If I had to pick just one word, I suppose it would be “conflicted”.
Which is kind of surprising, since I’ve been studying on this for quite a while now. Usually when I set my mind to something, I end up coming to some sort of conclusion relatively quickly, but in this case, I’ve been seesawing back and forth over the past several months, and still have no clear answers. I’ve been working at trying to decipher if my current circumstances are a good thing, or a not-so-good thing. Am I headed in the right direction? Or have I taken a hard left turn that has me moving backwards?
It’s actually hard for me to talk about this, because this is one of those times where I feel like I’m missing the bigger picture. The only real point of reference I can offer, is something from my past that feels familiar.
Many years ago, I was desperately looking for work. My big corporate job had just ended, and my first concern was that I was a single parent, so my motivation to succeed was an absolute necessity. I needed to provide shelter and food for my son, so that we could carve out a life that was a reasonable facsimile of the life he had known prior to my divorce. That’s one of the things that single parents try to do – they try to make the transition from “family” to “divorced” as seamless as possible for the kids, because it’s already hard enough without having to deal with the additional stress of becoming destitute during the process. It didn’t help one bit that I had some significant health issues that had recently surfaced (ovarian cancer, twice), or that in addition to everything else, I had also just taken over the full-time responsibility of caring for my ailing mother. Let’s just say it wasn’t a good time to be unemployed.
I prayed on it. I got busy exploring every possibility, and started looking in directions that seemed a bit outlandish or impossible, but when you’re determined to take care of the people you love, you’re willing to do just about anything to succeed.
So there I was, desperate for any way to bring in enough income to support my own family, as well as care for mother, and in the process, cover the cost of several major surgeries, (after having lost my health insurance, of course), and on a side note, I was also helping to support two of my siblings that had fallen on hard times. My sister had recently lost her husband unexpectedly, losing her business in the process; and my brother was struggling to get his feet back under him after being released from prison.
So, for me, it wasn’t about having the ability to buy tchotchkes or designer purses; it was about basic survival. My ability to generate income had to cover a lot of bases. Let’s just say I was determined.
Right about then, an opportunity presented itself. It was one of those friend-of-friend situations. Someone I had worked with previously, who I counted as a dear friend, mentioned that they ran into someone at the gym, who had mentioned they needed someone to work as a bookkeeper for a construction business. It was a temporary situation, but their need was immediate, and I was available. It was only two weeks, but it paid well. My career had been in investments and banking and insurance, but I had also, years and years before all that, done the books for my father’s construction business. So I had the skill set, and had the ability to think quickly on my feet, and besides, I was exceptionally motivated. So it turns out that that two week temporary gig ended up lasting almost eight years. I went from having no income, to almost doubling what I had previously been earning. That job ended up giving me the ability to help a lot of people in my life. It helped me provide for my son, helped me care for my mother during the last years of her life, and helped me make a difference financially for both my brother and sister during some of their very lean years.
But during those eight years, I was extremely conflicted. Turns out the guy I was working for was one of the most bitter and angry people I had ever crossed paths with, and it seemed he wasn’t happy unless he made everyone around him as hopelessly miserable as he was, and then, when they were already feeling utterly defeated and broken, that’s when he would inflict the worst of it, attacking them mercilessly until they were completely shattered. I don’t even have adequate words to describe how acerbic he was, other than to say that when his name was mentioned, people’s eyes would cloud over with a mixture of rage and fear and sorrow, all at once. You tell yourself that someone that vitriolic has to have known some very hard times, so you try to be forgiving and supportive, but at the same time, the battery acid of their personality splashes all over you, etching away your own happiness.
There is no doubt that if I had not been trying to care for my mother while raising my son on my own, (and trying to help several other people at the same time), that I never would have allowed such negativity into my life for such an extended period of time. It was no coincidence that after my mother died, I walked away. I had reached the end point of my tolerance.
So, even though I never lost sight of the fact that working there had been a blessing and opportunity that had been placed at my feet, it was also time for me to put myself into a healthier space, and leave all that negativity behind.
It was a real turning point in my life. It was probably the first time I can really recall making such a major decision based on my own needs, rather than on the needs of others. My son was grown and living on his own by then, my mother had passed away, and both my brother and my sister had managed to get some balance and forward movement in their lives. What I did next only had to cover my own needs, and my needs were minimal.
So I made choices based on what I believed would bring the most peace and serenity into my life. Those eight years of being inside the fires of hell had worn away at me, and what I needed most was calm and quiet, and some time to recover. My next chapter would be a reflection of my search for peace and quiet. My mother’s death was hard on me, and I hadn’t even had time to process the fact that my father had also died during those years. Lots of old wounds stirred up unahppy memories. It was all a bit of a blur, moving in slow motion, and it was time for me to step back and take a breath.
But you know how it is. Life is weird sometimes, and puts challenges in our path, even when we think we’ve already reached our breaking point. More health issues, and this time around, even more serious than before. Debilitating, and chronic. I would be the first person to admit that I’ve never taken good care of my body, and now, after years of neglect and abuse, my body was breaking down. So much so, that it affected my ability to earn an income. So even though I didn’t know it at the time, I was in for some very hard times. Some frightening and lean years of my own. But eventually, and slowly, I started climbing back up out of the hole. My circumstances changed. I scratched and scrimped and saved and ended up buying a home, and even though I was struggling to make ends meet on the financial side of the equation, the other parts of my life were fulfilling and probably better than they had ever been in a very long time. I was able to really work at shifting my focus towards positivity and appreciation, and in the process, the quality of my life just kept improving. The more I was able to be thankful and notice the many blessings in my life, the more they kept multiplying. I was covered up in abundance.
Right about then, another opportunity presented itself. I had been looking for a way to put some of my skills to use, and having done a significant amount of volunteer work within the hospice community before, had naturally looked in that direction again. Hospice work is something that I feel very connected to, in that I have personally had experience with several people in my own life that have transitioned out of this life through the generous and loving atmosphere of hospice, so I’ve seen how much it can make a difference during those last months and weeks in a person’s life. I believe every person deserves the dignity of dying a peaceful death, regardless of their own path in life. I realize not everyone can agree with that philosophy, but thankfully, I don’t have to engage in debate on the subject. I simply have to be there, and be willing to be present. My job isn’t to tell anyone else how to feel or act or react to someone that is dying; my only job is to be present, and connect with the person that is transitioning out of this life. And in the process, be as supportive as possible to everyone else involved, whether it be the tired and overworked and underpaid hospice case manager, or the volunteer who comes in to bathe the patient every day, or the family members who are struggling to accept that death is imminent. First, it’s always about the person transitioning out of this life; and after that, helping anyone else in whatever way possible.
Just as I believe that opportunity for the bookkeeping job that supported so many people was no accident, I also believe the opportunity that has recently presented itself to me is no accident. I had prayed fervently, and had let the universe know that I was looking for something, and even though I couldn’t define what it was that I was looking for, I trusted the universe would move me in the right direction. I hadn’t even completely formulated the idea of what I might be searching for, when opportunity found me. But the thing I wasn’t expecting was that it would leave me feeling conflicted.
Which takes me back to where I started this conversation.
This new opportunity quickly transitioned from the barely-getting-my-toes-wet stage, to the all-consuming-and-never-ending stage. I am always behind, and can’t get caught up, and no matter how much energy and time I throw at the project, it is never enough. I can’t fault the opportunity itself; it’s likely just my own nature that has me buried all the time. I’ve always been an all or none kind of gal, which some might prefer to call an addictive personality, or an over-achiever. Whatever the case, this project has consumed me. So it has me seriously questioning whether this has been a good thing, or a not-so-good thing. The very fact that I’m questioning it is, in itself, a red flag. But I also can’t deny that what I’m doing is a good thing, in that it really is making a difference. Which is what I had been searching for, without being able to really put it into words. My inability to work left me feeling useless and disposable. Too many years of over-achieving, constantly pushing myself to do more, quicker, faster, always more. Earn more. Help more people. More. More. More.
So I’m asking myself if I’m feeding an unhealthy addiction to “more” by diving so deeply into this project, or if I’m really feeling fulfilled and satisfied and contented. And I’m finding that it’s hard to answer that question.
What I’m feeling, more often than not, is exhausted, and drained. Which leaves me no room for feeling useless or disposable. But it also seems to leave less room for positivity and appreciation, even though gratitude is never far from my consciousness. I also can’t deny that it’s made other differences in my life that were absent before. Such as having more choices now. For instance, (and this is just one small example), I’m eating healthier food these days, because I can afford to buy lots of produce now. Since I never seem to have time to cook anymore, I usually just make a huge bucket of salad on the weekend, with all sorts of yummy fruits and veggies, and then eat salad every night, because it’s convenient, quick, and already there. So that’s a positive change in my life.
I’m probably eating healthier than at just about any other time in my life. And my body is clearly showing its appreciation, because my weight has been slowly dropping, inch by inch, but enough so that it’s noticeable. It wasn’t that I set out to lose weight, but I’m so busy running around, and too tired to cook, so I end up eating what’s already there, and I’m making sure that I have healthy choices available. I’m getting pretty greedy about loving my veggies, to be honest. Too many years on empty carbs because it’s the cheapest option, but now, I fill my shopping cart with tons of fresh veggies and fruits. You could say that my cup runneth over with abundance, as far as that goes.
There are other markers that things have improved. My bank account now has a small cushion for emergencies. It feels good to have that peace of mind. Having something tucked away for emergencies helps a person sleep better at night. I’ve become much more practiced at saving for a rainy day, even when it seems your resources are so limited that there’s no room for savings. I can’t remember who said it, but years and years ago, while still ensconced in the world of corporate skill-building modules, I took a course about planning for your future. The speaker talked about “paying yourself first”. We’ve probably all heard this, in one way or another. That we should treat putting money away in savings as the highest priority on our list of bills that need to get paid every month. Before the mortgage payment, or the electric bill, or the credit cards, or buying groceries. Always, always put something away in savings.
If you do that faithfully, over time, it eventually grows, and if you manage to resist the urge to borrow from your savings, you have something sitting there, offering up peace of mind, and giving you options, even when things might otherwise seem bleak. I’ve been a religious “saver” for so many years, that it completely throws everything off balance when I don’t have some sort of financial cushion tucked away. So even though it has taken longer than I would have liked, I’m relieved to know that I’ve managed to grow my savings again, and that I’ve shifted things around in my financial life to allow me the luxury of buying healthier food, or helping a sibling when they come up short because of unexpected circumstances (which just happened to my sister this past month). No question about it, I feel more like “me” when I’m engaged, busy, productive, and have money in the bank, with still enough left over to share with others (in moderation, of course). So in that way, these past few months have been an improvement. A visibly significant improvement.
The thing that has me questioning my involvement in this new project, more than anything else, is that it seems like I spend less time smiling these days. I know that probably sounds silly, or insignificant, but the truth is that I had really noticed a shift in my life when I tried to keep my focus on positivity and appreciation. It was a slow and gradual process, but over time, I couldn’t deny that the overall quality of my life improved, even though my financial circumstances weren’t changing, per se, but it was more about my attitude towards the challenges in my life. I spent too much time being worried about money, and it kept me always on edge, and unsettled, and created a barrier between me and having any sort of peace of mind. So it’s really no surprise that when I finally found a way to shift my focus toward positivity and appreciation, and tried to train myself to notice those things that I could appreciate, that the abundance in my life seemed to constantly multiply. Rather than feeling deprived or unsteady, I ended up feeling blessed, and fortunate. Nothing had changed in my income; the only thing that had changed was my attitude.
And, because life is weird like that, the shift in my attitude helped me find tiny opportunities to push myself to do the thing that I know brings me some peace of mind – build my savings again. It was a bit like all of those things had to align around the central idea of searching for harmony and peace. Identify what helps you feel peaceful, and then move in that direction. It sounds so simple, but really, there’s nothing simple about it. Your brain is tricky, and wants to constantly throw obstacles in the way. Life throws you a curve ball. Pain is a chronic condition, and seems overwhelming and insurmountable. But truthfully, when you focus on abundance and positivity, and live with your life pointed in that direction, it’s kind of amazing how the other parts of your life gradually align with your central motivation. Peace and tranquility.
Most of you know that the first parts of my life didn’t have a whole lot of peace and tranquility. Which is probably why it’s so important to me now. It has taken me a very long time to figure out what is most important to me in this life, and I’ve narrowed it down to three basic things:
1) help other people, 2) be useful in some way, and
3) truly embrace peace and tranquility.
Which takes me back, again, to why I’m feeling conflicted about my current project. It certainly hits the mark on the first and second point, but I’m not so sure it serves number three on the list. Everything in our lives is about the choices we make, and I’m really trying to be conscious of my motivation for the various choices I’m making. I’m really trying to be truthful with myself, instead of hiding behind pretense. Someone much smarter than me once said that “whatever you are not changing, you are choosing”, so I try to be aware, and I try to be sure that I’m making the choices that are really moving me in the direction I want to go. And in many ways, I look at where I am today, and I see abundance, and contentment. Fulfillment. Improvement.
Always a but. The project has me questioning whether or not this is a healthy choice for me, and I have to pay attention to that question. So, for now, in this present moment, I’m still evaluating, and trying my best to decipher whether this is an opportunity that has added value to my life, or if it is subtracting value from my life. Just as I much prefer to see my savings account growing slowly over time, I would also like to see the quality of my life continue to move in a positive direction. That means being honest with myself.
I appreciate you listening to me think out loud. I really do apologize for being so absent lately. Trust me, that also factors into the question as to whether or not this project is a good choice. I’ve really missed connecting with you all, but as I said earlier, I’ve been so wrapped up in this project, that I’ve barely come up for air. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still keep you in my thoughts (all the time). I really do hope your life is showering you with pockets of abundance.
I didn’t really mean to ask the question, but when it comes down to it, I finally realizes the three things that seem to be the most important to me, in order to describe living an abundant life. Wonder how long it’s been since you’ve asked yourself the same question? If you strip away everything else, and remove all the barriers, what does it take to make your heart feel calm, and peaceful? Are the choices you’re making helping you move in that direction?
Tricky questions, but important questions. Hopefully, before too long, I’ll find my own answer. For now, for today, I’m still asking the question, and I’m still trying to be sure I’m paying attention. I’m really working towards finding a more comfortable balance between “busy” and “life”. Again, thanks for stopping by for a visit today. I hope to see you again soon. Guess that will depend entirely on the choices I make tomorrow, and the day after, and so on.
It’s all about the choices.
Pink Floyd – High Hopes – The Division Bell (1994)