Achievement Unlocked

I’ve written before (though maybe only on my other blog), that one thing I’ve struggled with during this stage in my life is a perceived lack of accomplishment.

I suppose I’ve never been very satisfied just living me life as it was. I was always desperate to reach the next milestone, to find a steady boyfriend, to get married, to have children, to buy a house. My sights were always set on what society next expected of me. I never once thought to forge my own path, or at the very least, take my time on the well worn one.

I was always so fucking impatient, so unable to just be, wherever I was. Why was that? Why is that now?

{I wonder sometimes if that is why I’ve always purchased things so compulsively, because the acquisition of something new was like an achievement of some kind–at the very least I had attained something. Maybe all that attaining of commercial crap was a desperate, subconscious attempt to make up for something more significant that I was failing to attain.

Maybe it still is.}

Now that I’ve reached all the milestones, and there are no more major life transitions to await, I wonder what the fuck I’m going to do with my life. Where will I find my creative fulfillment? What will I accomplish with these precious moments of this fleeting existence?

My husband and his friend started something amazing ten years ago and Saturday they celebrated its birthday. He was gone for much of the weekend, leaving me alone at night to pass the hours on the couch. I always feel a stab of melancholy and regret when my husband is out with others, not because I begrudge him a good time, but because there are few things I enjoy more than socializing, and I don’t have many opportunities to do it. And yet I found that I was less sad to be missing out on adult conversation this weekend, and more upset that I didn’t have some impressive accomplishment to celebrate, or even one to focus on for the future.

This clearly means something to me, this feeling that I am accomplishing something. It’s one of the reasons I’ve started looking for a new job–teaching a no-stakes class feels more and more like a waste of time, not a worthwhile way to live one’s entire life. I don’t know if I can look back on 30 years of teaching middle school Spanish and feel like I did something meaningful.

I understand that this is a season in my life, one that is defined by how little time is left to pursue creative ventures. And yet… from what I’ve heard, it won’t get better any time soon. I don’t see much changing for the next fifteen to twenty years. And honestly, I don’t even know what I want to achieve (if I did, I could probably find the time to do it). And maybe that is okay. Maybe I can wait, until I’ve taught long enough to draw a decent pension, and I don’t have kids at home demanding my time. Maybe those twenty years will inspire me, maybe that is when I’ll know what I want to do, when I’ll create something meaningful, when I’ll accomplish something that I can point to and be proud of.

And maybe I won’t. Maybe I won’t make it to the end those twenty years, or I’ll speed past them without producing something substantial, despite finally having the financial flexibility, and some time.

And perhaps that is the reality of it. Perhaps that will be my accomplishment, just making it through the next twenty years, working the same job, supporting my family, raising my kids, and finding contentment in that day to day existence. Maybe that is all I will ever achieve.

I know it’s not nothing. I know that raising two children is a worthy endeavor. But I also know that it’s not fair to pin my sense of accomplishment on their happiness and success. Even if I’m lucky enough that they end up well-adjusted, productive members of society, that is as much their achievement as mine. It just doesn’t seem right to pin this deep need in me to do something on two people who are just beginning their own lives.

I suppose what I’m meant to accomplish right now is an acceptance of my life, and the fact that I probably won’t have anything concrete at the end of it that I can point to and say, I did that, that was me, or even, I was a part of something. It will have to be enough that I lived, that I touched the lives of others in subtle, undefinable ways, that I didn’t take what I had for granted.

Yes, the ultimate accomplishment would be to achieve acceptance, of everything, for what it is. To learn to suspend judgement and approach every moment with equanimity. That is what life is all about.

That is the ultimate achievement unlocked.

I hope I have the next twenty years to figure it out.

PS – Mel’s post yesterday explored one way of articulating this feeling, and reading it was like opening a most expected and treasured gift. Sometimes being a part of this thing that is blogging really is magical.

PPS – The Middle Class posts start tomorrow. There will be three of them. I truly hope they are worth the wait.

What do you hope to accomplish with your life? Do you expect to achieve it?

10 Comments

  1. First, I want to say that while it may not be your life’s work, I think teaching Spanish to adolescents in the increasingly self-absorbed culture in which we live is a true calling. I live in Mexico part of the year and am struck by how few Americans speak Spanish or know anything about Mexico. It may not be how you want to spend your working life, but the work itself is important. I think back on my French and Spanish teachers with gratitude.
    As for what I want to achieve with my life, I take the quest in smaller doses than “my life,” but essentially I follow my enthusiasm and curiosity. For example, I’ve always been interested in food and healthy eating, and recently I watched a documentary called Globesity, about the alarming increase in obesity in emerging economies like Mexico, and the US role in this. I was so disturbed by the film that I decided I had to take some kind of action, so my husband and I are hosting a gathering in our living room to watch it and discuss it after. Twelve people are showing up on Thursday, a mix of Mexicans and expats. Right now I’m preparing for that. That’s just one small example: I notice what I care about, what excites and/or worries me, and move in that direction in some way (write/ teach/ speak/ share, etc.). It makes life interesting! Thanks for your question.

    1. I do think that if I had some smaller goals to work toward, or causes to invest in on a smaller scale, that would help a lot. I guess I’m struggling with even that. I’ve watched myself get on board so many bandwagons over the years and what do I have to show for it? I suppose an increased understanding of what is important to me. But I can’t seem to figure out what to focus on now. Nothing calls me with the strength needed to make me mobilize and do something. I would give anything for some kind of inspiration, but I have a feeling I have to wait.

  2. oh wow do I identify with this so much! Even the concept of buying things feeling like an achievement. You are basically expressing what I consider the basis of the “mid life crisis”
    This is why I do things like these little challenges & habit changes. Its a way to feel like I’m getting somewhere—since there really isn’t any external ladder to climb, I’m making my own little internal ladders related to self-improvement.
    I do sometimes despair of the fact that my life will be one of mediocrity. I’m not achieving anything great here. Another reason why I really really strive to do the best I can at the little things that make up my life.

  3. My therapist would tell me, as I’m more of, “what’s next” person as well…”are you waiting for the next life accomplishment like death or divorce, rather than living life?!” Took me a while to get there but she’s right.
    I attended a seminar where they showed a clip about the “The Butterfly Effect”by Andy Andrews, how small causes have large effects. You may not be able to see it now but you can have an impact. If you get a chance, YouTube it and it made me think differently how I see myself everyday and give myself worth and purpose how everything I do, matters.

  4. Well, you still have milestones ahead of you. With your kids, there is graduation from elementary school and high school and college and marriage (perhaps) et al. On a personal level, you have goals even if it’s hazy as to how you will find time to work towards them.

    One thing I will say, which may not seem possible because your kids are so young right now, is that they will need you less and less (or in a different way) and you will find more and more time for yourself. By the time the twins were 8, I could write something while they were awake and at home. I don’t like to do that, but they’re respectful of deadlines and will carve out that space for me. They have to carve it out for me because — like a fool — I set up my office in the living room. So no doors equals everyone-else-has-to-be-quiet-for-me.

    I think you set a goal. You write it down. You write down the steps that you know you will need to take to get there. You additionally write down steps you didn’t know about that you discover along the way. You set tiny goals inside the larger goal. You work towards them. I do think that you are such a social person that you could benefit from a writer’s group. One that would hold you accountable. You would find the time to write if you knew you would show up to the group without anything to present if you didn’t write.

    1. For me, thinking about my children’s milestones doesn’t feel the same. I have no control over how they experience a new stage or if they decide (or get the opportunity) to go there at all (college? marriage?). I like to have control over something, to be in charge of my own density somehow (as much as one can be).
      I agree with what you said about goals, and about space opening up as the kids grow. I’m getting tiny, sporadic glimpses of this already with a 4 and 6 year old (much more with the 6 year old, obv). Its bittersweet, of course, but will be less bitter if I have a plan in mind for how to use that space in a fulfilling way.

  5. “I have a feeling I have to wait” Probably true. Because you need to consolidate what you have achieved and the completion of what really finishing those goals means. You married, you had babies, you got a job. Then comes the being of married, parent, employee. Perhaps another way to look is to ask yourself: what does being deeply successful in these roles mean to me. You really are moving forward…. but the wedding, birth and contract are only the starting points.
    Cheers

  6. You’ve talked about the milestones issue before, and I’ve been thinking about it since then, and have a post half-written.

    In terms of life achievements, I know that my views on this changed dramatically between my 30s and 40s – although of course infertility, loss and childlessness occurred in the interim. I’m figuring it out now in my 50s, and that will be different too I think, as I am sure it will be in my 60s, and then 70s. I don’t believe it is possible to have it all figured out, and then be able to achieve that, without potholes in the road or changes in direction, or diversions to completely different roads.

    One of the things I’ve been thinking about and wanting to write about is the idea that we all have to follow our passion. That we have to have a passion in the first place. Whereas most of us don’t get to follow our passion – and that’s okay, because we have to survive in the interim, care for others, meet obligations and run into challenges. I guess my point is that our major life achievements often don’t reveal themselves beforehand, and they don’t have to be our careers. Maybe our careers are simply our way of being able to live, and our major life achievements occur despite our careers, or in our free time. As you can see, I’m still thinking about this.

    1. Yeah, I wonder if the “conversations” urging people to “follow your bliss” or “find your passion” are really detrimental to some. No one in my parents’ generation was urged to do what they loved, the purpose of their job wasn’t to be personally fulfilled, but to support the family. Telling people they should do what they love puts a lot of pressure on them. I think I would feel differently about my sense of accomplishment if I didn’t see this message everywhere.

  7. This is 100% something I struggle with. I was such an over-achiever as a student growing up that it feels weird in my adult life to not really be hitting those same big marks that I expected I would.

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