Saturday, May 31, 2008

Day 1

Life has changed a lot in the past week.... for the better. This is an attempt to commemorate the small events and interactions that can change a person's life.

For a long, long time I have gone about my business, feeling reasonably accomplished in a few isolated areas but always craving more. I have this thing about fulfillment. Maslow would call it striving for self-actualization, which I think is also accurate. The basic idea is that, like many individuals, I am at my best while pursuing a goal. I just don't always know that my goal is, and that leads to a good bit of floundering around and feeling out of place - even when I should feel comfortable. And it isn't just out of place at work; it can permeate recreation, relationships, and even my body. In truth, the past nine months have been a continuous out-of-place, floundering episode, despite my repeated attempts to get back on track. I have looked in the mirror countless times (or avoided looking) and asked "who the hell are you?! I want myself back!"

A little history....
Before moving to my current location in a very small city, I lived in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the Northest (and grew up next to a different one). Needless to say, the move was a big change. But it wasn't just adjusting to the lack of a subway system, very few concert venues, or being able to see the sky that threw me at first. It was the difference between the people in my old city and the people here. My old city has somewhat of a reputation for attracting and producing crabasses, and for good reason. You would think that this feature would make any sane human run for the hills, but being who I was back then, I fit right in and loved nearly every minute of it. Back then I was the type who honestly didn't care if you liked me personally, as long as you respected me (or feared me, whichever) and respected my work, loosely defined. I only had time for people who were worth my time, and who liked me for me.

This attitide equals two things: you don't sweat small stuff or unimportant people, allowing you to have a healthy amount of confidence, but you also don't monitor yourself very well. Not caring much what people think is very freeing, and you speak your mind whenever you please (i.e., all the time) because you're not concerned about the consequences. Sure you burn a few bridges, but you show people who you really are and they know not to mess with you. Not unusual for a large, angry city, but an anomaly for a smaller, quasi-professional community where what you say and do has short- and long-term consequences. It has taken me two years to come to grips with this concept, and even now I screw up and say something I probably shouldn't because it is what I was thinking at the time. Self-control, self-regulation, and metacognition: things you only practice when impression management is on your agenda. Coming into my current environment, I was a kid who wanted to just "be herself" all the time - hey, it worked for years! But in the professional world, no matter what you study or do, people care less about what you really think and more about your actions or their own (broadly defined) interests. A lesson I am still learning. For me, part of becoming a professional has been learning when to not let people know what I really think, because whether I like it or not, what they think of me professionally and personally matters, now and in the long run.

The toughest part of this change is balace. I went a bit overboard once I started "caring what people think of me," and I began to care about what everyone thinks of me. For all of those out there who suffer from this problem, I can now genuinely empathize. IT'S TERRIBLE! You run around worrying about what you're doing or saying to the point of being paralyzed, not knowing what to say or do and doubting yourself at every turn. It was the doubt, so foreign to me in my past life, that broke me down and led me down a twisted path until I was completely lost.

I've also had my fair share of personal woes, which I won't detail today. Suffice it to say that I've made some bad decisions, both as a b**ch and as a wanderer. I used to know what my priorities were regarding the placement of work and a life on the totum pole; now I'm not quite so sure. I vascilate between not letting a relationship get in the way of my career and knowing that a real connection with someone is the most important thing, but when there's someone else involved, that person is going to have an opinion and at least some control of the situation.... it never ends.

Being of a certain generation, one of my favorite albums is Switchfoot's The Beautiful Letdown. (For the record: I have had this album since it's original, small-time release and have loved this band since 2001 - not that it really matters, but I hate bandwagons <-- pun intended.) There are multiple meaningful jems on this album, including "Meant to Live" and "24," but the song that always struck me to the core was "This is Your Life." If you've never heard it, spend the 99 cents to download it on iTunes. Even if you're not into rock, this song has such a good message that it might not matter. The basic idea is that this, right now, is your life - not yesterday, not tomorrow, not 10 years from now - are you the person you want to be right now? If not, you might want to think about that.

So this is one more blog about someone who has realized that there is no reason to put off having what you really want, once you figure out what that is. Getting there is hard, and staying there is hard, and if you're reading this, then you're willing to engage in my journey. I thank you for that. Stay tuned for more about where I've been, where I'm at, and where I want to go.

"This is your life" moment of the week: I decided to run a marathon. More later.