I spent the end of 2015 feeling unusually present. When I say that you might think I went new-age: did yoga every morning, began a meditation practice, ate a shit-ton of quinoa, worshipped the sun for bringing me a beautiful new day every morning. LOOOOOL. Do cinnabons have quinoa?
I actually kind of did the opposite: I stopped trying so hard at life.
After a winter, spring, and summer of furious thinking and writing and creative output – all things that felt at the time like blissfully fulfilling ways to spend my time and energy – the fall found me worn down and a little tired of turning over ideas about how to be better.
The fatigue made sense on the face of it: my focus on self-improvement required near constant consideration of a figurative tomorrow, an alternate version of myself and my life that was somehow superior to the self and life I had in the present.
But what didn’t make sense was how this colorful and active lifestyle that felt like a thrilling and motivating realization of my true desires could leave me feeling so dangerously unsatisfied with the status quo. Those truths didn’t connect; they confused me.
Wanting more can be good. There is a lot about the way things are, on a micro and macro scale, that are worthy of my attention and dissatisfaction and critical eye. But what happens when that eye is cast like a nondiscriminatory blanket instead of like deliberate fingers on a piano? What if my desire for something more, perhaps the natural one for all humans, is applied so unilaterally it becomes a way of looking at the world?
Excitement for the future, of what could be, is a worthy and life-affirming emotion. But when that excitement became everything – when it overpowered (or worse, existed purely due to a lack of its counterpart) enjoyment of my present – I was in trouble.
Maybe we could move to New York! Maybe we could start a t-shirt line! Maybe we could throw this party! Maybe we could take this trip! Maybe we could start this zine! Maybe we could get into that event! Maybe we could learn this skill! Maybe we could start this tradition! Maybe we could buy this thing! Maybe we could write a book! Maybe we could get sponsored by this company! Maybe we could go to this show! Maybe we could meet this person! Maybe maybe maybe!
Imagination is a blast. It’s inspiring and thrilling and if the idea of an alternative future doesn’t get your ass moving and working hard I don’t know what does. A lot of shit gets done in this world because people dare to imagine what could be. The Future, as a concept, is part of makes youth or the proverbial beginning of something so fun. Everything ahead, anything possible. 26 seemed like as good a time as any to start dreaming as hard as I did. Any age is a good time to dream.
But at some point along the way, like a tired cliché, I forgot to cultivate and develop positive feelings for what I already had. My heart beat for the future.
Around September, heart beating out of my chest, I sat on the couch and cried to Austin for reasons I couldn’t pinpoint. My excitement mixed with fatigue began to register as listlessness and sadness. In some ways wanting, by definition, has to translate to lacking. I felt a deep dissatisfaction that made no sense when I turned it over. Dreaming so hard started crushing me.
I remember driving up into the mountains that afternoon looking for answers. I wanted to put together a plan about how to feel better: another attempt to look forward to improve now. But no matter how hard I stared at the trees and scribbled in my notebook and listened to Bon Iver, my attempt fell flat. If Inspiration Point couldn’t get me there, I was doomed.
Seriously, that’s what the lookout I went to was called. I found it by chance and tried really hard – and failed – to see that as some meaningful sign.It might have taken me a few days to finally admit that I’d overextended myself. Once I did I had to dismantle and reroute some of my neurological pathways. If it was possible to dream too much, I’d managed it. And if you reframe “dreaming” to “looking at the grass on the other side” it makes a little more sense.
So I stopped. Or rather, I finally let myself stop.
I decided to focus, if only for a couple weeks, on what was already in front of me. This meant slowing down , dreaming less about what could be, and just living my life day-to-day. I accepted what I already had, which was as worthy of my love and attention as anything floating around in my head.
And what felt miraculous but maybe doesn’t seem so miraculous in hindsight is that my outlook inverted almost instantly. I allowed myself to be deeply satisfied with the way things were and shunned the nagging fear that gratitude might spell complacency, or worse, laziness. I allowed myself to imagine that maybe, just maybe, I could dig into my current situation and not just be okay with it but be captivated by it and imagine myself staying in it. I could fluff the pillows and love the pillows rather than search manically for the right way to replace them.
I listened to fewer podcasts. I read fewer news stories. I threw around fewer ideas. I volunteered a little less help and I made fewer plans. I did a little less shopping and I took a break from writing and from my blog. I dreamt a little less. Things that are fine and even great on their own, but are dangerous when done in exhaustive succession and without pause.
I focused a little more on my career and I spent a lot of time with my boyfriend and my cat and my family. I put on nice socks and danced around my kitchen. I watched a lot of Netflix. We moved back to San Francisco because we felt like it one weekend. Then my momentary deep breath turned into an exhale that stretched from a couple months into a season and into the next year.
Trying a little less and settling into my bones was a different kind of bliss. It was all the colors in the stupid rainbow.
When I say I slowed down I don’t mean I became a zombie. I didn’t sit down and stare at my walls, I just pulled them in a little bit and hung a poster up that said “DARE TO DREAM SMALL!” with a giant fluffy cat hanging from a teeny tiny tree.
It was almost as if seeking out a different “improved” life and a different “improved” me was this super cool hat I loved so much but that had begun to slump so heavy I’d gone blind to what was right in front of me. When I took it off and looked around, I wriggled my fingers and toes in amazement and reveled in trying my hand at the stuff actually within my reach. I cut myself a break and felt free.
I’m working a lot of metaphors here. It’s okay.
That’s not to say this little room with the cat poster is it for me. It’s not. I’m not done dreaming or wanting more for my life and myself. But what last year’s bout of burnout taught me was to be wary of letting my motivation blind me. If I’ll never be able to change the relationship between wanting and a perceived sense of lacking, it’s up to me to balance my appreciation of what is with my drive for what could be.
At the start of this new year I started to feel my feet jiggling again, my hands itching to create something, my brain ready to soak up something new. At first it scared me, like a shadow of dissatisfaction was once again tapping on my shoulder.
But I wouldn’t be me without my psychotic need for change and self-improvement and reinvention. It will behoove me, though, to not let that dreamy hat – no matter how beautiful and thrilling – slip over my eyes. If I do I’ll live the rest of my life fumbling around for a tomorrow that never comes. Being future-oriented is only worth it if I eventually…occasionally…let myself arrive there.
Maybe this year I’ll try my hand at both loving these walls and allowing myself to look beyond them.