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Are We Having it All or Collecting it All?

A few years ago, we were coaching the ChickieNob through a social situation, and we suggested that we role play.  First we had to explain what role playing was, and then we told the ChickieNob that I would pretend to be her and she would be the other friend so she could see how the conversation could go.  But she was more mesmerized by this idea of pretending to be someone else for a moment and asked if we could sidetrack.  She told me that she was going to pretend to be Josh, and she started miming him answering emails on a phone.

I snickered until she mimicked me.  She started darting around the kitchen, muttering to herself.  “I am so stressed, so stressed.  Did you empty out your lunch box because I’m washing dishes in a second.  And then I’ll make dinner.  And then I’ll help you with homework.  Crap, I have an article due.  I am so stressed.”

That is sort of not how I hoped I appeared in my daughter’s eyes.

Not that I wanted her to believe that everything was so easy because that just sets up unrealistic expectations for her future.  But who the hell wants to be known by the words, “I am so stressed”?  I wanted to at least appear to be in control.

A friend told me about a book she saw on Galleycat by Katrina Alcorn that is about the concept of Lean In.  It’s sort of the anti-Lean In, which is farther than I’m willing to go since I think Sheryl Sandburg makes a lot of valid points.  We do need to be more assertive within reason.  But Alcorn asks the question whether we’re leaning in so far that we’re falling.  Because that scenario doesn’t really help anyone either.

Sometimes I think we’re just collecting it all: we’re collecting the degrees and jobs and board positions and awards.  We’re collecting the friends and family members and partners and kids.  We’re collecting the vacations and events and parties.  We’re just collecting it, checking it off, recording it.

And that is very different from having it all, from possessing it all, from living it all, from being it all.  From really experiencing and enjoying those experiences, not just getting through them.

I know I’m guilty of it: Of working through the vacation.  Of racing from Point A to Point B to Point C, and thinking ahead to the next place while I’m still in the last one.  Of constantly worrying about the next day while I’m still in the present; or even worse, worrying about the distant future before I truly have to worry about it.

It’s hard to be in the present, to remain in the present.  It’s hard to sit with an accomplishment and say, “that’s enough for now.  I’ll try for something again later after I’ve enjoyed this for a while.”  Perhaps it’s because we don’t know if there will be a later and we’re constantly also reminded to carpe diem.  If you really seize the day and suck all the marrow out of life, taking up every opportunity that comes your way and actively seeking more than that, you’ll be exhausted, you’ll be drained, you’ll be… stressed.

But how can you keep up with the Joneses if you’re not constantly moving?  And not just moving; moving at warp speed so you too can look like a superwoman from the outside.  The answer is to get off the merry-go-round as John Lennon suggested, but not all of us are comfortable with the concept of living our lives at that speed.

I guess somewhere between leaning in and leaning out and falling over is this wish that I could stop collecting and simply appreciate and sit with what I have for longer before I move on to the next big thing.  But I guess I could only do that if I knew for certain that if I waited, if I paused, if I leaned in and leaned out in order to create that balance, that those next big things would still be guaranteed to be down the road for me.


1 Carla { 08.13.13 at 8:25 am }

I am so very, very guilty of this. On vacation, I catch myself getting depressed because I am always thinking about what we are doing tomorrow and how quickly the time is going. I also catch myself thinking “by this time next week we will only have one day of vacation left”, or “by this this time next week I’ll be back at work”. You miss so much by doing that!! I went to Tanzania recently on a mission trip, and I made a real effort to live in the moment. It wasn’t easy, but it really made me think about how much richer and more meaningful my experiences would be if I actually did stay in the moment and, well, experience them.

2 Brid { 08.13.13 at 8:54 am }

But, are those next big things guaranteed anyhow? Even if you start early?

3 Catwoman73 { 08.13.13 at 9:01 am }

Wow, does this ever ring true for me as well! I am perpetually racing through my life. I work 12 hour shifts, and have a 30 minute commute in each direction. I find myself racing home to spend ‘quality’ time with my daughter before she goes to bed, but when I arrive at home, I find myself completely stressed out by the amount of stuff that needs to be done, so I end up grumpy and exhausted. Then I go to bed, and set my alarm for 4:30, so I can do it all over again. Yeah, I make good money, but at what cost? And vacations… well, they’re awesome… sort of… I often rush around on vacation as well, trying to fit everything in that I had hoped to do, in order to make it a fun experience for all of us… but the rushing around makes me grouchy and stressed, so there isn’t much fun to be had. I don’t even know how to slow down and just take it all in. The only time I can be still is, ironically, when I’m running. My body may be moving, but my mind isn’t. There are lots of benefits to running, but for me, that is the biggest one of all.

4 Kasey { 08.13.13 at 9:20 am }

I’m doing this right now. I’m on vacation and I’m counting down days and planning my next day before the day before has even ended. This is a nice reminder to enjoy right now.

5 a { 08.13.13 at 9:47 am }

What is this obsession with having more/having it all/cramming it in? My view is that I only get 1 lifetime, so I might as well spend it predominantly doing things I like to do, partially doing things I have to do, and plenty doing nothing at all. Of course, when I was 23 and working for a place that gave me stress migraines on the regular, I decided I was going to live a stress-free life and this is the result. It doesn’t always work out – there’s plenty of stress. But then, I decide that it doesn’t bother me if I haven’t dusted or vacuumed in 2 weeks. We’re not that messy. It doesn’t bother me if my daughter hasn’t found the activity that drives her yet because we only allow her 1 at a time (because I don’t want to spend all my time running places) – for all I know, she might enjoy building stuff with Legos best. And who are these Joneses?

I guess it helps that I’ve always been one to swim off in my own direction, even if it is against the tide. That makes life a lot easier – when you’re willing to set boundaries even though other people will be disappointed. When your standards are the ones you set for yourself, not someone else’s. (Mine are set very low, so I always feel like I’ve accomplished things. 🙂 ) Oh, and it helps when you live with someone who would happily get rid of all his material possessions (except for savings and investments) – if you have to justify all your purchases (my usual justification is “because I wanted it.”), it becomes tiresome, so you buy less. And, since my main ambition was always security, and I have as much of that as I’m likely to get, it’s easy to be content with things and not feel like I’m missing out.

Well, I feel like this comment is a disjointed mess, so I’ll just stop blathering now. 🙂

6 missohkay { 08.13.13 at 9:55 am }

Yes, I’ve been thinking about this for awhile now. My work comes in billable hours. I work to stay on target. Then I work to get ahead so that I won’t suffer if I take a sick day or vacation day. But then I’m ahead, so I have to keep working to stay ahead because I have to prove that I’m a go-getter to make partner. And then the year ends and I do it all again. It’s a constant fight to embrace life and not think in the six-minute increments of the billable hour.

7 Karen (formerly Serenity) { 08.13.13 at 11:18 am }

Love this post. On so many levels.

8 Jamie { 08.13.13 at 11:46 am }

I so feel this…. Great points.

9 It Is What It Is { 08.13.13 at 1:01 pm }

Just to be ever present, in the moment, feel the joy in the minutiae, that is my definition of enlightenment, nirvana.

And, I hope the pain of our economic debacle has shown us, that ‘keeping up with Joneses’ is an empty pursuit. The Joneses are a fantasy, even to themselves. If we strive to be our best, to live within our means, to live in the now and plan for the future, we will be our own Joneses.

10 ana { 08.13.13 at 3:29 pm }

Oh I get this. Its not so much work, but the OTHER stuff I feel like I need to have a complete life. I mean who doesn’t have hobbies? Travel plans? An organized house? Regular and creative date nights? And yes I’d love those things, but trying to fit them in really did push me over the edge so I’ve given many things up for now and am trying to enjoy whatever life is bringing me. And yet, just yesterday I felt a mild panic that “summer was almost over” and we haven’t been to the beach, has a picnic, hosted a barbecue, and all those other “quintessential summer fun” items I wanted to check off a list and take pictures of to prove to the world that we’re living the dream…

11 Mina { 08.13.13 at 5:18 pm }

I have been acutely aware this summer that what I have right now is so wonderful and singular in time, that I should just savour it and let the stress go freck itself stresfully somewhere else. And I have succeeded. And it is absolutely great feeling like this.
I do not know how I made it here, I could not give you a recipe for my carpe diem, and even if I tried, it is a very complex structure of internal and external factors that cannot be replicated in another’s life. But I do know that I am incredibly, amazingly lucky, AND aware of it, AND very grateful. As for the Joneses, well, I have been ignoring them for so long, why bother with them now?

12 Justine { 08.13.13 at 10:53 pm }

I think I’m finally not collecting … but I am thinking about what is making me happy. Which isn’t leaning in or out at all. It’s true that there is some ambition in there. But it’s less about how others perceive me, and more about the challenge I want for myself. If that makes any sense.

That may make me stressed out sometimes, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect myself to be Buddhist-level calm ALL the time. (Is it?)

13 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 08.17.13 at 9:59 am }

I am assured that this is a life-stage thing, that in ten years or so we will just feel like sitting back and coasting for a bit and appreciating the fruits of our labour.

I’m not actually sure I’m looking forward to that. Or maybe thinking about it that way is just making me extra-stressed now because I can’t see what fruits I’ll have left by then.

I’ll let you know in ten years.

14 loribeth { 08.18.13 at 11:46 am }

Excellent post, Mel. I am gradually getting better at living and not collecting, but it’s still a struggle at times to focus on the here & now and the great stuff in that.

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