I’m a planner and a dreamer. I love the idea that you can envision a better life and then simply live it. I wish that living into a better life would be like sliding into a well-worn pair of pants, but life usually unfolds much differently. Like most people, I often struggle to be perfectly satisfied in the messy reality of my life exactly as it is.
Several years ago, I went to a class about self-publishing fiction. The whole first class was dedicated to pursuing a traditional publishing deal. Why on Earth would a class that’s supposed to be about self-publishing teach people about the exact opposite: how to get an agent and get a publishing company to notice you?
Because, as James Altucher would say in his book Choose Yourself, we’re all just waiting to be discovered. There are so many people waiting for a big, life-defining moment: to lose 40 pounds and to be crowned the proverbial prom queen, to win MVP, to have a moment in the spotlight. So many people are waiting to be told—by somebody else, by somebody “important”—that they are good enough and that they are living their life right.
If this describes you, it’s up to you to know that you are doing life right. You are enough. Everyone needs to stop waiting for validation. We all need to stop waiting for our lives to come together and feel right. This is it. Today is all we’ve got.
Stop waiting to get picked, and take a good hard look at the life that you’ve built for yourself and see that it’s good. Perhaps it’s even amazing, and better than you could have imagined at some small, stunted, scary part of your life when you were hard on your luck.
When I look back at all the jobs I’ve had, I can see now that some of the piddly summer jobs that I thought didn’t matter, in retrospect, were some the best jobs of my life. Lifeguarding was the BEST. JOB. EVER. I got a suntan for a living. Yes, saving lives was a big responsibility and I did save a few people from drowning. Incredibly, because I was a stupid teenager, I didn’t know at the time that this was the best job in the world, and that every day was a paid eight-hour meditation session. Even though I sometimes complained at the time, the memories all boil down to awesome.
Then there were the corporate ladder climbing jobs in my 20s and 30s. While the money was much better then, I still didn’t appreciate those jobs to the levels they should have been appreciated any more than I had the good sense to appreciate being a lifeguard. I thought there would be a ticker tape money parade until the end of time. How wrong I was, considering the inflation we must endure.
These days I’m kept up at night by commercials about contributing to my child’s college fund. So I’ve learned to be incredibly grateful for now, and the small, quiet jobs that I’m enchanted by, that I might be tempted to take for granted, but by now I know better. That I get paid to sit at home in front of a computer is nothing short of sorcery.
Even still, as the country seems to be falling apart and there is plenty to worry about, it’s tempting to take these moments and these days for granted. Many people want to skip this part and get to some time in the future when the country will be out of this mess. However, this makes it hard to have gratitude for your life when you are busy wishing it away. Plus, we need to be here now to fully understand the mess so we can correct what’s wrong.
Many years ago I watched author Barbara Brown Taylor talking to Oprah Winfrey. The two of them scoffed at how so many people feel the pull towards a bigger life. They were discussing with a slight hint of disdain that not everyone is supposed to live a big life. I was annoyed at their condescension, but I had to admit they made a good point: there is magnificence in the small, ordinary moments of our lives. Easy for them to say, as they sat comfortably on their oversized, flawless, white, cushy TV-interview chairs.
They were right about some things, and they were wrong about others. Taylor said the most important thing people can do in their lives is to look at the big red X beneath their feet and to really be there, to live out of their current circumstances rather than trying to live into a fantasy. While it’s a good practice to be in the present moment and to appreciate it, I would add that there’s risk in standing still on that big red X. There’s great risk in doing the same thing over and over again and freezing in place. Our lives become stagnant. For some people, living an inspired and meaningful life means to have big goals, to evolve, and to keep moving ahead.
When it comes to living your life out of a vision versus living your life out of your current circumstances, it’s my firm belief that you must do both every day. It’s important to dabble equally in hope for a better future, and in the glory of now. Have a vision for a fabulous life, and hold it in your heart; and also keep your eye on the prize, which, ironically, is your life exactly as it is right now.
When you’re in the present and you allow yourself to feel the joy inherent in it, you get to feel how great your life is, the ordinariness of it, right now in every moment.
We’ve heard all of this before—”have gratitude”—but it bears repeating, because this is all going to end, whether we like it or not, so we might as well enjoy it. These are the days, the good old days, as bizarre as things are. I hope next year isn’t even weirder, but after the progression from 2020 and through 2021, we all need to prepare for the possibility that 2022 is stranger yet. So cherish your days. Don’t wish them away. Hug your family and friends tight.
Give your heart a break, every day, and be here now. Let your heart rest on the life you’ve built, for everything you have right under your nose. Not all the plans and the mile-long to-do lists, but whatever is happening all around you.
One morning when I brought my daughter into her preschool class, she was greeted by her best friend, who promptly invited my daughter to her house. These four-year-olds then set about planning how this playdate was going to happen. My daughter recited our address for her friend, who then said, “But I can’t drive.” My daughter offered to drive, as if this is something she does every day. The other four-year-old then lamented that she would have to bring her car seat, and she can’t carry it by herself. My daughter admitted she doesn’t have two car seats.
This is often how we operate in life. We have our vision for how we want our life to go. We want a playdate with destiny. Then we set about planning how this is all going to unfurl, but we’re not equipped to get ourselves from point A to point B. At some point we need to make our request to God, do what is within our power, and then trust that it will either unfold for us the way we want it to, or it won’t. Either way, it helps to admit to ourselves there’s good stuff right here in our lives exactly as they are.
These two friends had all day to play with each other at preschool. They could have stopped planning their playdate and simply started playing, right where they were in that very moment.
This reminds me of the time I stepped out of my apartment at some ungodly hour of the morning to go to the gym while the sky was pitch black and the moon was shining. There was a little frog sitting on my doorstep, far away from the nearest source of water. I knew if I left him there, that as the moon sank and the sun rose, he would dry out, shrivel and die.
So I rescued him. But man, that frog made it way harder than it had to be. First, in order to escape me, he jumped and jumped, slamming himself repeatedly into a brick wall. Then when I finally held him cupped gently in my hands, I could feel his fear as he thrashed and struggled. Where was I taking him? What would become of him? Perhaps he thought I was a predator trying to eat him.
As I carried the frog back to his home in the dark woods, I heard the roar of the stream swollen by the rain. I expected to set the frog down safely near the stream after I crossed a bridge. Instead, the frog leapt out of my hands and over the side of the bridge. I gasped as he fell ten feet down into the rushing water.
In these strange times, as our faith is tested, we might have days when this is how we act in the hands of God: thrashing blindly, struggling against what is. We argue against our realities, not wanting to trust. At times, we may feel unable to gratefully accept that no matter what happens, we’re all going to be okay.
Let your heart rest. Even when you suspect you’re in the hands of a giant who wants to eat you, it will be okay.