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Tilling the Soil

This past year of working and going to school has taught me a few things about myself, one of which is that I work really well in high-stress situations, and am pretty good at keeping a positive attitude about things.

A couple days ago, specifically, was a terribly stressful day. At the end of the day, I was in the best mood that I’d been in in a long time. After one of the worst days I’d had in a long time.

Maybe it’s the feeling of accomplishment that comes with having to deal with intense situations, and actually  making it through. It’s an adrenaline rush. Last week at work I had an absolutely crazy day at work, I stayed late over 4 hours – but I kept a positive attitude, nothing terribly wrong happened, the store didn’t burn down, and customers seemed happy, so I considered the day a win overall. And that feels good.

So I realize that little achievements everyday are where real happiness comes from for me. And I like being active. I like pursuing things, facing challenges, dealing with problems, making stuff happen. I know now at least part of the reason why I get depressed when I have too much time on my hands. I’m not doing anything with that time, not making something or making something happen, then I don’t have anything to feel good about.

Problem with this is that I’m also a bit of a perfectionist. When I do fail, I feel terrible about it. And when a project or task is looming, I hesitate sometimes to approach it until I feel really confident that I’m fully equipped to do the best possible job at it. I’m always looking for ways to improve, always looking for better ways to do things, etc. And sometimes that means that temporarily, I’m not doing a very good job, because I’m standing back for a while before making my attack. But once I do attack, I have a high potential to do very well. I know this about myself. These are my weaknesses, and my strengths.

So how am I going to use my time this summer, between what-I-thought-was-my-last-year-of-undergrad and what-will actually-be-my-last-year-of-undergrad, that will benefit me the most?

Some of my goals to enjoy personal leisure are:

–  to go camping

–  to buy a new bike and do lots of great bike ridding

–  maybe to go kayaking somewhere more intense than I have in the past

–  a little road trip

–  read some books

I’ll also potentially be making a couple trips out of state, to see family in California and maybe a trip with a friend out east.

But here’s another things I’ve learned: I’ve been confusing leisure with pleasure.

I like camping, I like hiking, I like biking, etc. And in the past, I thought that doing all these things that you like is what life is all about and that’s where the stuff of life is and that’s what you’re supposed to do with all your free time in order to be happy. But I’ve learned that those things are nice to do, and yeah I enjoy them… but do they bring me happiness? Not really. Not inherently. I might gain more pleasure from those activities if I’m engaging in them with someone/people whose company I really value and appreciate. But still then, it becomes more about people than anything else.

I’m an anthropology major. I have learned quite a bit about the importance of people. I’m sure psychology majors know about this just as well, but from a different angle than I do. And what I’m learning, what I’m coming to fully realize, is that people are the most important thing. Not individual people even, if you’re not a people person. But the communities that we create and the things we build and engage in together are the things that ultimately matter most and have the most potential to bring the most satisfaction.

I bet someone living by themselves in the mountains could feel pretty content. But how much better would they feel if they lived there and built some small community with others that they could enjoy, and contribute to?

Humans are social animals. We are highly social, and our evolutionary adaptations support this. We need each other. And I’m realizing that no matter what degree of intimacy is involved, or the level of involvement, etc., being involved in something greater than yourself and contributing to its function is something that brings me great satisfaction and fulfillment, and I think that’s not a personality characteristic but something human. And I realize that if I’m going to be happy and fulfilled, although I love writing and I’ve been told I’m a good writer… I’m not sure I would be happy as a writer. Maybe if whatever kind of writing I did brought some immediate reward… maybe then. Maybe if I was really good at it and a lot of people appreciated my writing because it helped them in some way. Maybe then.

Sometimes I have these moments when I’m driving down the road, mostly when I’m sitting in traffic at a red light, and I look around at everyone in their cars and I wonder … where are you going? why are you going there? look at everyone, running around, going places… and why? what will they do once they’re there? do they think that this is the purpose of their life? The answer is yes and no. The going isn’t the purpose of our lives, but a lot of us have somehow gotten things confused and feel like the going is the purpose. But it’s not. It’s what you’re engaging in once you get there. Where are you going to? Who is there waiting for you? What are they doing? How are you helping them, what is your relationship with them? What’s the bigger community you are a member of that you’re contributing to? That’s why errands feel so blah. Because they’re just business we have to take care of for ourselves. But when I go to the bank for my job to get change… That feels different. Because, even though I work for a large public corporation, I still see my little store as a little community and that trip to the bank is benefiting a community of people.

Here’s a list of the communities I belong to, big and small, as of right now:

The corporation I work for; the store I work at; the university I attend; my major college within that university; the individual classes I enroll in each semester; my household; my family; my neighborhood; my boyfriend’s neighborhood; my boyfriend’s household; college student; LGBTQ; my friendships; my mother’s family; my father’s family…

My idea of what a community is has changed over the years. When I was younger it was more broad. My list might have included things like this when I was 17: LGBTQ; athiest; pagan; woman; hispanic…

While those may work for some definitions of community, I find having a smaller, closer concept of community might be more beneficial. While it’s important not to forget that we are members of these larger, more abstract communities, what matters most in our day-to-day lives are the more intimate communities we are involved in every day. The communities we daily engage in, depend on, take from, give to, provide for, solve problems within, CREATE problems within! 🙂 These are the places where they dynamics of what makes up our life play out in the moments that create our life and determine who we are, who we’ll be seen as, and sometime who we can become.

I’m naturally a pretty introverted person. I’m also very reserved. Very, very reserved. Sometimes the combination of these factors comes across to other people as me being snooty or bitchy. But I think I’m actually quite the opposite of that. One challenge for me in life is having these values that I’ve been writing about here, but having the type of personality that makes it difficult for me to live out the ideal I have in my mind for how I’d like to engage with the communities I’m in or have the potential to be in. Then again, I have to remind myself of my strengths… I’m loyal, and honest, and generally make a good community member. In my experience, as someone with those qualities, I tend to attract quality people, which I’m grateful for.

Maybe the best way to get around this is to realize that, like in the case of my classes or my major college at university when I’m hesitant to engage with people – if I just remind myself that I’m already a member of that community, that I’m actually expected to participate, then I won’t feel like I’m intruding or overstepping my boundaries by engaging. That might work… I mean, it makes sense, and it’s true…

Anyway, to sum this all up: I have a summer ahead of me where my #1 plan is to work work work! Aside from that, I hope to engage in some leisurely activities. And also, I have a new category of living floating in my head: I hope to engage in pleasure activities, which means engaging in the communities I am part of. I think this new approach to separating ‘pleasure’ and ‘leisure’ will also take some of the anxiety of expectation for my leisure time to be deeply pleasurable all the time. Because sometimes it’s really not. I like fishing, but my approach to it is as a leisure activity and sometimes I just don’t find it all that pleasing… Leisure activities should be engaged in sparingly, I think.

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