Success vs. Fulfillment

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What’s the difference between success and fulfillment?

Successful: adjective, accomplishing an aim or purpose.

Fulfilled: adjective, satisfied or happy because of fully developing one’s abilities or character.

Is it that others may decide if you’re successful but only you decide if you are fulfilled?

If someone asks me to do something, they decide if I have successfully accomplished the task. If I decide that I want to learn to play guitar, whether I’m successful at it or not is up to those that hear me play.

On the other hand, I decide if my chosen task fulfills me. I decide if the job I do is fulfilling. No one can answer the question “Is this fulfilling?” for me.

A relationship, a job, a goal can be successful but unfulfilling, or fulfilling and unsuccessful.

In life, I choose to work toward the feeling of fulfillment. I can choose to feel good about an unsuccessful attempt. I can’t choose if I’m successful.

You Really Are the Master of Your Own Universe

You know how some toys are kind of boring if you just buy one part and so you keep buying accessories? The car, the clothes, the house, the spouse, the kids, the career. It just goes on and on.

There are video games like that too. Sure, you can download it and play for free, but you only get two levels and then you have to pay to upgrade. You play more but now you see that you have to buy a couple extras, charms that help you rack up the points and levels faster.

Humans aren’t like that at all. We’re a whole, functioning human being right from birth. All our accessories are built-in. Sure, we need a bit of extra care at first, but we learn and grow quickly with good support and before you know it, we’re out in the world on our own, doing our thing whatever that is.

But lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of people that look like they are searching for their missing piece. They wander from job to job, adventure to adventure, and relationship to relationship, never really getting anything from the experience and lamenting that the whole thing even happened while they transition to the next. They proclaim loudly that they won’t give up, they’ll find that career, place, or person that will complete them and make their lives better. That job wasn’t right for me. This place doesn’t have what I need. This person didn’t give me their all and left, so they suck.

What if I told you (lol) that you don’t need any of that to be complete? What if you have the power to stand on your own two feet, to control your own destiny?

You do.

Every time we start a new job, try out a new location or enter into a new relationship, we could be learning more about ourselves and the world around us. We could be using that information to make our lives more interesting and more comfortable for ourselves and those around us. It doesn’t matter what the job is or how long the relationship lasts. It doesn’t matter what kind of relationship you have: long or short term, purely sexual or platonic. It doesn’t matter if you buy a house and live there for ten years or rent out a basement and live there for three months. It doesn’t matter if you go to college right out of high school, wait until you’re 45, or ever go at all.

What does matter? It matters that we learn something about ourselves and that we connect with other humans in as many ways as possible, that we live every day no matter what’s going on.

The Stoics have a decent idea, “Memento Mori” Remember, we die. We don’t live forever and (as far as we know) we only have one life. We need to stop wasting time.

Nothing is a waste of time if you learn something from the experience. That one night stand you had with that hot babe you met? Not a waste of time if you enjoyed it and look back on the moment fondly. That two years you spent at an expensive university, only to drop out and work at an amusement park? Not a waste of time or money. You gained experience, you met people, and you had fun in ways you never knew existed. And money? You can always make more. Money was created to spend. And what about that “failed” marriage? Did it “fail” or did it just serve its purpose and now you’re both moving on to something else? That job you spent five years at and then switched careers gave you fresh insight about your abilities and a set of skills that you can use anywhere.

What exactly do we think we’re working toward? What are we stockpiling for the future? What will we do with all of this shit we’ve accumulated? We’ll die. That’s it. And all your stuff will be redistributed.

So why not stop working toward anything and just enjoy what you have? If you don’t like the job you are in, find another one. If you don’t like the area you live in, move. If you don’t like the relationship you’re in, move on. Stop collecting things and start experiencing things. If you have no friends or family to experience it with, do it alone! Maybe you’d find it more fun or fulfilling if you had someone to share it with? Then blog about it and post pictures on Instagram! Or start dating…anyone, right off OKCupid! Or join a club online or in person!

You are a complete package all by yourself. You don’t need anything to start living and experiencing the world around you. Just live, damn it! Why not?

We all walk around acting as if we are pawns in someone else’s game but we’re absolutely not. It’s your life. Do what you want with it.

You do have the power. You’re using it right now.

Mind Your Own Business

Can you imagine how much we’d all get done if we just focused on our own lives and stopped worrying about everyone else?

But…Michelle! Then the bad guys would take over!

How? If we all were taking care of ourselves and the people closest to us, wouldn’t that spread out over the world like a virus? Here I am, putting on my own oxygen mask first, making myself stable and secure, then I look to my partner, my children, my family, and friends. Each of their lives is made a little better and then they do the same. It spreads across the world.

Too simplistic you say. So, you do nothing. Instead, you sit in your house and gripe. You watch TV, scroll through social media, and see all the things so far away that you can’t do anything about. You demand that somebody do something about those horrors. You decide the best thing you can do is make a poignant post about how awful people are and that if we had only elected this other person or passed this law, all of this would be better.

Meanwhile, your partner is lonely, you don’t know where your children are, the house is a mess, your mom could use a phone call, and there’s nothing to eat in your fridge. You are tired, grumpy, and overwhelmed because you’re not taking care of yourself. All of these are things YOU could do something about right now, but you’re too busy following politicians and arguing with strangers about why they should be thinking a different way.

What can I do to make the world a better place right now? Take care of myself and then the space and people around me so that they can do the same.

Don’t just “start” with yourself, focus on yourself and stay right there. Do what you need to do to be healthy, happy, and strong right where you are. Then move outward and support others on their journey to be healthy, happy, and strong where they are.

Memory Lanes

Memory is an imperfect thing. Over the years, I’ve heard “that’s not how I remember it” so many times, I’ve lost count. When I was younger, I blamed it on everyone else’s lack of attention to detail. “Oh, yeah, sure you don’t remember it that way, because if you did, you’d know you were so wrong.” But then I started getting the same remark from people that had no stake in their version of events being right and I started to think maybe I was misremembering.

I’ve also gotten “remember the time” a few times over the years, only to wrack my memory trying to remember the time and not finding a clue. At first, I blamed that on them too. They are probably thinking of someone else. I never went there or did that. I never would. And then there were pictures and I still don’t remember being there. It’s like looking at photos that slipped in from an alternate universe. Or maybe it’s me that slipped into an alternate universe. And if I did, what happened to the me that was here first?

It seems that events and details fade in time. Details about my life, things that have happened, relationships that were so important to me at one time have started to fade into the background. There were things I swore I’d never forget every detail of, things I wrote scarce words about in my journals, that I can’t recall as clearly as I used to.

They say time heals all wounds. I’m starting to see how much it does, especially if we don’t have detailed reminders about the past. I wonder why humans are set up this way. Why do we have such imperfect memories? Is it because it’s not important to our survival? Maybe it is better to let those things fade away.

What about holding on to anger and pain from the past? Are we right to be angry about old hurts and insults, knowing that our memory is so unreliable? Is it helping us to stand the high ground on a memory that is most likely wrong and changing each passing year?

I’m starting to wonder if it’s not better to just live in the moment and experience the world and the people in it as it is presented. Yes, you’ve probably done something to hurt me or piss me off in the past, but if you haven’t done it lately, maybe I’ll let it go. It doesn’t mean I have to relate with people I believe have caused me harm, but I don’t have to hold a grudge and carry that anger and insult with me into the future.

We could be holding on to memories that aren’t exactly true. In fact, it’s very likely we don’t remember it as it really happened but as we experienced it. And everyone else is doing the same. It’s like we’re all walking around in worlds of our own making and not realizing that everyone else is living in a different one, their own alternate universe. Actual infinite universes, right in our own heads.

Lean In To Fear

I checked my email just before dinner last night and there was a cool message (seeming directly at me at that very moment) from Zen Habits.

“What if we could fall in love with the way things are, in this moment?

Try it right now: notice what you’re resisting, what you don’t want about this moment. Maybe it’s stress, maybe it’s uncertainty, maybe it’s pain or anger.

See if you can turn towards it, open up to it, maybe find gratitude about it.  See if you can love it, even a little. Maybe a lot.”

What was I resisting at the moment? What is it that I fear most? Loneliness. Abandonment. When I begin to feel it, even the slightest tremor and react as if I’m being tortured. I reach out to grab something. I text, I call, I scroll through social media. If a text isn’t answered I begin to panic, contriving multiple scenarios about why it isn’t being answered, and in an effort to control the situation, I start a battle that usually ends either with me begging to be forgiven or the other party walking away from the crazy person.

I realized a few years ago that it’s an attention tactic, starting battles with people I love, and that fear triggers it. Yesterday was the first time I leaned into that fear, faced it, and let it wash over me successfully. It wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t plan on doing it. Several things just happened to fall into place at the right moment. And now I find myself sitting here wondering if I can do it again. I want a reminder to look at, something that says “lean in to fear” maybe. Something to remind me that it’s just an emotion and I can survive it. I’ve done it before.

I started test it today. Instead of my typical behavior of texting or scrolling through my Facebook and Instagram feeds when I’m bored, I’m taking a deep breath and naming the fear.

“There is that feeling that fear. I’m alone in this room, but not in the world. And even if I was, so what? I won’t die.”  And then I’m going for a walk, reading a book, working in the yard, or cleaning my house. I’m setting a timer for thirty minutes and doing something even if I might not finish it.

It seems to be working. But I’ve been wrong before. I’ll be wrong again, I’m sure.

The strangest part is that when I am alone, I enjoy it. I was raised in a busy house. I grew up in the city. I worked at amusement parks. I have loving parents, a doting husband, and children that love me. I crave being alone in a room with no one interrupting, responsibilities set aside, only myself to cater to. When the opportunity to be alone presents itself, I jump at it…as long as I have something to do while I’m alone. Drive for hours? Clean the house? Write a blog post? Sure! In the past, working alone was always nice. I could play the music I wanted to hear, focus on my task, get a lot of work done. It always felt good.

The alone I fear is in my head. It’s not being physically alone. It’s the feeling of loneliness, the feeling that no one is out there, no one understands me, or wants to know me. It’s that lack of connection I fear and the reason that social media has been so attractive to me. It’s an instant gratification when that feeling lurks in the back of my mind. At any moment I can go there and “like” and comment. I can post a cat picture and get a response. See? There are people out there. They see me. But it isn’t connection, not really. It’s a false sense of security and it’s become an addiction and a new source of anxiety for me.

It’s not inherently unhealthy. Facebook has been an incredible source of entertainment for me over the years. I’ve made new friends, found old ones, and gotten to know people I would have believed lost forever. Lately though, when I consider walking away, I have panic attacks. If I’m not posting, if I’m not getting likes, if I’m not sharing what I love and what I’m doing, am I really alive? Am I still here? There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t share something. I don’t read articles and think, wow, that was interesting and informative. Instead I think, I need to share this on my wall so everyone can see it. Only sharing can validate my experience, give me the feedback that makes me feel better. If I’m reading a paper magazine (yes, they still exist) I feel like I’m missing out because I can’t share it.

I’ve never been one to cut things completely out of my life. I’m a moderation type of gal, one that likes to work to keep the good parts and overlook the bad, use the positive aspects and leave the negatives on the floor beside the trash can.

There are things I very much enjoy there, and I don’t want to lose those. I think I’ll experiment right now in creating new habits that add so more joy to my life that the negatives get pushed out. What can I do? You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? Spend less time on social media by doing something else.

I’ve taken the buttons down from my main screen so that I have to search them out instead of habitually click. That’s step one. I’ve uninstalled them before. Doing so just caused me more problems than it solved. I am a writer and the world does operate on social media these days. I need to use it, not run and hide in the hills. If my fingers can’t automatically click the icon from my phone’s main screen, it creates a pause between the thought and the action. It works for me.

Step two is to create times when I do see what’s up on my feeds. Over lunch was perfect for me today. I munch on my sandwich while I scroll thru and laugh at all the silliness my friends and family post and then I put it away until dinner time. While I cook dinner will be another time I catch up and then put it away again.

I think that’s enough to work on for one week, don’t you? I wish I knew where this fear came from, but I doubt it would really help anything to drag that out. I don’t care how I got into the ditch; I just need to find a way out of it so I can get moving again.

I wrote a “post-it” reminder and stuck it to my computer and I think I’ll write another and keep it in my pocket all week. I’ll check back in with you guys in a week and tell you how it’s going!

Reassurance IS Futile

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A cactus will grow with very little soil or water.

I heard Seth Godin say on a podcast recently, “Everyone has self-doubt” and “Reassurance is futile.” He also said that we don’t HAVE to hear criticism if we don’t want to and I’ve decided he’s completely right.

I have been crippled with self-doubt in the past. There are few things that I am truly confident about and writing is not one of them. I’m confident about my use of words and my grasp on English grammar and spelling but, expressing my opinion in public terrifies me. Do I really have anything to add to the conversation? Surely, it’s been said before. Am I sure I’m seeing clearly and have a right to say so?

My Dad and my husband are two of my loudest fans, but I’ve often thought that if I had just a few encouragers out there, a few less biased people with some positive feedback, some unsolicited reassurance, then I’d learn to put my self-doubt behind me. I’d be more confident. I know deep down that it’s just not true. I’ve had positive feedback and reassurance from several corners and the next day I’m just as doubtful about my message. He’s right. Reassurance is futile.

But you know what’s not futile, learning to stand on my own two feet. Accepting that I may make mistakes, I may not always be on top of things, and I have much to learn, but I still have my own perspective on this world and I have every right to tell it as I see it. I can put the self-doubt aside for a moment, write out what I want to say (even imperfectly or wrong), and post anyway.

For the critics? You may think I’m wrong. You may not like what I have to say. You may think I could say it in a better way or not bother to say it at all. And that’s ok. This message isn’t for you. You can move along and read something else.

For everyone else? Thanks for reading. I very much appreciate it.

Down Days

“Witness your emotions without acting on them.”

Interesting.

This came up in my meditation app this morning and I wrote it down to remember it.

I’m not having the best of emotions today. I feel pretty damn crappy actually and for no reason at all, which makes me feel worse than if I had something to be unhappy about. I’m unhappy that I’m unhappy and that makes for a pretty shitty day.

Am I acting on them? I’m not sure. I’m not changing anything. I’m not calling to tell people how crappy I think they are. I’m not on social media making the snarky comments I want to make. I’m not canceling all my plans.

I am making myself busy though. I stopped around noon today and thought (as I mindlessly scrolled through social media feeds, one right after the other), “This is a nasty feeling, maybe I should do something about it.”

Or maybe I shouldn’t.

I can’t always be thrilled to be alive. There isn’t always a reason or a trigger for a bad mood. It just is and no amount of tortilla chips and Pepsi is going to make it better (but I did get some anyway, just in case).

I focused on getting busy. I got one corner of my livingroom cleaned up from Christmas. I’m attempting to declutter the whole house and I did mutter “someone just burn it all down and help me start over” as I sorted through the old and broken ornaments. The dishes are done. Dinner is in the crockpot.

Maybe I’ll go for a walk in a bit. Or get me a nice shot of tequila on ice!

I know one thing. Bad moods don’t last forever.

You Can’t Just Dance Till You Drop

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Photo by Emmanuel on Unsplash

I know I’m dating myself here but my best friend and I used to go dancing every weekend and not the kind you’re thinking of. It was the 90’s and (to us) country music was the thing and clubs that catered to line dancing, two-steps, and waltzes were in abundance. There were three right in my neighborhood. We’d show up right as the place opened and stay until they played the last song.

Two single girls on the prowl for young men? Looking for love? Or at least someone to take us out to dinner once in a while, someone we didn’t meet at work, someone not involved in the entertainment business at all? Not really. In reality, all we were looking for was to dance all night long with someone that knew how and that was generally the older, mostly married men, that were mostly interested in the same thing. I’m not saying we didn’t find a little love along the way but it wasn’t the driving force behind the activity!

Every Friday night went the same way. We’d arrive early and head straight to the bar for a shot of whiskey and a beer each. I’d buy the first round and she’d buy the second, then we’d take our beers to a spot we had scoped out by the dance floor. The reason we arrived right as they opened and not later in the evening when the place really filled up? There were dance instructors out on the floor for the first hour! We were not great dancers, to say the least, and could use all the help we could get. Line dancing was great mostly because we didn’t need a partner and it gave us the chance to warm up without looking like wallflowers. The whiskey gave us courage, the line dancing gave us confidence, and within a few songs, we had partners lined up for two-steps, cowboy cha-cha’s, and waltzes.

The music built up faster and louder as the night progressed and quieted back down during the slow songs. Sometimes we were right at the top of the wave, dancing our hearts out when the music would change and we’d reluctantly exit the floor. It was a forced rest, an instilled break from the pace, that we used to our advantage, in the form of rest and bathroom breaks, and the bar’s since we tended to buy more drinks when the music slowed down. Besides, a slow dance with a strong partner was a great break in the evening too. You don’t want to break your stride completely, just change up the pace and rest a bit so that the night lasts longer.

By the last dance and closing time, we were always exhausted and happily played out. Like kids on their way home from Disneyland, we rode that high all week at work until the next weekend rolled around.

Those night club dancing days are long past but they came to mind over the last few weeks of holiday preparation and execution. As I rushed from one event to another, one completed shopping list, one more baking day, one more quick run to the grocery store, I realized how busy I had become. By the time Christmas was over I longed for a break in the music, for a slow song to come on and push me off the dance floor for a bathroom break and a cold beer. And then I got one.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is notoriously slow. It’s that “nowhere” feeling that you’re not sure what to do with. This year I decided to use it to my advantage and relax a bit, but plans were inevitably made and the pace slackened a bit but did not slow to a crawl as I had hoped. I made a promise to myself to slow down again this week and I’ve already had to reluctantly say no to invitations, twice. I want to keep dancing, but my body says I need a break and without a good DJ to force the issue, I have to slow the beat myself or pay the consequences.

This coming year, I plan on making a more conscious effort to take those breaks from the dance floor. I plan on looking at my calendar and blocking off work times, play times, and nothing times. Those nothing times must remain sacred if I’m going to have more productive work and play times. I have built a habit of dancing until I drop, which may have been feasible when I was younger, but these days is getting harder and harder to maintain. Building in breaks, time to stay home and literally do nothing but relax with a good movie or a book, is something I have to do to maintain my health and stay productive. The old way of just working until I felt overwhelmed and then dumping everything, even the things I loved most, has never been healthy and it tends to ruin relationships. Time to build some new, more effective habits. Busy doesn’t mean productive. And taking a rest is not an option, it’s a mandate.

Without a good DJ, the music only gets louder and faster until the bar goes broke from lack of sales, exhaustion sets in, and everyone goes home early. Be your own DJ. Build your own volume and pace, bring it back down, build it up again, and know when it’s time shut it down and clean up for the next event.

No Recall Whatsoever

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There are days when I wonder why I even bother reading anything. Today I was especially reminded of how futile it is and yet I persist. Definition of insanity in action.

The last time I went to the movies (to see my beloved Star Wars) I saw a trailer for “Emma” and thought, “Oh man! I have to find some people to go see that with me and if I can’t, I swear, I’ll go see it alone.” It’s not much fun to see movies alone. There’s no one to look at and give a thumbs up or down for each trailer, no one to roll your eyes at during dramatically sickening scenes, and no one to sit and tear apart the movie with directly afterward. Sure, you can do it online but it’s not the same. I will see this movie alone if I have to, but I’m holding out hope for a fellow Jane Austen fan to go with me.

When I saw the trailer and had these crazy thoughts about who to see the movie with (my husband and son definitely will not, although I would have sat through that Ferrari movie if they wanted me to), I thought, “You know, I’m fairly certain I have the book on my shelf at home. I should read it before the movie comes out!” A few days later, I was rummaging through my bookshelves on New Year’s Eve gathering up all the books I’d read throughout the year because I had a strange compulsion to have a picture of them all in one big pile, and there it was, right where I believed it would be.

It doesn’t always happen, you know. I have repurchased books I already have and searched in vain for books I thought about getting but never did. This time I was right, and I was very excited. How clever of me to buy a book in the hopes that I would read it in the future. I found the book at a used bookstore and remember picking it up and thinking that I liked other Jane Austen books, this one would add to my collection!

I set the book on my “to read” shelf and went back to my obsessive gathering and quantifying on New Year’s Eve and then into New Year’s Day. Yesterday morning, I finished my current book and picked up “Emma” to get in a few pages before I ran off to do the laundry only to find…

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Eighteen months ago, I had read this book and I had no recollection of it. I flipped through the pages and found my penciled notes inside. Sigh.

What’s the point of reading if I don’t have even the foggiest of notions about what I’ve read less than two years later? It’s not like I was trying to pull up a list of books from memory. I had it in my hand, pulled it off my own bookshelf, and it did not jog my memory in the slightest.

After reading it for an hour this morning, I’m only slightly less depressed. I am recalling the story and the characters as I read. It’s not like the entire book has been banished from my memory. And maybe a second reading like this will help cement it in my mind better.

I’m wondering if it might be a good idea to spend the coming year re-reading books. It would certainly save money! But then…there are so many books on my wish list! Maybe someday I won’t be able to buy any more books and I can start re-reading then.

Jump

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Photo by Blake Cheek on Unsplash

Sometimes we have to just do the thing that might ruin everything, the thing you might fail at, the thing that could change everything, just to see what happens.

That’s where the growth is.

And growth is what keeps us living.