One Foot in Front of the Other

Whether we like it or not, we’re always moving forward in life. Constantly. Every day moves us closer to something new. We grow older, hopefully wiser. We’re constantly in motion.

We set goals for our journey. We have dreams. We hold the pictures of our ideal destinations in our hearts and minds. They’re often big and wonderful, and feel like they need to be done in total this minute, or they’re not going to happen…ever. “I need to sell everything and move to Montana and buy a tiny house and write a novel RIGHT NOW!” These goals can feel so big that they become overwhelming.

Sometimes it’s not our dreams, but the circumstances of life that overwhelm us: An illness, a death, a job loss, financial issues. We don’t feel like we can ever move past these things. We feel stuck, stagnant. We definitely don’t feel like we’re advancing while dealing with the very real things we’re given. Life itself might feel impossible.

In both cases of overwhelm, things slow drastically. Maybe we spend days on our couch watching re-runs of sitcoms, eating takeout, and not wearing real clothes. Maybe we withdraw from the world and feel like we’re spiraling downward. Maybe we don’t feel like moving forward anymore at all.

In 2009, I was experiencing a whole lot of overwhelm. All kinds of doors were closing around me. I’d lost a business. My first marriage was ending. I fractured my spine. These are just some of the events I was dealing with. Nothing seemed like it was going right. To say I was overwhelmed might be an understatement. I spent plenty of time on the couch eating junk and wearing my pajamas. I definitely wanted to stop moving forward. I wanted everything to stop.

Somewhere during this time, I had to go pick up some medication from a pharmacy. I pulled my car into the parking space, shut off the engine, and I broke down. Full on sobbing…out loud…in my car…in public. It was a wailing, ugly cry that surprised me. I knew there was a bigger, better world for me, but I was tired of moving through all of the crap around me. I wanted good things to happen and bad things to stop. Neither felt like they were happening quickly enough and I felt like I was drowning in stagnant water.

Then a thought came very clearly to me: All you have to do right now is go pick up that prescription. That’s it.

The smallest thing I had to do to move forward in a positive direction was to walk into the pharmacy and pick up medication that would help me feel better.

It was a revelation. First, realizing that action makes things better. Second, realizing that the action didn’t have to be huge and immediately life changing.

I still use this to focus and ground myself when things feel like they’re out of control in either a good or a bad way. I step back, find some quiet, take a deep breath, and ask myself:

What’s the smallest thing I can do in this moment to move forward in a positive way?

Try that. Think about something you’re currently struggling with at the moment. What’s the smallest thing you can do to take action? Is it opening an envelope that you’re afraid might contain unwelcome news? (Note: you don’t even have to read the letter right now, if that feels too big. That can be your next small step.) Is it taking five minutes to brainstorm names for your super awesome novel you’re going to write in that tiny house in Montana? Whatever that small step is, name it and take it. There is power in action. There is a gain of strength and confidence in action.

What’s the smallest thing you can do in this moment to move forward in a positive way?

Do that.


Most Optimistic

A definition of optimism:
1. hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.
One of the superlative titles that my high school class awarded was Most Optimistic. It’s a title that I won by, no doubt, popular vote as a high school senior. At the time, it wasn’t a title that I wanted and I wasn’t even sure why that particular honor was given to me.
Most Optimistic wasn’t a hotly contested or desired high school superlative. It wasn’t Class Clown or Most Likely to Succeed or Most Fun to be Around. To me, optimism wasn’t cool. It wasn’t popular. It certainly did not increase my social standing among my peers. It implied a detached from reality, Pollyanna type outlook that I didn’t connect with. My understanding was that an optimist was someone who “always looked on the bright side of life” at the expense of ignoring the truth of what was actually there. I wasn’t a negative, doom and gloom personality by any stretch, but I was certainly grounded in the real world.
Twenty plus years on, and I’ve come to better understand my optimism and what it means define oneself as such today. Often we explain optimism versus pessimism by using the glass half full/glass half empty comparison. I propose a different way of explaining optimism. An explanation that sees optimism as recognizing the beauty that there is water in the glass at all, regardless of how it is measured. Optimism is seeing the value of the existence of water, not the quantity of it. Optimism isn’t giving power to the empty space, it’s giving power to the water. It’s believing in the potential of the water to do some good (quenching thirst, sustaining the life of a houseplant). It’s not worrying about what isn’t there.
Let me say that again: Optimists do not worry about what isn’t there. It’s about seeing what exists and then seeing the best future potential. It’s rooted in reality (there is water in the glass) but also in the hope and good that the water represents.
Cheers to the water in the glass!

Variations on the Theme (Aging, Loneliness)

I was never a person that really wanted children. I never wanted to babysit. I never volunteered to be a kindergarten class helper. I’ve been married twice and I’ve never felt the need to procreate. (I do like kids and kids like me. I just don’t want them to be my own.)

I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in 2005, and one of the first things the rheumatologist told me was that it carried the risk of having a baby with a fatal heart defect and that I would have a high risk pregnancy. That set my decision. No babies, ever.

I was also never a person that thought they’d freak out when they turned 40. And I didn’t…not really…not a full scale freak out anyway. I certainly did some reflection and life analysis and thought about what I wanted for the next 40 plus years. I accepted that I was not ever going to be younger than I was in that moment.

And then these two “nevers” collided and I realized what it might mean. I am over 40, I am married to someone that is older than I am, and, in all likelihood, I’m setting myself up to be elderly and alone. This is not a fun thought. It’s not set in stone, but it’s not fun to entertain it as a realistic possibility. Children take care of their parents, right? It’s part of the deal for a lifetime of care and support. You feed, clothe, and house them for a decade or several and then they return the favor. At least that’s how it works in my oversimplified, “perfect world” thinking. I chose not to have that support and I might have to deal with the consequences of that someday.

Reality check: I know fully well that we are not promised a day in this life and that there is no way of knowing how much time any one of us has. I still do not want and do not regret having children. But I don’t want to be alone either. I don’t want a stranger making decisions about my care and treatment. I don’t want to be the old lady in the nursing home without visitors. I don’t want to celebrate holidays by myself. I don’t want to be old and alone.

I do have a niece and a nephew who at (almost) 11 and 8 enthusiastically declare that they want to live next door to me when they grow up. That makes me happy on a deep soul level. However, I don’t want to assume they’ll accept responsibility for my elder care (or even that they’d be able to). I’m not sure there’s an answer to these concerns and I’m wondering if it’s something other people who’ve decided not to have children think about? Or it could be just me. Is it just me?

In the meantime, I’ll keep sending my niece and nephew really awesome presents. It can’t hurt.