Every now and then this feeling comes around—like everything I’m doing is for nothing and I might as well give up. This time it showed up on Tuesday morning, around 5:40am. Discouragement is just so normal like that. It rolls up next to us at stoplights or comes streaming in through the window with the morning sun.
This time was no different. My alarm went off and I rolled out of bed to change for my yoga class, but as I did, the sinking feeling came over me.
What are you even doing with your life?
Shouldn’t you have this figured out by now?
That second question is really the worse of the two. I mean, if it were just the first question, I could probably handle it without wanting to light a match and burn everything to the ground. But that second question is what does me in.
It reminds me of something I heard Glennon Melton say recently, which is, “it’s not the pain that takes us out of the game, it’s the shame on top of the pain.” In other words, it’s not the hard work of building something that makes us want to quit, and I doubt it’s even the uncertainty of wondering whether our hard work will pay off. We are wired for challenge and really quite resilient to pain.
Where our wires get crossed is when we start wondering: aren’t I too old (or too blessed, or too whatever) to be asking this question?
What’s wrong with me?
When life doesn’t go how you planned
I was talking on FaceTime to a friend the other day, catching up after a long time of not being in touch. I asked how he was doing, and since we’ve been friends for more than a decade and he’s not the kind to pull punches, he answered:
“To be honest, it’s not going that well.”
He explained how the relationship he’d been in for the past five years had come to an end, and things were “complicated” with his family, and that he was questioning his career path. He said he’d thought a lot about quitting everything and moving somewhere else, but wasn’t sure where to go. I sat on the floor of my bedroom, nodding in agreement, days away from moving myself, disheveled and surrounded by half-packed cardboard boxes.
“Life just don’t always go the way you plan,” he said.
We both laughed. Wasn’t that the understatement of the century.
But the whole thing made me think about how much easier it is to handle discouragement when we know we’re not the only ones who feel it, when we realize this is such a normal, human, everyday kind of emotion.
It also made me think about how quickly heartbreak takes over when life doesn’t turn out how we plan. When the relationship falls apart, or the marriage falls apart, or the business deal falls through or the job falls through or the illness falls over us unexpectedly. Suddenly we find ourselves in a place we never expected to be, wondering if and where and how we made such a terribly wrong turn.
But what if we didn’t make a wrong turn?
What if we are exactly where we were always meant to to be?
Exactly where you are supposed to be?
I was with a good friend last weekend, spending time with her and her four kids. We woke early on a Saturday morning to watch her son play in a peewee football game. Later, her three daughters wanted to read princess books and do dances while I videotaped them. Then they wanted to snuggle on the couch and watch High School Musical.
At one point my friend came in the room where I was on the couch with her girls—one of them literally draped over the top of me—and mouthed Thank you to me from the door. All I could think was:
Are you kidding me? I couldn’t be any happier.
After the kids went to bed we sat on the couch and drank wine and talked about how different our lives were. Her house is full of crayons and noise and music and sweet little voices and beautiful activity. Mine is quiet and peaceful and lonely much of the time and my closet is organized by color—for whatever that’s worth.
A quiet moment came, and that’s when I said it.
“I’m kind of jealous, honestly.” I looked at her.
“Me too,” she admitted.
We both laughed. And there, in the quiet of the night, with all of her kids sleeping, we sat in awe at the fact that no matter the circumstances of our lives, we are all pretty much asking ourselves the same question, under the surface: am I making the most of this one precious and beautiful life I’ve been given?
We are more the same than we are different. (Tweet that)
Whether we are all exactly where we are “supposed” to be—no matter where we are—I don’t know. Can any of us really say for sure? But “supposed to” is a close cousin to shame anyway, so I doubt answering that question is going to make any of us feel any better. What I do know is RIGHT HERE is the only place we can be. Right here, RIGHT NOW is all that exists.
What other choice do we have?
If we are going to be in our lives with our whole hearts, RIGHT HERE is where we have to start.
The only way to succeed.
My friends Jill and Kate came over to my house the other night with wine and tacos—literally the BEST kind of friends—and we sat around until late talking about this very topic: about how life doesn’t turn out how you plan, how you can work and work and work toward something that falls apart without your permission, or how sometimes you make a huge investment in something that never seems to pay off.
When is it time to call it quits?
That was the question we threw around with each other.
How long do you keep working at something, investing in it, giving yourself over to it, having hope, believing in it, praying for a miracle, before you finally decide to go put your mental, emotional and spiritual energy energy in a different bank account? Is there a time that comes when it’s actually a good thing to give up?
By this point the tacos were gone and we were leaned back on the couch and swirling glasses of wine. Kate spoke up.
“I figured the only way to succeed,” she said, “is just to keep going.”
We chewed on that for a bit. I thought about how, for so much of my life, I had measured my success by outcomes. By circumstances. By certain mile markers I assumed I was supposed to reach—a measure of career success, an amount of money, a house, a car, a relationship that “worked” in the way I thought it was supposed to work. I figured if I checked all of the boxes and followed all the rules that things would just sort of, you now, fall into place.
I was waiting for a time and place where things would be settled in my life instead of working to curate and cultivate a feeling being settled in my own heart.
The problem with this, of course, is that life is constantly shifting and changing; and no matter how many rules we follow or how many boxes we check, we have so little control over the outcomes we seek. Not to mention “outcomes” can be pulled from underneath us in a single second. The marriage can end. We can lose that perfect job. The house of cards we are so proud to have built can come tumbling down.
All we have is RIGHT NOW and the only way to make the most of it is to just to keep going.
The time to quit.
Recently I had to say goodbye to a friend I love dearly.
I don’t make a habit of saying goodbye to friends. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done this in my life. I’m loyal to my very core, so once you’re in my life, you’re pretty much in it for good. But this friend was an addict who was unwilling to confront her addiction and worse than that, I was an addict—addicted to pleasing-people and making her happy and cleaning up her messes.
For awhile, we were the perfect match—her with the messes, me with the cleaning them.
But things had reached a breaking point.
See, sometimes the feeling of discouragement is a great gift to us, a message from our bodies or our minds or our souls, telling us something is off, something is wrong, and begging us to do something about it.
So we had a conversation where I tried to tell her what I needed and she tried to understand and we both cried. The whole thing was heart-wrenching. I worried maybe I was giving up on her too soon and I think she probably felt like that, too. It didn’t take much before I started to second-guess my decision.
Was I doing the “right” thing?
Was I withdrawing my love from her?
But as sat there with her, hand on her back, letting her cry, I thought about what Marianne Williamson says about relationships—that they don’t ever really end, they just change form. Meaning once you have loved someone you don’t ever really stop loving them. You simply change the way that love is expressed toward that person. In fact, at our true nature, we are MADE of love, which means all there is is love.
I love you—always.
You love me—always.
This made me feel a little bit better. Because it made me see that this wasn’t a question about giving up on my friend or not giving up. It wasn’t a matter of quitting or not quitting. Instead, this was a question of whether or not I was willing to change. I am willing to change. I am willing to change. That’s what I recited to myself silently as I sat there with her.
Because a willingness to change, I’m learning, is the key to the peace we are looking for.
When I feel miserable, when I am discouraged, when I feel like quitting, when I’m scared to let a relationship change form, when I’m clinging for dear life to things life is asking me to let go, when it feels like everything is falling apart or “things” are not turning out the way I wished they would, I whisper to myself, “I am willing to change, I am willing to change.” I am willing to change my perspective. I am willing to change my mind.
I will never give up. But I will be wiling to change.
Miracles are literally born from our willingness to change.
A sweet potato and a nap.
I ran by my friend Sarah’s house the other day. She lives about 0.2 miles from my house, so when I’m out running I often run past her driveway.
This time I decided to stop and say hello.
She asked how I was doing and I told her how I had woken up that morning with that sinking feeling, and how I had spent the whole day packing my house, and how everything was a mess and I wasn’t sure what the next six months of my life were going to look like. I mentioned to her how the holidays seemed like they were sneaking up and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for Christmas.
She nodded and kept listening.
I told her how I’d been writing this book but I wasn’t sure if anyone was ever going to read it, and how tortuous it felt to think that the thing would be stuck on my computer forever, without a purpose. I told her how I was behind on writing blog posts and I felt like I had been struggling over this thing for so many years, maybe it was time to give up.
Then she looked at me, in my running gear, all hyped up and looking like I hadn’t slept much, and she said something I won’t forget.
She said, “you know, sometimes you just need to eat a sweet potato and take a nap.”
I laughed, because I knew what she meant. She meant that so often we think our problems are complicated and existential when really they are quite simple. So very normal. A sweet potato and a nap. Sometimes we need to pull ourselves together and try harder and go faster and longer. Other times we need to soften, to give in a little, to give ourselves permission to take a break. Strong and soft.
No, we don’t get everything we want right right away. But we have every single thing we need for right now.
All we have to do is just keep going.