So not to lose you in the bog surrounding today’s philosophical journey, forgive me jumping straight to the point of my thoughts and not leading you in by the hand with a friendly introduction. It seems a central theme in my life is risk-taking and satisfaction, and now that I’m actually an adult I’m wondering if I forgot where contentment fits in all this mess. I believe that tolerance and contentment are related, whereas contentment and satisfaction are strange bedfellows that have no business breeding.
Life has been in a bit of upheaval in the last month or so. I’ve left the desert for the homeland of the Midwest and am now embarking on buying a house. After a whirlwind move I’ve had the opportunity to be catching up with several friends, a few of whom are the long-lost sort. Despite these friends being far-flung and of different personalities our conversations echo the same theme.
The most startling comment I’ve heard was from a friend I hadn’t really talked to since well before the snowboarding accident. We had been catching up on life and after summarising my recent move and the events of buying a house he said something about my personality that stopped me in my tracks. I can’t remember exactly how it was said, but the gist is that I’m fiercely independent and that the wild girl who wanted to set the world on fire he’d first met 10 years ago still hasn’t died out. Sure, I might also be described as brave and tenacious, and being independent isn’t really a bad thing, but this made me take a step back and think.
I’ve made a career out of taking calculated risks and I’ve had some wonderful life experiences by setting out for myself to accomplish things. Not all of them have been as hare-brained as the others, but I guess there is truth about me wanting to set the world on fire. Passionate has always been a word I’ve used to describe myself.
So in the course of jumping through hoops to buy this house I’ve got my eye on, I was speaking with another old friend who went through the same process last year – except with fewer hoops. He was suggesting finding a new realtor to do all the heavy lifting for me, lamenting that he couldn’t just wave a wand and make all the complicated pieces fit in place. Without thinking I replied that I’m in this mess because I trusted other people to take care of things for me in the first place, and if you want something done right you’re better off doing it yourself. These were reflexive comments made without forethought, so when I actually looked at what I’d written the conversations of the last few weeks about the fiery independent streak that’s still burning in my blood flooded back and hit me like a wave of bricks.
One of my besties makes an off-the-cuff comment lamenting the difficulties of buying a house and I immediately go to my “fuck everyone else”, “put the team on your back” place? What the hell is wrong with this?
Nothing is wrong with me, per se, but thinking of all the events in life that have led me to this solid steel wall of GOTTA DO IT MYSELF I’m beginning to realise that I’ve never learned to be content. I’m unable to tolerate myself when I’m not striving for my best, to make a reasonable dream happen. What I have learned is that the disappointment of a failed risk is infinitely better than the disappointment of the current situation, no matter how temporary it may be. If I had many regrets then maybe I would have thought of this earlier. Instead, I’ve learned to take failure as a learning opportunity, an opportunity to better insulate myself, and a badge of honour on my Girl Scout sash.
Life is all about those achievement badges.
Where my independence is concerned, I can’t say that I regret any of the decisions I’ve made in the last decade or so. I’m going to be able to look back on my life and be satisfied that I didn’t let any opportunities pass me by, and also that I didn’t give up on anything too soon. I can also say that I know how to find contentment in other areas of my life. Parts of my body are built in awkward ways and I fully embrace it. When I was younger I dreamed of being a billionaire, a world-renowned theoretical mathematician, an acclaimed scholar, and I’m perfectly content with letting those dreams go. However, when it comes to certain issues like financial planning and cleanliness I completely lose my cool and am completely unable to be content with any differences from what I believe is right and responsible. I seriously find it impossible to tolerate any standards that are less stringent than my own. Not that my standards are impossible, they’re just particular.
Tolerance and contentment go hand in hand and I think they’re unrelated to satisfaction and risk. Risk leads to satisfaction, whether you succeed right away or if you fail and have to keep trying. Learning to be tolerant of differences, both between ourselves and others and between our ideals and reality is what allows us to be content in life. I never learned to relax my expectations and tolerate anything less than doing one’s absolute best. Giving 80% or 5% is the same when you know the actual capacity is 100%, at least in this twisted little head of mine. It’s not something I’m sure I want to learn to tolerate in myself, but it’s something I MUST learn to tolerate in others if I ever have any hope of dampening this wild, fiery blood of mine.