On Grit, Honestly

The following is a very brief (not really) email I sent to a friend today. We’ve been discussing all the things lately, and I felt compelled to word vomit my thoughts on things. Regardless of the response, I was actually very pleased with the content, as I had been mulling turning those thoughts into a blog post, and thus, when it came into being, I thought I’d share.

The meat of the whole communication stemmed from my rumination on grit as an essential human characteristic. I’ve written about it before, usually in expressing gratitude towards my mother for raising us to be resilient, but in all honesty, I think it has far broader applications…

Some of it stems from my job, the not being satisfied or appreciated or compensated properly, and part of it stems from the fact that I have absolutely no idea where I’m going. Part of me is okay with that, and other parts of me are not. I remember my old boss saying, so many times, “We are not what we do,” which is true, but so often forgotten. When people ask me what it is that I do, I regurgitate an oft-repeated attempt at summarizing my job duties, only to realize that I’ve failed miserably at describing myself as a human.

And then people ask me what it is that I’d like to do, and again and again, I come up short. What I would like to do is write, do law things, invoke passion (both my own and others), and create lasting impressions on the people with whom I work. This is clearly not any sort of tangible job description, and yet, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing this all wrong.

But then again, it doesn’t matter. The parts of me concerned with becoming wealthy long ago gave up those dreams, only because I don’t care to work myself to death accumulating wealth that won’t be anything more than a number printed on a bank statement. Yes, it would be nice to breathe and feel and travel, and yet, I don’t feel compelled to seek my fortune if it means giving up the principles to which I adhere. And that is authenticity, mostly. My genuine spirit cannot be tampered with, and my strict belief in transparency is not malleable. Of course, I could find a better wage without sacrificing those things, to be sure, and that is the task at hand.

How do I become a better (compensated) person while following my true passions?

That was off track, but not in the least. I am lost, wandering, languishing in the mediocre, even though I seem to have the rest of things semi-sorted. I want for things, of course, and I want for change, and yet, I am afraid of the leap.

This whole discussion began with us discussing fear, and change, and self-actualization, things that I can wholeheartedly relate to, and must conquer. And yet, simultaneously, I find myself frustrated with the whole of society, with our processes and petty procedural necessities. The race to succeed as a whole, rather than the enjoyment of the journey.

Here, is my rumination on identity, humanness, and grit, the oft-overlooked characteristic that so many people lack:

 

Grit (to me, of course) is the having seen and lived through things that shape us as humans and our worldview, and then still making the choice to pursue happiness, lightness, joy, success, whatever else. It’s not necessarily tenacious pursuit of a goal out of sheer stubbornness, but rather the continual push for forward progress in spite of obstacles. There’s nothing so distasteful to me as someone who can’t (really, won’t) fend for themselves or take responsibility for the things that need handling, even if that means asking for help. I think that having seen the less-than-wonderful things in the world makes us all more resilient, and I think that people who allow the dark parts to become a part of them rather than carrying them around like a dark cloud and then choose to grow from those experiences are really the most wonderful people. It makes the practice of empathy so much more natural. It’s an excellent source of strength, I think.

I don’t believe that there is ever a “right” choice. For me the definitions of “success” and “right” are all so subjective that there can never be a right choice, although that said, there can certainly be a wrong choice. Or a more wrong choice? A wronger choice? Ah, well. As I emerge into adulthood, I have realized that people make some seriously questionable choices in ways that I would never imagine. And yet, these people are still maybe or maybe not “successful” or present as “happy” by the standard social evaluation, but to what end? They’re drowning in debt, or sinking into stagnant places, or ultimately miserable for any number of reasons, or chasing unattainable things… But dammit, we’re determined to be the Kardashians if it kills us. (Hahahaha, please imagine how amazing I would look with a super fake tan. I’ll let that sink in, because we both know the spray tan won’t.)

Does making the “right” choices lead to happiness? — What is the ultimate goal for making “right” choices? — How do you measure success? – Where does courage come from? (For me, it’s how do I switch in and out of lion mode when I need to? My therapist loves that I’ve finally started being able to turn anger/upset outward into motivation/courage rather than internalizing it against myself. Dear god, that in itself is worth everything.) — What is “good”? —- What is the ultimate meaning of life?

Like all things, progress has complicated everything. In coming out of the space where every decision was life and death, or that survival depended entirely on our ability for self-preservation and procreation and ultimately continuation of our lines through work, we’ve softened. We’ve constructed (more) elaborate social hierarchies and taken the magic luxuries for granted (hot water, clean water, transportation, food, and so on. Did I mention hot water?). In doing so, we’ve complicated our lives by layering an increasingly complicated understanding of meaning onto the whole thing. (Okay, in all fairness, these have been core human functions since the dawn of our existence – music, religion of some sort, celebration and ceremony, social grieving…) But now that we’re not on the edge of survival all day every day, we’ve lost our ability to seek smaller joy in favor of a sweeping greater narrative – much like our inability to live in the moment with our damned smart phones and our need for ever-increasing entertainment stimulation, we’ve let go of the things that drive the core humanness of our existence. We’re chasing something that’s already there.

I think it’s all about the ability to resolve the disparate parts of our identities (nerdy video gamer, wild human, party girl, role model/mentor, family member, friend, caregiver, bookworm, etc.) and to be able to pursue the things that resonate with our own cores. Our meanings are all our own, and part of getting to a place of peace and contentment is acceptance (first and foremost, self-acceptance, but also acceptance of so much else as well). Quieting the outside input allows for greater accuracy in the assessment of our desires, needs, and motivations, ultimately guiding us to the choice that feels the most right. (That’s how I make all big decisions. I listen to my gut. I let it decide. It’s very rarely wrong, and as a result, I have very few regrets.)

I’m a firm believer that as we age, our internal voices become so drowned out by the external and the demands of the real world that we lose a lot of our sense of wonder and purpose. Part of it is self-realization (in a good way, when you’re aware of yourself and actualized as your best being, but in a neutral/potentially negative way when you become aware of yourself in relation to others — think of that moment sometime during adolescence when you started to become painfully aware of yourself and were immediately swimming in perceived inadequacies and comparisons that hadn’t been there before) and part of it is the hectic chaos around us.

But the best moments come in the understanding of being a part of something bigger, but also being absolutely your own island. For me, standing on the shores of Lake Michigan, staring out into the endless water, but also firmly on concrete, surrounded by the immensity of a giant metropolis is the very best feeling. I am free, in that moment, just another person on the street, both no one and someone alone in the vast big world. It’s the most surreal feeling and it’s wonderful. That’s where the wonder comes from, and I hope that I never lose that ability to feel things, to really experience little joys and big joys and embrace the whole journey. It’s why I love children so much. They haven’t lost it yet; they’re amazed by everything, their joy is pure and undampened, and their ability to perceive is still insanely on point.

I’ve never been able to meditate, but I do have an app for it (because of course, why wouldn’t I have one?), but I’m working on getting there. One year, my word/phrase for the year was “do less,” (yep, thanks Paul Rudd in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) because I’d been sucked into the hectic pace and realized that I’d lost touch with my quiet self. It was a great year. I did less. I allowed for boredom, because in that, I found my creativity and curiosity again. And in that, joy and wonder. Or at the very least, quite a bit of satisfaction.

On Last Weekend, Belatedly

So what have I been doing with my life?

Well…enjoying the nothingness of unscheduled weekends. I’ve found myself getting very aggravated lately when I have things that interrupt my two days of freedom. I had not realized how much I relish that time to myself, that time to let the days unfold as they will, to do what I want with no structure or demands on my time. It makes the weekends stretch on forever. We find ourselves doing everything, and nothing, and by the time the weekend ends, I have entirely forgotten the pressures of the previous work week.

Last weekend, I babysat on Friday night, so I took my 9-year old to get ice cream and then we decided to wander around the Denver Botanic Gardens. While we were there, we saw a few toads. Boyfriend grabbed one (because he’s not amphibian-phobic in any way, and apparently well-versed in the toad-holding methods I must have missed in biology), and held it out. She was nervous, but touched it hesitantly. From that point forward, the mission was toad-seeking. We saw another one – huge – and I was too nervous to catch it, so boyfriend caught it and then I held it. Toads pee on you, that is a scientific fact. So I got peed on but I held a toad! He was very wiggly and I think I may have been more scared than he was.

On Saturday, we woke up and made breakfast. I was in nap-mode, but boyfriend declared it “Activities Day,” and came to snuggle me while I protested activities day in favor of sleeping, but then he promptly fell asleep. I almost elbowed him awake, yelling “Activities Day!” but instead also fell asleep. Naps are fantastic. After the nap, we drove up to Boulder and went to the Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory. Oh man, what a letdown. My mom had reported to me that there was a “Mint Room.” Maybe it came from too many viewings of the original “Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory,” but I went to the tea factory with this lovely pre-conceived idea that this magical mint room was an entire room full of lush, live and growing mint, green and light and leafy. Nope. Enter a concrete room full of bags of different mints. Pungent, to say the least. But so underwhelming. This fantasy of a room filled with mint is still alive in my mind, and actually, I’m thinking that maybe I’ll just plant mint plants all around my living room or something just to make the dream come true. (Like in “Patch Adams” when the lady swims in noodles…)

After that, we went and played a very competitive game of miniature golf at this fantastic place I haven’t been in ages. He told me after that it had been a test of sorts, because he had wanted to see how I was as a competitor. He told me that I’d passed, with flying colors. I laughed, because I love the idea of mini-golf and no one will ever go with me. We had fun. It was like a date – I got serious about it. We watched the families around us, with stone-faced parents who weren’t interacting with their children or each other. He made me promise that we’ll never be that boring. I promised. That’s a promise I can definitely keep.

I was exhausted. We went home and I curled up on the couch and we watched some episodes of a Canadian show that I’m starting to get into and fell asleep early like old people. We woke up on Sunday late – I slept hard, snuggling the cat, happy to have my baby back home. (He had a horrible week last week – I thought he was going to die, but in the end, it was a simple matter of draining my savings and giving some meds and fluids and an overnight stay at the vet. I’m still nervous – he’s lost weight, isn’t back to 100%, but he’s alive. So that pleases me greatly. He brought home a mouse the other day, even though he’s not eating as much as he should be. I’ve been trying to keep him inside so he doesn’t get into trouble in the real world, but he’s been crying and miserable about being inside. Ugh, the standing firm part of parenting is the worst. And he’s been in 100% snuggle mode lately. I think the night at the vet was a nice reminder that mom isn’t the worst guy.)

After coffee (necessary, always), we decided to paint my room! It’s been this horrible turquoise since we moved in and I made the mistake of not testing the paint I bought before painting the entire room. However, the idea of re-painting just always seemed like too much. But he hated that green color enough to motivate us to get it done. So we wandered down to Home Depot and I found (ahem, same way – pick up a paint swatch, immediately purchase gallons of paint) the perfect color. It’s called “Monet” and it’s a soft blue/gray blend with just a hint of lavender. I’m in love.

We went home, moved things around, taped a bit, and were off. By the end of the day, I had a new room! It was like extreme home makeover minus the overly-shoddy DIY creations. I still have stuff to do – next week is Organization Weekend. Ugh.