I have reflected a lot recently on the expectations that we put on ourselves, or those that are put on us by others. The attempt to maintain a balance while living your life and becoming who you are, can be upset and adjusted by circumstance and fate. But how do you maintain balance? How do you get and stay grounded?
I’ve been inspired by my cousin’s blog (babsray.wordpress.com). I’m also looking forward to her upcoming book, Not Quite Adults, about young people and the difficulties they face today in finding themselves, finding good jobs, etc. But I also see friends in their 60’s who are still asking the same questions: “Who am I?” “How did I get here?” “Where do I go from here?” And some are decidedly unhappy and a little off kilter with their expectations.
From my observation, there are two types of seekers: some are curious, excited, and happy and reasonably comfortable with themselves. Others seem to have succeeded in many ways, living up to the expectations of themselves and others, but are struggling with deep-seated unhappiness and a kind of desperation that makes them over-react to events, or live life as control freaks trying to stem the tide.
I know it’s too simplistic to divide the world into two camps, but for now, this makes sense to me. Looking at my own life, it seems like a series of mishaps, false starts, crazy interruptions, accident, wishful thinking and dashed hopes, has gotten me to my present state. I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. This is not a lament as much as an observation of my route with the luxury of hindsight.
I expected to go to college and get a good job like my father; to work for (and stay marrried) for at least 30 years, and retire with a bevy of children and grandchildren around me in my dotage. Wow, did I get that one wrong. I did go to college, thanks to my parents, but I have had more jobs than I can count. They have been either completely unrelated or barely associated with my degree in economics. First job? Pottery. Second? Carpentry.
My father got screwed by his company after nearly 30 years of service and forcibly retired with half pension at age 58. After that experience he told me that, given another chance, he might have offered me a choice after I graduated from high school: either college, or enough cash to start a business or to follow some crazy dream, like being an artist.
And the marriage didn’t work out. I have two great kids from those years and I can say that for the most part they were good years. But I was always trying to live up to someone else’s expectations, and at some point it became more important to live my life according to my own ideas. That transition led to a lost decade that I’d rather not think about, with expectations that were even harder to meet. Bankruptcy was the end game for that experience.
How could I have made better decisions and shaped things differently? I really have no idea. Through RC counseling, I guess I have just learned to be more at peace with those decisions.
I have to admit that I’ve been extremely lucky since then, and I’ve had the ability to take advantage of new opportunities — a point well described in my cousin’s blog. (http://mybarbararay.com/2010/10/18/thinking-about-poverty-and-upward-mobility-from-the-other-side-what-launches-people-into-the-ranks-of-the-elite). Maybe that is what college was for. My degree probably never got me a job, but it did give me the ability to seize opportunities, or create them.
My biggest disappointments were perhaps from dashed hopes based on pre-conceived notions, rather than from events which actually assailed me. I survived an explosion that temporarily affected my eyesight, but that was easy compared to getting divorced. And following the accident, I became a driver for a local Amish carpentry crew, and eventually joined them and learned about construction. A few years later, I had my own crew and business. You never know.
I’d rather get blown up again than repeat the turmoil the divorce caused. The first event, a life-changing accident; the second, self-inflicted. In both cases, unavoidable. Trauma and detours are inevitable. But will you adjust and thrive? or moan over lost expectations?
I have no clue how I was lucky enough to arrive here. Perhaps my good luck stems from an artist’s/ optimist’s foolish belief that things will “work out” if you follow your heart and your artistic aspirations, wherever they may lead. I have finally discovered that I am an artist above all else. In any case, thanks to surprises and good fortune that I cannot say I created, I have arrived.
I have a lovely partner who appreciates me. I like to think that she is adopting some of my philosophy, partially because through me, she sees that she does not need to struggle so much. She has been on a seeking path looking for a happiness that eluded her, and a life that did not meet her expectations, but I think she has found that, in my total appreciation of who she is. I think she has stopped criticizing herself for not living up to an unreachable standard and, again through RC, become more accepting of who she is. I don’t worship the ground she walks on, but I can’t find a single thing to criticize. (Ah heck, I do worship the ground she walks on. Cliched I know, but it does capture it).
I have a fulfilling dead-end job that takes care of our needs, and maintains a level of stimulation that I need. Being an artist doesn’t always pay the bills, and being relieved of that anxiety — a luxury not available to many — leaves a lot of room for being relaxed and peaceful, day to day. I have to work for now, but my art will be there when I choose to go back to it.
I have a weekly musical practice with my friends and an occasional performance for my once-a-month ego-boost. We all love to sing and that takes care of the creative needs. I have good friends and good cooking, and now an exchange student to take care of. We had a lot of our own crazy expectations to get over with this one.
My kids are great and I enjoy a grandson now.
My way? Actually, I wouldn’t recommend it. But the lesson here is that if your life has worked out pretty much as you planned it, and you’re still unhappy, maybe you should start looking inside. I have witnessed some real desperate crazies lately. They seem to have all that life has to offer, but they can’t seem to adjust when things don’t quite go their way. Self-examination and introspection seem to be lost on them.
My success didn’t happen because I am a driver who pushed to great heights. I’m successful because I’ve figured out how to be happy, wherever I am. This could be a symptom of a terrible lack of ambition, but expectations can be a killer if you have the wrong ones. They can drive you crazy trying to figure them out. I guess I feel like I have.
My life hasn’t worked out the way I expected it. Thank heavens.