Saw a post on gapingvoid simply titled “Now What.” I think it’s a good question to ask yourself every so often. Something about the end of the year invites this type of reflection. You’re only one day older on January 1 than you were on December 31 just as you’re only one day older on your birthday than you were the day before. Though arbitrary, the change from one year to another feels significant. Maybe it’s the increased interactions with friends and family during the holiday season. Maybe it’s the shift back to normal life after the hectic rush of the rest of December.
I’ve heard, “this year has flown by,” so many times in the last couple months that I’ve lost count. I’ve normally nodded my head and agreed, but in truth this felt like a very long year for me. Not always in a bad way as I’ve had some wonderful and amazing experiences this year, but more than once challenges in my personal or professional life made me aware of every passing moment while waiting for a shoe that didn’t drop or didn’t land where I’d hoped. I’ve faced as much disappointment as joy this year, which has been a change for me.
Around this time last year I became aware of several things I did not like about my life. So like any good modern self-improvement minded person, I set about changing them. We all make resolutions that mostly fall by the wayside, but mine began quite well. I established new patterns in eating and exercise and for the first time I started winning the fight with my weight. With those early successes I began looking at other areas in my life and working to “fix” the problems I saw.
February and March both brought shocks to my life, one suspected and the other completely out of the blue. The first brought pain and the second brought happiness along with heartbreak. As I moved into summer, I became fixated on the improvement. I wanted to fix everything in my life. I threw myself into everything that seemed wrong and worked on making it right.
It seemed a great idea at the time.
In truth there have been some wonderful results of this process. I’ve dropped my weight from peak near 300 pounds to nearer 240. I’m fitting into suits I bought for my interviews while a senior in college. I’m buying new clothes because I need something smaller for the first time in my life. I fully expect that by the time late spring rolls around I’ll be rather close to my “idea” weight probably for the first time since I was a freshman in college.
There are other things of course. I’ve rebuilt social ties and friendships I’d let lapse. I again found the joy in experimenting and trying new things. I developed a new good friendship. I’ve improved the skills in my photography hobby to the point I actually wrote an eBook on my niche. I’ve even sold a few copies.
The mistake came as I stopped enjoying where I was. I became so focused on the process of improving and where I wanted to go, I stopped enjoying where I was. Perhaps I’d been unhappy with my state for a while as the shift came subtly. I never noticed. I realized I was unhappy, but not why. Of course I was unhappy with some things that I wanted to change, but I stopped noticing the wonderful people and experiences in my life. I was like the driver so focused on getting to a meeting on time and complaining about the traffic, he misses the beautiful sunset.
By fall it had become obvious something was amiss. A Buddhist proverb reads something like, “When the student is ready, the master appears.” I didn’t find a single master to provide the answers. I got snippets here in and there, and then I had a wonderful, deep conversation with a good friend one October afternoon. She said the exact words that I needed to hear. It took a couple days to really sink in, but that was the “Aha!” moment. I found other things that provided direction. I particularly recommend The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom which is a wonderful blend of religious thought, philosophy, and brain science.
It wasn’t an overnight change, and it took me a couple weeks to realize I’d turned that corner. Since that day I’ve enjoyed life more, maybe more than in several years. I’ve learned to live in the moment, savor the small moments in life, to enjoy the flow of my senses coming in. When I’m eating, I enjoy the flavor and texture of my food instead of throwing it down. When I’m with friends, I enjoy the conversation and belonging and don’t worry about what I’m going to say or what we’re going to do. When I’m doing other things, I enjoy them fully and completely.
I still make goals and plans. I still have things I want to pursue. For getting lost along the way, I did still reach many of my destinations. The change is that now while I still am heading somewhere, I’m enjoying the drive along the way.