One of the bad habits that I have is constantly looking back in time and re-thinking the choices I made in my career, education, and just generally about my life. My brain LOVES to over-analyze my past in a way that makes me feel like I am not moving forward in a positive manner. However, starting now, I am going to try and make moves without all the extra analysis. I have sufficiently reviewed my past and need to just leave it behind so I can move ahead and find contentment.
On Monday evening, I had a drink with a new friend and it reminded me of how much I do not need to analyze my own thoughts. I realized, on the way home from the pub, that it was so easy because I was not doing emotional labour for this friend. With the friends that I have been connected to (and family members) I have always been conscious of their thoughts and feelings and censored my own emotions to accommodate their needs. This sounds like a lot, but my brain was so used to doing this work that it had become second nature. Being able to just hang out and talk about everything and nothing is a welcome change. I could feel myself NOT doing emotional labour and that was the real difference. Since I have never been fully conscious of that labour in the past, suddenly being conscious of NOT doing it is a gift.
Driving home I had such a happy feeling. I was not second-guessing anything I said to my new friend. We just clicked and were pretty much in the zone for the time we spent together. In fact, 3 hours went by like a flash. I did not pick up my phone once during the time we were hanging out and by the time we were ready to leave, it felt like no time had passed at all. What I am describing is probably the norm for a lot of people, but I have to admit that I have never felt this way before. Like ever.
Growing up in Niagara Falls, I was introduced to friends through the neighbourhood or school. I have retained one close friend from this time in my life and even that friendship was touch and go after we went away to different colleges. At Buffalo State College, I met people that I clicked with much better than my high school classmates, but I still continued to do emotional labour for these new friends. By college, I had been so good at mediating my feelings to help everyone around me feel comfortable that I had stopped feeling like it was work. Emotional labour was not a concept I even understood back then, but looking at it now, through the lens of my own history, it is overwhelmingly clear that I was emotional labouring all over the place, most of the time. The 90s were just a full on decade of emotional labour for me and that did not change much in the 00s.
If you have always done emotional labour for the people in your life, it will be very difficult to find the places where you can just be you. This is where the creativity lives and if you are focused on everyone else’s needs first you will never get to that creative center that you so desperately need to reach.
People always talk about looking back on their life from their deathbeds and not wanting to regret things. And I get it, if you don’t live life to the fullest while you are able, you will regret things in the end, but if you are looking back from a point of mid-life or, in my case, all points in life including childhood, you will never really live the life you want because you are too focused on what you already did not do. If this seems convoluted to think about, imagine what it is like to live this way, every single day.
Think about how it feels to always be twisted up inside over something you said or did or a way you acted toward someone or a choice you made that put you on what you perceive to be the wrong path. If you can envision this way of being, you are now inside my head.
But are there any wrong paths? I mean, sure, if you start taking copious amounts of drugs or drinking full bottles of wine in one sitting on a nightly basis, you could be heading down the wrong path, but overall, most paths are just paths. They are neither right or wrong, they just are. You take a walk down a path and see what happens. If it does not feel good you can shift to another path at any point in life.
I think the big misconception about life is that we have to choose something to do, at a young age, and then stick to it. If you do not stick to the plan, you look weak or dumb or any other negative adjective you can think of to call yourself. This is where we create negative self talk and why we linger on paths that we do not care to be on. Being able to shift gears in the middle of something that is not serving your best interests is the most healthy thing you can do for yourself.
I wish I had come to this conclusion earlier in life, but I am also glad that I am realizing it more fully now, at 45 years of age. Imagine where I would be if I had prolonged the agony of continuing down paths I hate well into my 60s and beyond. I know that a lot of people think that work is just work and will always be work and that we have to stay on certain paths we do not love in order to make life work, and that is truly sad because it does not have to be that way. We can choose to pretend we are happy when we are miserable, just to ‘make it work’, or we can follow a new road that leads us to contentment.
I am not looking for happiness anymore because I think that emotion is generally fleeting, but contentment, ah yes, that is where the good stuff is. To feel like I am truly making a difference in the world and moving in a positive direction for myself and others would bring me the most joy. And, to not work for a company that treats employees like they are garbage or makes money from causes that are disgusting at worst and shady at best, would make it all better. Would bring true contentment and satisfaction. Working toward the greater good would be stellar. Working with people that value a diversity of identity and opinion would be amazing.
So here is to you and me and everyone else that is searching. We will find our way eventually with a bit of perseverance and grit. Keep moving forward and live will reward you. And be sure to share with me in the comment section. I would love to know how your journey is going!