satisfied. I think there’s a strange balance between long-term and short-term wants/desires. It’s good to focus on the moment, but so richly rewarding to connect with those deeper and long-term desires. We can make it happen! <3
Oh, this speaks to me right where I’m at today–all of it. Brilliant, incisive, and gentle. From the need for structure to the aftereffects of American culture to the suspicion that just letting go and letting feeling exist might possibly be an answer–you nailed it. Great post!
Oh, thank you Brenna! Your words came at just the right time, when I was full of doubt. I have a pernicious doubt that I’m always doing everything wrong, despite any evidence. Grateful to have met you on the road!
I am in that place called ‘my twenties’ and somewhat floundering, mostly because of expectation (I think) and wanting control. Which I can’t have. Which is why I am blessed to have read this post today.
Thank you <3
Thanks for dropping by to comment. I’m glad you found my post helpful! As my therapist told me, “You don’t have control, but you have a choice.” I’ve found that really helpful when I’m up against stuff.