For the most part, I consider myself an optimistic person who tries to see the light in every situation. I work hard and also consider myself an overachiever. Both of these traits were conveyed to me over the past few weeks via my online course, which required that I take a pretty lengthy test to determine my strengths.
I discovered a few things–that I’m an activator who really values doing and achieving things; that I’m empathetic; that I’m a dreamer and visionary; that I’m strategic; and that I’m a natural counselor. It was heartening to know that my life has honed these skills and that I am best at the things that I’m actually pursuing!
But we all have shadows, right?
I’ll admit it, when I’m stressed out, I can be one cranky, whiny, bitchy person. Some people find it funny; some people think it’s hard to take. For me, complaining only fuels the negative emotions I already feel. I’m so passionate about everything that it’s really easy to get caught up in it. I feel like I’ve had a long run of that. As much as I’ve tried to be grateful–and truly am grateful–I often have a hard time expressing happy emotions and being complimentary. I blame my parents for this, but yea–it’s hard for me and something I’m working on. So, the problem is that I can often only be heard bitching–although wittily and/or sometimes in an entertaining way. Usually about something I should be bitching about.
The problem really starts to happen when that negativity overshadows the things that are joyful–that bring your light into other people’s lives. I don’t know if that’s been true for me, but I’ve felt too angry over the last several months. And that can’t continue, so I’m shaking it off and doing what I do best–activating some dreams and focusing on the amazing things instead of the shit I can’t do anything about.
I started thinking about the happy thing the other day, after reading that Boulder was rated the unhappiest place to work in America. I immediately called shenanigans. Because it was recently rated one of the best places to live in America. And upon looking at the “best” places to work? I found myself gasping. Because who the heck even wants to visit some of these places? Not me…and I’ve been to most of them. I wondered what on Earth could have produced these results. Is it all the natural beauty just moments away making people hate their jobs? Is it the proliferation of college students who will work for free or nothing? Is it Boulder’s trust fund culture skewing reality? Or maybe some displaced New Yorkers expecting some version of the Big Apple in the Mile High?
Now, I’ve not always been kind to Boulder. Or, rather, I’ve had my issues with certain aspects of Boulder culture. As a whole, Boulder is a beauty place to live AND work. I can think of few better, actually. And most people I know in Boulder are extremely happy, healthy, successful people. Yes, Boulder’s expensive. Lots of good things in life are. (And you can be happy in a ghetto, by the way). But Boulder is far from that…on any scale.
So, I know some of my friends will be shocked–but I am coming to Boulder’s defense–because if you can’t be happy in Boulder–newsflash–you won’t be happy ANYWHERE.
The whole thing got me thinking about happiness and places. Can a place make you happy or depressed?
I used to think so.
But, after a lot of thought, here’s my answer…nope.
Nothing can make you anything without your permission. You choose happiness. You choose who you are–no matter what things like hands you. You can make your opportunities, and your attitude does indeed make things happen (or not).
I’m not saying random crap doesn’t happen to good people. But your ability to be happy in this life is completely independent of anything in this world outside of you.
Sometimes, it’s just a struggle to figure out how. Sometimes, the answer is you just have to live. Sometimes, you have to suffer…a lot…to grow the Hell up. And sometimes, growing up is overrated.
As a kid, I felt cursed. I was born in Denver–which is gorgeous and hardly Afghanistan. But I lived in an area of town where almost everyone I knew was stuck in something they desperately wanted to escape. Life in my old neighborhood was really hard, even on the best days. I spent absolutely every single day of my life wanting to leave–plotting a way out–and eventually I did–with the expectation that leaving would magically make me happy. It kinda did. It kinda didn’t.
But it had nothing to do with where I was. Where I was just reflected who I was–inside. My move was the product of a devastating loss–which finally kicked me in the butt hard enough to get me to do what I always wanted to do–instead of what was easy. That loss actually got me in sync somehow, and it prompted me to leave. And the very first place I looked at was perfect for who I was right then. I stayed there, quite happily for a few years–until I stopped being happy there. And then, I moved here. But, at the time, things inside me were chaotic. So, when I got here–just a half a block away–I found myself out of sync. And I’ve been out of sync for almost four years. It was meant to be a temporary stop–not a four year stint. It’s been painful because I really don’t feel at home here. I love my neighborhood, and most people would love living in my building. But it’s not a match. I spent a lot of time fighting it and being miserable. Sometimes, I still do. But it has instructed me on how I use things outside myself to stay stuck. And it’s reminded me that I don’t need to escape so much as I need to go inside. Me. I need to fix what’s broken in here–in my heart and my bones. And until I do that, no place will feel like mine.
As an adult–who now lives on the opposite part of town from where I grew up–I’ve discovered something surprising. Some of my happiest moments have been in this area of town–and yet–most days–I still feel like that little girl in Westwood. I could blame it on this apartment. That’d be easy. But it’s me. And I often find myself pining for that other place I desperately wanted to escape. That old life visits me every so often in nostalgic growing pains. I miss the pho. I miss the old Mexican men wheeling their popsicle carts down the street. I miss my backyard. I miss the way it smelled in the morning in springtime–all roses and lilacs. I miss how easy it was to be someone worth knowing instead of just another schmuck doing the day-to-day. For better or worse, being special was easier somehow. I miss the kids driving their hoopties. I miss all of it–good and bad–the very things that made me feel oppressed back then.
I felt like that for most of my life, actually, even after I left Westwood. Usually because of work. You make choices in life. Trade-offs. You take what you think you deserve–or what you know. You compromise. A place was replaced by annoying coworkers, low pay, zero opportunities, and bad bosses. All things I excused in my head, at one point or another, because I needed to believe that they were more than they were–or because I just didn’t realize my own worth. I told myself for a long time that these choices I made weren’t my fault. That I didn’t really have any choices because of where I came from and the stories I inherited. I created a fiction of being stuck because acknowledging the choices I didn’t make would mean I’d have to accept that I actively chose misery and being stuck–that, for as confident as I seemed to everyone, I didn’t quite know who I was and I certainly didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t have the vocabulary for self-empowerment. Even though I’d always achieved things. Turns out, I was simply looking around all the time–figuring out what was expected and moving forward.
The thing is–I was always powerful–even if I didn’t quite get it. When I decided, I did things. I did the impossible even. All because I thought I should.
For the longest time, I hated my work–absolutely despised it. I’d get up and do it, sure, but every day–I felt a little less good about myself–about my future and my life. I’d plan exit strategies in hopes of finding something better. And I’d repeat these patterns over and over again. Pure insanity.
At some point in my life, shit got old. I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed meaning. I needed more than this. So, I set about to create this meaning. I stopped looking around for my answers and started looking within. This came from a whole other paradigm shift that had nothing to do with work and more to do with authenticity and recommitting to being myself. I was recreating my entire life.
Which meant I had to sever ties with people and things while embracing all sorts of other scary things I wasn’t sure about. Only I wasn’t ready for these things. And I found that I wasn’t sure about my choices. And then, the unthinkable happened to the girl who always did what was expected. The worst case scenarios happened–the things orphans dread and move Heaven and Earth to avoid. And, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t that powerful. I was vulnerable, and I had to face exactly who I was every single day.
And you would think that the state of fear and dread and oh-my-god-what-is-going-to-happen-to-me gut checks that I would have been absolutely miserable. You would think that, but–in fact–I learned the opposite was true. Sure, I was constantly terrified. But I was also free in a way I’d never been. Free like I was after my Mama died. And within that freedom, there was everything. An opportunity to create the life I never inherited. An opportunity to learn who I was and to be who I am. And I was happier than I’d ever really been.
It was baffling. And I was grateful. Genuinely. Not just some buzzword.
It made no sense. And my perfectionist brain tried really hard to understand it, but then I just surrendered. Because I could.
That’s around the time when I started making different choices. All I wanted was to keep my freedom. I didn’t need a ton of money–just enough to live my life with a little extra. I figured out what just enough meant for me. I figured out where I wanted to go and what supported that/what didn’t. And I became a little uncompromising. When I saw something I wanted, I dug in my heels. I followed up. And when opportunities landed, I chose them–actively–because I knew they’d support me in my life. And I decided to give these opportunities everything I had.
And I learned that you probably shouldn’t do that. But I also learned how good it feels to know you have that in you.
And I discovered something odd. Though these new things were new and unique, they weren’t all that different from the old things. But I was different. And I discovered I’d been a little immature. Or maybe, I just couldn’t appreciate the old things because I didn’t know who I was or how to be happy with anything.
I think that’s called growing up.
Any job or place or person will make you miserable if you’re unable to appreciate it. I’ve learned that there are forty million barriers–all self-created–to happiness and contentment. Sometimes, we can only get there by losing everything. Sometimes, we just have to sit and wait it out. Sometimes, we have to make really hard choices and choose to be different people.
For me, a huge gift has come about from simple questions. When things are going wrong, I ask myself, “What am I doing right now that helps this be a negative experience for me? Is there anything to be grateful for? How can I change myself to handle this situation better?”
It’s not easy, but I’ve learned that–as much as things and people can be aggravating–they only have that power because I gave it to them. I can change who I am to be more empowered and less annoyed. And if you stick to what makes you more free, the more you’ll feel true to yourself.
But you have to decide what freedom means to you. You have to figure out your path to it and stay there, even when the opposite is all you know. And acknowledge you’re lucky and more powerful than you ever used to think you were. And, eventually, you’ll grow some more and find yourself missing who you used to be. And you’ll make new choices for who you could be.