Monthly Archives: June 2011

Against the Grain

– Contributed by Wee C

You know as a kid when you would go to the mall and your friends would run UP the DOWN escalator? Or maybe DOWN the UP escalator? It was usually the boys, showing off to impress the girls. Like the modern day Roman Colosseum or something. Chivalry and honour at its finest. Us girls, we were oh-so-impressed, giggling hysterically and then some of us would take a crack at it ourselves. Even then, though, I knew myself and my inherent clumsiness well enough to avoid this at all costs. I knew I’d slip, fall and crack my teeth on the metal, my lips stuck between the claws of two risers. I could imagine what the outcome would be in that scenario, but somehow I missed the memo elsewhere in life.

Throughout my 30 (soon-to-be 31) years, I’ve been going UP the metaphorical DOWN escalator. I choose “up”, rather than”down” because it’s always been a climb. One with lots of friction and resistance. Before I proceed, let’s be clear (once again). I have by no means lived a difficult life. In fact, mine is almost as charmed as they come. I haven’t faced adversity or tragedy. Not the real kind, anyway. I have, however, spent an awful lot of time chasing things that I had no business chasing. Dreams, goals, aspirations. Men. Not because there was anything wrong with what (or who) I wanted, but I was chasing things that I wasn’t supposed to have. Things I thought would make me successful – in my own eyes and others. Things that I thought would make me happy – because they’re things everyone said would make me happy. Things that were so inherently contradictory to who I am, what I believe and what makes me, me, that it’s amazing that I didn’t trip and fall a long time ago.

When I think about this metaphor, it makes me realize that it’s no wonder so many of us are frustrated, feeling unfulfilled and uninspired. We keep searching for our purpose. We set goals for ourselves and achieve them, and yet somehow feel emptier than when we started. We plot our lives in five, ten, 20 year increments and assume that everything will unfold exactly as we plan, with no bumps along the way. Perhaps more remarkably, we assume that we’ll be the same person, wanting the same things, then that we are now. Have you ever been the same person after five years has passed? Do you even want the same things tomorrow as you do today? Rarely. As a society, we are a group of well-educated, informed adults going up the down escalator. Only now, it’s not so much fun and we all look a wee bit silly.

Call me crazy, call it blind (and perhaps stupid) faith, call it unfounded, but I wholeheartedly believe that each and every one of us has a specific role to play in this world. Maybe not to be Mother Teresa or a Stanley Cup-winning hockey player, but each of us has something inherent within us that is so uniquely ours that only we can fulfill it. Whether you share my point of view or not, I guarantee that nearly all of you understand that feeling of living life against the grain. It’s a bit sublime and you may not be fully aware of what’s happening, but you know that you’re not being true to who you are and what you want. You just haven’t acknowledged how much of an impact that’s having on you, nor have you decided to do anything about it. You may never do anything about it. But I know you know.

I’m no expert in reversing or re-routing traffic flows, and heaven knows there are still plenty of days when I fight the good fight. But over the past two years, I’ve made a deliberate effort to spend a lot more time listening to myself, to finding the things that make me happy and fulfilled. And, guess what? I’m a lot more of both these days. No, getting here is not an easy, fast or even intuitive process. And, yes, sometimes the decisions you end up making or the things that happen suck. They really suck. But if being happy and settled in your own mind and body is something you desire so much that it’s making you unhappy, I’m telling you that the journey is worth it.

I want to share some philosophies that have helped me. Now, don’t come looking for a PhD in psychology, you won’t find it. Nor do I have any professional insurance to cover me if you decide you want to sue me for bad advice. And I certainly don’t believe that my path will work for everyone. Or, perhaps, anyone. Each of our paths are as unique as we are and we can only hope to pick up a few tips for how to navigate along the way. But, here’s how it went down for me.

1. Acknowledge – Ugh. Could I not have come up with a more original first step than this? “Hello, I’m Wee C and I’m not happy.” I know it sounds trite and overstated, but I simply began by acknowledging that how I was living wasn’t working for me. And I owned it.

2. Commit to making a change – Enter 30 Things. I knew that I needed to do something to help me on my pursuit of happiness. 30 Things is what worked for me. That may not be your thing. The most important factor was that in making a commitment, I forced myself to pay attention and be present in my life. And to acknowledge every day.

3. Let go of control – Somewhere along the way, somebody came up with the genius idea that if we worked hard enough, planned sufficiently well, and had nerves of steel we could control anything in life. And then the whole world (well, at least North America) decided to embrace this ideal. Me included. That’s why 30 Things was about saying yes to things I would normally say no to and not about making a list that I could control and check things off of. I found a way that I could let life take me down the paths it wanted to and I had no control over any of it. Letting go of the control would have been an impossibility had I not completed #1 and 2.

4. Let go of the outcome – This is perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned. If you take nothing else away from this post, take this, try it, practice it. When I first separated from my husband, this became my own personal mantra: let go of the outcome. I knew that I could either fight the situation and work to get my old life back, or I could accept that because I wanted life to change (at least some fashion), that’s exactly what was happening. I didn’t know whether we would come back together stronger than before, or if we would go our separate ways. The outcome I wanted was the former. But I was prepared to accept either, knowing that if I didn’t interfere, the outcome, regardless of what it was, would be remarkable. Truth be told, it has been…and I’m just getting started. I’ve since applied this approach to nearly everything in my life. When you don’t worry about the outcome, the journey to get there becomes a hell of a lot more enjoyable. And enlightening.

5. Make space and time – I started blogging, I started to keep a journal, I practice yoga and pilates, but more importantly, I stopped with a whole bunch of other foolishness that was simply taking up space and time in my life. I thought that being busy made me important. It didn’t. It just made me busy. And miserable. Space and time brings clarity and in my experience, clarity brings a lot more happiness than being a busy body ever did.

6. You’re not a hippie – Not that there’s anything wrong with hippies. But sometimes pursuing self-enlightenment, your own path, simply a different way of doing things can cause people to roll their eyes and say “She’s just trying to find herself. At some point self-discovery became “airy, fairy” and frowned upon. So I spent a lot of time not admitting to the fact that, yes, I am indeed trying to find myself. Not because I’m lost, but because what the heck else is this gig about if it’s not about that? I’m done apologizing for being true to myself and doing things my own way just because other people’s imaginations suck.

I’m far from having things figured out. But I’ve learned that living life against the grain – against YOUR grain – is hard work. It brings way more friction to life than any of us need. So, albeit a little late, I’m taking a lesson from my childhood self and doing what I can to avoid cracked teeth and bloody lips. I’ll impress the boys another way.