Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Learning by doing

Today it is suddenly clear to me that living well is a skill that can only really be learned by doing, just like any other physical or mental skill.

I would never expect to learn how to tango, or weld, or write a speech just from reading a book (much less an article on the internet). I know that learning these skills takes practice, in order to learn all the parts that cannot be put into words and to commit the necessary reflexes and instincts to memory.

So why do I keep thinking that I can learn how to live by reading? That understanding a lesson on the page is the same as understanding it through experience? Why am I surprised that I keep coming back to the same lessons again and again, though I'd thought I'd understood them already?

Another lesson learned, and I hope that I've learned this one as a feeling in my bones, and not just as words in my head. And, as so many times before, I find myself coming back to one of the most basic lessons of all: patience.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Really, I am very scared

Sometimes, for a while, I forget, and everything is wonderful. I think anything is possible. I dream big dreams and believe in them. I see myself as capable, special, with something to offer.

And then a crack appears. Something feels off; I investigate; the floodgates open and all my fear crashes down on me at once. And it is a lot. It is overwhelming.

I fear I have made the wrong decisions and am making the wrong decisions now. I fear I will not reach any of my dreams, because they are unrealistic fantasies. I fear that I am useless, irredeemably flawed, pitiful and laughable and disappointing. I fear I will be judged and found unworthy, because I am.

And then, the worst of it passes, and I am left behind, washed up and exhausted. And I stand up again because, what else is there to do? And as the immediate memory passes, I start to forget my fear and dream again, setting myself up for the next fall.

Is there another way?

I could live a normal life, be an average member of society, seek the protection of familiarity and the group. In the past I did not understand the strength of protection offered by normalcy; safe on a path trod before me by many others, I scorned the idea of safety. Now that I am off any clear path, I understand the appeal of being normal; oh how I understand. But some stubbornness within me compels me forward. I will not go back to the safe path yet.

So I read about people who have led strange, different lives, and I look for hints on how they deal and have dealt with their fear. So far, I have found no secrets. Perhaps there aren't any. Perhaps there is no other way, and I will keep getting battered by my fear again and again. And yet, the stupidly hopeful part of me hopes otherwise: that I will get stronger and more armored over time, or that I will learn somehow to float above the fear, aware of it but not sinking down.

We shall see.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Seeing life as a journey, not a list of goals

Less than two weeks into the new year, and already I've screwed up on one of my goals: I didn't write anything on here last week. So what now?

My first instinct is to be disappointed in myself. The old me would have said, "I've failed! I'm rubbish! I had a clear metric of what I had to do to succeed, and I didn't do it. What's the point of a goal I don't accomplish? How can I be happy if I don't accomplish what I set out to do?"

But this is the kind of thinking that made me depressed, the kind of thinking that I've been trying to exchange for something more positive, that will help me up instead of grinding me down. So I took a moment to ask: what do I actually want from life?

What I realized is that I want to approach my life the way I approach a hike, or a trip: as a journey, an experience, much more than just a list of goals accomplished. Accomplishing a worthwhile goal is great, it is satisfying, and it is something to be proud of - but in between those moments there is so much good stuff, and so much that is unexpected! And so what I am after is a whole adventure, twists and turns and struggles and setbacks and all, not a tidy list of checked-off boxes.

So, from that perspective, what is the point of a goal?
     To give me a direction, a landmark to head towards.

And how can I be happy if I don't accomplish one of my goals?
    By realizing that the journey is more important than any single goal, and that my aim is fundamentally just to keep moving forward and learning.

In the context of my blog: the truth is, right now, a blog post per week is not a trivial goal. I am still scared of writing, and overwhelmed by it, and I still don't know what environment or routines best help me write. I still don't know where this blog is headed, what it should and shouldn't include, how often I want to post, or if I should have a blog at all! It's no surprise that I faltered. But I'm still here, still brainstorming ideas for posts, still learning, still doing my best to move forward. So I think I'm doing just fine, after all.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

For the first time in my life, new year's goals

For the first time in my life, I'm setting goals for the new year.

New Year's was always just another holiday for me: an excuse for a party, with a few traditions. Mostly it meant buying a new planner, and having trouble writing the correct year for a while. Sometimes I tried to make resolutions, halfheartedly, because it was something other people did, but I never really took them seriously.

Looking back now, I see that it was because school/work was always my highest priority, and so I always had a goal in my mind already: get good grades; get into a good university; be a good student; get into a good PhD program; get my PhD; get a postdoc position where I can do my own research; be a good scientist. Everything else was extra, low priority. (None of this was quite conscious - if you had asked me, I would have said something vague about wanting to be happy. But when I made decisions, school and work always won out over other things.) At the end of each year, I knew where I was headed next, I had a goal, and I wasn't really looking to change anything in how I lived my life.

This year is different! For the first time, I don't have much of a plan for what's coming next. I have no idea what I'll be doing in a year, or even where I'll live. It's scary and exciting. It's an actual new beginning. And for the first time, it feels right to me to set goals for the year to come.

So here goes.

Broad aims for this year:

1. Healing. I'm going to continue working on accepting myself, being kind to myself, and giving myself space and time to heal from years of telling myself what I should be and what I should be doing. By the end of the year, I would love to feel like I know and am proud of who I am.

2. Doing. I have a lot of dreams and ideas that have been sitting around and waiting because I've been scared of failure or unable to choose where to start. This year I'm going to stop dithering and do as much trying, failing, and learning as I can.

And some specific goals I'll try to follow:

1. Drawing every day. To improve technically, learn to deal with artistic insecurity, and figure out what my deal is with art (do I want to do it to earn money, be great, get recognition? or just for the pure enjoyment of it?).

2. A blog post every week. To improve technically, stop being scared, figure out if I really want to be a writer, and help myself learn and think.

3. One main project each month, and no more. With all those dreams and ideas, I get overwhelmed easily. I need to focus, but I also need to switch from project to project so I don't get bored. This is just another attempt to organize myself in a long line of (mostly failed) attempts, but I am still hopeful that it will work!

A new year, a new me. I'm looking forward to it.