The question came innocently enough, though I thought it rather outrageous at the time. It was several martinis and glasses of wine into the evening and my bottle of cheap champagne had been popped rather unceremoniously.
“So what are your goals for 2013, Jos?” Here I’d been content thinking the New Year meant I wouldn’t have to stomach another glass of mucousy egg nog for a whole year and the days would start getting longer. Goals weren’t exactly on my mind and hardly seemed appropriate drunken party chatter. But then I’ve never been a big fan of long-term planning. A lover once asked me where I saw myself in 10 years. I made something up to be polite but honestly, I find the question distressing. Not as distressing as someone being able to answer it, mind you. I don’t mind a few loose guidelines and a rough game plan but I prefer to play things by ear. It leaves more of a margin for possibility. And eases up on the expectations. I’ve seen people actually end a perfectly good relationship because it didn’t fit into their pre-fab life game plan.
That’s not to say I don’t fantasize about various lives I’d like to end up with: the successful writer, ocean-side villa, wealthy man, and a life filled with travel and shopping is a old favorite, for example. It’s a tempting way to live. The problem is that while you’re constantly living in some imagined future, your present often doesn’t get all the attention it needs. You spend all your time waiting for your life to begin, for all the “if onlys” and “wait untils” to be in place and you get lazy about what’s going on right now – what kind of person you’re becoming.
And if you don’t deal with what you’re becoming as a person before you rush out and achieve all your goals, you’re just gonna freak out because you won’t know who the hell you are, have a mid-life crisis and have to go live in the woods or some stupid thing, anyway. You might just as well deal with some of it now.
So this year, rather than set any lofty goals or make any sure-to-be-broken resolutions, why not take this opportunity to take inventory on the present. Take stock of where you’re at on the road to being the kind of person you’d like to spend the rest of your life with. To help in your reflection, here’s a handy check list of some of life’s most popular personal struggles.
And I don’t mean the kind of cocky self-assuredness that so many of us try to pawn off as self-confidence. Have you gotten over that feeling that you’re fooling everyone and started truly believing in yourself yet? Are you still letting your insecurities run your life? Send $19.95 to the address on your screen… but seriously, for example, when’s the last time you let someone you respect criticize something you’ve done, without secretly wishing them grave harm.
How you cope with envy is a good indication of your self-confidence level. It may have been okay in high school to stack the locker of the guy who humiliated you by beating you out for the position of bathroom monitor, but eventually, as difficult as it is, you have to start accepting that other people can be good at things too. Ease into it. It’s cheating, but you can start by running down your mental list of all the things you’re way better at than the person you’re envious of (who is also, no doubt, secretly a bed wetter). You know you’ve really got envy licked when you can let that tactic go and accept that you’re good at some things and other people are good at others and this is a good thing. “I always try to look at myself from an outsider’s perspective and think of the things they might admire about me,” is how one friend tells me he deals with feelings of envy.
Fear Of Failure
This is often why we feel envious of what others accomplish. We’re terrified we would never be able to achieve the same. This one drives me nuts. What’s really gonna happen if you fail? Lightening bolts, the Plague, condemned to a life of Mike & Molly reruns? I mean really. And who hasn’t learned most of their lessons in life from their mistakes? I say fail, fail again, just don’t stop trying. I discussed this fear of failure thing with my father once because it seemed so many of my friends blamed their immobility on it. “Who are you living your life for?” he asked, in response, “yourself or other people? If you constantly live your life in anticipation of the judgment of others, you’ll paralyze yourself. ” Smart guy, my dad.
Living for yourself does not mean being selfish, however. Looking after yourself and your own needs is a good thing but not at the expense of others. If we are truly confident in who we are, selflessness should be second nature. Do you consider yourself a conscientious person? This does not simply mean you remember birthdays or to bring someone flowers once in a while (though these are welcome prerequisites). True selflessness means you are aware of the consequences of your actions and your words. It means you are able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes at any time and act accordingly, considering others’ needs at the same time as you are taking care of yourself. Basically, it means not being a jerk.
When’s the last time you felt real joy in your life. In fact, do you even know what makes you really happy? Not just happy like you I got the last free dryer in the laundromat happy but happy like when you were a kid and had a whole summer stretched out before you with nothing to do. Think about the things you enjoyed as a kid that you no longer allow yourself. What would it take to make yourself experience that kind of joy again – without drugs or alcohol?
Without a doubt, true, deep, scrape-me-out-of-the-gutter-once-in-awhile-friendships are my greatest sources of joy. I once read about this guy who complained to his therapist that he couldn’t find any friends. “There are no friends out there,” was the therapist’s perhaps impatient but I thought, insightful response. Friendships are created – by us. Our friendships, like our relationships, are only as good as we make them. How much effort do you put into having the kinds of friendships you need in your life? Do you know what you need or expect from your friends and what can you do to get it – without having to resort to bribery?
Along with friends, our work is supposed to be a source of satisfaction, and yes, joy in our lives. That’s why we’re all so happy to be back at it, right? I’m always trying to find new ways to phrase that question, “What do you do?” so it doesn’t sound like a person’s entire identity is tied to how they receive (or don’t receive) a paycheck. We all want to have jobs we love, many of us don’t, and many of us don’t have jobs at all, especially these days. If poverty didn’t have such a bad rap in our society, I’d be tempted to say this whole unemployment thing wouldn’t be such a bad thing, if it it maybe got us thinking about how we think about how we measure a person’s worth and how we define success in our culture. How much does your work define show you are? If you suddenly found yourself unemployed, what would you do? Are there things that your work stops you from doing that you would like to do?
Probably the most common thing that people say work stops them from doing that they would like to, except maybe those who are lucky enough to make a living off their art, is to explore their creative side. Most of us never do – no doubt, in large part because of our fear of failure. As far as I’m concerned, tapping into this part of ourselves, in whatever capacity that may be, can do more to bring the rest of this shit together than anything else.
The grand prize. The big “if only” in our lives. Too many of us still believe love to be the thing that will pull us together. If you haven’t yet, maybe it’s time to let go of that one and start realizing it works the other way. And since I’m getting all sappy on ya, I might as well say it: you have to love yourself before you can love someone else. Well, it’s true. That that old notion that you meet the “right” person, fall in love, and the rest just follows is stupid and naive. Figuring out what you really want from a relationship and how to get it is probably is the biggest challenge of all. What do you want from a relationship – beyond regular sex, and after the initial head rush? What would it take to be loved in the way you deserve and want to be? Some things to think about.
Happy New Year.