I find myself at a very interesting point in my life.
What’s so interesting?
I’ve done everything I ever wanted to do.
Oh yeah? Yeah. I have. I could list everything I ever wanted to do that I’ve now accomplished, but I don’t think that’s really relevant. What’s relevant is that once you’ve checked all the boxes, the question: what now? finally arises. Hmmm.
A Little Background: My Journey to “What Now?”
Not atypically, I experienced a sense of “lostness” when my son turned 18 and moved out. Without knowing I was doing so, I’d invested so much of my identity into being his mother that when he didn’t need mothering anymore in the way that my identification with motherhood wanted to mother, I slipped into what I’d guess you’d call an identity crisis.
I wasn’t someone anyone, I’m pretty sure, least of all myself, would have expected this from. I’d continued to pursue education and live a pretty independent and active life throughout my son’s childhood. Although I wasn’t all that happy with it much of the time, I had a career that kept me busy and I’d earned additional degrees in areas I found fascinating. I’d also begun acting and publishing some of my writing, both of which I enjoyed a great deal.
After experiencing the initial thud after my son moved out, I busied myself with fun stuff: moving apartments every year, organizing my new spaces, working on multiple goal-oriented creative projects, solving problems I thought required addressing (mostly making myself and my feelings into problems I was convinced I needed to fix) and taking significant steps in directions that were in alignment with who I really was. Even so, I often just barely staved off periods of significant depression in which I found myself feeling like my life’s purpose had already been fulfilled and I was just goofing around, biding my time until death. I flirted with the idea of being okay with that, but I couldn’t really wrap my brain around it. Mostly I spun my wheels and tried not to feel used up and over.
The “Solution!” Don’t Try This at Home, Kids
For awhile I thought I’d just enact a repeat of what I’d done before that had made me feel useful and given my life meaning—I’d get married again and have another baby. Dear God. But somehow, this seemed like the thing to do! So, I tried that: I got married and agreed to have another baby. But the marriage never jelled. It never even got off the ground and I left the union, baby-less and distraught, freefalling and resisting every second of it. I’m so grateful this relationship didn’t work out—if it had (and it was a rough fit, at best)–I might still be investing my sense of self in motherhood and keeping my ego busy trying to fix everything that wasn’t working in my marriage, misperceiving that he was the one holding me back from my dreams. Yipers.
Soon after this second marriage ended, I entered another relationship (another not-great fit), which entertained me for a while. And then, that ended too. I tried to revive the second marriage, which, thank the stars, didn’t take–again. I was looking for a salvation of self that I was never going to find, and I appreciate now that I was blocked at every step in that direction.
Then I moved to LA and let go a little bit. Things began to rapidly untangle for me—not unravel, but untangle. I began to more frequently just be myself, and stuff started flowing like mad. I effortlessly wrote the book I’d wanted to write since I was in utero. I moved in with a roommate for a while, something I’d felt I’d missed out on in my college experience. I hit the primo market for commercial acting and started booking jobs. I freely dated whomever I wanted to. I delved into being fully who I was and how to do that. I spent my time exactly as I pleased. And yes, ALL of that was fun—I loved it! I experienced freedom and connection in ways I had never in my life felt free or connected. And I did everything I’d ever wanted to do.
And then? I realized that being myself all the time was not a project, that I could just do it (although admittedly often easier said than done), and that I simply had no more goals. What was left?
What happens when you have no more goals and no desire to fabricate more? I saw that simply filling my time was worthless, that looking for an identity in what I did was a ruse, and that I could no longer pull the wool over my own eyes or buy into any of it anymore. I did try forcing new goals for a time, which felt so awful I stopped. I spent some time just sitting and staring at walls. I stopped planning. I slept in. I spent all my money and then some. I watched TV. I read. I stared at more walls. I wrote 24/7. I cried. I laughed. I felt angry. And sad. I opened up. I closed down. I opened up again. I watched my ego scramble to secure an identity in anything it could: my careers, my relationship with my son, my relationships with men and with friends—but it was hollow; I wasn’t buying it anymore.
I noticed my feelings when I’d do the things that used to be my lofty and inspiring goals: I auditioned, worked commercials, wrote, hung out all day with my dogs, signed books. I still enjoyed these activities and often felt contentment, but not the wild over-the-moon excitement I’d salivated for and experienced before I’d reached all my goals. And another thing: once I’d reached those life-long goals, I didn’t feel any different than before. Sure, seeing my book published was very cool. Working my commercial jobs was fun. Realizing I had the freedom to live exactly as I wished was nothing less than a revelation. But after that? I was just me, sitting in a chair, getting ready to go in to another audition, or work another commercial, or write another book. It wasn’t a big deal anymore. I’m just HERE.
I seemed to have fallen out of the cycle of an addiction I’d never realized I had.
People think I’m just being modest when I don’t get all excited when my commercials air, or I book a job, or when I teach a class or give an interview. I’m not. It’s all fun for me, and interesting, but it’s not a big deal because it’s all just play—it doesn’t mean anything about anything–much less anything about who I am. Modesty, I assure you, has nothing to do with it.
Maybe, you say, just maybe my dreams weren’t massive enough though—maybe if I’d dreamed bigger–making a zillion dollars, being movie star or a race car driver or the first woman to scale Everest naked or something, that I’d still be striving and thinking that when I reached that goal, disco balls would throw glittery colored lights in front of my every step and crowds would roar when I walked by. Maybe it WOULD actually be a big deal.
But I know that’s not true. My dreams were my dreams, and even if they seem small to someone else, they felt huge and lofty and often unattainable to me—and besides, who can choose their dreams?? I’m thankful that my dreams were what they were, that I reached them early and that I won’t spend the rest of my life thinking “if only I could be this or that, or do this or that, that I’ll be happy.” It’s a no-win game.
I don’t have a sappy or inspiring lesson for you here, and everyone already knows the whole “life is the journey, not the destination” thing. I suppose this was just me having the personal experience of that realization.
But here’s the thing: I staved off the knowledge for years, more or less successfully, that doing and saying and whatevering never meant anything at all in a bigger sense—all experiences are simply sand running through your fingers, here, and then gone. Alive, and then dead. And that’s it.
So here I am now, standing in the full light of day, willing to see that while all of my experiences have been entertaining and heart-opening and I’m grateful that they have ultimately led me to this underwhelmingly obvious conclusion that many, many others have reached before me: If we are present, we get to really live and if we’re not we don’t, that that’s all I can really say.
But then, in that realization, is everything.
Everything is the path.
The point is that trying to find your purpose or meaning in any particular activity is ultimately futile. Not that activities can’t be fun, impactful, fulfilling, or feel-good—they certainly can. And connection with others is vital and an integral part of a life well-lived for most people. But here it is: we all die. In 200 years, what will have mattered? Nothing. And Everything.
At the end of the day, when it’s all said and done—all that’s left is this: did you know who you really are, did you live that you, and did you enjoy the ride?
And hell yes, I’m me and enjoying the ride now—at least most of the time!
But I wasn’t enjoying it (and I don’t enjoy it) when I was/am trying to find purpose or meaning in what I was/am doing. Because it isn’t there. You can THINK it’s there, as long as you’re not quite yet doing or being what you think you’ve got to do or be to have “made it.” It’s a fantasy. When you get there, you notice that after the initial hurrah, everything is just as it was before. All that ever matters is that you know who you are—that you understand you are free, you are always free, to be who you really are—and enjoy the ride, knowing that none of it makes you who you are. None of it. Not the book, not the contract, not the movie role, the accolades, the harsh words, the praise, the award, the pain, the blame, or the lawsuit.
What’s left? What’s left is what was always there in the first place. You. Me. Doing whatever it is we’re doing, being who we are. Not identified, attached to or resisting any of it. Free to just exist, without aspirations or expectations. Free to just be. There’s no game anymore. No “will I make it to the end of the month on what’s in my bank account?”, “what will they say about me when they see this?”, or “who am I now that I’ve done A, B, or C?” I continually feel inspired to do this or that, and I enjoy it. And certainly sometimes (a LOT of times) I forget and take a hit of the old familiar drug of “this means this or that.” But it doesn’t last for long. I’m all about doing things I love, like right now I’m diving into a new project I’m enjoying a ton. I know what I enjoy, so I do those things. But when I’ve got my head on straight, I’m no longer looking to validate anything, to be anything or any way, to prove anything, or to get anywhere. I’m just here, like you are, to be me and to enjoy the ride. That’s gold.
LiveLove&BU. Bon Voyage!
Image credit: pdxqcenter.org