My Eye of the Storm

Standard

Right now, it feels like my life is one giant chaotic hurricane.  I am in the process of looking for another ‘just-in-case’ job.  I am trying to find a temporary place to live.  I have massive amounts of grading to do.  I myself have to write several letters of recommendation for teachers in my department that are possible laid off as well.  I am in charge of a million different things at my school, all of which seemed to have events this month.  GAH!

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t been able to write my usual two posts a week.  Sitting down now, I was just about to start in on my work when I took a pause, and reminded myself:

It will get done.

It doesn’t matter if I take an hour or two to write this post.  I know myself, and I will handle my responsibilities like I always do.  However, if I don’t take time to do things for myself during periods of high demand, that’s when the possibility of failure becomes real.

Humans are tricky beings.  Sometimes, the very thing that seems to create the most productivity (grind grind grind!) is the very act that leads to our downfall.

We are not meant to push ourselves to the absolute limit each and every day.  We can do it for a period of time, but eventually, progress crashes to a halt.

I’ve had to learn this the hard way with working out.  I thought that if I worked out three times a day and ate next to nothing, I would drop weight like a player drops an old fling.  Lies.  The scale would not budge, and it actuall shot up whenever I didn’t stick to my iron regimen.  Now that I’m eating a normal amount of food and working out once a day, I am actually seeing results.

That’s not to say that there can’t be periods of time where you need to hit the gas over a longer span of time.  However, if we make that our go to MO, it will catch up to us eventually.

When our life becomes highly chaotic, that is when we most need to take the time to center ourselves and take the steps necessary to clear the cobwebs from our head.

But, these also have to be purposeful moments.  A lot of the time we push ourselves so hard that our recovery is sitting on the couch watching TV or going out and binge-drinking.  This is not actual recovery time, because it does nothing to re-energize you.  Every time I waste an entire night watching TV, I feel annoyed with myself for not getting SOMETHING done.

The goal of taking time off should be to advance something that you and only you will benefit from (which will lead into peripheral benefits for others).  This is proven time and time again by mothers who ‘selfishly’ take an hour for themselves to work out, and instantly see the positive impact this purposeful time makes in their day to day lives.

Many people might say that taking time off to be productive defeats the purpose of taking time off.  However, the end goal of time off should be an increase in enjoyment and re-solidification of your purpose.

Think back to the times when you were the most happy.  For me, those times include being with the people I love and care about, reading a great book, or working out.  All of those things, besides giving me contentment, move me towards a personal goal.

There is also a flip side to this coin.  If you are a person who doesn’t push themselves at all, in any capacity, or for any purpose, you are failing yourself.  If your whole life is simply floating in a giant inner-tube being pulled every which way by the current, this is a waste.

Every person is given the chance to make their life purposeful.  The awesome and intimidating reality of this is that you get to choose your purpose.  And the scarier part is, it might not be the same as the people next to you.

Humans are not solitary creatures by nature, and it is very easy to look to someone stronger than you and emulate their life and projected purpose.  It gives us a feeling of safety when we see other people doing the same thing.

However, the beautiful thing about life is that there are no two people who are on the same journey.  If you have truly solidified where you want to go, and actively work towards that goal on a day to day basis, there is an inner sense of contentment that no one can take away from you.

Passionately be at the helm of your own ship.  The entire world is lounging before us, and no matter where you intend to end up, it’s always more rewarding if you earnestly battled the storms and Kraken’s to get there.  You are not a message in a bottle waiting to be drifted to a foreign land.  An epic journey awaits you if you simply pull out your sword and bravely unfurl the sails.

 

 

 

Validation

Standard

Today I had a very humbling realization:  I don’t always do the right thing.

Now, as much as I know, logically, that I can’t possible do the right thing every single time, there is a part of me that feels that I usually bat 1000 when it comes to human interactions.  I pride myself on my ability to integrate myself with others, and today I was slapped in the face with the reality that sometimes, I’m not only not good at person to person relations, there is the occasional interaction that I completely, utterly fuck up.

To elaborate, there are 18 teachers in my school, including me, who received possible non-reemploy notices for next year.  One of those teachers is 4 months pregnant, and she was devastated at the news.

Today after our staff meeting I gave her a hug and attempted to cheer her up by saying “look at it from the lens of possibility!  You’ll be ok!” to which she replied “shut up Hannah…just shut up”.

Now, my immediate inner reaction was to rear up on my high horse and and condemn her for such rude hostility.  How dare she not be inspired by my waves of positivity!  How could she not see that I was a vibrant fountain of constructive forward thought!  Fine, she could just wallow in her negativity.

When I mentioned this story to someone else (with the expectation, of course, that he would immediately agree that I was such a beacon of light and my coworker needed to recognize), he simply said “people don’t want to hear all that.”

This made me pause.

Why WOULDN’T someone who is feeling down and out want to hear about how things are going to get better and that they will come out on top?  Isn’t that better than agreeing with them that the world is crashing down around them?  Don’t people want to have someone point out all the good things when they are focusing on the bad?

And then I realized: people don’t want to hear anything until they know that their current feelings are validated.  Feeling validated is a basic need of every single human being, and any advice given before validation occurs will simply be seen as patronization.

This, of course, was a bitter pill to swallow.  Here I had been riding along on my high horse, thinking that I was magnanimously sprinkling goodwill flowers for everyone to enjoy, when really I was coming off as the smug little goody-two-shoes, pat-patting everyone on the head with a small “there there”.

Being the type of person who legitimately wants to help people, this realization kills me.  Being the type of person who will not accept less than perfection from myself, it also prompted thoughts about how I can truly, honestly legitimize someone’s feelings.  How can I change my approach so that I am ACTUALLY someone people can count on versus only being that person in my head?

In my view, it all comes down to one simple thing: listening.  When I was busy spouting my words of supposed wisdom, I was failing to actually listen to what my co-worker was going through.  This woman, a cornerstone of our school, is facing the possibility of bringing a baby girl into the world on only her husband’s income with no health insurance.  If you live in the boondocks, that’s no problem.  Here in California?  HA.

The bottom line is, her feelings are extremely real and valid, and no amount of positive fluff will change that.  There is an extreme difference between being legitimately there for someone versus using someone else’s issues to showcase your own thoughts and feelings.

Listening to someone, really listening, is usually the only thing that truly helps in any sort of rough situation.  Feelings are ever-changing and maddeningly, unaffected by logic.  Yet paradoxically, sometimes the only thing that can help change someone’s emotions is the simple acknowledgment that their state of mind is real and that it is okay.

When I think back on all of the times I’ve been upset and stayed upset for any length of time, it was simply due to the fact that I felt like my feelings were not heard.  When I have confirmation that my current reaction is acknowledged, usually, magically, my negativity dissipates.

Facing realizations about how you have screwed up sucks.  I always want to be the best version of myself, and when it’s pointed out to me that my approach to a situation was terrible, my prancing gelding suddenly turns into a rock that I am frantically trying to crawl under.

But if I know one thing about myself, it’s that I don’t give up.  And so, I turn my head onward with the torch of new realizations lighting my way.  I’m sure this won’t be the last time I come across someone in a state of internal agony, but I will try my damndest to make sure that it will be the last time I try to fill the space between us with my own useless words.

Shit happens.  Life can be a real freakin’ bitch sometimes, and people react to things in different ways.  And you know what?  If I think the way I react to things is ok, I have no right to judge how others react.  The only thing I can do is listen, squeeze their hand, hand them tissues, and then shut up and listen some more.

The Adventure of Uncertainty

Standard

A couple of days ago, I received news that my school district was going through a potential reduction in force, i.e. layoffs.  I am a tenured teacher, but the numbers put me in the grey area of “might have a job next year, might not.”  Which, of course, is not the most welcome news to receive at 2:30pm on a Tuesday.

Initially, I had several moments of panic.  Wait!  I passed the two year gauntlet!  I am a valued member of my site!  I have an apartment and the best roommate ever and a whole life that I love!  This could all be gone by June?!

And then…

I had an inkling of excitement.

It was fleeting at first, like the tiny glow of an outdoor fire that just barely catches the spark.  But as I thought about it more and more, that tiny glimmer started to grow.

What if I DO lose my job?  Where can I go?  Oh my god–where WILL I go?  *sharp intake of breath* I could go….anywhere.

So many possibilities came flooding into my mind.  I could teach overseas!  I could pick an entirely different area of the country and teach there!  I could move to a different district in California!  I could *gasp* quit teaching all together and try my hand at something new!

The potential unpredictability of the future that had initially looked like a swirling black mass of chaos and despair was slowly coming in to focus as a possible avenue for adventure.  And that’s when I realized: uncertainty is where the fun comes from.

To underscore this point, I was listening to a podcast by Andy Frisella yesterday in which he got off on a tangent about relationships.  He mentioned that in the beginning, women don’t want flowers and endless ass-kissing, but instead they want to speculate about the relationship and have that ‘does he-doesn’t he?!’ feeling.  In short, they want to be the ones that wonder.

As a woman, my initial thought was ‘but..but flowers are nice.  I enjoy flowers.”

And then, I actually thought about it.  Every single guy that has approached me with a no-holds-barred, let me give you my COMPLETE ATTENTION ALL DAY EVERY DAY approach has caused me to shy away in disgust.  They left no room for confusion, and because of that, I wanted nothing to do with them.

The guy I’m dating now?  I tortured my girlfriends for WEEKS with text message screenshots and drawn out analysis of weekend visits and eventually came to the conclusion that he ‘just wasn’t in to me’ about 700 times before our current situation.  Long after my friends had written him off, the uncertainty of the relationship-the very cause of my angst-was what kept drawing me back.

Of course, you can’t live in the same uncertainty forever.  Being up in the air about your job or your relationship loses its luster quite quickly if it goes on for too long.  But in the beginning, the mystery is what makes life, life.  Even if one ambiguity is clarified, it gets replaced with another.  The moment you are ABSOLUTELY SURE about every single thing in your life is the moment that you stop living.

The infuriating and exhilarating paradigm of uncertainty is that it comes at the moment you are feeling the most settled.  When you feel like you have life finally  figured out, the universe says ‘surprise!’ and tips the apple cart over right in front of you just as you are blithely about to take the next step.

Life is meant to be lived, and if we don’t go out and chase adventure, sometimes it kicks in the door without an invitation.  When that happens, though, you can bet your bottom dollar that the wind whistling through your home will make you jump up a lot faster and make some moves much more quickly than you would have keeping the door tightly shut.

But that’s what’s so freakin’ fun: figuring out how to get to the next level when there are actual challenges and puzzles that you have to muddle through.  Walking on a sidewalk gets boring a heck of a lot faster that hiking through a windy ravine or a trekking up a steep mountain.  And life gets more interesting the more apples you have to sidestep in order to reach your destination.

If you are facing uncertainty in any aspect of your life, get excited!  Look at it from the lens of possibility, not the lens of despair.  Our comfort zones are our biggest obstacles to progression, and you should be thanking anything that happens to shake that up.

And so, I am embracing the instability of life, no matter where it comes from.  It may turn out that this time, the apple cart rights itself before spilling its load of Red Delicious across my path, but eventually, that cart will hit a pothole.  And when it does, I will gleefully figure out the best way to dance through the tumbling crimson orbs and come out on top.

 

 

 

Patience

Standard

These past few days have been, for reasons unknown, more difficult than usual for me.  Not in the sense that I have an overwhelming amount of work or my relationships are falling apart or any other major life catastrophe, but simply the unnerving reality of not having a solid goal to work towards.

Now that I have decided that I want to expand my horizons beyond teaching, I am anxious for my new journey to start RIGHTNOW.  I know that I want to accomplish….something.  The rub, however, is what,exactly I want to achieve.

I have always had a definite, purposeful goal in mind.  Finish high school.  Graduate from college.  Find a well-paying job.  Find a suitable place to live.  Complete my master’s degree.  Check, check, check.  And now, I have these big dreams with no practical objective in sight.

This drives. me. crazy.  I want my ambition epiphany, and I want it yesterday.  The fact that I have no real, tangible target to meet is extremely hard for someone with a goal-oriented life perspective.

And yet, somehow, I feel like this phase is something that needs to happen before I can move on to the next big step in my journey.  Even with little things, on a day to day basis, it feels like the universe has been giving me one solid, clear message in every way possible: BE PATIENT.

Patience is not something I come by easily.  If I know what I want, I want it to happen NOW.  If I have something to do, I try to do it as soon as possible.  I am not a fan of waiting around.

This, however, is a problem.  If I truly want to accomplish something of magnitude, this will not happen overnight.  Logically, I know this.  Emotionally, however, I am clinging to the idea that once I decide what I want to work towards, everything will magically fall into place and badabing, badaboom, I will be an overnight success!

(Yes, you’re allowed to laugh).

In part, I think that this mentality springs from my high school days where I was able to perform in every subject quite passably with minimal effort.  This was not conducive to cultivating a growth mindset, and instead led me to believe that I shouldn’t have to work very hard at things; they should just fall together with a light wave of my hand.

Obviously, this thinking causes quite a bit of misery once you put on big girl pants and realize that life delivers proportionately to the amount of work you put in.  Many times I have avoided trying or continuing with something simply because I know that I won’t be good at it at the first try.  It has taken me 27 years on the planet to realize that patience is indeed a virtue.

But what, exactly, makes patience so desirable?

Anything that is worth possessing requires patience, and so many things, from relationships to weight loss to food preparation, can be ruined by trying to speed things up.  I learn this lesson the hard way every morning I try to speed-cook my eggs and end up with brown crusts rather than yellow fluff.

Patience makes the end result that much sweeter.  If you have ever had homemade ice cream, you know the long, arduous process that it takes; multiple salt and ice additions, endless checking, and seemingly hours of stirring.  But, the moment that creamy sweet vanilla coldness melts in your mouth, you know it was worth it.

Being patient is a trait that is admirable.  Whenever I tell people that I am a middle school teacher, 4/5 people will immediately comment on how much patience I must have to deal with hormonal pre-teens.  If you see someone losing their patience, your immediate reaction is to grimace or turn away; flying off the handle does not lend itself towards inviting people into your inner circle.

Having fortitude in all of the different situations that require patience is really, really hard.  Those people who are able to maintain their composure in every life situation are truly referred to as saints for a reason.

Most importantly, patience yields the best results.  If you had a choice between a chicken that was slow roasted for hours versus a chicken that was hastily boiled, I’m pretty sure the latter would be gracing the circular storage in less than 30 seconds.   If you follow the fitness level of someone who lost immense amounts of weight in a year versus someone who lost the same amount over three years, the person who took longer to shed the extra pounds will be the one who can actually keep it off.

Being able to delay your gratification for the purpose of getting something right is incredibly rewarding once the fruits of your labor ripen.  In nearly every situation, the wow factor of the outcome is proportionate to the amount of patience that was sprinkled in along the way.

With all of these stellar qualities on its resume, patience should be the top candidate of choice in everyone’s various life situations.

As far as my personal journey goes, I feel that the sheer maddening nature of not being clear about what I want to do is preparing me for the long road ahead.  I am allowed to let the end game be unclear (for now).  I am completely authorized to give myself time to ponder and sift through all of the exciting possibilities.  I am released from all the self-imposed pressures to have everything immediately set in stone.

It takes patience to build a life that is worth living.  Time goes by only so fast, and while most of the time we feel like we are already running behind, sometimes it’s ok to slow down so that more of our moments in life are quality moments.  Finding the perfect balance between coming to a complete standstill and rushing so much you perpetually spill your coffee all over your desk and have to start over again and again is a tough challenge to tackle, but one that is well worth it.

As Jean-Jacques Rousseau states, “Patience is bitter, but it’s fruit is sweet.”  In the end, whatever we place our awareness on grows.  If we take the time to actually focus our energy, we will reap the benefits.

And so, with deep calming breaths, I embrace the wait.  Because I know it’s temporary.  And once I decide where I’m going?  That, my friends, is where the REAL fun begins.