Thursday, July 2, 2015

Fighting the Urge to Have Things Figured Out

Image Source: User Keem1201,

Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher (and personal hero) writes, "this sense of ours that there could be lasting security and happiness available to us if we could only do the right thing. It is so basic in us to feel that things should go well for us, and that if we start to feel depressed, lonely, or inadequate, there's been some kind of mistake or we've lost it" (p. 12).

We live with both the external and internal expectations that we should have things figured out. It starts from a young age. What do you want to be when you grow up? What college do you want to go to? What are you going to major in? Have you lined up an internship?

It continues into adulthood. When are you going to get a job? When are you going to get promoted? Is he/she the one? How many kids are you going to have?

It's perfectly normal to have a final destination, a grand plan, a motivating goal. In fact, there is an intense amount of pressure to keep moving forward, to achieve, achieve, achieve. But what happens when life doesn't follow the script we write? What happens when the script is unclear? What happens when coffee spills all over the plan? What happens when you want to be a professional baseball player and you can't hit a curve ball?

Image Source: User Skeeze,

 If you're like me, you will feel frustrated, anxious, or sad. Why? I realize that I do not have things figured out and for some reason I think I should. I work hard, have high expectations, and strive for success. I generally make good decisions and consider myself proactive. I can check off many boxes on the 'most likely to achieve' list. But life throws curve balls, and I still haven't figured out how to hit them.

There is another alternative. We could smile and let out a slight chuckle with each detour. We could be empathetic, understanding, and kind to our self. We can pick ourselves up, continue to work hard, and get ready for the next off-speed pitch. We can accept the fact that we don't have things figured out. We can be okay with that. The road to success often looks a lot different than how we picture it.

Image Source: Demetri Martin, "This is a book"

We can also be supportive when other people don't have things figured out. It doesn't mean that we have to lower our standards or accept mediocrity. It isn't a blank check to be lazy and disinterested. As a teacher, I can appreciate the work my students do. I can appreciate their effort. I can appreciate their questions and passions. I can have compassion when they fall down, when they make mistakes. If I don't have it all figured out, why should they?

This summer is one of transition. I am moving out of my comfort zone (the West Coast) to teach and start a PhD program on the east coast. This wasn't part of the master plan. I will have to learn a new school district, a new community, a new university, and a new daily routine. My biggest goal is to be just fine with not having things figured out. I want to revel in the space in between what should be and what actually is. It won't be easy, but if I go the other way I may be able to slap that curve ball to right field.

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