I met a wonderful young woman a couple of years ago through work. She’s in her late thirties, has a two-year-old, a marriage, and an executive job, and all the stress that goes with this scenario. She’s driven and has a questing soul. Is this enough? She wonders. Do I want too much? (And no, I’m not talking about my younger self, although it’s an eerie flashback.)
I have grappled with existential angst most of my life.
I was so overwhelmed by babies, the lack of sleep, constant demands and housework/laundry (ugh), the strain it caused my relationship, the lack of time to think (or even pee by myself) … Every time I went out alone – even to do groceries – required negotiation and I felt so constrained, even though my husband completely pulled his weight. Our son was diagnosed with autism at age 4, and the stress felt insurmountable. Ultimately, I was so unhappy that I left my marriage.
I entered my relationship with Jay immediately and discovered that much of my unhappiness had nothing to do with my first husband. I had many of the same issues with Jay even though he was very different, and I was the common denominator. My sister and father think I just expect too much – out of marriage, life, myself. And I concluded they are right, and yet it’s in my DNA. It’s my greatest strength – striving ever towards my highest ideals – and a strength overplayed is a flaw. So I have learned to temper my expectations. I have learned that no relationship is perfect, including the one I have with myself. Jay and I have had serious problems several times over the past 16 years (co-parenting, anger in his case, workaholism in mine). I have even packed a suitcase a few times. But I love him and he loves me. He is not a soul-searcher and is so zen that sometimes he bores me. (But I am easily bored.) Sometimes my questioning and activity baffles him. Yet he grounds me and relaxes me, and he says I add zest to his life. He believes in bettering the world but won’t volunteer (although he is generous about donating money). So I pursue many things without him and that’s ok.
On the happiness front, I came to the conclusion that my constant questioning about it was counterproductive. The opening passage in the book “The Road Less Travelled” says:
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
I have to say that this one paragraph has helped to change my life. I felt happiness needed to be constant and not fleeting. Once I expected things to be difficult and stopped feeling that I had more than my share of challenges, it was like a great weight lifted. They say the worst source of stress is mismatched expectations. So for me, expecting that my marriage would have regular challenges helped me move through them more easily. Expecting highs and lows (of my moods, work satisfaction, good bosses, crappy bosses, great colleagues and manipulative ones, issues with Connor’s autism-related behaviours, etc.) made me feel that I could conquer virtually anything. And so I did :) I still retained my idealism, and still had frequent conversations with Jay about how to make things better, but overall, I became happier. Funny.
So it’s like the paradox of leadership. Great leaders need to involve others in decisions where appropriate, but not shy away from individual decision-making. Listen and know when it’s time to move to action. Encourage and develop employees, but know when to share tough feedback that will discourage.
Nothing will ever be enough for me. I am too curious and adventure-seeking. My appetites for new experiences and learning are insatiable. But I know that. So I don’t externalize the feeling. It’s not that the other person doesn’t offer me enough or the job doesn’t or anything else. It’s that I have a questing soul, which I will take with me whomever I’m with or whatever I do. And I am finally at peace with my way of being.
So in the case of my job, despite restlessness now and then, I chose to stay in Regina so I could co-parent my two sons with their father in the same city. It was only when I thought I had truly offered everything I had to give and that there was nothing much more to learn that i concluded it was time to move on. It was time to spend more time on pursuits to truly feed my soul. What I cultivated in the last few years was patience, building a relationship with a boss whom I initially felt wary of to the point where he felt I had his back (because whether or not he had mine wasn’t my accountability) and vice versa, and coaching my team to a higher level of performance.
I am no less idealistic, but life lessons gleaned from blooming where planted have given me hard-won insights on the merits of accepting – and even embracing – things as they are, instead of following the urge to seek greener pastures.