I read a short piece online recently by Alexandra Rosas about the dying words of her mother and grandmother (the link is at the bottom if you’re interested), and the overriding theme was at the end of their lives, both women regretted always being in such a hurry, being too focused on what came next to enjoy what was happening in the moment.
Rosas might as well have written the article and emailed it to me, it felt so specifically aimed.
How many days at work do I skip lunch and realize I haven’t moved from my desk for nine straight hours because there’s so much work to do? How many times have I cursed traffic for making me late to a destination I don’t want to reach anyway? How many mornings have I suffered self-inflicted guilt because I decided to watch TV or read and not “accomplish” anything, embarrassed that I was “wasting” a beautiful day?
Too many times to tally, on all counts.
I read that article and found myself asking the same thing I’m sure the author did. Why? Why do I feel like everything, but most particularly things that matter to OTHER people, often people I don’t even care for, are such urgent matters?
I want to be good at my job. It’s what I do for a living, and I take pride in what I do on principle. However, I can’t explain why I work with such frenzy and grueling devotion day in and day out. Intellectually, I understand that the very nature of my day job means I could work 24/7 and still never get caught up, so why do I spend my workweek chasing that unicorn? It’s not for me, I don’t like doing it. Why do I hurry, hurry, hurry to impress a boss who is unimpressable, making myself miserable in the process? Why do any of us? I used to tell myself that if I did all this, everyone would stay off my back and I could live in peace, but that has proven painfully incorrect. I should slow down, not put so much pressure on myself, and take time during the day to appreciate my life rather than cursing how the work days drag and the good times fly.
Why do I think it’s so wrong to sit and do nothing for a day? As if I’m doing such important, world-changing shit that it’s a crime to take a break from it all. It’s because I compare my life to the lives of my friends and family, and worse, people who mean nothing to me at all, and think if I just go, go, go I can match the accomplishments and adventures of others. Which is stupid because when I’m with people I genuinely love, and who genuinely love me, no one is thinking about how great it is to hang out with people who did A, B, and C. We’re just thinking, how wonderful that we make each other laugh. How noble that we bring light to each other. And aren’t those moments, where we stop and take a breath and just let ourselves be, when we’re happiest?
It’s hard to find a balance. You can’t spend your whole life stopping and smelling the roses. After all, we all still have jobs to do and obligations to fulfill, and there’s nothing endearing about being an ambitionless, unreliable slacker. I’m not sure where the happy medium is, but then again, I’ve never really tried to find it.
I am a perfectionist of the highest degree, I have a difficult time forgiving myself for even the smallest mistakes, and that has brought me nothing but emptiness and disappointment. So I have to let that go, I have to stop being in such a damn hurry when I have absolutely no idea where the destination is. I needn’t worry so much about the opinions of people who I don’t hold in any esteem and remind myself that the quiet moments are the only ones where I’ve actually found peace and happiness. Not once have they ever, in all my life, been attributed to professional accomplishments, which is a glaring indication of what’s actually important to me and proof enough that I’m going about my life all wrong.
It has only just started to occur to me that the frenetic pace of the life I’m leading is not serving the people I love or myself. It’s certainly not making me better at my job. If anything, it’s wearing on my nerves, causing my frustration to leak out in regrettable circumstances, and creating more difficult days than I would have if I could learn to just fucking relax. I’m not really sure how to change, how to redefine success for myself in a world where everything is a competition and your profession and education mean more to the average person you meet than how you treat others or how you feel about yourself.
But I’m going to try.
I’m going to try because I don’t want to be on my deathbed, regretting misplaced priorities and giving in to the pressure of a hurried, harried existence. Of course, knowing me, I will be annoyed with myself at my inability to master such an undertaking in a few days, which is exactly how I like my irony served. I don’t know about any of you, but I’m tired of waking up sick to my stomach at the prospect of going to work for another day, thinking my inability to keep up and not always knowing the right thing to do means there’s something fundamentally wrong with me that other people can sense. Because, seriously, the idea that it is possible to keep up with impossible demands is very nearly insane.
It’s not going to be easy. It’s incredibly difficult to truly find a way to your own heart, to know whose opinions matter and whose don’t, to understand why you’re beating yourself up, when to stop, and how to hold yourself accountable without conspiring with a world that’s seeking to tear you down. All I know is what I’m doing now, what too many of us are doing, simply isn’t working.
So to hell with it. I’m going to find something that will.