I live by invisible mileposts. Or at least, I did.
Maybe it’s a complete indecision about what I actually want to do with my life–I have a broad, overall idea of how I want my life to go, but ultimately, there are so many things I want to do, to study, to learn, to influence, that trying to narrow that down makes me uncomfortable. What if I choose the wrong one? What if I choose too soon and miss an opportunity? Why can’t one person do everything?
So, I look at short, achievable goals.
Make it through to the weekend.
Just get to the con.
Get through this month and finances will be a little better.
At work I’ve lived this way for a long time. I worked seasonally for a very long time–working in theme parks, there was always an end date to my job, so no matter the stress, the drama, the financial strain, the whatever, there’s been an end point.
It’ll be easier at the end of the summer.
The season is almost over.
The season starts in just a couple of weeks.
And the same went for my off-season jobs: I worked in theme parks for the majority of the year, and looked for seasonal work in the winter. As a result, my early employment history is very variegated. I have stage management, retail, administration, and…laser quest? All within a few years of each other. So as an adult, once I graduated and got a “real” job, there’s been a sense of impermanence about it the whole time I’ve never been able to identify.
This is a good job until I go back to school.
This is a good job, until I get to a strong enough point in my research to feel comfortable contacting industry professionals.
Then I got promoted. Then it was a good job, until we decided to start a family.
And then that opened up a whole new set of variables. I never planned to be a working mom, so now the milepost was, work until we were financially stable enough for me to not work (or at least, to work part time) so we could have a baby.
Then we decided to have a baby anyway.
So then it became–just make it until the baby’s born.
Going back to work after my maternity leave ended was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I like my job. And I don’t think I would be a very good stay-at-home mom. But those first few months were an impossible adjustment of learning to balance two things that require 150% and don’t make compromises, and learning to be at peace with only giving about 90% to both, and learning to accept the reality of that.
But I was also out of mileposts. We weren’t–and aren’t–planning to have another baby for another couple of years, so I didn’t have a family change/maternity leave to set as the light at the end of the tunnel. I all but abandoned my research within my first year in my current position, so I didn’t have the “one day when I’m published” goal. What I had, was my husband’s goal of a promotion in his job, and the knowledge that once that happened, I could reduce my hours to part time. But without a clear timeline for that–it’s always been one of those situations that could happen in five months or five years–I couldn’t segment my time.
So I latched onto Kairi’s first birthday. The whole time, the whole struggle at figuring out how to be a working mom, has been about making it through that first year.
Billy says, as a joke-that-isn’t-a-joke, that it’s about being able to celebrate keeping an entirely dependent human alive for a full year. I think that’s partly true–the fear of SIDS was a huge source of anxiety for me, at least at first, and crossing that first birthday definitely reduces a lot of that stress.
Regardless of the reason, Kairi’s first birthday was an invisible milepost for me. It was the thing I told myself I had to make it to when I felt like I was drowning–at work, at home, as a wife, as a mother–if I could make it until she turned one, things would get easier. I didn’t know why–I would have the same job. Billy would have the same job. But something inside of me was utterly convinced that things would get easier once we made it through that first year.
And the thing is…they have.
For no reason.
Billy and I still work opposing schedules and usually only see each other at night. Our finances haven’t changed. I still see Kairi for about an hour a night on workdays, and our weekends are still filled with errands. I don’t have time for my hobbies, I don’t have the energy for mommy-and-me projects like I wish I did, and family outings are things that require advance planning and time-off requests that still usually fall through.
But things are easier. Lighter. Happier.
True, as she gets older, Kairi is better at keeping herself entertained. I can set my purse on the floor and she will amuse herself tearing through its contents long enough for me to do the dishes. I can leave the pantry open and every bag of tea I’ve ever owned might be strewn across the kitchen, but I was able to make dinner. If I wear her, she’s content to hang out on my back while I do whatever it is I’m trying to do. But what is the difference between the week before her birthday, and the week after?
The only reason I can come up with, is that I don’t have an invisible milepost anymore. I don’t have a great what-if (A Great Perhaps, if you will), that will be a change from whatever difficulties I’m facing in the Now. And when you remove that “I just have to get to ___” mindset, what’s left is finding balance in where you are. You’re no longer rushing through your current experiences, already living with one foot past the present.
It doesn’t work for everyone. And a few years ago, it wouldn’t have worked for me. And it’s not about a lack of goals–Billy and I both still have goals, but we’re not basing our present actions around an endpoint once a certain goal is met. We’re not waiting for a current situation to end so we can move on to the next one. We might be working on future goals, thinking about what is to come, but not defining what we’re doing now by the moment that it will end and we can start focusing on another end point. (Okay… I say both of us, but this really isn’t news to Billy. He’s always been better at living in the moment than me…)
Without a point of expectation for when things might change, the present is the definition of the experience.
And it makes it so much richer, and so, so much more fun.