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Choosing Challenge

Shot on the streets of Copenhagen in August 2017

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey.” – Wendell Berry

I’m determined to choose to do more hard things to get what I really want – really want is the key here. Something clicked for me while I was away and I think I finally got it – we work towards goals that are hard and seemingly impossible for the personal development/enrichment – not for the pain or even for the glory (I’m thinking about running a marathon but really anything we dedicate ourselves to applies here). It’s not about what we get, it’s about who we become in pursuit of our goal. Deep down, we all want to feel the satisfaction and exhaustion that comes from really applying yourself, working towards the goal, feeling filled up at the end of the day. We used to live simpler existences. Our ancestors hunted and gathered, made what was needed, tended to their family. Did our ancestors have an existential crisis about their purpose or feel ennui from their privilege? (Nope.) I also think about how my grandparents’ generation – not that long ago – tolerated a fluctuating level of discomfort. They didn’t have the same expectations for a mostly pain-free experience like my generation has developed along the way.

It got me thinking about how I spend my time when I’m in distraction mode aka ‘multi-tasking’. So many of us live in this space — mentally expired by 3 pm, stressed/anxious, bodies brimming with energy that needs to be used but we’re burned out and too exhausted to do anything. We work hard to pay for conveniences (because we don’t have time/energy to do it ourselves due to working so much) and then we’re so exhausted (mostly mentally, rarely are our bodies used sufficiently day to day) that we don’t truly experience the pleasure of our hard work. I find this profoundly sad and pointless. I have asked myself this for the past year or so – ‘what are we working so hard towards?’. Matt and I are part of the generation born in the late 80’s that feel the drive and pressure to achieve achieve achieve. I have personally been on this achievement hamster wheel ever since I left for college at 18. Though truthfully I started feeling the pressure of college and figuring out my career well before that, probably around 15 or so. And so over the past decade we have hustled – worked our asses off, said yes to every opportunity ever, sacrificed – moved away from friends and family out of college and moved several times since (we have great friends from college but feel like we are always re-building friendships as we bopped around chasing job after job until our late 20’s), took on debt to say yes to the next career opportunity in faith that it will work out, and generally sacrificed a personal life in pursuit of “making it”. All that has left me (I would say us but I can only speak for myself) burned out, exhausted, stressed, and feeling like a failure at 31.

Within the past year, my spirit started crying “uncle!” and begged to slow down, to find peace, to do less. That was the mindset I entered my month abroad with – I want to do less but better, I want to feel peaceful, I want to feel content. This is at direct odds with the lifestyle we created (inherited?). I started to feel nervous about mid-way through the trip as I’d relaxed, physiologically and mentally. I felt like I had to prepare to put my daily armor back on to get up and fight through every day. And somewhere along the way (I’m still figuring this out), I decided I didn’t have to go back to the way it was. It’s a daily decision the way we live – we choose every single day how we show up (most of us are just on auto pilot and don’t realize it). And I came back with a different resolve. I’ve been home for a bit and I still feel grounded in the desire to be present and do less. To choose the temporarily uncomfortable option to get what I really want. To stay out of the all-to-easy-to-get-into hustle and stress that I gravitate towards out of habit. This is my goal right now – to wake up each day, be quiet enough to hear what I really want, and figure out how to do it.

Here’s the personal side that got me thinking about this topic:

As someone who prefers to avoid discomfort, I’ve attempted to systematically remove uncomfortable experiences from my life one by one to the best of my ability over the last few years. Matt and I have worked hard and slowly began to spend more and more of our income paying to remove these so-called uncomfortable or hard things so we didn’t have to do them. We work in order to pay someone to clean our house, tend to our yard, file our taxes, sometimes use instacart, take our pups out on a playdate, etc. And as we remove more of these daily chores from our plate, I’ve started to feel more and more empty. Yeah, my life is getting more “comfortable”, but I feel less fulfilled. [I feel the need to stop and say that this may sound shallow or vapid and I really debated sharing this but this is my truth. It’s what I’m currently learning, what I’ve recently realized. I think there is a relatable truth in this regardless if another is in my exact situation or a different one.]

I started thinking about all of this while I was on an extended trip in August. While away, and traveling alone, I encountered situations that ranged from mild discomfort to tear-inducing frustration several times a day. And because I was completely alone in a foreign country, I couldn’t fall apart. It is the first time in my life I didn’t have anyone else to lean on during a hard moment (I realize this makes me blessed beyond measure). It was a revelation for me – I realized that facing head-on and conquering several discomforts every day left me feeling deep satisfaction at the end of the day. WHAT?? This is exactly what I’d been working towards avoiding and removing from my daily life.

I came back from my trip and started choosing the uncomfortable path. For me, this means spending my time working towards things I truly want. This also means not immediately turning to money to solve the problem.  I was aware that this would be a decision I make in small ways, every day, not a decision I make once and then stick to it.


Further reading —

An article via The Cut on women in their 30’s and ambition. My takeaway – don’t expect my career to fulfill my purpose. Have more than one priority in my life. Focusing on my personal life will make me happier and work smarter.

“Instead of bringing about a leisure class living in actual leisure, we have wrought a world where the upwardly mobile are instead obsessed with productivity. Indeed, productivity itself has become a kind of class signifier.” – fascinating NYT article about a ‘lifestyle guru who sells self-absorption as the ultimate luxury product’.

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