Rather than a mid-life crisis, I find myself performing a mid-life evaluation. A serious, hard look at what I want from life, what I’ve received, and how to possibly affect some changes.
To go about this mid-life evaluation, I began asking what should have been some simple questions. Such as: what makes me happy?
This should have been easy. It wasn’t. In a lot of respects, I had forgotten what made me happy; I’d been so long without some of these wonderful things. What was even more difficult was swallowing the fact that I had managed to cut out the majority of what makes me happy over the past few years. Why? Cost reduction measures.
It had been so easy to cut out the little luxuries from life: violin lessons, theatre, a cat, a vehicle. They were, after all, just luxuries and luxuries weren’t really needed. Not really. And all the money previously spent on ‘luxuries’ was now going toward my debt. But, as usual, I had completely forgotten that I was a mere mortal and prone to acts of frivolity and creative spontaneity. Suddenly, not only did I not have a four-footed companion to play with and terrorize, I had no art, no new music, no socializing. I had become a bitter hermit.
So this path of thought not only lead to what I’d cut out of my life, but what life couldn’t or hadn’t offered. This led me to again think of square pegs, bell curves, and such things as The Great White Standard.
The Great White Standard includes such things as:
– productivity, and
– how everything pretty much boils down to the act of ‘doing.’
In Western society, we measure things by money. You put a price tag on it, then you can measure it and compare it to other, completely unrelated things. How much are you worth? What’s your bill-out rate? What’s an arm worth if it is severed and insurance must pay? A school must be good if tuition is high.
We have a great tendency to measure productivity by action and, then, by what is marketable. If you act, then you produce, if you produce, then you sell.
Extroversion, by definition, is concerned with the external, or visible, interaction with people. Extroversion is a natural fit to the pursuit of economic growth and productivity.
As such, our social fabric is woven with the glorification of doing, just as economies are based on growth.
I would like to argue that *doing* all the time and the constant pursuit of growth isn’t healthy, for neither the individual nor the species. As Olympic athletes know, there are bodies that seem to be built for certain events; there are also times when non-doing is productive. I believe we need to pay attention to the way we’ve been individually hardwired, as well as to find ways to be human *beings* instead of human *doers*.
For the most part I have held jobs that require me to be surrounded by and work with people everyday. It also involves a daily commute on public transit during rush hour. It’s not that I don’t like people however, there is a reason I prefer them dead. I am an introvert. And making me interact with people for 10 hours a day is akin to trying to make a squirrel fly – you can throw in the air, it may seem like fun, but it eventually has to land. And sometimes there will be some pain involved.
As well, I’m fairly balanced between abstract/creative and concrete/scientific. If I don’t have a creative outlet, I get pretty cranky, pretty fast. Same with science. I need a science fix every once in a regular while. Having a job in industry was an eye-opener. Produce, produce, produce. If you are creative, it will be in a certain way and between certain hours. You need to be fully accountable and billable. You must always produce and DO.
Needless to say, industry may have been my un-doing (literally and figuratively). And, yes, there was some pain when I landed.
In looking back at my life (as one does during a mid-life evaluation), I find there were times I was very happy AND productive. In graduate studies, I learned about my natural rhythms — I naturally works for about 4 hours, I switch and do something completely different for 2-3 hours, then I can usually continue for another 2-3 hours on the initial project. I also had a full temporary job, went to school, wrote a thesis and a novel, taught a lab and extracurricular volunteer courses, and still had time to socialize, go to violin lessons, and the theatre. Amazing what obeying one’s natural rhythms will do! I had balance with all areas of my life and I worked to my own schedule. I made decisions based on my happiness rather than on money. This has now become my template for my own happiness.
What to do?
I am bringing art back into my life. What is the purpose of art and beauty? It makes us happy. I believe we crave art because every one of us has an artist in us. We are creative. To deny this is to deny ourselves.
I will be creative just because. In other words, I’m learning how to play again. Again, play seems to have no tangible benefit; it’s non-productive. However, playing is an act of *being* in the moment. It is an exercise in being. And in a society that ‘does’ and ‘grows’ on a planet of finite resources, I believe we need to learn how to be, both individually and as a species, if we are to survive.
I am attempting to make decisions without the influence of money. For example, I started university in Engineering because I wanted to get a secure job. This was a decision based on money. I was very unhappy in Engineering. If you could have any job, do anything you wanted to, what would you do? This question usually involves wishful thinking and isn’t influenced by money. Consequently, it is a happy wish.
How much more productive would each of us be if we could determine our own work hours, our own work style? If we didn’t have to commute? If we didn’t have to wear standard issue business attire? Like having perfect hair, is debt something that Western society promotes? Are we teaching our children that being unhappy is okay and normal?
If you could do one thing today that would bring you happiness, what would you do? Further, why aren’t you doing it??