Many travels are quite familiar with going around in a giant circle. You end up where you started, and nothing has changed there, and no matter how much you’ve changed, you are still essentially you, just more of it. Or so I’ve found.
One of my new best friends has truly seen the world and worked on three continents, but his vision is to go home to Morocco so he can enjoy his parents and have a family there. He is one of the most open minded and kind people I know. He says his goal is quite simple: to learn as much as he can, and bring it back to his country.
This kind of circularity applies a lot to finding work, home, and love, I think. You were always the same person, but over time you become refined in ways that make it easier to attract what fits you best into your life. So much of the time, I fall into dichotomous, this-or-that thinking, assuming its passion or money, America or France, family or career, etc. I have been tempted at times to make choices that would narrow my path down, and eliminate some of these tensions, but I think I’ve been rewardedwhen I’ve allowed myself to be a complex person. I will have to make some choices, like we all do, but I can make these with a clear conscience. I am exploring myself and the world freely, and the choices I make are based on the values I’ve defined based on these experiences. Sure we will always grow and change, and many people radically shift. But I do think the best way to avoid a mid life crisis is to have a quarter life crisis. So often we are tempted to skip adolescence and youth in all their tumult and furor, but this can never work in the long run. I think the work of Eric Erickson, with his theory of life stages (http://psychology.about.com/library/bl_psychosocial_summary.htm) is right on target in many ways.
Life itself is a cycle, from birth to death. Another one of my grad school friends was talking about her son yesterday and how, upon learning the concept of death, proceeded to ask about it all the time, pointing to old people and saying “He’s going to die.” While she and her husband tried to make sure he didn’t feel too much fear or awkwardness about the subject, they did have to socialize him a bit not to say such things. So in spite of this, the social taboo of talking about death was transmitted to him. I feel like this little anecdote says a lot about the human condition. Sure, we are all going to do, and people are ready to say YOLO to justify all kinds of crazy behavior, but will they also live with purpose, when making choices great and small?
There are no shortcuts to finding yourself, the right job for you, or the right person.
In terms of finding yourself, you have to be willing to let go of everything that isn’t working, and loosen your grasp on everything to see if it’s really right. And you have to have the courage, and the diligence, to pursue what appeals to you at your deepest core.
Finding the right job isn’t just about identifying a passion and executing it. It is about experimentation, and finding something you want to be a master of. Again, it is just as much as about fighting the good fight day to day as much as it is about becoming an artist instead of an accountant. Artists have to actually practice their craft and deal with criticism and become better bit by bit too after all.
If you haven’t found yourself, no matter how perfect the person is for you, you won’t really be ready for the full-on tsunami of love. Some people manage to grow together, and in the same direction, but this is hard until you achieve a certain amount of self-realization. It is hard to be totally free to follow everything you want when you are in a relationship, so maybe, it was a blessing in disguise that during my highest growth (read: life appeared to suck) phase I wasn’t, as much I never stopped wanting to have that.
I do believe that self-awareness and following your own path is the key to the other two in many ways. However, both work and love take you out of yourself to be a part of something greater. They make life about more than just pleasing yourself and give things deeper meaning. Your chosen commitments are an extension of yourself, so “To thine own self be true” (Shakespeare), and choose wisely.
The other cycle is that of self improvement. Following the Power of Myth of Joseph Campbell, there will be so many Hero’s Journeys in our lives, where we leave the tribe, slay the dragon, and come back again. And all of these journeys, whether they bring us to different tribes at different points in life or not (soit l’Amerique ou la France, college buds or kindergarten sandbox pals) are all back to where we started. Indeed, la mort. And why wouldn’t we cycle backwards and skywards, to a higher form of life if we have lived in such an upward spiral? J’espere que si, but in the meantime, all we can do is live this life purposefully. We were all born and we will all die, this much is certain. Knowing this ultimate destination, the stops we make along the way just aren’t as important as how we get there.
Itaka by C.P. Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.