A basic self-improvement meme that's nonetheless pertinent:
I don't know what to do with this one. I listen to and read self-improvement content, I've finished a Master's in Leadership, and I still don't know what to do. I'm 37 and filled with the same angst that I sustained in my early 20s. What to do?
I've lived in fear for a lot of my life: I was afraid to take time off from school to try to make music because I was afraid that I couldn't find a job; it took me until I was 28 years old or so to finally let go of the religious faith that held me in fear for years and years; I never pursued music because I was afraid that nobody wanted to hear it and that I'd humiliate myself; I let fear of hurting people get in the way of different relationships and experiences that most people in those early 20s do; I let a fear of being taken advantage of keep me from entrepreneurship and setting off on my own; I let a fear of failure keep me from teaching ESL overseas; I let a fear of being alone lead me to choose to get married before I felt ready; I let a fear of divorce and whatnot hold me in the relationship when I probably-maybe should have just realized it was done. Essentially, I've let fear keep me in my comfort zone for practically every major decision I've made so far.
I have numerous classic fears: I fear losing my friendships or good standing with people; I fear disappointing my kids and parents; I fear breaking out of being an employee; I fear that I will lose my relationships with my kids; I fear that if I try something new I will lose my means of sustenance; I fear that I will humiliate myself in front of people and make my life even more isolated than it already is.
I have done things in the past in order to get out of my comfort zone: I took time off from university in order to go on Katimavik back in 2000; I moved to Hope BC for my first teaching job, which was still way out of my comfort zone, even if it was also a natural progression; I married a woman who was distinctly out of my comfort zone because I loved her and because I enjoyed how she pushed me out of my comfort zone; I moved out of the comfy house in Hope for a few years of transience with my family, which even included a year in Egypt; I tried out alternative relationships and activities within my marriage, even when I wasn't comfortable with them. So it's not like I have always stayed in my comfort zone. It's just that, right now, despite those decisions and steps out of my comfort zone, I feel like I have nothing to show for it for me. My kids seem happy, and that should be all that matters, but I'm still unsatisfied.
Right now, I'm rather reluctantly living in my comfort zone. I'm still in the midst of the divorce-separation process, so I can't really fiddle with things that would mess with my finances. But the angst is getting stronger and stronger. The comfort zone is getting less and less comfortable.
But I don't have a goal to get out of the comfort zone. I don't know which way to step. I don't know what to do next. And I'm afraid to take any chances to do it.
Let's take things on a small scale: last Saturday night, after my gig, I took Rosita for a walk in Harrison. I passed by some women heading to the only bar-ish thing in town. I thought, I could get out of my comfort zone and practice all these self-improvement things I've been told to do, I could actually go try to engage with new people, as if I'm worth something and as if people might think I'm worth engaging with. I am enough. I thought so much about it that I didn't go. I went to bed instead.
There's a degree of self-training that's led to this sort of thing, a degree of comfort with cognitive dissonance that I had to acquire in order to hold on to my religious faith for so long when I had so much trouble really believing it. When I was faced with a reality that didn't mesh with my faith, I always found a workaround. University's social program exacerbated that ability to achieve cognitive dissonance: if I was told something that didn't seem to match the reality I perceived around me, I'd find ways to justify it despite everything. I became a master of bending ideas and reality to make them fit... until I couldn't see myself at all. It was like being wrapped in cellophane, layer by layer, until the clear image beneath was just a silver-grey cocoon. And I felt kind-of safe in that cocoon.
Partly, it was a matter of misplaced persistence, motivated by trying to stay in my comfort zone. In Alfie Kohn's The Myth of the Spoiled Child, Kohn derides the way we can misplace our persistence in relation to the popularization of "Grit" in parenting and education. Kohn writes,
Just as the effects of displaying unqualified grit may not always be optimal, the motives for doing so raise important psychological questions. What matters isn't just how long one persists, or at what, but why one does so. Do I remain at a soul-sucking job because of a realistic concern that I won't be hired anywhere else? Or is it because I'm loath to admit defeat or afraid of being thought a failure? Do I continue trying to master French cooking or golf (in the absence of evidence that I have any gift for it) because I have a passion for the activity? Or does my persistence reflect an inability to change course, a compulsive conviction that one must always finish anything one starts? (The fear that I'd be labeled a quitter may not be unrealistic if a strong social norm supports persisting no matter what). An accumulation of declarations that "grit is good" may help to create and reinforce just such a norm, thereby contributing to unhealthy reasons for persisting.
I felt that if I "persisted no matter what" in marriage, schooling, and religion, that I 'd find the satisfaction I sought. But it never happened. Because that's just not me.
I think my parents really struggled to deal with me as a kid and teenager. I wasn't fitting in much of a mould. They encouraged my brothers to go into engineering because they had a mathematical aptitude. I, on the other hand, had none. And I had no real ambition or self-confidence. As a result, anything I achieved seemed like a success, even if it didn't really make me happy or if it meshed with my character. I became a teacher, for example, and that was a success because it was something. But it's not something I've ever really connected to. And it's something that seems to be zapping my creativity on a more and more consistent basis.
And there are plenty of coulda-shoulda-wouldas in everything. I kind-of wish I put off the Master's degree, for example, and just stayed in Egypt for a while. Perhaps I could have a achieved some better success over there. Perhaps my ex would have found a place where she could succeed as well if we'd stayed there longer. But since then, despite finishing the Master's, despite all the ways we tried to work through our issues, I've been decidedly unsatisfied. The only thing I take comfort in is that my kids seem happy and kind and capable. I believe in them and believe that they will find their place. And I feel like my ex is finding her place.
But I don't feel like I am. I feel utterly... misplaced. And I want to break out of my comfort zone, but I don't know which way to go.
In this rambling entry, I've kept going back to music over and over again. Perhaps that's what I need to do. Perhaps I need to just light a fire under my musical butt and get doing what I should have done a decade or two ago, before my looks really start to fade, before the youth of my music seems incongruent with the person who's delivering it.
When coping, we all project to some degree or another. When we empathize, we project a little bit upon others and assume that we can get into their shoes and see things from their perspective. We need to project a little bit because, ultimately, we're all alone. We do our best to make community, but ultimately we're very alone.
A few months ago I came across this infographic while navigating Pinterest. It really bothered me to discover it. However, I've learned to do my best to pay special attention to things that seem to irk me, so here it is:
My issue is that I really don't want to be the manipulator. But I read through those "red flags" and can't help but feel like I've taken part in a good portion of those.
But I've gotten to a point where I second-guess my intentions so much that I can't help but feel like I must be a manipulator, that I must be a desperate, terrible person to have the desires that I do, to have said the things I have. And then I spiral downwards, unable to even fully come to grips with my own sense of reality. And I wonder if I'm just some projection machine, blasting everyone around me with my own ego.
That's the thing about being in relationship with people: friends, intimate partners, spouses, children, etc.: context really does make a difference. All. The. Time. And we hope that our relationships can share a common reality.
And when they don't seem to share that common reality, our shared projection gets blurry and out of focus. And then we realize just how alone we can be.
So I'm astoundingly grateful for those relationships with whom I seem to be able to share a common projection, with whom it seems like we can look at the same screen and perceive a clear image. I cherish shared a clear images of the world, even if the image itself is a little unseemly.
There's this photo of me on Facebook. My friend Peter, who's playing congas with me here, is playing with me. My guess is that the photo was taken in 2001, but it could have been taken a little earlier.
The thing is that I don't remember what I was singing about. I think I was playing at Felicita's at UVic, but I don't remember why. I have no idea what songs might have showed-up on that setlist hanging from the microphone—printed characteristically on a used piece of paper, a photocopied article. It was 2001 and I thought myself a musician of sorts... but what did I have to say? I have no fucking idea.
This is a problem as I try to find my way through all this separation stuff. In the vernacular, a psychological assessor said my "values are all over the place." And it seems like, as I listen to podcasts and read self-help and leadership books, it's highly encouraged to follow your vision. It seems as if happiness lies in one's ability to live out their singular purpose, to live out their message in such a way that lets them live a life where message and life are blurred and beautiful.
I have no idea what my message is, what I'd like to say to the world. I feel utterly lost in this. I don't think it's a matter of religious apostasy, but over the last few years my ability to access my "voice" has diminished until I don't know what to do with it.
And I don't have to go back to 2001 to figure it out. I wrote a personal weblog on a near-daily basis between 2001-2005; I made a CD of original songs in 2006; I wrote a CD's worth of as-yet-unreleased material over the few years that followed—but by 2013, my writing essentially stopped. I no longer played riffs and thought "I should use that" and built something around it. I had nothing to say.
And I could feel it happening. I tried a few things to fight it: I worked with a drummer and tried to write some songs using riffs; I would record mini-moments of inspiration on my phone and hope to make sense of them when I came back to them; I sat down and wrote journals; I tried to write semi-creative blog posts; I tried to attend open-mic nights and pub jams; I tried to record videos of cover songs, secretly hoping that they'd turn into something of my own. I'd sit down and try to learn proper riffs, hoping they'd lead to new flashes of inspiration. But they never did. And I still feel like I have nothing to say.
There are ironies here: I know people want to hear what I have to say; I know people care about me and think I have worthwhile ideas; I know people can see that I have a vision for things. And I'm anxious to get it out, myself.
I imagine a good portion of it is separation-based. This whole marriage-falling-apart thing has been a pretty enormous blow to my ego, and it's been a long process that continues to take up an inordinate amount of brainspace in any given moment. So perhaps, as I learn how to be myself again, maybe I'll find a way to articulate my vision again, whatever it is.
But it's not there yet. My vision simmers at best.
But I could sure use some of that overflowing confidence to express myself again.
And using "simmers" reminded me of this special moment from last summer:
The video is based on this article from The Book Of Life. This passage is my favorite:
We apply the wrong medicine:
This section hits home to me, especially as I watch more and more relationships come to pieces around me, including, of course, my own relationship with my ex-wife. It's always a battle to refrain from senseless blame when we feel hurt; careful introspection can help us realize that the hurt we wield against those around us usually stems from problems deep within ourselves.
I appreciate how the School Of Life and Book Of Life folks seem well aware that our minds are far from tame, that we are by no means "rational animals." The baggage we carry with us can affect every part of our lives, no matter how much we fight against it. We mis-aim our solutions and choose misguided shortcuts that inevitably make life more difficult in the long run. We compromise where we shouldn't, and stay steadfast when we should compromise.
So with every marriage that crumbles, with every friendship that goes silent, I can't help but wonder at the hidden, mis-addressed thorns in each person's side, at the ways we've lashed out at those we love the most. It's terrifying when so many of my friends, so many of the people I love and respect the most, seem to be hurting so much.
At least we'll be keeping therapists in business.
I'm exhausted. I don't think I'm going to get to have any sort of routine until January. But lord I can't wait for that routine. I can't wait to get up in the morning and calmly prepare for my day, and to finish my schoolday with most of my daily tasks completed, to go home and do things for myself a little. I know that people say that you should be able to take care of yourself at any time, but right now there are a few too many commitments to use my time wisely. I'm having trouble keeping weight off, keeping up at work, keeping my few extra-curricular activities maintained, and keeping positive with my daughters. But a time will come when I'll finally be able to perform the introspection necessary to accurately identify and address the hidden thorns in my own self, and I look forward to it.
Self-help, leadership, and motivational literature is all about getting out of ruts and expressing yourself authentically. Much like religious devotional literature, they all riff off of the same sorts of human truths. Also like devotional literature, what you connect with is often more a matter of tone than content.
I like these pithy outlines that I found on Pinterest today. They appear to be outlines from a "Crucial Conversations" workshop that Jami Breese put together in a creative and accessible manner. These notes have piqued my interest in Crucial Conversations, so I'll be keeping an eye out for potential future workshops.
I'm going to go through a couple of the ideas that I like here. Since it seems like the outlines are each in a specific order, I'll follow that order myself.
Sketch 1: #crucialconversations steps 1 & 2
This sketch makes me think of the following:
Sketch 2: #crucialconverations steps 3 & 4
Sketch 3: #crucialconversations steps 5 & 6
Sketch 4: #crucialconversations steps 7, 8, & 9
I've printed off a few copies of these for my classroom so I can keep them on hand. Perhaps I'll post them to my filing cabinet with all my other resources. And then, once I get this apartment fully set-up, once the girls are settled in their new place, I'll be able to pick up the book and possibly try to adopt some of this. Maybe just one of them. Maybe just one.
Because I'm a dork and I have two whiteboards to put up in my home so I can lay out these ideas and try to get my life back on track. Because, as much as I'd like to deny it, I'm likely a teacher through and through.
YouTube: ephemeral ideas
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