I live in a place that’s not very diverse (despite several different ethnicitis living here. Diversity is as much about thought as it is about race or gender), not very urban, and where people are not very nice. I am here by necessity, not design. I have felt for some time now that I need to get out of here as soon as possible and resume my life, but I can’t because my job situation is not steady.
I met with a very good friend of mine last night and we talked about this. There are two people who I really admire, who I consider exceptional individuals, not just those I like. One is my sister; the other is this friend, who People Magazine wrote an article about when he was a teenager. Like my sister, he is younger than me, but like her, he is also very together. I love hanging out with him because we never run out of things to talk about, often going late into the night, sometimes even closing out restaurants. He always listens, always has something positive to say, and while he often defers to and respects me for being older, I definitely learn more from him than vice versa. He’s lived where I live, and many of my comments about it echo things he’s said before. So when he responded to my complaints and my excited plans, I was shocked.
“Bro, you need to focus on this moment. Not the future.”
That went against every word of advice I’ve heard from every “wise” person in my life, including my sister. Isn’t short term thinking bad? Isn’t it better to plan ahead, think things out, have goals? Why would my friend, himself on track to achieve success by the time he’s in his young thirties, tell me something that went against every shred of “conventional wisdom” I’ve ever heard?
“See, you’re doing something that we all do at various points,” he explained, ” so please don’t think I’m criticizing you – I do and have done it myself. What we as humans have to be careful of, that we fall into from time to time is believing that ‘if I only had X, then I would be happy.’ And life is not that simple.”
This resonated. Indeed, it went right in line with my own rules on life, against Black and white thinking and easy answers that could be applied in every situation. He asked me to think about my situation. I am staying in a room with family, paying a rent better than what anyone in this state pays. While my space is small, it’s private, nobody is bothering me, and I can stay here for as long as I like – in fact, my family wants me to stay here at least until I’ve saved enough to pay for and move into my own place. My job situation is what it is because I don’t have experience in my field – I am surviving through temp assignments, each of which is giving me that much-needed experience. The assignments are close, so I am not spending much on gas, and my neighborhood is safe. My health care is taken care of, to the point that my recent illness hasn’t cost me a thing, when medical debt has overwhelmed me in the past.
Though I know where I want to be and I’m not there, it’s not far away. My friend pointed out that I can go there whenever I like to visit my friends or to hang out or whatever. My car is paid for, and if it has trouble, there are many places to get it fixed nearby. My situation is very much a work in progress, but I am in the best possible position to work on it.
When my friend reminded me that there is nothing that “if only I had it” would turn my life around, he got me to take a mental deep breath and think. As my therapist often explains, turning around one’s life is a process, a process that requires focusing on the tasks we have to complete now, mastering them, and then slowly taking steps in the direction we want to go. Where I want to be will be there months and years from now (assuming the state’s water supply holds out, *sigh*). If I get enough experience and save money, I will be able to get there easily, and pay for it too.
“But I’m not getting any younger,” I argued, “why put off a life I could enjoy any longer?” He redirected me back to another of my own rules of life – time will pass no matter what. If I rushed a move unready, and suffered, I would add negative time to the time I have to wait, and worse, could get knocked right back here. If I were to go now, unready, and it worked, I may get the environment I envision, but I wouldn’t be doing my career any favors, and at my age, how much more would a few extra months or years give me? Again, my friends are close by – all I would really gain would be slightly better living conditions, and that assuming that everything worked out – if it didn’t, the improved environment would be cancelled out by material misfortune.
It was a good and important lesson. No one thing is going to “solve” my life. A gradual, steady improvement in all areas, is more likely to make it better, and in a lasting way. Those things I think I will gain are not out of reach, I just don’t have them with me all the time. But I can go get them – again, none of it is far away. If I concentrate on this moment, I could not only get the environment I want, but make every aspect of my life even better in a lasting way.
Looks like I owe him another one. Huh.