Finding new life

I’ve always had a job, sometimes more than one, and I’ve always worked hard and done my best. At some of them I failed miserably (I was a horrible waitress and a horrible business person), at others I performed well-enough to meet and occasionally exceed expectations. (I’ve always been pretty good of learning new things on the fly). Most of the time my work has been average, and not valued very highly.

It’s hard to accept being average, though most people are. We all think we’re special, and as individual human beings each of is certainly unique, and special in some way.

For sure.

I’m talking more about being average talent-wise, and specifically at the jobs we do.

This includes most of the work I’ve done at my current gig at Acme Health Services, where I’ve been for 22 years. Most of my co-workers and the leadership here are medical professionals, and the work I do is not prioritized, not really on their radar, and not really valued in the same way as someone providing health services.

That’s okay. I get paid, and I’m comfortable with who I am and my level of expertise. I’m not the best at what I do. I’m probably not even the second best. I own that. what I lack in talent I make up for in commitment and effort. I try really hard and I take my work seriously. I do my best to meet the needs as they are described to me, and for 22 years, I think I’ve done a good job for an organization whose primary focus is elsewhere.

When I was young I was sure I had special talent. I imagine that we all do. We want to believe that we have something special to offer the world; that we will make an impact. It would be really cool if we could all be that person, but it simply is not the way the world works. Some people really stand out.

Most don’t.

That’s okay. It’s great to have your ego stroked. It feels really good, and it affirms your efforts. It’s not fundamental to growth or a good life, however, and in some ways it can be detrimental. If you feel your value as a human is all wrapped up in one ability or attribute, what happens when/if you lose it? Then who are you? My current job is very important to me, but it is only one facet of my life and my history, even my work history. It’s not who I am in total, any more than having brown hair or being a good speller defines me. We’re all complex beings, and most of us work because we have to – primarily. Food is important, and having a place to live is nice, too. You don’t get those things usually unless you have a job. (Yes, sometimes having a job doesn’t guarantee either of those things. I understand that, but that’s a topic for another post.)

I’m struggling with this right now because I’m at the end of my career, and my abilities and my ideas are sometimes reflective of another time. Not always; sometimes I surprise myself and others. I’m willing to defer to younger minds with fresher skills and perspectives.

I really am.

What I’m running into, though, is feeling as though nothing I’ve ever done has been useful or even serviceable. The lovely young people I work with are very open with their opinions about what was happening before they came on the scene, and fairly condescending in the way they treat me due to their assessment of my previous work through the lens of a completely different time and world.

I’m sure this happens to most people as they age in their professions, and the world tries to move on without them, thinking they no longer can keep up. I want to believe that my years of experience and expertise is of value – not to mention that I am still here and there’s creative life in this old brain yet – but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Not new, I know, and I know I’m not alone in this. I know that, too. It’s the way of the world to move on to the next generation’s way of doing things – that’s how we progress as a society and as humans. I get that, and I applaud it. I’m all for change and I envy these young people their ability to effect it. (Having said that, I wouldn’t be young again, especially now, if you gave me all the money in the world!)

I wish I was in a financial position to step aside and let them have at it. As long as my mother is alive I’m not, however. I’m guessing I have to stick around for a couple more years, at least. So I want to be of use and I want to remain relevant, and I have to find a way to convince my new co-workers that I’m still both of those things.

Wish me luck!

Photo by Pixabay on

Here’s looking at you

Pema Chödrön tells a great story:

A Buddhist monk in training approached his teacher and told him that when he meditated, his back hurt. He went on to say that this clearly indicated that he wasn’t cut out to be a monk, and that he was a failure at everything he had tried and…the teacher interrupted and said, “So what you’re telling me is that your back hurts.”

“Yes!” said the young man, “I have failed at meditation, and so cannot fulfill my dream of becoming a monk, and…” The teacher smiled and said kindly, “What I am hearing is that your back hurts.” “Yes!” said the monk, “I’m a failure…”

“So,” said the teacher, “Your back hurts…”

Life is harsh. Bad things happen. Disappointments pile up as the years go on. It’s difficult enough without piling on more drama. Everything that happens to us can become fodder for embellishment – it’s the “what it means” part of any life event, even the most mundane, that makes life harder than it needs to be. Our “poor me” stories, carefully fashioned, most since childhood, not only damage our integrity as adults, but also undermine our ability to cope with life’s ups and downs without added pain.

The worst part is that we do it to ourselves. Buddhists call this the “second arrow.” The first arrow is whatever life throws at us that is causing pain. The second arrow is the story we pile on top of it, causing 10 times more pain.

Something happened, so I’m a failure. I always fail. I’ll never have what I want. It’s not fair, and it’ll NEVER be different.

An easy way to spot the arrows: the words always and never. These are two of my favorite words, unfortunately, and I am an expert at turning even the smallest inconveniences into epic tragedies, with long-term consequences. This weakness caused me much pain throughout my life, but it’s not as easy to stop as you might imagine. Even though I’m much older and wiser, I still catch myself assuming the worst about everything.

I’m not a pessimist, and I don’t believe in fate, per se. I am very much an optimist, but when bad things happen, I do whatever needs to be done to remedy the situation (if there is something to be done, which, of course, is not always the case), and then I start spinning the story about what it means.

I’m cursed. Nothing ever works out. I will never have the life I want. Blah, blah, blah.

Ridiculous, of course. I am blessed in so many ways, and I have incredible luck most of the time. I know that, and yet, when the proverbial shit hits the fan, I get lost in it. I fire the second, third, and fourth arrows and I succumb to them.

I’ve been struggling with a deep depression these last few weeks, and I’m particularly apt to pull out the bow and quiver when I’m in this state. I start berating myself for being so self-absorbed when there are people suffering legitimately horrific losses like a tornado that happened near here recently, the shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo, the Russian assault on Ukraine. I feel guilty for feeling badly – or worse, not feeling at all, which is more likely with depression – when I have no real reason to.

The reality is simply that I’m depressed. Period. It’s something I’ve dealt with most of my life, and it will pass, sooner or later. It’s bad enough without piling on guilt and frustration and impatience. Instead of bemoaning my fate and mentally reciting my Litany of Loss over and over, I should be patting myself on the back for getting to work everyday and continuing to meet my responsibilities at home, even though my energy level is at rock-bottom, and what I’d really like to do is crawl in bed until it’s over.

Life is hard for everybody in some way. Give yourself a break. Be patient, and treat yourself gently and kindly. Fire those arrows into the air and let them fall harmlessly to earth. Better yet, hang up the bow and the quiver altogether. Find a way to keep going through whatever it is you’re facing without causing yourself or anyone else additional (unnecessary) pain.

Everything has a season, and life moves quickly. This too shall pass.

Hang in there.