Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.
Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email email@example.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by
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Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. ps, I will see you in Princeton and Philly in a couple weeks! Philly is sold out but NJ has 5 spots. I am so excited that so many of you are coming to my summer Tuscany retreat. We are almost at wait list so book soon if you want to join!
I’m 24 years old, moved away approx. 4500 km from home in Southern Ontario to now Edmonton Alberta when I was 19 years old. I’m confident to say most the important parts of life that are taught in young adolescent years were experienced all on my own such as managing bills, budgets, savings, work, career, education, debt, travel, vehicles, rent, and every other responsibility under the sun because I had to, I had nobody, it was sink or swim for me. As well as trying out first hand how to eliminate negativity in my life, keeping my priorities straight, staying on track and knowing who and who not to trust in my life; I have taught myself with no direct coaching.
I see this as a self-reward, an accomplishment, and independence. I don’t need anyone else to be proud of me, because I’m proud of myself. I work hard for all the things I have. I’m graduated with my Business Management Diploma, have several years experience in related fields, and worked for well-known companies in an industry that runs this whole world. I love my determination, my drive, and my goals. I have pushed myself to the limit, and I’m not done. Nowhere near done…but I feel as though I’m heading in the wrong direction, or that I have to keep trying for something bigger and better. But what exactly am I after? I don’t know.
I feel I have followed the same path everyone else takes, and that’s the path to unhappiness. Like I’m working hard for myself to be happier tomorrow than I am today…everyday. The stress of wanting to be more successful, make more money, knocking tasks off my never ending to-do list, being on time, paying my dues, which are all involved with living your life (which I’d say I was always pretty good at)… is exhausting, and stresses me out until finally a little birdie comes and tells me everything is going to be okay, money and success is just an illusion and you shouldn’t think that that’s going to make you happy tomorrow.
So I begin to worry less about everything I used to take so seriously, the things that have got me to where I am today, and I start appreciating what I have now, the people in my life, and start being and acting like a whole new person with a whole new positive outlook on life that’s free of the world’s everyday bullshit for lack of better words. A person who values life, a better person in my opinion. A person who doesn’t freak out when their cell-phone bill isn’t paid off, or when the Wi-Fi turns off or one of those people who take out my anger on other people for shit your soul doesn’t need–which I do. My determination, and my drive to keep stabilized and to move forward diminishes, and my goals are less significant to the point where even my body loves me more for it and everyone notices as well. But it only lasts monetarily till the point where I realize there’s no premium gas in my 2013 BMW.
The stresses of life brings me down, the need to be ahead brings me down, the race brings me down, realizing life isn’t about material things and money brings me down, not having material things and money brings me down, not knowing what I want or where I’m going brings me down, and reflecting on it all brings me down. Not to a state of depression, but a dangerous state of not caring about anything, and making decisions my “on-track” self would slap me for, such as careless BUT… Free Soul decisions and free soul attitude as though I’m escaping, and only then do I feel like this is what life’s supposed to be like. Happy everyday. I’m depressed only when reality settles it’s sickness back into my veins. Viciously.
I’m young still, I have endless options, I don’t have kids, I don’t have pets, my relationships with men are always on my sleeve because I’m unpredictable, I don’t even know what I’m doing sometimes, and most the time the biggest decisions that I make are last minute and as a result. And I love it. Spontaneous, a not well-liked attribute by those who have ever gotten too close to me, they know only of me leaving and creating chapters in my life, I don’t think the know what it’s like to have a burning desire to change life’s routine. And they definitely don’t know what the consequences are.
I feel my path can go one of two ways.. awfully successful, or dirt cheap happy. I would love to figure out a way to balance the two to a perfect equilibrium.
Signed, Awfully Successful or Dirt Cheap Happy?
Dear Awfully Successful or Dirt Cheap Happy,
First of all, good for you for questioning these things. Many people find themselves unhappy or cycling around an issue but never have the courage or whatever it may take to slow down and actually question it.
Second of all, congratulations on getting so far all on your own!. That certainly IS a big feat. Many, many people are not equipped with what it takes to break even in life, let alone excel-especially when they have to figure it out themselves. I hear your pride in that, and I agree wholeheartedly. You have a lot to be proud of.
And I must say that when I read your words: ” had to grow up alone “I had nobody, it was sink or swim for me”, my heart breaks a little. That is a huge price to pay for your independence. Even more, it sounds as if you didn’t choose to teach yourself all of this “life” stuff, but had to learn it and decided if it was sink or swim, fuck that–you were going to build a yacht.
But at what sacrifice to your heart and soul? To the person inside? There is a big difference between surviving and thriving.
Surviving: getting by, doing what you need to do. Getting through each day. A flat, sometimes lifeless and listless existence.
Thriving: flourishing, growing, feeding your soul, fulfilling your life’s true purpose. Thriving is the opposite of draining; it energizes. It nourishes. It FEEDS us, and we not only don’t feel depleted, we not only feel energized and that our hearts are full and souls are fed–we rarely question the direction of our lives. Thriving is based on being present, being here now, knowing that now is the best moment-the only moment-and that the future is just a next “now”–we can have fundamental trust in letting things unfold.
The way you have “survived” looks a lot like “thriving” if you buy into society’s values: education, job, money, fancy car, always waiting for the better tomorrow.
So it’s no wonder you are confused.
You say: “I have pushed myself to the limit, and I’m not done.” Then you also say: BUT EXACTLY WHAT AM I AFTER? I don’t know.
When I was a kid, my mother always walked super fast. I was always walking much faster than my own comfortable pace, or running to catch up with her. When we as a family were out, my dad would be a block or two behind her, unconcerned with the difference in pace.
One day, when I was in college and my brother was in high school, he and I went to the mall to buy our parents a gift. And we were both basically running. At one point we looked at each other and said: “who are we trying to keep up with? Mom isn’t here!” and we laughed. And slowed down.
If you are pushing yourself to the limit, but have no idea what you are after, you are creating the perfect setup for discontent. Unhappiness, even. If you get in your car and don’t know where you are going, and start driving, you either pick a place to go, let yourself wander, or get VERY frustrated. You have neither picked a place to go….nor given yourself permission to wander.
Endless options with no direction or passion=emptiness, because you are not connected to what you want, who you are. There is no wish to fulfill. It’s as if you have a tremendous drive, but how do you know when you get “there”?
What feeds you? What nourishes you?
You say: “I feel I have followed the same path everyone else takes, and that’s the path to unhappiness.” I certainly concur that the path society pressures us to take is not one of thriving. And yet….. where did you get the idea that everyone takes this path? I know many happy people–and you know what makes them happy? Feeling connected to themselves, and the ones they love; knowing why they get up in the morning and what their purpose is. There is no right answer to that–whether it’s a big corporate job or staying home with kids or feeding the poor or making art, it’s *their* purpose. They feel like they choose their life.
And you have this in you. It’s the little birdie that tells you things can be okay. I kind of love that little birdie. That little birdie sounds like a smart cookie to me.
You said: “The stresses of life brings me down, the need to be ahead brings me down, the race brings me down, realizinglife isn’t about material things and money brings me down, not having material things and money brings me down, not knowing what I want or where I’m going brings me down, and reflecting on it all brings me down. Not to a state of depression, but a dangerous state of not caring about anything, and making decisions my “on-track” self would slap me for, such as careless BUT… Free Soul decisions and free soul attitude as though I’m escaping, and only then do I feel like this is what life’s supposed to be like. Happy everyday. I’m depressed only when reality settles it’s sickness back into my veins. Viciously. ”
I am concerned you may in fact have some depression; depression is not always about being sad. Apathy can be a primary symptom of depression, and doubly concerning is your description of a “dangerous state of not caring about anything”, with reference to poor judgment and decision-making. Think about it like this: if you had a broken leg, you’d go to a doctor and get it set. If you needed stitches, you’d go to a hospital. If your heart and soul are feeling both heavy and empty at the same time….you deserve to treat that as you would a physical or medical issue.
So here’s a suggestion: try some kind of formal healing work. Therapy is great and works for many people. Other healing modalities work better for others: massage, Reiki, yoga, meditation, acupuncture. You had to find your own way into adulthood, with no support. Now that you are an adult, you get to choose: do you want to keep going it alone? You don’t have to anymore.
The end of your letter I found particularly striking: “I feel my path can go one of two ways.. awfully successful, or dirt cheap happy. I would love to figure out a way to balance the two to a perfect equilibrium.”
The way you describe these two ends of the spectrum, between which you bounce, sounds like there are two versions of you, and both of them are the extreme. There is the driven one, who is driven by God-knows-what but has her financial shit together, and perhaps work to define her. Then there is the one that rebels against the pressure and the strain, and relaxes, until she relaxes “too much” and some inner judge comes alone with a stick and smacks her with it, sending her back to being driven, driven, driven. Until that gets exhausting and unsatisfying and the other part of you craves the relaxation and lack or pressure and rebels against the grind and starts to slow down. And so on…..
I can see why you are so exhausted by this merry-go-round. Firstly, there is no such thing as perfect equilibrium. There is no such thing as perfect ANYTHING. And equilibrium, by its nature, is ever-changing. It is not a static place you arrive at and stay; it is based on flexibility, on experimenting, and on knowing what your inner balance is. Striving for perfection is going to have you going in circles, feeling frustrated, like you have a psychic itch you cannot scratch, indefinitely. Forever, if you continue to view life as all or nothing, black or white.
Life is in the gray area, the delicious un-knowing and groundless place of trust, and listening to your own inner voice. I know many people who live in gratitude for figuring out their own heart at a young age; I’ve never met anyone who said: “I really shouldn’t have done that soul-searching and healing when I was younger.” I encourage you to get yourself some support, allow yourself to slow down enough to figure out what YOU want, and you have a good shot at getting off this emotional merry-go-round. Make no mistake: it probably won’t be easy. But it can be the most worthy endeavor there is. And you deserve to be happy. We all do.
Best of luck to you,
E.B. Wexler is a social worker, writer, yogi and yoga teacher, and lover of independent film. She has taught yoga to children in studios, to residents of homeless shelters, and helped found a mindfulness program for kids at a meditation center. She has written essays, educational texts,and movie and restaurant reviews….but her passion is essays. Her current full-time gig is training law enforcement first-responders on the mean streets of Baltimore how to handle behavioral health crises. In the past year, she had her first police ride-along and taken two Jen Pastiloff workshop, in NYC. She has previously been published on The Manifest-Station.
Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.
Featured image courtesy of Robert Taleghany.
The old chestnut of travelling somewhere new and peaceful, and forcing yourself to spend time thinking about what you do and don’t want, and why, has helped me and many people I know.