Reflection time: challenges and insights – Part 2

So here’s the continuation of my previous post. I get quite a bit more personal and contemplative here so if you’re looking for smiling photographs and travel stories then this entry might not be for you. If you want to know more about me and some things that I think about, then proceed…

Narrow projection, complicated reality

I think perhaps the image I project, through what I share online, or even stories in person, is that I’m adventurous, somewhat carefree, and that I must easily navigate through change and new experiences. But just because I post that we are doing a lot of activities or visiting different places does not give any insight into how I feel before or in the midst of them. I’ve debated adjusting what or how much I share on Facebook because I don’t want to give the false impression that my life is more appealing than it is, or invoke comparisons with other lifestyles. I want to be able to share experiences with friends and family but the last thing I want to do is appear boastful or make others envious. I enjoy taking pictures, I enjoy capturing moments in time, and recording them for future memories, and sharing them with those who may be interested. It’s fun, but it is fairly superficial. 

So I thought I’d share a bit of my reality. Naturally, I am not a very adventurous or flexible person. I was scared of just about every new experience or encounter as a child. I’m not exaggerating, you can ask my family, I was genuinely scared of some ridiculously silly things. I was, and still am, highly sensitive and can be easily overwhelmed. People who have known me for a long time sometimes marvel at how well I’ve “overcome all my fears”. They say it as if I have somehow vanquished all my fears and that they no longer exist. But that’s not true. I am still hyperaware of myself and my surroundings in most circumstances. My mind still automatically generates a long list of possible outcomes in almost every situation and there is always some level of apprehension that the worst possible one will occur. If I appear to be a calm and collected person it’s because I’ve had a lifetime of experience in attempting to mitigate my constant anxieties. I’ve learned over time to balance these feelings with logic and reason, to perform a kind of cost-benefit analysis in each situation. 

I’ve also learned how to be comfortable being uncomfortable (maybe why I’m drawn to long-distance running?). If I were to wait until I was fully, or sometimes even halfway, comfortable with something before I did it, I would not have done much of anything in my life. I’m not joking. If the average person was gifted with a comfort zone the size of a shoe box, mine was the size of a ring box. Over time that box can expand, and it definitely has for me, but I think more important than the size of the box is how you view yourself in relation to it. Are the walls firm and rigid, trapping you inside, or are there sliding doors or cracks to slide in and out of? I realized that to enjoy life: connect with others, see new places, try new things etc. I was going to have to be uncomfortable and venture out of that box. 

Over time, and with persistence, some things that were once uncomfortable become comfortable. And frustratingly, some things seem to remain as uncomfortable as ever. But if something is worth doing, I’ve learned to be okay with that discomfort. Do I always get the cost-benefit analysis right? Certainly not. There are still definitely times that I don’t do something that I should because I let my anxiety override my reason. And perhaps sometimes I err on the other end and do something unwise just because I want to prove to myself that I can function outside of my comfort box. 

All this to say, life is complicated. Don’t look at smiling snapshots online and assume that person has it all together or has it any better or worse off than you. We all have our own unique and complex characteristics and mentality that affect how we engage with our surroundings and deal with change. I thought I’d shed some light on my nature and perspective that helps inform my actions. It has undoubtedly made adjusting to some things in the last few months easier, and some more challenging. 

Insights from not working

I arrived in Tennessee without a job in place, or even an active PT license to work in the state. This was a deliberate choice, that Jeff heavily encouraged, for me to take some time off, settle into the new area, and then decide where, and if, I wanted to work for the time we are here. There were a number of factors contributing to this decision and the way I eventually went about pursuing a job (which I actually just started!), but I’ll save you several paragraphs of explanation on that. Instead, I thought I’d mention a couple observations I had while taking a few months off of work.

My perception and use of time changed while off work. It makes sense, that the less busy you are, the less rigid you have to be with a schedule and the more time you can afford to different things. But it’s one thing to know, and another to experience. I enjoyed the feeling of flexibility within my day and knowing that I didn’t have to fit each activity into a predetermined time slot. It allowed me to be more present with each experience and adjust on the fly what I wanted to do next. When we’re busy and every activity fits carefully into it’s own box before we have to move onto the next, we definitely lose the flexibility of adjusting. I also think we lose some of our in-the-moment presence because in the back of our mind we’re aware or worried about getting to that next thing on time or making sure that we check as much as possible off our to-do list for the day.

Now I acknowledge that I have been afforded the rare privilege of being decidedly not busy with my schedule of late, and that with a gradual return to work, connecting with others, potentially having kids, our schedule will start to fill up again. But, now that I’ve had a small taste of this new perspective on time, I want to try to maintain it even as the responsibilities start to pile up again. I’m not sure exactly what this will look like: if it means limiting the amount of activities on my schedule or just changing my attitude in the midst of them. It’ll probably take a bit of both, and a conscious, ongoing effort in order to not revert back to what I think our society has accepted as the norm.  

A brief aside: Several people, knowing that I wasn’t working, were like, Aren’t you bored? (Especially since initially we only had one car, so if I didn’t drive Jeff to work in the morning, I was pretty much stuck at home until he returned). And then I would mention all the things I was doing to fill my time, I guess in an unnecessary, unconscious mode of self-defense. But really I was thinking: You vastly underestimate my ability to entertain myself. I think when people imagine not-working or staying home all day they think of binge watching TV series or spending all day clicking on various YouTube videos. While Jeff and I did watch the Firefly series together and I fall pray to the occasional distracted session of online clicking, I generally don’t have the capacity (or desire) to sit for that long and I’ve tried to spend my time exploring various ways to tune in to life rather than tuning out. I have found a plethora of ways to spend my time. Perhaps being an introvert helped in the sense that most of my hobbies or recreational activities I can enjoy by myself. And it has been fun, with the extra time, to further invest in them and explore different creative outlets.  

Another thing I realized from time spent not working is how easy it is to tie your identity into your occupation. Isn’t that one of the first things that you get to know about someone? Hi, what’s your name? What do you do for a living? I mean, I guess it’s easier than, Hi what’s your name? Who are you as a human being? What has shaped your outlook on life and how do you seek to interact with and contribute to this complex world? But sometimes it’s as if the answer to what your job is fills in for the following, deeper questions. And I don’t think it’s just others that label us this way, I think we do it to ourselves too. We choose a defining feature: often our job, but it could be a prevailing hobby, or our family role, and that’s who we are. So what if you stop that job or hobby or role? I mean, I didn’t reach existential crisis level (I’m visualizing Zoolander looking into his reflection in a puddle and pathetically asking himself: Who am I?… C’mon, I can’t be the only one who saw that movie and remembers that scene?!), but it is something I’ve thought about. 

Obviously what we do, and having a purpose is important, but I think sometimes we go about it in the wrong order. Instead of focusing first on what we do, spending some time to reflect and work on who you are is even more important. The latter should then drive the former. I’m not just a physical therapist, or a runner, or a mediocre writer, or even a wife… if I stop any one of these my life will look different, but I won’t lose my identity. Obviously, you can further discover and grow who you are as a person while busy and fully employed, but not having a job provides a couple unique opportunities. One: you have more time to reflect. Two: you’re unable to hide who you really are behind your occupation. You’re more fully exposed and this can spur self-examination. 

In closing

A bit deep right? Don’t worry, my next entry will probably focus on some amusing activity that Jeff and I participated in together and include an assortment photographs (do I sense an entry on the Disney character breakfast?). But I thought I’d pause, and include these last couple posts, to demonstrate a bit more depth to our experiences over these last few months. I’ve always been a very contemplative person and try to look at life from a variety of perspectives. I usually just choose to quietly observe things, often writing or journaling things for my own accord, and keep to myself. But I thought, in this case, it doesn’t hurt to share some of them.  

In closing, I’ll briefly bring you up-to-date on our current affairs: I recently started a part-time job working as a physical therapist in a small, privately owned out-patient clinic across town. They, as am I, appear to be very flexible and my hours will likely vary based on clinic needs. I am also planning to start an online certification program for managing and helping to treat patients with chronic pain, an area of intense interest for me, yet that is notoriously difficult to treat. Jeff and I have started volunteering at our church and met a few times with a small group of couples. I also recently went on a group run organized by a local running store that had around 200 participants and got to chat with some fellow runners as we wound our way through Memphis’ suburbs at a godawful early hour on a Saturday morning (why do people always assume that runners are morning people?… I am definitely not). We’re planning to return to Seattle again for about a week or so around Christmas but then will probably remain in the South until we move back next summer.  

So we are making gradual steps towards engaging in community here in Memphis and trying to make some deeper connections. Though I joke (although it’s not really funny) that as soon as we really start to settle in, it’ll be time to move back to Seattle. Well, thanks for reading thus far and taking interest in our lives. To friends and family at a distance, we miss you and would love to know how you’ve been doing. To any new acquaintances who may be reading, we’d love to get to know you more!   

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