Monday I ended the post with what I hoped was a thought provoking question to begin your days this week:
Are you going to make your life better today?
Or are you going to make a better life today?
They’re two different things. At the risk of opening a can of worms, the concept is part of my own frustration with the current arguments about gun control. I see a lot of people arguing about steps they want to take to reduce gun violence, when (in my opinion) what is needed is actually a reduction in violence. To reduce that, there are a lot of other factors – such as economic disparities, environmental health, drug reform (I’m talking about prescription), and…before we start arguing about the details, please let me assure you I don’t want to argue.
My point is that, from my perspective, the problem is not to make gun owners in the country less likely to shoot people – it’s to make the country a place where people are less likely to shoot each other with guns. But that’s a much bigger concept than “ban magazines!“, and harder to put in a newsbite, so I don’t have much faith in it being done.
Thankfully, most of us don’t have to deal with dueling celebrities and the NRA and Congress when we are analyzing our own lives. But the same question applies: are you making your life a little better, when what you need to be doing is making a better life?
The If…Doesn’t Matter Metaphor
There’s a lot of ways to state the issue:
- If you’re running towards a cliff, it doesn’t matter what color your shoelaces are.
- Doesn’t matter what map you have if your tires are flat.
- Getting better cumin for your marinara doesn’t matter if you’re out of tomatoes.
- If you don’t have a cat, it doesn’t matter how often you change the catbox.
Ok, I’m not so sure about the last one. But the point is that some people take the original question to mean that we should burn the bridges, damn the torpedoes, throw out the baby with the bathwater and forget about those little steps. It’s a seductive thought, and one which I’ve succumbed to more than once. It’s easier to throw out the old problems and subscribe to a whole new set, fresh and exciting in their novelty. It might be “grass is greener” syndrome, or it might be a “leap of faith.” Hell, for all I know it might be both.
So the question is: how do you tell the difference?
As PDQ Bach might have said, “Dammefino!” (which is an esoteric music term meaning “Play as if you have no clue as to melody, rhythm, key, or even what instrument you are playing.”). But, let’s talk about each of the two options, briefly, and see if any of my maunderings can help inspire some far smarter thoughts from you, dear reader:
A Life Better
I can certainly think of one reason that I have focused on improving my life, rather than just chucking the whole thing: outside commitments. For example, when I was an active-duty Marine, life was pretty sucky – but if I had just tried to chuck it all, the consequences would have been catastrophic. I’d sworn an oath, and they take that seriously, so if I’d just left then they’d catch me and throw me in the brig. Plus, my Uncle Alan (whose fault it was I became a jarhead in the first place) would have frowned at me, and lemme tell you, you don’t want an Uncle Alan frown sent your direction.
When I was raising my daughters here in Madison, there were many times I felt trapped, or helpless, or simply as if I was wasting my life, somehow. I was a young white male with an above-average ACT score! This was the Dot-Com boom, and it felt like everyone was getting rich except me.
A reader of this blog mentioned to me that she’s sometimes felt similarly about situations, and when she does, there are a few questions (adapted from Byron Katie’s Work) she asks herself:
Is it possible to genuinely want what I have right now?
What is it about my life that feels uncomfortable? By what standards am I judging myself?
Are those things really true? Are they really problems?
How do I treat myself when I believe that? Who would I be if I couldn’t think or believe that?
Can the opposite things be just as true or truer?
Thought provoking questions, no? I wish I could say that I learned them back then, and examined my life and found joy in the work I was doing, of being a father. Unfortunately, I was too busy being a father to notice, most of the time, just how magically wonderful my children made my life. Luckily I figured it out, along with all that other wisdom you get, when I got my “Grandpa” card issued. My friend said much the same thing: those questions can be magic, but “…sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
If it doesn’t, then you may need to check on plan B:
A Better Life
Sometimes the reason the grass is greener over there is because you’re standing in the frakkin’ desert. Sometimes it’s the big changes that are needed. I’m not going to be much help on this, because for me, that go-for-broke attitude is almost always a seductive one, and so I don’t trust it. But if you haven’t read the comments from a couple of days ago, you really ought to read the exercise that Poetic came up with for herself in Selfishly Selfish:
I’d have me sit down at a table with my Moleskin and a pen. For fifteen minutes, I’d have me think, really think, about what I want my life to be like in the next five to fifteen years. I’d ask myself to specifically focus on my job prospects and personal life. But, and here’s the catch, I couldn’t write anything down for those fifteen minutes.
After the fifteen minutes was up, I’d ask myself to jot down two goals, one for my career prospects and one for my personal life. From those two goals, I’d then brainstorm ideas to make each happen. However, since this is just an initial planning session, I wouldn’t force myself to act on the goals just yet. Instead, I’d have me live with those two ideas for a week, and then revisit them at our next session.
When I read what she wrote, my first thought was “Holy cow. That sounds horrible! I’d never want to do that!” Which is probably a good indication of why I should do it. What was your reaction? The thing about exploring what you want your life to be like a few years down the line is that it makes it harder to distract yourself from the reality of life now. It either is heading in the direction of that dream, or it isn’t. If it is heading in that direction, it’s either heading there fast enough to suit you, or it’s not. If it’s the former, in either case, then bully for you!
If not, then life is about to get a bit suckier.
You’re suddenly faced with the reality of whether things need to change, or not. That “two weeks” is what really gets me: you don’t get the luxury of taking some action, of doing it and having it fail and getting to point and say “see? It didn’t work!”
Instead, you’re forced to sit there for two weeks doing exactly what you were doing about it before you did the exercise: nothing. The difference is, now you’ll be aware of the nothing you’re doing to achieve the things you really want. It’s a truly special hell, that is. Becomes very hard to look yourself in the eye in the mirror, in my experience.
Been there? What did you do about it?