Here’s a thought, and I can’t remember where I heard it first. Coulda been my mom, coulda been on a vintage SNL “Deep thoughts by Jack Handey” spot. Whatever. The thought? Wherever you go, there you are.
I know, I know. At first take, it’s–well, it’s Jack Handy-level deep (and if you don’t know who Jack Handey is… sad for you. Google.), but I swear, thoughts like this can be deeper than they first appear. Regardless, I bring it up because there’s a certain theme that’s been smacking me around a lot recently. It’s come up all over the place, in fact. There was one woman I interviewed for the book, who developed an intense love for ballet when she was in high school. After graduating from college, she moved to the city where the artistic director she idolized lived, in hopes of learning from her. Only she did one better: she was offered a spot in this AD’s company, and spent several years traveling the world, dancing. Since then, the AD has moved on, and now, this woman is thinking of hanging up her toe shoes–maybe to teach. She doesn’t really know, but she’s pretty sure that the touring and dancing life just isn’t doing it for her any more.
Then there’s the woman who works magic with flour and butter and sugar, and started her own company several years ago. She grew slowly and steadily, and a few months ago, none less than the queen of cheapskate (or, to be more democratic, tip-challenged) foodies everywhere, Rachel Ray, declared her signature treat YUM-O. Seriously. But last Saturday was her last day in business. On the one hand, she was living her dream, but on the other, she was eyeball-deep in dough (not the green kind) at all times, and she wanted her life back.
Then there’s the woman who had a great job, and then, several months ago, was offered an even greater job. A job she’s described as her dream job. Which she took (as well she should). Only it hasn’t turned out to be that dreamy. Over g-chat on Sunday, I learned that her dream job is making her “miserable,” and has literally brought her to tears. More than once.
All of these women boldly identified their dreams, went after them, and–albeit maybe for just a brief while–lived them. And look what happened.
I mean, it is WONDERFUL that each of them did what they did. But it makes me think of the rest of us–those of us who think thoughts like: Yeah, life is pretty awesome, but when I get married, then I’ll be really happy. Or: Yeah, my job is great and pays the bills, but once I get that promotion, then I can relax. Or: Yep, I’m stoked on my husband and my two healthy sons–but all I want is a little girl. Or: I love writing, and I’ve always wanted to write a book, it will be so cool when I’m actually spending my days alone with my thoughts and my keyboard. (Ahem: FOOL! Fool. How great will it be when you’re driving yourself crazy in your chair with an imprint of your ass worn into it, and begin to type, over and over, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”??)
What’s the matter with those scenarios? Well nothing. I mean, without dreams and ambitions, what would be the point of life as a human with a highly complex brain and fully opposable thumbs? It’s part of the human condition to want. To dream. To strive and try and do or die. There’s a part, I think, that’s cultural: the word “enough” isn’t really in our lexicon. We’re Americans, goddammit! Frontierswomen. We rank ourselves from 1-10 on things like “goal-setting.” But at the same time, there are a couple of things that get me to wondering, both of which can be boiled down to charming little cliches: For one, “everything is a trade-off.” Or so I’ve heard. I can’t say I’ve accepted it. But maybe I’m not alone. Maybe that’s part of the collective condition for women who’ve been raised to go out and have it all–if we have to give up anything, then surely we can do better, right?
But to me, the more interesting question is this, and brings us back to a certain cliche I mentioned earlier: does fixating on external things allow us to ignore the harder issues? And is that why satisfaction, happiness, contentment can be so elusive? Contentment, after all, is kind of a deep feeling. And the external stuff, well, it can be good and it can be bad. But, compared the the internal stuff, the externals are a lot easier to change. (They’re certainly easier to see, anyway; the externals, after all, are right there in your face. While the internals, well, they are your face.)
Which brings me right back to where I started. Of course. Wherever you go…