I’ve learned recently that it’s not a simple choosing of joy that will make us happy in life. Rather, it’s actively creating the space for joy by addressing our fears with the help of other people – and experiencing the power in the understanding that’s shared as we do.
Moving from place to place, holding temporary jobs (seasonal, term-limited, etc.), and being open to a variety of roles, positions, and work in general has been of great benefit to me over the years. I’ve learned what I don’t like doing, what I like doing but maybe not as a career, and what works for me to bring in an income. Prior to my current position here in DC, I’ve lived some pretty transformative times and experiences in many different locations. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and recognize that everything I’ve experienced has made me who I am: all the good and all the bad, all the pretty and all the ugly, even the hideous. I value the complex mosaic of my life thus far.
But since starting this permanent position with the Foreign Ag Service in the Fellowship Programs Division in February 2021, I’ve experienced something new. For the first time in my adult life I’m able to just sit back and let things unfold at work without the nagging knowledge of an approaching job end date. Sure, one can certainly live in the moment and let things unfold day to day very successfully even with an end date in sight, especially when there is stability and permanence in other aspects of life. But I now understand there is a certain freedom that comes with not having that hard stop, not having THE END written for you at the end of the chapter you’re actively composing.
Looking back over the past two years, I think having that freedom caused an underlying panic of sorts for me in the beginning. I think I more-so put pressure on myself to achieve, achieve, achieve here and now because the period in my life was suddenly undefined. There was no timeline to help set expectations, which is all I’d known in my adult life. I wasn’t quite sure how to be me without it.
And while with work and my living situation there was no longer a predefined end, when it came to my relationships, there was a contradiction: it felt like the end was all I was seeing. I think the continually growing count of dead friends impacted me in many ways, but it also added to the urgency I felt to do and achieve. Faced again and again with the reminder that everything can simply end between two beats of your heart, I wasn’t sure what to do with that knowledge, nor with the dread I felt for those endings. Sometimes the years slap hard.
My response to seeing so much death was coping through distraction – add everything to my plate and put more pressure on myself to achieve. Do it now, before it’s too late, get it done, pile it on, do it while I still can, take advantage of my beating heart and at least half-functioning mind. I also was quick to judge when I didn’t meet my unrealistic expectations.
Without an end defined by my job’s timeline, and also with the frequent reminder that the end could come at any moment, I found myself grasping for some semblance of balance. And it didn’t help that I’d defined what it was to be grounded in my life under the influence of dread/fear, which resulted in settling for a life with a lack of joy. And I was unable to realize what I was doing.
But I think, with the help of others, we all come to understand at some point in our lives that we can’t really be positively shaped by unrealistic pressure. We can break, sometimes shatter. And so often the hands that break us are our own. How can I shape myself into a beautiful tall vase – sound enough to hold water, tall enough to support the stems of flowers – if on the wheel I’m strangling my own clay? By taking away some of that pressure, and in relinquishing our attempted control of the uncontrollable, we can learn to find acceptance (and what that means for each of us). This then paves the way for joy.
I’ve learned recently that it’s not a simple choosing of joy that will make us happy in life. Rather, it’s actively creating the space for joy by addressing our fears with the help of other people – and experiencing the power of the understanding that’s shared as we do.
These past few years I’ve been learning how to apply only the amount of pressure that builds me up. I’ve been learning to push myself, but not over the edge. I challenge myself – at work, in the gyms, with my poetry, in my relationships, etc. – but I’m trying to do so without too much pressure or judgement. I’m no master of this, but that’s okay. I’m in it, doing my best to be kinder, doing my best to remember compassion, and that’s what matters. I’m only human after all, like each and every one of us.
While it’s a delicate process, it is so worthwhile. Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve seen how peaceful it can be to not define/determine my successes based on a timeline or any anticipated ending. Sure, we all have chapters in our lives, but there is only one beginning and one end that matter the most for each of us, that fully define us and our lives. I’ve learned that it’s helpful to remember that the rest of it can be a bit more fluid.
And yes, my end may come sooner than I might anticipate or than I would want – like for so many I’ve known. But with much of life out of my control there’s no sense in putting pressure on myself to try and be my own puppet master. There’s no sense in doing things solely based on anticipated endings – or my fear of them.
I’ve learned it’s good to take things minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, but it can be even better when done in context – in knowing that there will always be a tomorrow until there isn’t, but we have no control over when our final moments arrive. Life is so infuriatingly unpredictable. It can shock, anger, leave us with our heads in the dirt and hearts shot through. But what will be will be, and in the meantime, I’ll do my best to focus on appreciating what is.