Are We There Yet?
How I realised I needed to stop panicking about progress
Tick, tock, tick, tock. Career; biological clock.
Tick, tock, tick tock. Buy or rent; writer's block.
Tick, tock, tick, tock. Holiday; better car.
Tick, tock, tick, tock. What you have; who you are.
A wise person once said, life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. A handy aphorism, even if it doesn't include everything we might tend to measure our lives by (I've listed a few above).
My problem is, I really like things. I like physical things - pretty things and useful things and clever things - and I like those other kinds of things: social acceptance, approval, indulgent experiences, the praise of others. Who doesn't?
But all these things, or my love of and need for them, tend to create a 'destination' image in my head, a place of fulfilment that I'm travelling toward. Every year I find myself asking, are we there yet? The answer is always no. And I've been realising why that is.
It's because things are not supposed to fulfil us. Our happiness is not supposed to be dependent on collecting stuff, compliments, accomplishments. That's probably why they only bring us a temporary buzz, a passing pleasure that's soon sunk under the weight of expectation to achieve the next milestone, the next big thing. Whether that's a degree or a baby or a new house or a promotion or spare cash to flash about, there's always something else to aim for, and if we're not careful it can consume us.
I think that the only true value in life is in relationships, and what we give and get in those relationships. Our family, friends, partner, the people we meet and how we choose to interact with them - how we change and grow as people - how we impact the world we live in. These are the things that really matter, and in the (ongoing!) process of learning that, I'm getting a bit better at skipping the 'are we there yet?' panic. A bit.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not an ascetic. Things can be great. I'm not about to dump my shoe collection at the kerb, or contradict anyone who ever says a kind word to me. I'm definitely not about to stop trying to achieve something in life, but I'm trying to take a better approach to what I try to achieve. Because honestly, if I only go after things, I know I'll feel hollow at the end.
I read this very insightful article recently on the myth of 'having it all', and it struck a chord for me. I'm sure this applies for men as well, but as I'm not one, I can only speak from my own experience. I really do think the pressure of achievement is particularly high for women, because we're seen as needing to achieve on more fronts - as if family wasn't a male domain as well! There are still a lot of traditional, historical expectations at play, alongside the modern ones. It's enough to sink us if we let it.
For myself, I'd like to let go of a few unrealistic expectations that I've placed on myself, and maybe other people have placed on me too. Not because I can't achieve anything, but because working to standards we find unfair and never being satisfied are just bad for us all around. I'd like to stop asking 'are we there yet?', and make something worthwhile of the journey. I'd like to invest more in people and less in point scoring. I'd like to take the time to learn along the route.