Regret

It is a curious thing viewing one’s life through the lens of retrospect. I begin to see decisions that I’ve made and the patterns that make up the habits and myths that once served me well. The twin realizations of mistakes made and the implication of failures left unresolved is enough to overwhelm most anyone. I don’t claim to be anything but ordinary, and I am not immune to the sting of a demon that haunts us all. I hold so much hate for it that I perish the thought of naming it. It’s name is a word that holds pain and self-inflicted misery. That word is “regret”.

It’s not often that I find the time or the ability to indulge in it. It’s a debilitating luxury that many of us fall prey to, and too few of us have the ability to resist. It’s a siren song disguised as simple remembrance. Once it takes hold, it becomes a hypnotic force of attraction, pulling its victim into the jagged shores of misery and self-loathing. People can become marooned on those relentless shores, unable or unaware that the most expedient means of escape is acceptance. It becomes all-encompassing until despair and misery come calling close behind.

I greet despair and misery as one might greet a worthy opponent, with a level of respect and full knowledge of the depth of their ability. They once held me prisoner in a place where the murky waters of depression and hopelessness met, holding my head below the icy, inky blackness. It’s all-encompassing and I know it’s song and it’s acrid stench well enough to recall.

It wasn’t until I shed all pretense of false dignity and implied failure that I was finally able to ask for help. When I did, I found many hands extended in my direction. Some of great strength and breadth, others of a smaller and more focused nature. Each in their own way pulled me out and embraced me, granting me a modicum of their strength and sight beyond my limited vision. What I found I did not like, and what I did not like
I abandoned or destroyed utterly.

Realization of infinite empowerment in the twin realms of manifestation and destruction; that is what was granted to me. In so doing, I have forced the proverbial mirror to turn inward upon itself. The questions that have nipped at my heels as though they were possessed of Cerberus himself once again vie for my attention. “What do I desire”, “what constitutes a ‘well-lived life’”, “will any of this mean anything after I’m gone”, “will anyone remember me”–endlessly, these questions encircle and ensorcel me, enervating me. Were these questions merely inquiries that held neither the weight of guilt nor pain of disappointment, I would consider myself lucky. Imbued with wicked weight and impossible idealism, they are the perfect foil.

I wrestle with my thoughts, unable to rest, unable to breathe deeply. I steal glimpses on occasion; of a life lived more fully, with no sense of pretense, less worry, and no doubts about the path upon which I have tread or the path that calls out in yearning for the press of my stride and the strength of my spirit. Phantoms and echoes pervade my senses as I continue to struggle, the ebon ichor still clinging to my limbs and burning my lungs. Painful reminders of what was and what could have been.

In the bright light of hope and the truth of the eyes granted clarity through retrospect, it fades. I am able to see and sense that the path is not merely singular, one of “destiny”, but one of infinite breadth; the North Star of that wondrous expanse shining brighter still as recognition lays its full force upon me. As my spirits lift, it brightens. It is I, it is my will that points the way. In this knowledge, I am empowered.

I struggle on.

Who is it for?

That jacket you just bought.

Those shoes you just got.

The photos you’re taking.

The posts you’re writing.

The words you’re using.

The furniture you’re having delivered.

If your answers don’t begin and end with “me”, “myself”, or “I”, then it begs the question: who is it really for?  Are you spending money to buy things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t even know or like, and then subsequently being forced to spend more time in a job that you probably would be better off without?

More to the point: how many hours of your life were spent in the pursuit of someone else’s goals to pay for that?  How many hours will you never be able to get back as a result of that purchase?  How much longer will you have to delay doing that thing that you wanted to do to pay that back?

For all of our sakes, I hope that purchase was worth it.

Generations

Someone came before you. A hundred-thousand-fold came before we were even close to being present. Some would argue that many of us aren’t even “present” now: staring at our phones, our televisions, our computers–anything but each other. Which is a shame because the immense miracle that is our history on this planet is a tale that is worth remembering.

This planet formed as a consequence of the inherent mayhem of the universe. Millions of stars have gone before us, forming the dense matter that permeates our very bodies to our core and forms the basis of life as we know it. That life was borne into pools via simple forms like bacterium and viruses, and slowly we evolved from the millions of other species that evolution provided and the chaos of the universe saw fit to sweep aside.

From our earliest days on this Earth, we have survived and thrived. We have struggled and adapted: tools, agriculture, culture, technology, and ultimately civilization. What we fail to remember is the untold generations that lived and struggled and fought to bring us to where we are today.

I would hope that if there is an afterlife, and my ancestors can see me and know my story, that they would be proud of me. Just as I hope that yours would be proud of you. You are wired for struggle. Embrace it. Lean in.

Permission

A tree doesn’t ask for permission to grow.  It just does it.

The same can (and ideally should) be said of doing what needs to be done.  Doing the most good and minimizing harm; that’s the hallmark of work that needs no permission.

Doing what we need to do for ourselves requires no permission, no leave need be begged-for.  If we can’t reconize the deepest needs in our hearts, then maybe we’re not looking hard enough–or we’re in denial.

Stop asking for permission to do what you know to be right.  Just start doing it.  We’ll thank you for it later.

Why?

Lead with it.  It might seem inscrutible, impossible to comprehend the reasons why depending upon what subject is being queried.  But the impossibility of starting with it begs the question itself: why not start with “why”?

Take, for example, an engineer.  Brilliant, but utterly fearful and ineffective at communicating.  Why?

Perhaps that very same brilliant engineer might have been smothered or abused early in their life.  An educator or authority figure might have told them they’d never be able to communicate well.  A parent who could never be placated or pleased tore them down at every turn.  Maybe that’s why.

Maybe moves us closer.  Why gives us an opening to insert insight, perspective, and empathy into the discourse.

When we’re confronted by difficult choices, disagreement, or discontent, we have the agency to ask the magic question.  It’s up to us to dig deeper.

So, why not?

Advocacy

No one will ever be able to advocate for you.  Not me, not your boss, not your partner, not your squeeze, not your parents–literally no one.  Because no one will know what you want or how much you want it.

No one except you.

When you really want or need something, you have engage your own sense of agency and ask for it.  Even then, sometimes asking isn’t enough.  “Better to ask forgiveness” only applies when you’ve slighted someone or failed to learn from a mistake or lapse of judgment.

Some people will try to tear you down, rip the excitement right out of your grasp.  They aren’t your advocates or your friends in that moment.  In some cases, they might mean well.  They might be looking out for your physical or emotional wellbeing, but it’s up to you to decide whether to do it anyway and learn the lessons or to ask why.

But make no mistake: the second you let someone else make decisions for you or abdicate your responsibility to advocate for yourself, you’ve already given away your power.  You have the ability to make yourself heard and to make your needs and desires known.  You have agency, just like everyone else.

It’s up to you to use it.

Pride In Common Work

From the outside, it seems as though American society plays a lot of lip-service to the idea of what I would call “common work”; trades and labor specifically.  People pay a lot of attention to the rates of college graduates, advanced degrees, and technical or scientific expertise–but the same kind of attention and respect is seldom given to the silent majority that does things with their hands.

What happened?  When did we become more concerned about the output of unseen hands on computers and sensitive equipment than with the number of mouths fed, bodies sheltered and clothed, and hearts mended?

I wish I had been given the option by my parents to find a trade in addition to building my technical acumen.  Technical expertise only extends so far in a world that still straddles the fence that separates “modern” and “post-modern”.  Had someone told me that they could be as proud of me for swinging a hammer as they would if I helped find a cure or treatment for something, I’d have probably rushed head-long into both worlds.

If I ever have children, or if I’m ever in a position to mentor or be a god-parent, I’d tell them what I wish someone had told me a long time ago.  Building homes for the homeless, finding cures for cancer, making ends-meet doing roofing, or exploring the far-flung reaches of Earth and beyond; I’d be proud of them all the same.

For me, it wouldn’t be about the outcome beyond that person feeling fulfilled and happy.  It’d be about the effort and the joy it brings.  Being happy with anything less would hurt them, and demanding or expecting anything more beyond that would be setting them up for failure.  Accepting them for who they are and what they choose to do is probably the biggest thing I could do.

So what happened here?  When did Americans become so unhappy with the prospect of labor and trade skills?  Maybe it’s the idea of “American exceptionalism” still playing itself out long after it was declared dead.  Who knows.