I remember learning various psychology theories as a freshman in college. The developmental theories seemed to always end with a stage that I would deem contentment. I would study these theories, ace exams on these theories and think to myself, ” I wonder how many people actually make it to Erikson’s stagnation v. generativity?“
This past Christmas I experienced something for the first time in my life. Idle joy. I realized that I was rising each morning, and aside from being sick, I was feeling like life was finally good. Together, my husband and I make a modest living. One that allows us to not have to go without. In a region with more poverty than most people imagine, I recognize that our lifestyle is fortunate. But my husband always reminds me, that we also work 6-7 days a week, and always have numerous irons in the fire.
New Years started to roll around and I didn’t even care to make a resolution. In hindsight, I realize that’s because all of my woes had been resolved.
A year ago I was working in a toxic work environment.
I had unbearable back pain.
I was still battling the last legs of postpartum depression.
I was complacent with my new Mom body…that I didn’t love.
Today I’m happy. I’m regularly hitting PR’s in the gym. I choose to be thankful for a job that is 20 minutes away from my family. I spend free time with my loved ones. I don’t waste an ounce of energy on people who can’t return a text, a favor, a kind word… their time.
I once paid for my friends to go places with me, ran to them when they needed something, called them to check-in. Then, I realized half of them would never do the same for me. So I made the difficult decision to stop toxic behaviors that left me feeling sad. I walked away from some people.
I stopped avoiding my favorite place, the gym, all because of someone who assaulted me that also goes there. Why should I sacrifice what I love?
I quit censoring the inequalities I experienced at work.
For a lot of my life I was reactive. I felt gross and angry when people did shitty things to me. I felt bitter at my employer. I felt betrayed by “friends.” Parts of my world have shrunken. But one thing I can say is– that whatever is left is good. I am far more at peace. My body literally felt like it vibrated with anger and pain for so many years. All of those vibes, if you will, are gone.
As a child, I would watch my sister leave for Kindergarten and sit looking out our picture window, as she walked to the bus. I remember vividly feeling a burning in my stomach. My mind raced, “what if she doesn’t come back?” Looking back, I recognize that these were my first bouts of anxiety. And wow did I have a lot of it.
On top of anxiety, I somehow managed to pull off being highly ambitious. As a child I was known for being bull-headed, independent and stubborn.
In first grade I began getting picked on for being “fat” by someone who I later thought was my best friend. In my diary, I drew a woman with sunken in cheek bones, protruding collar bones, and wrote on the drawing, “when I grow up I want to be anorexic.” And that, my friends, is how one thing ruins a child.
Thank God, the times have changed. Because in high-school, although I didn’t want to go to college, I would call Harvard’s admissions staff and speak with them. I thought to myself, “wow, they actually answer the phone!” Those phone conversations made me realize the ivy-league was a possibility within closer reach than I thought.
In college, I didn’t want to be anything but a high achieving student. Right before I started college, someone told me I’d never get my life together and be anything. Those words marked the backs of my eyelids…it’s like they were imprinted on my eyeballs. They were words that I challenged with every ounce of my being. Every single damn day I walked into a classroom in college, I had one thing on my mind: winning. I viewed every course as a game. The syllabus was the rule book. I would highlight the rules I knew I needed to focus more of my energy on. I calculated the absolute amount of points I could lose before I would get a “B” instead of an “A”. I ate disciplined meals, tracked my calories and always made sure to burn more than I ate on the treadmill or elliptical. I sat in study lounges reviewing my notes and completing all readings and supplemental readings. I was a fucking rockstar when it came to college. After all of my work was done, I would occasional attend a party. I never drank and drove, and I didn’t associate with underclassmen. I did my own thing. I managed my life so well.
I then went on to attend Yale University, which I have often referred to as the pinnacle of maxing out one’s intellectual potential.
I focused so many years on becoming something. Achieving something. Dreaming of something.
This past year all of those things stopped.
In my own stage theory: I’ve departed the reactive stage of my life and entered into the contentment stage. I realize that at any given time something awful could happen. I accept it.
Sure, I’m still interested in losing 8 more lbs, getting shreddy and being a Mom that does crafts with her child. But the difference is, I’m not ruined if it doesn’t happen.
Finally living through several weeks of peace has completely altered my thought patterns. I am light. I am more trusting. I am less involved.
I am now the content observer.
I am content yet ambitious.