Success, Reconciliation, and Crisis

In a year, I’ll leave this place and go learn how to live off the land. The imagery of this thought consumed my mind as I sat in my cubicle one Friday past. I have a list of jobs I’d like to try. One of them is Policy WONK, and I’m lucky enough to be tasting the world of WONKing right now. The list also contains things that currently seem a little more twenty-something dreamy to me — farmer, starving artist, travel writer, gettin’ real grassrootsy. I’m walking the edge of adulthood and I’m itching to do it barefoot.

I love the job I have now. The experience is immense and the topic is of great importance to me. I’m thrilled with its sense of stability, its benefits, and its professional ambiance. In a romantic comedy sort of way, it’s perfect. But it would be a lie to say that some days that itch to get barefoot doesn’t take me over. It’s on these days that I often contemplate the definition of “success.” And there are definitions I have of what I think it should ideally be, and ones that I believe society deems it to be, but I still struggle with making peace with what I want “success” to be for me.

It’s a delicate balance. It’s a reconciliation of what appear at first glance to be conflicting desires. We spend many of our days in this life working to get the good grades, that will help us to get the good internships, that will help us to get the good jobs, that will help us to get the good promotions, that will help us to grow a good retirement package. It’s an ongoing trajectory, building upon itself, establishing itself in the competitive environment in which it takes place. So, if one were to decide to suddenly drop out of this trajectory and do something that perhaps does not build upon one’s professional skill set, but rather one’s soul, one’s character, one’s personal history — where does this fit into success? And if he or she defines this experience as a personal success, will that translate to success when reconnected to society? Will they still have the same promotional potential or the same shot at that prestigious graduate program? Where does a year of learning to live barefoot off the earth’s soil fit into this picture?

Entering into adulthood is ultimately charming, even through some of its more monotonous aspects. I’ve started a list of the indicators of adulthood:

  • Mid-morning must-have coffee.
  • Q: “Will you be sticking around for a while?” A: “Well, I have a stable job that pays well and has benefits, so I guess I ought to.”
  • Suppressing the feeling as if it is almost summer break.
  • “I’m really looking forward to June — three paydays in one month!”
  • “8pm is getting a little late for me.”
  • The Name Badge Reality
  • Snippets of conversation caught from people passing by that go something like, “My boss is going to be out of town next week, soooo…”

And so on. Although I poke fun at it, I love it. I love it because it is bizarre and chilling and interesting. It’s amusing to observe and to feel it happening to oneself. You immerse yourself in this alternate universe of the long treasured “bump and grind” until one day, you’re standing, looking at handmade cards, and find one that has a quote on the front reading,

“I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees.” — Pablo Neruda

Oh, baby — say that one more time? Mmm, yes, please. Now, stop making me blush. I’d like my own life to do just that to me. And then, all of a sudden, your “successful” and safe reality looks you in the face and all you thought you knew and all you thought you wanted to be get tie-dyed. (Note: I might be projecting my own feelings a bit here, maybe. And those feelings are known to change by the day hour.)

The other month, I finished a book called Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. My mother had mysteriously left it on my bed back in California before I left to D.C., so it was luckily packed away in my east coast-bound Chevy. I can only attribute reading it at the perfect time to some strange, sixth sense power mothers have to provide their children with nourishment at the exact moment it is needed. My mother is who I call when I’m feeling the most pathetic from the most pathetic situations because she knows just the right amount of love to give me — whether I need her to be serious no matter how lame my state is, or whether I need her to laugh at my pity party in just the right way. In fact, I called her just the other night when I found myself in tears over inadvertently killing a spider I was trying to save. Yes, that happened.

Anyway, this book was eerie. It was written by a mother and a daughter as they traveled through Greece, Turkey, France, and back home in the United States. I felt like the daughter had been spying on my mind and me for the past few years because her experience drew far too many parallels to my own. In the beginning of this book, the mother talks about the turning point she is reaching in her life as she ages, and the one she imagines her daughter is concurrently reaching — think: the indicators of adulthood. She then goes on to describe the two of them as being in a state of crisis.

Some days, as I try to reconcile my conflicting dreams and desires, I feel like my life is in a crisis. Perhaps, however, that is not as bad of a state to be in as it may at first sound. Perhaps, at the very center of the best moments in life is the crisis. What is important is redefining how we view the crisis. Sue Monk Kidd writes the definition of crisis as follows:

“(1) a crucial stage or turning point, and (2) an unstable or precarious situation.”

I have a lot of journals. They all have different themes — standard, travel, line-a-day, blueprints, gratitude, dreams, art, etc. I  journal1
like writing. But I’ve never felt as free and able to write as I have since I started a new journal back in September that I’ve deemed my “free thoughts” journal. In this journal, I don’t write dates, I don’t write in the lines (unless I feel like it), I don’t commit to writing eloquent essays, and I don’t write in one color. Instead, I carry it around with me, along with an array of pens in all sorts of colors, widths, and textures, and I jot down thoughts, phrases, quotes, ideas, analyses, anything, that pops into my head throughout the day that I think I could create something from at a later time. If I happen to not have my journal with me, I write things down on napkins, receipts, and other nearby scraps of paper that I later tape into the journal. Many of my blog posts begin as scribbled thoughts throughout several pages in this journal. This practice of “no strings attached” writing has finally freed me from some sort of writing block or fear that I’ve had, and it has opened an entirely new and unexplored region of myself to — myself. I write just about every day now, and it feels good to do so.

However, this discovery of my love of writing and of creating has also led to unrest — or the crisis. For from this writing also came a recent project I started called Lovely Handwritten Notes (my personal effort to save the post office and increase human connection through reclaiming the lost art of sending handwritten letters). In addition, it came with a desire to spend more time painting and getting my hands dirty with different mediums. I think about writing and how to visually portray experiences all day. When eight hours of your day are spent in a cubicle reading things that don’t have much wiggle room for creativity, such as government regulations, a discovery like this can be dangerous. One moment, you were perfectly content with what you were doing, and the next, your very soul is struggling to burst out of your seams and go make art. When I write and create, I feel like a spring cherry tree. Dangerous.

But, if this is now, in fact, a crisis, then that means it is, “a crucial stage or turning point,” which must mean that it’s one of those moments where I’m supposed to learn something in order to continue my success as a growing twenty-something. So, perhaps all of my struggles with defining success come back to an understanding that success is transitory. Maybe to be a “success” at this stage in my life is to fully embrace the chaos and the crisis and learn from what it presents me. To be successful is to gain the necessary experiences to draw upon when the time is ripe. Wait, where have I heard this before?

Oh, right…“Metaphorical Hot Springs” written on August 20, 2011 by yours truly after visiting the gravesite of F. Scott Fitzgerald:

“If anything, at this point I know that Fitzgerald’s work was so moving because it was largely based deep within experiences. And I think that’s basically the reason why I’m out here [in D.C] now; I’m adding experiences to my library to draw upon when the time is ripe.”

Why are these moments of clarity so difficult to remember amidst chaos?


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