I’ve spent the bulk of my personal life and the entirety of my professional career in a bit of a quandary. I’ve always known, somewhere in that space that people describe as their “soul”, that corporate America wasn’t a place for me and I am also acutely aware that the “personality presentation” I’ve been able to put on for others (let’s call them friends & family) has been less than genuine too. I’ve always believed that I am on a search for something and I have been pretty insecure as to why the rest of the world seemed OK with picking a path and sticking to it.
I heard, this weekend, that Sigmund Freud wrote extensively about happiness and although I haven’t read his work on the topic, the summary I received this weekend was interesting. I was offered the summary by a psychologist friend of mine and his summary touched on how Freud viewed the expectations people put on their lives and how life (call it reality) tends to step in the way and dampen what some of us might refer to as our “life plan”. When you think about it, husbands and wives probably have targets or expectations about how clean to keep a house, how many date nights to hit a week, what travel they may want to experience and for those less fortunate, which bills to pay for the month (ensuring that lights stay on or food makes it to the table).
Reality can set in and extinguish, if you let it, the fire that keeps most of us plugging down the path of experiencing life and, supposedly, Freud believed that when reality stepped in the way of grand expectations, if life’s curve ball made it such that the goals became unattainable, then people would typically release happiness from their lives and would “let go” of the goal they may have set, which then creates a host of other challenges.
Well…I share this story because I was forced into a living Freud experiment only 1 day following my introduction to the topic (I didn’t even have time to go to Barnes & Noble and buy the damn book). See, I’m beginning to get my own understanding of what drives happiness and what drives my satisfaction in life. God knows I’ve been writing and speaking about it for almost 3 years and even though it’s an incredibly complicated and complex path to journey down, when you start to get to the root of things- it is simpler than most give credit.
As a backdrop- Sundays are my “recovery” day on my marathon training, so as my distances pick up, my recovery runs are now 5, 6 and 7 miles, which I typically do early in the morning. This morning, though, I wanted to sleep in (we had some friends over for dinner, it was 65 degrees last night, which means great sleeping and my ENTIRE family stayed in bed until 930am…which was fantastic). Here comes the experiment- I had an expectation of running 7 miles this morning, but I also had the expectation of taking my family (armed with their bikes) on that run. We got the bikes out, the kids got dressed, Deena was looking hot in her workout attire and ready for the bike ride (sorry D, you know what runs through my mind every 7.5 minutes) and we took off down the street.
My I-pod was cranking hip hop/house music- it’s my inner 80’s DJ coming out, the boys tore off down the street, Deena was following the boys… and then there was Jillian. My angelic 5 year old refused to pedal faster than 1 mile per hour (which is going to make our run a long 7 hour ordeal) and every slight descend on the sidewalk was greeted by a shriek of horror, as if she was bombing down Mt. Everest without any safety equipment. Needless to say- the boys are pissed because they have to wait for their “annoying sister”, Deena is edgy because she knows I’m going to be pissed off about my run, which ruins her idea of a great family day and she was right…I began chewing out a 5 year old girl because she refused to pedal at a 10:30/mile pace.
Oh yeah, all of this occurs prior to eclipsing the 500 yard marker and then Brecken’s chain pops off his bike (Karma is a bitch and I was putting too much bad mojo in the air). Bike repair complete, I’m now covered in chain oil, my daughter is crying, my wife is pouting, my oldest son has disappeared on the ride and for a brief minute life’s scoreboard popped into my head (REALITY-1, FAMILY EXPECTATION-0). Dr. Freud’s little theory on the disillusionment of happiness based on reality inserting itself into people’s bullshit became my living psychological experiment. That’s when it happened.
I got up, saw the look on my daughter’s face, my son was believing that the chain was HIS fault and I caught the blue sky, the green trees, my entire family (sans my 10 year old who had enough and was bolting down the street like a professional mountain biker) and I realized that if I had to run another “lap” of our bike course to achieve my mileage, no problem…my kids were about to jump onto a trail that would give them the freedom to bike at their own pace, my wife was going to get to spend time with her husband and children and I was still going to get my run in (and truthfully…my marathon is going to take 5 hours to complete anyway, so who the hell cares if I run my 7 miles in 1:20 or 3:00 hours). I calmed down and I adjusted my expectations and THAT is the simplicity of being a happier person (in my opinion). I calmed down and helped my daughter balance on her bike, the boys raced ahead and we all made it to the trail head. Our ride only took 1 hour (the whole family covered about 4 miles) and I ran ahead for the other three miles and everyone got what they wanted (and yes…Jillian continued to stop every 40 feet and collect rocks, twigs and other goodies found on the bike path, so she was happy too).
My run story is no different than the scenario of running short on money, losing a file to a big presentation, running late for an appointment or not getting the dishes done when you had hoped. We all set expectations (every day) and when you can start to realize that life will insert reality, which could step in the way of you achieving your expectation, do yourself a favor…calm down, look around, appreciate what you are experiencing and step around the bump that life puts in front of you.
I just reread my first paragraph and wanted to close with my earlier point. I’ve realized why I’ve changed jobs, run marathons, adventure raced, mountain biked, read books, wrote articles, started a blog, travelled for work, tried crazy things with my wife, hugged my children for no apparent reason, gave money to homeless people…because I’m a “searcher”. We are a small group (as I’ve been able to determine thus far in life), but we are always on the hunt for something. I used to think it was the search for the “end” of the journey, but ironically, it’s not. I’m always moving, changing, growing and experiencing so that I can find the beginning of a new path. It is inevitable that if one chooses to be a “searcher” then one should also become really comfortable with adjusting expectations based on life’s curve balls. This is the first time in life when I’ve felt like I’ve been able to articulate why I’m in a constant state of movement and it feels good. To other “searchers” out there…enjoy your next path on the journey and for those who tend to be a little more methodical on their path- I wish you well and don’t let reality piss you off too often and please don’t give up your happiness because of some inevitable challenges.