Run and Stumble

Maybe what’s special about being human is our ability to make ourselves crazy.

We take something simple.. we analyze it, replay it, assess and place value on it.

I love the internet, but it provides a constant feedback loop and yardstick. A quick search will provide a long list on the psychology of facebook:

The Anti-Social Network: By helping other people look happy, Facebook is making us sad.

How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy

Facebook Makes Us Sadder And Less Satisfied, Study Finds

How Facebook Warps Our Worlds – It not only makes us comparative and unhappy, it even stifles our individuality and influences us to conform.

Kitschy titles aside, the sentiment is real.

Yesterday someone asked me about my hobbies and what I do for self-care. Do you remember the early incarnations of Facebook where we eagerly and painstakingly crafted our list of hobbies and interests? But yesterday, that question made me pause and reflect on life since college.

An idea! Run, run, run. Grasp! A satisfied pause. Look around. A troubled pause.

An idea! Run, run, run. Repeat.

An article I stumbled upon today, while chasing a new idea, hit home:

But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

And a later passage:

External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. But the stumblers occasionally experience moments of joy. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to organizations, ideas and people. There’s joy in mutual stumbling. There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.

The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be. Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquility. For most of their lives their inner and outer ambitions are strong and in balance. But eventually, at moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated her much better than she deserves.

Those are the people we want to be.

I was attracted to the nursing profession for many reasons, among them the hope that it would take me away from the computer and pull me out of feedback loop. Like a rat in the pleasure center experiment, I could keep clicking “refresh” to the point of exhaustion. To a point, nursing fulfills this promise. Being present with a patient and putting out (figurative) fires within the hospital doesn’t allow the mental space to worry about November’s election, to consider whether I’m building a “moral vocabulary” worthy of an “incandescent life,” or to pass judgment on my performance as a wife and mother of two children.

I can lean in during my three 12 hour shifts at work and present an employee who is a composed, decisive, and forward-thinking leader and peer. I can cultivate my mothering tribe on my days off, planning play dates full of outdoor exposure sufficient to raise a Viking child. During nap time, maybe I’ll cook.. clean.. consume social media or click bait. I will race until I pause. The pause will be one of feeling full and grateful, or of a longing to be filled again.

I can find comfort returning to David Brooks’ piece:

The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.

This is a philosophy for stumblers. The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. Recognizing her limitations, the stumbler at least has a serious foe to overcome and transcend. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance. Her friends are there for deep conversation, comfort and advice.

Running is okay, but not in a straight line. Goals are important, but there really is no finish line.

A great quote that stuck with me from Tuesdays with Morrie is, “you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.” I don’t have to worry whether women can “have it all” if I refuse to by into the question.

I don’t need to have a ready-made answer when someone asks me about my hobbies and self-care because it’s not about the individual segments, but the unbroken whole. It’s one cadence, one dance. To separate out my day-to-day in my nursing career from my time at home with my kids is to imply there’s a definite start and stop to each. Some of us might be adept enough to leave all work at work, but in reality someone from work is texting us on our day off. And our child’s daycare is calling us at work. My patient is watching Donald Trump with Megyn Kelly on the tv. My Facebook newsfeed shows me a former classmate’s promotion at work. In that yoga class I signed up for in order to place a check next to the self-care box, I find a colleague on the mat next to mine. The mom’s at the playground want to ask me about their concerning health symptoms.

Life isn’t designed to be fragmented and neat. In fact, it’s becoming more integrated every day. The integration causes stress because we can’t evenly measure the pieces. Pick, pick, pick.

When I pick at the individual pieces, that’s when I’m unhappy. Seeing a friend post a photo from her “girl’s night out” reminds me about my stunted social life. Reading about how much fun was had at a playdate that occurred while I was working reminds me of my long hours. But when I step back and look at the whole picture, I’m happy. I’m whole right now. Maybe instead of that girl’s night, I read a story to my child and watched her eyes flicker with delight. Instead of the playdate, I advocated for a patient and her family who had been feeling neglected.

 I don’t need to define my hobbies or myself, because I’m stumbling.

“To be great, be whole;

Exclude nothing, exaggerate nothing that is not you.

Be whole in everything. Put all you are

Into the smallest thing you do.

So, in each lake, the moon shines with splendor

Because it blooms up above.”

― Fernando Pessoa


One thought on “Run and Stumble

  1. Pingback: A Box of our own Creation | Brave RN

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