But just like that, I turned 30. Yesterday came and went, and now that 30 is here, I feel much less pressure. I feel significantly more secure in who I am, likely for having wrestled with those questions, and I feel confident enough in myself not to fall to pieces when others act in ways that are disrespectful and/or negative or that seem to threaten my happiness.
Last week, during my monthly therapy session, I told my therapist that I've been trying to "spin" where I am at present to make it sound more impressive/presentable and, more importantly, attempting to "do" everything I can to make my future more secure. I'm sure she wanted to laugh at those ideas, but her response was incredibly enlightening, and what it came down to was this: all I can do is show up and do my best, in every situation.
Now, that sounds incredibly easy. I mean, how hard could it be to show up? Or to do your best? How is that a meaningful response to stress? What's the magic trick?
She pushes me to think in ways that I wouldn't otherwise, and I'm grateful for the wisdom that accompanies it. "Why?" is a one-word question that should be the mantra of every counselor and therapist -- short on offering advice, long on making the patient come to their own healthy conclusions. So, when I told her that I felt immense internal pressure to succeed (which for me = have a meaningful career, get married and make a lasting difference), she asked, "Why?" And when I told her that it was because I didn't want to be a failure, lose Mr. Wonderful or be alone, or for my life not to matter, she asked, "Why?" And when I answered, "Because I want everything I've worked for to mean something," she once again asked, "Why?"
Inevitably, there comes a point where you can't answer the "Why?" anymore. And that's okay, because that where the truth lies. For me, knowing that everything I've worked for means something is what motivates me at my core. I want to know that everything I've worked for -- professionally, romantically, personally, financially -- will develop into something lasting and meaningful. I want to know that I spent 9 years of my adult life and am paying 15 - 20% of my salary in undergrad and grad school loans because I needed the lessons school taught me and the degrees that I received upon completion. I want to know that the many hours I've logged taking care of others have had a discernable impact. I want to know that the 110% I'm giving to my job at present will take me somewhere. And I want to know that the many months I put up with Mr. Wonderful's nonsense eventually will lead to a successful marriage.
But the realization that those things drive me every day and predetermine my responses to others and independent actions is only part of the equation. I have to examine whether I have control over those things, and the answer is pretty obvious, isn't it? I don't. I can't determine the outcome anything other than my day-to-day commitment: to show up and do my best.
Now, the knowledge that all I can do is show up and do my best is freeing. It means that I can stop trying to "make" good things happen by "doing" too much. I can relax, and just be myself. But there's a greater corresponding revelation that I think is worth mentioning: because I can't control whether good things happen, I haven't controlled the good things that have happened over the last year.
Well, that may not sound like a big deal to you, but it's nothing short of monumental. When you lose your job, almost lose your relationship, are forced to clear out your savings bit by bit, and find yourself without many friends ONE YEAR, and then have a great job, end up in a definitively successful relationship, have some meager financial assets and feel blessed by the company of friends THE NEXT YEAR, you want to take credit for it. While I've been telling myself all this time that I got a job because I'm awesome, saved my relationship, made wise financial decisions and am both loyal and fun to hang out with (attractive qualities to friends), the truth is far more complicated. I got a great job because someone great took a chance on me, and I have the financial wherewithal that I do because I work for an overly generous company that offers fantastic benefits. Likewise, I have such great friends not because I'm awesome but because they are, and they give and give and give. And, perhaps most importantly, I didn't save my relationship. Mr. Wonderful decided to take a chance and jump in.
All I did was show up and do my best. It had a positive effect on each situation, to be sure, but I didn't singlehandedly make it happen.
Now, THAT is a reason to be humble and grateful if there ever was one...
Realizing that you can't control things and haven't thus far comes with a price tag, however: you must be willing to trust and, therefore, bet everything you have on something you can't control the outcome of. In therapy last week I analogized having to let go of control to gambling, and I think that analogy is instructive, so I'm going to walk you through it.
When you go gambling, there are two critical times that you must be willing to bet everything you have. The first is when you are down to your last $5, when you went in willing to spend $100. You would be an idiot to walk away with that $5, for a number of reasons. In short, you've already told yourself that you're willing to lose the full $100; you won't really save face if you leave now or get to declare yourself a winner for only losing $95 of the $100. You're way, way down, and the $5 you have left isn't going to make a difference in your day-to-day existence. You have to take a chance, bet the last $5 you have, and give yourself a chance to win. You may lose it, in which case you can just go home empty-handed. But you also may win, and you'll never know if you could have if you don't chance it.
When I lost my job and Mr. Wonderful was off his rocker, I wanted so badly to go home -- literally, home; to my parents' -- with my figurative $5 intact. "Okay, I tried to move hours and hours away to the city, get a graduate degree and love unconditionally. But in the end, I am a failure. I have no job or relationship to speak of. That's it, I'm spent." But wise people told me to bet my last $5. "One more year," my therapist said. "Do what you have to do to make that year work, and if you still feel this way after a year, leave then. But don't throw in the towel now. You're not spent yet." Thankfully, I followed her advice and am doing quite well at present.
But there is one other crucial time when you're gambling: when you came with $100, lost $95 and are now up a minimal amount -- let's say another $10. So, you came with the idea of making gobs of money and are feeling lucky, but you almost lost it all, remember that feeling, and are thinking about walking away with your $10. That may sound like sound strategy given where you were a while ago (down to your last $5), but you have to consider that $10 in winnings relative to when you first arrived, not when you were at your lowest. When you arrived you were willing to lose that $100, right? That's how much you'd allotted. You were hoping to double your money, but instead your yield is 10%. You may have almost lost your $100 earlier in the night, but when you look at the night as a whole, you're only up $10. Again, that amount isn't going to make much of a difference in your day-to-day existence. You could have found that measly amount in an old coat pocket. You have to keep betting until you come close to reaching your nightly goal OR lose what you were willing to lose to begin with. You can't run and try to hold onto that meager $10 just because for a minute there you got scared. You still have to have faith, and you still have to bet everything you have.
Obviously that $10 is analogous to where I am at present. I am no longer in the pit of despair, ready to run home, but I'm scared to trust in not losing that $100 again. That is why I have to learn to create my happiness when things are going well, not just when I have nothing to lose. And THAT is much harder to do than I ever anticipated...
Happy 30 years + 1 day to me,
Recent reasons to take stock and give thanks:
#413: One of my best friends came in to spend the weekend with me...
#414: And so did my sister-in-law.
#415: We spent the long weekend eating, laughing, shopping and relaxing...
#416: With two of my closest in-town friends, who also gave up their weekends.
#417: And all 4 of them got along famously.
#418: I got three amazing gifts from my best friend: a kate spade mug, a kate spade bracelet, and a kate spade Style book. (I have an obsession.)
#419: I got an iPhone from Mr. Wonderful for Valentine's Day and my birthday! (He said, "I'm happy to bring you into the 21st century.")
#420: I got unexpected flowers from my family for my birthday...
#421: And a few other trinkets.
#422: My "real" birthday present is due to arrive today.
#423: I got a beautiful and also unexpected orchid from a friend of mine in Los Angeles. Love her. :)
#424: A friend of mine who shares my philanthropic heart showed up at work yesterday with a cupcake and chocolate bark in hand.
#425: A good friend of mine in another office sent me a hilarious, "The Truth About Turning 30" card and an AmEx gift card! Fabulous.