You Can’t Do It All
I’m a firm believer your happiness comes from where you find value. Doing what you love, and loving what you do aren’t always mutually inclusive though. In fact, mostly not. More often you’ll find yourself doing the things you have to do, instead of the things you want to do. Or for whatever reason, you can’t do that thing that brings you joy, at least not at the moment.
For the spaces in between, comes gratitude.
In the last several years, really since the kids were born, I’ve struggled with contentment. Kids do this strange thing to you in that you feel like you have to pour all of your resources into giving them a great life. It is truly what you want. You want them to grow up in a safe place, have all sorts of memorable experiences. You want to make sure that you give them the opportunities to succeed. To find out what they like, what they want to be. Watching them develop their own likes, and hopes, and dreams, and then stoking that fire and enthusiasm is really one of the most rewarding parts of parenting. And somewhere in the middle of all that you find about 3 free seconds of time to wonder… what used to make ME happy?
This is a bit of a dark path to follow though, because it leads to feeling like you’ve missed out on your own joy. You can convince yourself that you sacrificed everything to your family at the expense of yourself, and even to the point of developing resentment. I can’t say I’ve ever resented my family, the sacrifices have always been worth it, but I totally understand the feelings and emotions that can bring a person there. And I’ve definitely spent time in the pity party stage of thinking about everything I could have done that I didn’t get the chance to do.
And that’s really the thing. The sacrifice can always be worth it. And you can still come up short. Not even limited to kids, it’s just a fact that the world is a bigger place than we can exist in all at once. Every thing we do, even if it’s nothing, comes at the expense of what we could have done instead. I run into this a lot when I hear people say, “I wish I could [swim/play guitar/knit/whatever].” The thing is, you can. It’s super easy to look at other people and think they have it all. But they don’t. You’re just seeing the one thing you don’t have that they do.
The real difference in whether or not your happiness comes from what you did instead of that. If they are things you’re proud of, things you found joy in, then you shouldn’t be upset you never learned how to play guitar, because you would have had to give up so many great things to have it. So it’s okay. You have to be able to be happy without having it all.
That’s kinda where I am now. I don’t regret not having projects done, or not getting to play a game, or not being where I thought I’d be in Spanish, because I feel like at least recently, I’ve been able to do a lot of things I’m really grateful for.
Gratitude and contentment are both things that I think can be exercised. By which I mean you can focus on those feelings, and get better at them. There’s way more stuff that you don’t have, or didn’t get to do, than what you do have, or did. And the world around us is programmed to show us everything we don’t have and to make us want it. So you have to spend energy on saying, no “this story I’m being told isn’t true”. It doesn’t always come from the media either. It comes from people we care about and respect. “Why haven’t you finished school? Why don’t you trade in that car before something bad happens? Why are you moving to Toledo?” All at minimum inferring what you should be doing instead of what you are doing.
But keep practicing. The more you do, the more the hard stuff gets easier. You’ll get used to watching people chase whatever the cool fun thing is and still be unhappy. Listening to people be critical of your choices. And it’s all fine, because what they don’t understand is that “I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to do what I did, and that this is enough and I’m thankful to have it.”