The Cure to Feeling Like You are Standing Still in Life

Have you ever felt like you are standing still?  Treading water?  Not making much progress in this lovely little thing we call life?  Yea…I can relate.  Um…a lot.

No, this is not the beginning of a script for an informercial or a self help book.  But I did inadvertently came across the perfect solution for you (and I) if you happen to be in your 30s or 40s and are all, “What the hell am I doing with my life?”

Go to a college bar.

Go.

Drink a lot of beer out of oversized mugs, and just watch the co-eds…and allllll of the sudden you will have a much clearer idea of where you were, and where you are now…even if, in the current moment, you feel like you are standing still.  That’s what I did Saturday night and it was perhaps the best therapy I’ve had in years (Ellie was at my parents, in case you were all concerned that I had brought her along for the ride).  And I’ll tell you why.

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I feel, at the very least, wishy washy about what’s next for Ellie and I.

Do I want to live here?  Do I want to live there?  Do I want to do this?  Do I want to do that?  What if this?  What if that?  Blah, blah, blaaaaahhh…   

The truth is that lately I’ve been feeling very “eh” about where in my life right now… I know I am certainly much better off than I was last year at this time, but not exactly where I want to be.  The last few months of my life have felt very transitional, as I expect the next few months (or perhaps, few years) are going to be as well.

I left a more than decade long career in TV news, to launch a website (that I am super excited about), leaving an intense, hyper-social office environment, where my hours were unpredictable, childcare was extremely hard to manage, and I just felt like I was constantly living in a state of panic.  Not a day went by where I didn’t feel like I was having to choose between being a great mom OR a great producer.  Maybe I was internalizing what other people had said to me, or maybe I just couldn’t figure out the secret formula to kicking ass at both, all day, every day, or maybe there is no secret formula in the current construct of corporate America – I still don’t know.

But now that I am working from home, in a different type of media, with different demands and things to get excited about – I am still left wondering what I really want my life with Ellie to look like.  And there is plenty of silence in my day to wonder about it all in.  Regardless of how loudly I play my Spotify playlists.

I said to a friend the other day, “I am not there, but I know I am a hell of a lot closer to where I want to be.  And overall, I just want more life out of my life.  And I think the problem is, I am not exactly sure how to do that.”

I went from being a workoholic in the true sense of the word, where I would get nearly all of the affirmation, adrenaline rushes and ego-stroking I thought I needed in my life, out of my job.  If I had a bad day or had my heart broken, I would just throw myself into my career even more.  Being a television producer for network news made me feel important, and accomplished – until it didn’t anymore.

Even before I had Ellie I knew I needed to find more balance, and a career that was somewhat accepting of that desire for balance, because I was starting to feel empty more and more often.  “Those Emmy’s look great on the shelf, but they don’t hold my hand when I am sad, or keep me warm at night,” I would say when someone would get googly eyed over the statue on my shelf (and usually after I had had a few glasses of red wine.  It’s always the red wine).

But right around the time I came the conclusion that I was chronically unhappy with not only my actual day-to-day job, but quite possibly my career choice overall, the economy tanked, corporations all over this country started laying off hundreds of employees, and I went into survival mode, truly grateful for the fact that I had a job with health insurance at all, especially given the fact that I was single and pregnant.  Which was completely and totally appropriate for the time, but the constant state of panic and fear left me 100% unable to feel a normal range of emotion or to feel like I could do anything enjoyable without worrying that I should be doing 7 million other things.

And I thought that once I found a new job that was a little more compatible with my life, and Ellie got a little more self-sufficient, I would miraculously just start living again.  I would just not be stressed anymore, and not worry, and float around blissful, while I enjoyed what I have been calling my transitional phase in life.

But it isn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be.

Instead, I find myself finally able to feel things I wasn’t able to feel for the past couple years because I was on emotional overload.  When I go out on my long runs now, I find myself getting super pissed about a conversation that I let roll off my shoulder years ago, or really angry about how someone dismissed me and my abilities a while back, etc,, etc.  As my beer buddy from the weekend said, “Oh, you are so hate pounding the pavement when you run.”  (BTW – half of my writing ability is credited to the fact that most of my friends, male and female, are such great conversationalists and wordsmiths.  Yes.  All of you know who you are, coining phrases left and right and giving me fuel for my nonsense.)

On those same runs, I also find myself getting so overwhelmed with gratitude for something kind someone did for me when I had Ellie, but I barely even flinched about at the time.  I feel like I missed out on the some of the most basic joys of motherhood because I was too busy trying to manage the logistical side of my life with Ellie, and I was just so incredibly overwhelmed with life. The fact that I just wasn’t able to take it all in at the time makes me feel so sad for Ellie, and terribly guilty – even though I logically know I was doing the absolute best I could with what I had at the time.

On one hand, I am incredibly relieved to actually be able to feel a full range of emotions again, but I had become quite used to just being numb (which I think is pretty much the same as depressed, but I am no expert), and to going through my day in black and white.  When I admitted this to my friend on Saturday evening in the Chelsea pub with decided to enjoy, he looked at me without an ounce of surprise.

“What?  Did you all know I was depressed?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, without pause.

Well I guess my poker face will never be the key to sending Ellie to college.  Despite this revelation, or perhaps in celebration of it having passed, my friend and I forced ourselves to stay out till midnight so that we didn’t feel old, while we both sort of talked through where our lives were and where we might want them to be. Btw, I am really beginning to think that adulthood is just getting comfortable with knowing you will never know what you want to do when you grow up – or maybe I am just making excuses for my current (and perpetual) state, but I know one thing for certain, I am so not alone in my ponderances.  Education level, income level, age range…doesn’t matter…the great equalizer that I keep finding over and over again is this question about what’s next?  Or better yet, what should be next.

My friend and I didn’t really come to any solid conclusions Saturday night…until I excused myself to go the bathroom and walked downstairs and was suddenly taken back in time…to college.  It didn’t occur to me that as the hours went on, this chill pub turned into a straight up college bar, complete with insecure men and women, wearing a lot of fragrances, and dealing with a lot of “situations”.  As I weaved my way through the large crowd of kids, I suddenly felt like an adult.

I mean, perhaps it was because they all looked at me as if to say, “What is this old lady doing here?” or because they could clearly see that I wanted to pull them aside and whisper words of wisdom that only the most experienced among us could share, like, “If you like him, do NOT, under any circumstances, hang all over his best friend.  It won’t get the results you are looking for my little friend.  I promise you.”  Or, “Enjoy your body now sister, you have no idea how hard it is going to be to look as good as you do right now, in ten years.  Stop wasting time stressing.  No one thinks you have a muffin top.  No one.” Or “Soak up the endless amount of time you can spend with your friends now…while you truly don’t hear your biological clock, or are worried about your retirement fund or how you are going to send your child to pre-school..”

But at 21, I was far too clueless to listen to ANY of the advice anyone gave me.  Clueless combined with insecurity, which came off as faux confidence.  Nothing worse than faux anything, especially confidence.  I thought I was living the life, or well on my way to it.  But I was really just going through the motions with a nose ring and cute, short hair (that I sometimes get really nostalgic for).

When I got back upstairs to rejoin my friend, I could tell he had been observing the same displays.

“Uh….did you deliberately ask me to meet you at a college bar?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “but there is just a lot.  A lot, going on.  Wow.  I do not miss those days.”

“Neither do I,” I said.

And as we managed to get a cab in Chelsea despite a torrential downpour, using all of our NYC experience to do so, and laughing when we hopped in, soaking wet, but proud and relieved – I thought, “Oh, I am so not standing still.  And god I am so thrilled the reminder came in the form of an awesome night of beer and conversation in the city I love, and I am actually, right now, putting more life in my life.”

I don’t know, maybe sometimes we just need a good reminder of where we were, to feel like we are actually making progress on getting to where we want to be.

(Yes friend, I am wearing my glasses, and doing the Carrie Bradshaw face)