I'm trying to lead an average life.
My life isn't really average at all of course. I am pretty darn awesome and fortunate and things are shiny and bright.
I noticed something lately. Somehow or other I've gotten it into my head that in order to see myself as accomplished, or for others to see me that way, I need to achieve things by way of struggle. For some reason if it comes easily I don't value it as much and I assume others don't either. If it is effortless, it's nothing to "write home about", it's ho hum, it's average.
I blame my hometown for part of it. Santa Cruz is a complicated place and hard to describe but one thing I know is that there is a premium on Cool. Cool is everything. Each person of course has their own understanding of what is Cool, but nevertheless that whole town is aiming for that singular goal. So that's part of it I guess. I am always factoring in the outside view of my life. How Cool does it look from without? It is like I am telling my story as I'm living it. So, to grow up, make good money, drive a mini-van and raise kids? BORING plot. Decidedly un-cool.
BUT if I make good money by doing something admirable or chic? Not boring, maybe Cool.
If I drive a euro mini-van? Imported, definitely not American-made? Cool-er.
If I raise kids in some unorthodox, out of mainstream way like a farm or urban co-op and dress them in only hand-knit woolens? Cool-er.
As I look back on that last part I'm not totally convinced. Maybe everyone has a hometown pressure they feel. Maybe the place you went to high school, with it's magnifying glass that studies the coolness of everything - from a pair of earrings to locker placement, always sticks with a person. Who knows.
In any case these are just surface, cliche examples. None of them involve struggle. That is a deeper level I only recently discovered. I have the topical layer of living in a Cool fashion, and in my life's journey I have added the struggle layer. It looks like this:
If I make a lot of money after having NO MONEY that's an admirable and good story.
If I have a solid marriage even though we might face INCREDIBLE CHALLENGES that is really something.
If I build a fence completely on my own WITHOUT ANY HELP or carpentry skills, then it is a worthwhile tale.
The struggle part is in caps. Those are the parts I'd like to edit out. I want value in my life and for some godforsaken reason I've attached struggle to that value. WTF? Because it is a twisted mental maze of reasoning that got me to this point, the easiest way I can imagine to shortcut the struggle angle is to tell myself I am shooting for ordinary, average. If I am average maybe I'll just have money without having to build this dazzling tale of poverty leading up to the riches. If I am aiming for a run-of-the-mill life I could just build a fence and fricking love it that I got some help in the process.
See what I mean? If I remove the struggle-to-add-value angle what I have left over is just happiness and the achievement of my goals. Why have I made it so hard?
This is why I have been going on and on about stories. The ones we tell ourselves about our kids often are the basis of most of our struggles with them. But what about the ones we tell ourselves?
I have been telling myself this particular struggle/value story for a long, long time.
If I travel to Cuba, ALL BY MYSELF, EVEN THOUGH I'M SCARED, that will be good.
If I move somewhere where I KNOW NOT A SOUL, that will be a hard growing experience, that will be good.
As I look back almost every decision I have made in my life involves going down the more difficult (and in my mind - value-worthy) road. Why???? Why not move somewhere where I know lots of people and surround myself with my favorite humans in the whole world? Why not travel with a friend instead? Why not make good money any ol' way that feels good to me? Why not aim for a marriage that is simply rewarding and loving, instead of rewarding despite?
Why not go easy on my self? No one is watching. No one cares. No one is keeping any sort of value tally other than myself.
So I am aiming for average. It was hard at first. I thought it meant a life of dullness. But then I tried it and it has been wonderful!!!! We went to a wedding and sat at a table of Nathan's theater friends. I started to search my brain for charming witticisms. I cast about for ways to dazzle them, to show them I am worthy of Nathan's partnership (since I'd never hung out with them before). I wanted to not be boring and I was certainly willing to struggle in order to prove myself so. Then I remembered!
To be average or ordinary meant I could just sit at the table and speak when it occurred to me to talk! To not be looking from that out-of-myself perspective of judgement meant that I could just people watch. To aim for average meant that I ran in the grass with Echo for most of the night. Liberation!
Aiming for average actually frees me up to be anything but average, of course. Achieving goals without struggle is praise-worthy indeed. But that's not the point. The point is is that I get to have the things I want without a side dish of difficulty.
One side-effect that has taken some getting used to is that my stories are a bit more dull. I like telling stories. Stories about myself, stories to myself, stories about myself to others. It has been a fun thing in my life. But I think I want general happiness and achievement more than a rags to riches, triumph over struggle, kind of story. When I run into my girlfriends and I have nothing entertaining to say, instead of panicking and looking for some kind of you-won't-believe-this struggle-story I remember, and pat myself on the back. I'm going for average! If I have nothing to say it means I am simply living my life, living a happy life, and the only reason I don't have a tall tale to tell is because I am now circumventing the struggle side of my life.
And then there are times that I do have a struggle story but now I am using my mental strength to not tell it. For instance the hamster did actually die and I had a few paragraphs lined up about my direct involvement in her death, but I am not telling it. It may sound extreme to apply my new formula to a hamster but if I don't start there, with the small stuff, I'll lose track of my goal.
We create what we think. So if I think I have to struggle in order to get what I want, I will struggle. If I want what I want without a difficult trek to that peak I've got to start thinking differently, I've got to start telling a different story.
Last example. I built a fence with a double gate. I don't know if this sounds like a big deal to you but it's a big deal to me. Like traveling alone, carpentry is one of those things I wanted to be able to do but feared I wouldn't. It is daunting to me, incredibly daunting. But I wanted our gate. And I built that chicken coop a while back so I knew a gate might be within range. But really it involves a lot. Including digging two feet down in rocky rocky rocky soil for three sturdy posts, mixing cement, building square gates, hanging hinges, using power tools, AND in the end it had to function. Woah.
As I was working I felt myself telling the tale. I've never built before! All I had to use was a handsaw! I have kids! Our soil has rocks bigger than my head! There are tree roots to contend with! We have a tight budget! It is cold and raining! I did it BY MYSELF! But, wait, I remembered. I don't want struggle. I am valuable without it. So when I hit a big tree root Nathan stepped in. He hacked and whacked and did a rock star job. Then I lied on my over-alls belly and scraped out the debris. When I just couldn't get a boulder out of a hole we took turns scraping and prying. When I propped up the second gate and the very bottom corner scraped against the other I almost crumpled in defeat. Then Nathan came home, analyzed the situation, and helped me see that if I adjusted the other gate, just so, it might just swing free. And it did.
I built a fence and two gates. They are sturdy and strong and rad. And I didn't do it by myself. And it's so wonderful. A perfectly ordinary extraordinary story. A happy life.
What is your worn out story? What would you like to tell instead?