Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

The Long Game

long game

Sometimes I like to look back to see how far I’ve come. The other day I scrolled through my old posts, and the distance I’ve traveled from the time I started writing this blog to today seems like a very long way. There are a few major differences between where I am now and where I was back in June of 2013:

  • My work outlook has significantly improved;
  • My financial situation, although still uncertain, is less precarious;
  • I have accepted that I am indeed a writer, albeit a nervous one;
  • I have returned to my first and truest love – the theatre;
  • I have learned to by happy with my life the way it IS, not the way I want it to be.

The last point is the most important change. For the majority of my life I’ve looked forward to a time when everything would be great.

When I get my driver’s license, life will be great. 

When I go to college, life will be great.

When so-and-so asks me out, life will be great.

When I graduate from college, life will be great.

When I get that job I want, life will be great.

When I make $$$, life will be great.

I enjoyed all of those things when they happened, but they didn’t magically transform my life into the fairy tale I envisioned they would when I was dreaming about them. Because when the longed-for event happened, it happened to ME – who I was at that moment – so as long as the ME it was happening to wasn’t happy or satisfied, no huge transformation was possible. I was the same old ME, just with a driver’s license, or a college degree, or a new boyfriend.

The greatest gift these years since I was laid off have given me has been my perspective on what it means to be happy. I have been forced to look at my life in a way I have never had to before. For years prior, I was so busy running around acting like I ruled the world that it was easy not to ask myself “Are you fulfilled? Are you satisfied with your life the way it is?” If I had asked the question back then, it would have surprised me to hear that the answer was “No, I’m not satisfied.”

What a thing to say! I had a great job, a job I loved. I got to travel to amazing places. I met interesting people. I learned new things all the time. People looked up to me, admired me, sought me out. But even in the middle of all of that I found myself searching for something to look forward to. Most of the time all I looked forward to was the next trip to Europe, or Asia, or Australia. But I knew, even then, that something wasn’t right. I was always anxious and stressed out. I was so wrapped up in my own life I barely had time for my family and friends. I was turning into a soulless, career-driven caricature of myself; a person who I now know isn’t someone I want to be.

And now? I’m glad you asked. Now, I’ve figured out that the way to win at life is to play the long game. I’ve stopped expecting transformational change to happen in an instant. I’ve stopped believing that something has to happen before I can be happy. Do I want to be outrageously successful in my chosen career? You bet I do. Do I want to make lots of money and travel the world with my husband? Oh yeah – that’s at the top of the list. Do I need these things to happen before I can be happy?

No. Not anymore.

The long game means that I don’t look at my life in terms of what I don’t have now. It means seeing where I am in terms of the journey I’m on; I’m not where I was, and I’m not where I’m going. This perspective has given me the freedom to be happy right now. I wake up in the morning and look forward to each day, because it is absolutely chock full of possibilities! What amazing thing can I do today? What fun can I have? What can I do to show a loved one I care for them? What work can I do to take me the next step forward? What can I do just because I enjoy it? What stranger’s life can I brighten with a smile and a kind word?

I have never seen my life this way before now, and it didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken years of learning to stop struggling and striving against the forces I felt were conspiring against me. I have tried and failed many times in my quest for success, and each time I’ve become more patient. Life is a long song; sometimes it’s marching bands, sometimes it’s love songs, and sometimes you just hum along between choruses. It’s up to you to enjoy the music.

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Photo (c) 2015 Amanda Taylor Brooks

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Life, the Universe, and Everything

don't panic

Every year since I was fairly young, 10 or 11, my father has asked me the same question on my birthday:

“What have you learned this year?”

I look forward to this annual ritual, and I usually start thinking about it some days ahead of time. Well, today is my birthday, and my Dad reads my blog, so I’m going to go ahead and answer the question now (Dad, I look forward to discussing it with you later!).

This year I’ve learned some harsh truths:

  • Hard work isn’t always rewarded in the way you hope it will be;
  • Adults in professional situations will smile in your face and lie about you behind your back (yeah yeah I know, but it still surprises me);
  • I am vulnerable to feelings of powerlessness.

I’ve also learned some wonderful truths:

  • I’ve learned not to panic when things go wrong – the situation is rarely as bad as it seems at first;
  • I’ve learned how to embrace my disappointment and move on;
  • I’ve learned that gratitude is the best defense against despair;
  • I’ve learned that what I think is a mistake may actually be just a guidepost on the way to a better destination;
  • I’ve learned that I’d rather be happy than right;
  • I’ve learned that a simple act of kindness, shown to a complete stranger, is the greatest power in the universe.

I don’t have the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, but I do know this: if you are lucky enough to have people in your life who you love and who love you, the best use of your time on this planet is to protect and nurture that love. By all means do your work, engage in thoughtful debate, support the arts, give to the needy, explore the sacred divine, take care of your body, but – even as you pursue these good things – never forget to love the people in your life.

And never underestimate the impact you have on other people whether you know them or not. It’s a responsibility we all have, to lead with compassion, to listen in order to understand, and not to add to the conflict and turmoil in the world. This is what I’ve learned. My hope is that I am able to live it every day.

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photo credit: Old Ben Kenobi via photopin cc
 

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What Do I Want?

Happiness_Joey

What Do I Want?

What a question. What a provocative, dangerous, hopeful, angst-ridden question. A question that I don’t ask myself very often. Even as I have gone about the business of figuring out my life and my work over the last few years I still hesitate. What if the answer comes back “Not this”? What if the answer would require me to stop what I’m doing and to put all of my energy into something totally different? What would I do then?

Lately I’ve been experiencing some difficulties in my working life. These difficulties are not unexpected – or they shouldn’t be, anyway. There will always be bumps in the road, no matter what it is that you do. When it all calmed down I decided to ask myself the question: given this present turmoil, and the guarantee of future turmoil in my current line of work, “What do I want?” This is what I came up with:

I want to work with people I like and trust.

I want to write about things that are important to me.

I want to spend time with my family and friends.

I want to make enough money to not worry about paying the bills.

I want to enjoy my life.

I want to be a positive force in the world.

After I made this list I realized that I either already have everything I want or I am actively working to achieve it, and no amount of temporary insanity will change the path I’m on now. I know I can always do more – I can find new ways to spend time with the people I love, I can explore what it means to enjoy my life (which is not as easy as it may sound), and I can constantly pursue new ways of being a positive force, both big and small – but for the most part, I have everything on this list. I was surprised that it seemed so easily achievable, but then I remembered what I’ve been through to get here.

First, I had to lose a lot of what I thought I wanted in order to get to where I am now. Second, what I want has changed. I recently found a list of what I wanted that I had made not long after I was laid off. It was a list of professional goals, not personal ones, and the emphasis it placed on things outside of myself took me by surprise.

Is that what happens? If we don’t get what we think we want do we just change what we want to fit our circumstances? Is that a bad thing or a really smart thing?

I used to mark my happiness by the relative coolness of my job.  When I thought I didn’t have that anymore I had to reassess what made me happy. That’s when I realized (although I “knew” it) that you can’t get your happiness from temporary things. And jobs are temporary. People can be as well, so you have to be careful there. And money, while it undeniably makes life easier, does not make you happy.

When I look at what I used to want out of life – a high-status job, lots of money, exotic travel, and public recognition – I am struck by how differently I see my life now. Sure, I still get a little jealous when I hear about someone who seems to have some of the things I used to have (I will always want to travel), but I’ve learned not to compare my life to another person’s. There will always be someone who you look at and think “Wow, they’ve got it all!”, and there will always be someone who looks at you the same way. Nobody has it all. There is no such thing. We’re all on the same trip – we take different paths, but eventually we’re all going to wind up the same way, so there’s no sense in being envious of someone else. Nobody gets out alive, as they say.

Some people think that asking the question is selfish, that this life isn’t about what you want. I think it depends on how you look at it. Does “living right” require the sacrifice of my personal happiness? What’s wrong with wanting to be happy? If I’m happy, doesn’t it mean that I’m free to be a better person?

Someone told me once that happiness in this life isn’t a guarantee. Well, I think that’s a load of crap. What isn’t guaranteed is that you’ll have an easy life. There is no pass on tragedy or misfortune or loss. But if you can figure out how to be happy in spite of it, basically happy, then you’ve achieved something. I think it boils down to what you want. If you want permanent things, real things, then you have a much better chance of getting what you want, and therefore, being happy.

But be careful. Asking yourself what you want can lead you places you never thought you would go. If you ask, be prepared for the answer. If you don’t ask, you probably already know the answer is “Not this”. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Once you ask the question, the answer will haunt you until you do something about it. Believe me, I know.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

Photo by Amanda Taylor Brooks

 

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