There are many reasons that I’ve had a hard time picking a specific career to pursue. One of which, is the fact that there isn’t really one singular thing that I was ever able to imagine making me feel fulfilled and happy for the rest of my life. I’m grateful for all the many talents, interests, passions, and abilities that I have. The problem has always been that there isn’t enough time in a day to devote myself to all of them the way I’d like to.
Even this blog stands as an example of my difficulty sticking with one theme or niche and really remaining faithful to it. The name of this blog is Protect the Innocent because when I started it, my goal was to make a blog with vegan commentary and to give advice to new/rural vegans. I wanted this blog to be my little attempt at activism. However, despite my deep concern and interest in this important topic, it quickly becomes oppressive to me when I feel unable to write about anything else.
It seems like I always end up either doing nothing at all when I can’t decide where to put my focus and energy or I just do a little bit of everything. The problem with the latter is that then I am unable to really delve deep into any of the things I want to do. I’m not able to master anything or do any really big time consuming projects. My energy is always being scattered and worn thin trying to pursue all of my many interests at once.
I get anxious when I think about narrowing my efforts. It feels like I am sacrificing so many things when I center myself on just one. I know it doesn’t have to mean I never pick up my other hobbies again, but it’s still hard to reassure myself in that regard. I’d really like to try to structure my time more effectively. Perhaps I can focus on just one thing certain days of the week or set an entire month aside to really delve deep into a certain project or skill set.
I think setting up a more diverse, yet focused schedule for myself would be an excellent way for me to make more meaningful progress towards my various goals. I also believe this could solve my issues with burnout and lack of inspiration. This way I’d be able to give myself a break from one thing, while still feeling as though I’m doing something meaningful in the meantime. The most important step is going to be the first one. I need to set aside time to work out this schedule for myself so that I can move forward with a clear intention and reserve my mental energy for the task at hand.
Desire is what propels us forward. Without desire, without longing, there is no kindling for motivation and pleasurable productivity. There is no direction in life. I don’t know why life necessarily needs a direction, but it just feels better when there is one. The child I once was, had no lack of passionate desire. In fact, there were so many things I desired that it was impossible to focus on just one or to be without direction at any given moment.
Perhaps its not that I lack desire now, but that my desires have become inverted. I no longer feel inspired to reach for things I want. Instead my only motivation is to avoid and shrink away from things I don’t want. Ten years ago, if you asked me what my greatest desire was, I’m sure I would have said to find a loving partner to share my life with. That was really the only long term, significant goal I ever had in life. It meant everything to me, and it did a lot to nudge me forward each day with hope and determination even in my darkest hours. If asked the same question today, I would have no answer.
I honestly don’t know when that fervent wish fell away from my mind. One day I just stopped wanting it so much. At first it seemed like a gift. I was finally free. I truly believed for the first time that I didn’t need to find this one perfect, romantic relationship in life to be happy. I accepted that happiness would be available to me even in the event I lived the rest of my life alone. After awhile, the relief of not needing what I had always wanted gave way to despondency and apathy. Okay, I might not need love to be happy, but that doesn’t mean I am happy without it either.
Strangely enough, I think to a certain extent, that yearning, that striving for something is what brings happiness and meaning to life. Obtaining our desire or reaching our goal isn’t really what gives us the satisfaction. It’s working towards something, it’s that flutter in our chest that appears when we fix our gaze on some distant horizon and imagine getting there that gives life meaning. Without desire, life seems empty, motionless, and rather scary.
The most frustrating part of it all is not knowing how or if it’s possible to generate desire where there is none. We may think it’s unbearable to want something we may never get, but it’s even more unbearable to wake up every morning and not know what you want. It isn’t exactly that I want nothing. I want to be happy. I want to feel that hunger and excitement that I’ve lost. I want to be free from my mental suffering. These desires are far too abstract to act on though.
When I ask myself what would make me happy, what would spark that inner flame, what would ease my suffering, I genuinely have no idea. I don’t have the foggiest inkling where to begin to find these answers either. While setting myself of a rough, uncertain path toward an ideal love was never easy, it was still easier than wandering aimlessly. A mountain is hard to climb, but the vision of the peak is enough to keep our spirits up. Now I find myself is the vast, flat expanse of a massive desert. It’s not hard to keep walking physically, but mentally it’s much harder, with no end in sight, no reason to trudge on.
You can’t love the life you live until you live the life you love.
I read this riddle of a fortune cookie last night after dinner, and I have been pondering it ever since. I suppose there are a lot of different ways that you can interpret the message behind these words, but for me I read it as you won’t love your life until you are able to acquire the life you want to have. Not sure if that was the intended message, but I would have written instead: Love the life you live and you will live the life you love. Not a huge difference, but I think my way emphasizes more that we already have a beautiful life to be grateful for exactly where we are. The way to find happiness isn’t to make this “perfect” life of our dreams. Happiness is there waiting for us right where we are, in the life we already have. No matter what that may look like.
Ever since I was little, I found it interesting that so many people desperately wanted to be rich someday (or famous, which baffled me even more.) Imagining being rich and having the ability to throw money at all my problems and buy whatever I want whenever I want does sound fun. It’s just not really very important to me. Of course, I wouldn’t turn down a million dollars, but I also have no problem accepting I’ll never have that kind of money. And as an introvert, being famous never appealed to me at all.
I guess I learned early on that buying things never brought me happiness for long. Sure there was that initial sense of satisfaction, but it quickly dissipated, leaving me right back where I was before. The most appealing part of being wealthy for me was never about what I could buy, it was more about the idea that I wouldn’t have to spend 40 hours of my week working. Now, I’m not sure I’d even quit my job if I could, because I love the people I work with and what we do so very much. So really, I don’t think being rich would change my life that much.
Whenever I sit and write down my goals and aspirations (which I do often) it always leaves me in a strange state of mind. I begin to wonder why exactly I want the things I’m listing. Sure it might sound like a cool thing to pursue, but is it even worth it? After all, I am already perfectly content with the life I have. I make enough money to live and support myself and my fur babies, and that’s all I’ve ever really wanted. I’m sure I even have enough that I could splurge on bigger purchases for myself every now and then, yet I never seem to have the desire to do so. I have what I need and that’s always been enough for me.
Still, it seems strange to not have any plans for my future, so I’ve been trying to shift the focus of the goals I make for myself. Rather than thinking about the outcome, I try to consider the process. Do I want to practice a new form of art or start a business in order to make money? Or do I think I’ll have fun along the way? If starting a podcast causes more stress than enjoyment, is that really what I want to do? I’ve lived long enough to know that white-knuckling my way through steps towards a goal, rarely results in the level of happiness that I’ve envisioned. I’d much prefer to enjoy the journey. That way whatever the ultimate outcome, I won’t feel as though it was a waste of time and effort.
Especially in America, we’re always taught to focus on the things we want rather than what we already have. The thing we don’t realize is that if we’ve taught ourselves to always be looking at what we lack, we’ll continue to find that sense of lack no matter how much we acquire or accomplish. But if we can practice being grateful for what we have now, we will always be able to feel that gratitude regardless of where we find ourselves.
Somehow it’s seen as a virtuous quality to always be striving for more. It almost makes me feel guilty for being okay staying where I am. But working with low-income, at-risk populations every day, all I can think about is how fortunate I am. It seems selfish to ask for more when I already have so much.
So my advice to anyone reading this that is struggling to find happiness in their lives is to stop focusing on what you think you want and start focusing on what you enjoy doing. If you like to write, go ahead and write. It doesn’t have to turn into a best-selling book, or anything at all. Even if it’s just one poem that no one else ever reads. And maybe you don’t even think it’s particularly good. It’s still important because it brought you happiness while you were writing it. If you want to start making YouTube videos, ask yourself this first. Are you only imagining what it might be like to be a famous YouTuber? Or do you think you’ll have a nice time coming up with videos, filming, and editing? If the latter sounds like a burden instead of something pleasant, maybe YouTube isn’t the right path for you.
Spend more time focusing on where you are right now and what might bring you pleasure in the moment instead of obsessing over where you’d like to be someday. Because no matter what your future looks like, I promise you that your happiness isn’t waiting there. Happiness lives in the present. All you’ve got to do is let it in.
What are you wanting right now? Perhaps it’s to go back to sleep or for the weekend to finally arrive or maybe even something more significant like a new job or to leave your partner. Whatever it is that you are longing for, have you thought about what will happen if and when you get what you want? I know whenever I want something, the unspoken assumption is that once I get this thing, life will be better, my nagging desire will finally cease. I have to laugh at myself, because even though years of experience have shown me this is not true, I still believe it in the back of my mind. I think we all do to some extent.
It dawned on me this morning that wanting is part of what it means to be alive. Even though we may reach our goals or obtain whatever it is we desire, that wanting is not going to go away. There will always be something else to fixate on. We are all going through life chasing a moving target. At first this can seem rather depressing. Will we never truly reach happiness then?
Like most things in life, there is more than one way to look at this. Rather than feeling defeated, we can feel freed. “How on earth is that freeing?”, you may ask. Well think of it like this: we won’t ever be able to end that wanting sensation within ourselves, however knowing that, we can redefine what happiness means for us. If we’ll never end all desire, we can stop focusing so much on the ones we have. We can realize how foolish it is to think, “I’ll be happy when this or that happens.” Instead we can make the decision to be happy right now, knowing that happiness no longer means we lack all longing. We can make peace with our desires, accepting that whether or not we reach them isn’t what determines our ability to be happy.
Instead of spinning our wheels endlessly trying to get more and more and never feeling satisfied, we can use that energy to hold space for and accept our wanting nature. In this way, wanting and anxiety are quite similar. We are spurred to action in an effort to avoid the discomfort of wanting as well as the discomfort of anxiety. The sensation of these mental states in our bodies seems intolerable at times. We distract ourselves from these unpleasant feelings by convincing ourselves that we can “fix” them. That we will reach some distant point in the future where wanting and anxiety are just not a part of us anymore. When we can stop running and realize the futility of this exercise in avoidance, we can learn to make friends with these aspects of life.
I’m not saying that we just give up on achieving our dreams or trying to make our lives more comfortable. I’m just saying that as we work towards our goals, whatever they may be, we can be happy whether we reach them or not. And we can be happy while we’re reaching for them.
As you move through your day today, notice when you find yourself wanting something. Whether it is something big or small, just pause and explore what it feels like to want. Is there a sense of urgency or anxiety there? Do you feel pressured to take action, to obtain whatever it is you’re wanting? Can you remain still and just breathe into this feeling? Try acknowledging the importance of this feeling. Say thank you and offer gratitude to this nature of wanting within you. Be mindful of the ways in which this internal motivation has helped you get to where you are today. Practice enjoying the chase as well as the reward at the end.
Happiness is not ahead of you in some distant future. Happiness is not something to be earned or captured. Happiness is our nature in the same way that wanting is our nature. Both can exist simultaneously if practice opening our hearts and minds to that possibility and allow them to.
I became cynical at a very young age. I can still remember deciding that if I didn’t allow myself to have any expectations or dreams for the future, then I couldn’t be disappointed. At the time it felt like a brilliant defense against a world that was inevitably only going to let me down. It almost felt like outsmarting reality. Oh my crush doesn’t like me back? Duh, I knew he wouldn’t. I’m going to have to work a dead end job until I die? Obviously, the world is a terrible place. As if expecting the world and everyone in it to screw me over would make it any less painful when it happened.
Although I’m no where near as jaded as I was when I was a teenager, I never really allow myself to have big aspirations. Subconsciously I still fear the pain of failure or rejection. It seems safer not to try or even hope. Rather than daydream about things I don’t have, I’ve preferred to do my best to enjoy and cherish the things I do have in my life. I have been writing a daily gratitude journal for around 4 or 5 years now. It has definitely helped me be more mindful of the little things that light me up throughout the day. It’s a reminder that I can choose to focus on the good in my life.
Practicing gratitude has been so helpful that now I think I’m finally ready to open myself back up to exploring what I might like to add to my life. Confident in the fact that I will be okay whether my plans come to fruition or not. I’ve become even more interested in the concept of manifesting. I used to shy away from this practice, fearful that it would cause me pain if I was unable to draw what I wanted into my life. Now I realize that even more important than the eventual outcome is the practice itself. Manifesting isn’t only about getting clear with yourself about your goals and desires, it’s about learning how to live and feel as if we have already acquired all we hope to. It’s a way for us to learn that we already have the ability to feel the positive emotions we hope to find in the future whether our lives work out the way we originally plan or not.
So for the first time in such an incredibly long time, I’d like to make a list of some of the things I hope to cultivate and move toward in my life:
One: Live with My Partner
My boyfriend, Nate, has finally committed to moving back to my area after several months of living over 6 hours away. He still has to complete the training that he started and unfortunately won’t be able to come back until the end of the year. Still, I am eagerly awaiting his return. We’ve talked about living together some day, and though I haven’t said anything explicitly yet, I am hoping that he will come stay with me once he moves back. The thought of living with the man I love fills me with joy and excitement. At the same time I am pretty nervous about it. I have only ever lived with a partner once and it was barely for a month. Other than that, since graduating from university, I have been living on my own. It is going to be a big adjustment to have someone to share my home with. Despite the challenges, I am ready. I’m ready to give up all the bad habits I’ve developed from living alone. I am ready to start building a life with someone. This is the biggest hope I’ve allowed myself to have in a long time.
Two: Wean Myself Off of Paxil
This Friday I finally have an appointment with my doctor to discuss lowering my dosage. Although I’m scared, I’m also excited. I can’t wait to find out who I really am underneath this fog of medication. It is probably going to be hard, but I am ready. I know I can do this.
Three: Advance My Career
This one I’m still a bit foggy on. I’ll have to give it some more thought. All I know right now is I’d really like to move forward professionally. Whether that’s to become a more essential part of my current organization or to go back to school or to become a teacher, I don’t know. All of these options sound equally enticing at the moment.
As you can tell, most of these hopes are pretty vague right now. I’m a little rusty when it comes to daydreaming about what I might like for myself to have in the future. It’s honestly surprising to realize just how difficult the question “what do I hope for” is to answer. For now, I’m going to try to explore that question more deeply. More importantly, I’m going to start regularly asking myself “how do I want to feel” then inviting that feeling into my body, practicing the feelings I’d like to experience more of. Above all, I hope to be happy and I know I have the tools and the inner resources to make that happen.