What makes it worth it

two stacks of rocks beside a rushing streamHere’s my little Stoic meditation for the day…

I had a dream last night that I was cooking a meal for my extended family with my mother’s pots and pans and cooking implements, in a kitchen I wasn’t familiar with, on a gas stove that was hard for me to control, in a house I didn’t recognize. All my four siblings and their kids were there, as well as some cousins, who came in and out of the dining room, where everyone was talking and yelling and laughing in pandemonium, getting hungrier by the minute. The number of people kept changing, as people came in and out, and they were all yelling for me to come join the party.

They wanted me to cook, as well as play games, and the whole scene was joyful chaos. They were having a grand time. I was having a terrible time. I kept miscalculating the timing on how long the food should cook, I had rice on the back burner and stir-fry vegetables on the front burner, and a bunch of other side dishes in various states of preparation.

On top of it all, my mother kept coming in and out of the kitchen, correcting me about how I was doing things, offering to “help”, and generally distracting me when I was trying to sort things out.

It was a typical time with my family… and I was beside myself with anxiety, frustration, overwhelm… the works.  I wanted to cook a nice meal for everyone, to show them how much I cared for them. But they were making it impossible.

Impossible, I tell you!

I woke in a state of irritation. No surprises there. Fortunately, I got nearly 8 hours, last night, so that’s a big plus. It takes the edge off things. Eases the burn, so to speak.

So, yeah, I woke up feeling frustrated and agitated, feeling like I can’t do anything right. I’ve really been struggling with the choice to let go of a lot of my false hopes that fueled me with irrational optimism, all those years. I’ve spent so much time trying to fit myself to external requirements, that I’ve usually gotten lost in the mad shuffle. And now I find myself without so many of the things I’d hoped for… that I worked so hard for… but could never do consistently because of fatigue and confusion and overwhelm. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to offset my limitations, that I haven’t given enough time and energy and attention to my strengths.

And now where does that leave me?

I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself for a while, then I gathered myself and got out of bed. Made myself some breakfast. Did a short strength training workout. Talked to my partner. Admired the view outside. Checked the weather. And now I’m getting some time to write.

When I look around me at the life I have, it’s actually a pretty cool thing. But then I look at where I am, agewise and financially speaking, and I feel so… delayed. I’m at the age where my peers are sending their kids off to college, or their kids are finishing school, and they’re getting ready to retire. The 55-years-old early retirement option is increasingly common, and people at my job who are over 50 are more at risk for being laid off. That puts me in at or near the “skeedaddle” stage, and I just don’t know what’s going to happen to me, over the long term.

It kind of reminds me of my dream. I’m headed into new territory, with everything around me shifting and changing rapidly. I’ve put a whole lot of my heart and soul into keeping up with things and building a good life for my partner and me, but it’s been overwhelming, confusing, and the rules keep changing… all of which make life a lot more “exciting” than I’d like it to be. It’s all for the sake of everyone else, I think sometimes. It’s all for the sake of everyone except me.

So, why do I do it? Why do I bother putting myself through those paces, day after day, week after week, month after month after year after decade? Why bother?

Because it shapes me. It strengthens me. It hones me. It’s like a really hard resistance workout, seemingly without end. It’s no fun when it’s happening, but it builds me. It shapes me. It directs me. And it teaches me not to sit around and feel sorry for myself when I’m in pain and discomfort. It trains me to function, even in the face of extreme odds. It’s a masterclass in drama management, and it serves me well.

It might not fill my coffers, but it actually trains me to function really well, even without filled coffers. Learning to deal with all the passing overwhelm, the crisis, the drama, the disappointment, and one failure after another, conditions me to do well when things really get tough. And given the way the world’s been going, this is probably an extremely useful trait. It’s a helpful trait, in any case. Because things don’t always go right, and somebody’s gotta be there to keep calm and carry on. Do the things that need to be done, even when the doing is miserable, thankless, and feels like a “one-way trip” of energy.

And I think our modern world tends to lose sight of that. It seems to have lost the appreciation for the traits and qualities that are genuinely useful — replacing it with a worship of things like the ability to buy stuff and how many people “like” or recognize you online. What a strange, strange world… It makes me just want to ditch it. But that’s easier said than done, and in any case, you have to take the bad with the good. In some ways, maybe the “bad” is even more useful than the “good”, because it builds me, it shapes me, it strengthens me. And in the end, being strong and flexible and capable are really my main goals. Without them, what am I?

Not me.

I really need to get back to reading the Stoics. It’s the one thing that reliably keeps me centered and puts things in perspective. Maybe I’ll make that a daily exercise. I’ve had a number of other daily exercises, over the years, and many of them dropped off after a while. This could/should be one that replaces some of those that have disappeared.

I got away from reading them… and I should change that. So, I shall.

So, I shall.

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