I frequently have these “ah-hah!” moments, usually thanks to quotes, movies, blogs or photographs, during which I feel this lightness and it’s as though I’m expanding and everything makes sense. Although I believe that probably some fundamental shifts happen at an unconscious level during these moments regardless of what follows, the clarity and excitement usually dissipate.
There’s a powerful thought that reliably brings me back that clarity, though. It reminds me over and over to keep adjusting my path as I’m walking it. It’s this: I am already whole. The idea that I do not have to become anyone, that I should only embrace the path I’m on and expand from there, is incredibly inspiring to me. It even inspired me to sell almost everything I owned so I could “live in the now,” and “not focus on the past,” and all that stuff, though ironically, selling my past has given me a deeper appreciation of it.
Perfection doesn’t exist
To an almost hopeless perfectionist, finding out you are already complete is absolutely wonderful news. Many people experience perfectionism as immobilization; there are always too many things to do to achieve perfection–it’s exhausting even to think about. But it doesn’t surprise me that we’ve grown up with this mindset, given the language we were and are surrounded by. First of all, we are shown that “perfect” does exist: 100%, A+, whatever. That’s what we are told to strive for, and we do.
So when we learn that perfect can’t be achieved, because perfect does not exist, what happens? Well, to a little girl who is showered with praise from family and awards from teachers for her excellent scholastic achievements and who falls out of love with the school system, it feels like the world falls out of love with her.
Also, we are told that we have to become someone. We go to school to learn skills that cost tens of thousands of dollars, because “McDonald’s is hiring” and be careful because that’s where we’ll end up if we don’t work ourselves sick to get the piece of paper that proves that we know what happens on Odysseus’ travels and which qualifies us to do more than flip burgers, which we should be embarrassed to ever have to do because it means that we are either stupid or lazy or both. (By the way, I’d love for someone to teach me how to flip a burger because that shit doesn’t come naturally and I can’t do it. And by the way again, I don’t remember what happens in The Odyssey, so I don’t know where that leaves me.)
N.B. There’s nothing wrong with working at a food joint. I’d never work at McDonald’s, but only because it’s poisoning us and the environment and seriously, screw them.
Anyway, I didn’t get a master’s degree like my friends did, which also meant that I had stopped becoming anything. I was unhappy and felt completely inauthentic. I wanted to start from scratch, and I wanted to find truth. I thought that this meant completely renouncing my past; after all, my past had led me here, right? I wanted to travel. I wanted to get rid of my belongings. I wanted new friends. I wanted to scream at anyone who tried to reel me back in. I was angry, but mostly sad.
I wanted to restart, but I was scared, so I did so slowly, without really realizing it. I moved to another province for a couple years. I left my stuff with my parents, and discovered that I didn’t need any of it. Future: 1, Past: 0. I got a job in my field, psychology, but it was boring and mindless, so I quit. I got a job at a grocery store because I was tired of PhDs controlling me. It got old, so I quit. I got a job at an office in a final attempt at using whatever skills I had already, and I hated it. All of this gave me the courage to really put my past-clearing theory to the test. I quit that job, spent a month selling all of my belongings, terminated my lease, hopped on a bus and crashed at my very generous sister’s apartment until further notice. This is where I am currently.
Shedding baggage makes you feel lighter
I still have some papers to get rid of, but I can’t tell you how liberating that leap was. Some days, while I was still working, I was ready to give in to the office life. I told myself it wouldn’t be that bad, and my coworkers are nice people to be around. Those were the days, I realize now, that were the most dangerous–the days my soul was closest to its death.
I experienced a lot of grief while I was getting rid of my stuff. I found it annoying because I didn’t understand it and it was getting in the way. But I didn’t dismiss it entirely; I went through everything slowly, keeping the stuff that I absolutely could not part with: some photographs, the doll my late grandmother gave me, stuff like that. I really didn’t want to keep them, though. Even keeping my identification pissed me off. I wanted to be like Christopher McCandless (yeah, the dude who died in the wild), but something about these objects made me happy, and I figured I could always get rid of them later.
Embrace and expand your past
Not too long ago, I was looking through my sister’s old photo albums. I hadn’t done that in so long and it made me so happy, yet I had been so annoyed with my decision to keep my own old photographs and dolls. These pictures were evidence of my childhood, of the care my parents took of me, of the true friendships I had even as a child, of how happy I was. The very existence of my sister’s photos of me is evidence that she cares enough about me to want to remember me. I remembered how I had been almost ready to throw all of mine away, and I started crying.
I’d always been so incredibly confused about why anyone would want to hold on to things–doesn’t it make them feel tied down? Stuck? Miserable? I think I’ve learned something valuable. Today, I’m glad that I was so scrupulous in deciding of what to renounce ownership. Though I’m happier now with much less baggage, I’m also happy that I still have a few things that remind me of wonderful moments in my past.
As someone who struggles with depression, I tend to remember bad events much more easily than I remember the good ones. In fact, I remember my entire undergraduate experience as generally being a terrible one–so terrible that I don’t remember most of it, because I’ve tried so hard to forget it. But when I remember that I met some of my best friends in university, I know that my memory is inaccurate. There were definitely many difficult learning experiences, but it wasn’t all bad. And whether it’s photographs, tattoos, jewelry, or yearly get-togethers, I need reminders of the beautiful things that have happened to me. Also, I’m discovering that what made me happy as a child is what makes me happy now.
There’s a limit, though. Visit the past to help you move confidently into the future, but don’t stay there. Keep only what helps you move forward.
Authenticity is your only career option
And so, here I am. These past few months have been so incredibly difficult. I’ve gone from feeling on top of the world to feeling like the most useless pile of crap, and back again. And again. I know that I really want to contribute to society, something I’m not doing very much of right now, but I’m also very selfish–what I find most difficult is doing something I don’t want to do. It’s a blessing and a curse. I’m convinced that it’s due to all those years in school trying so hard to be a good student; I’m burnt out–permanently.
I’ve lost all interest in becoming anything or anyone, but staying true to myself is my biggest battle right now. Everyone wants something of you. I value service, so I often get swept up into fulfilling someone else’s wishes, which inevitably ends in a burn-out.
So, I guess it makes sense that something clicks when I hear stuff like “embrace the path you were born on” and “you are already whole.” If someone else finds wisdom in this, maybe I’m not wrong! Next, I’ll have to find the intersection of who I am, and what people value.
If I’m honest with myself, I think I would be almost perfectly happy dancing around all day, taking photographs, doing yoga, faking spanish accents and playing with puppies–the only thing missing would be my contribution. But no one is going to give me a gold star. A couple years ago, that would have made me cry, but I think I’m okay with it now. Although I’m not terribly frightened of living a “homeless” life, it’s truly not ideal, so I’ve got to support myself if I want to be part of this system; however, the skills I want to get paid for aren’t up to market needs. If you’re in my position, learning of some sort (taking value) is probably in your future, which means you’ll have to compromise (provide non-ideal value) for a while.
I’m not talking about selling your soul. I’m talking about finding a way to satisfy your survival needs while you get busy remembering the path you were born onto, embracing it, and allowing yourself to expand until people will pay to learn or buy from you. Or not. If no one ever pays you, it’s still better than any alternative; there is no substitute for authenticity.
This is my next step: I’ll be working part-time for four months on a farm in exchange for room and board. Sort of like WWOOFing, I guess. For four months, my survival needs will be covered. I like multitasking, so I love the idea that I’ll be learning about farming (an interest) while working (providing value) on one. Also, since it’s only part-time, I can either get another part-time job for some extra cash, or spend time on my other interests. This farm also happens to be near my parents, which I like, so this set-up is perfect for me.
There is a perfect set-up for you, too. Try thinking about whose dirty work you wouldn’t mind doing, and then see what they can offer you for it. Again, it’s not permanent, and it gives you the time to build the skills you want to get paid for. Consider picking a company you admire and that has high turnover positions. A few places that come to mind are health food stores, maybe coffee shops, local book stores–clerk jobs. Personally, as long as the managers are good people, I normally don’t mind these types of jobs because I like being around people.
If you spend time learning who you are, loving who you are, learning what you love to do and how to do it well, you’ll eventually become an expert. Experts can be professionals, and professionals get paid.