Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Type A to Type B

I used to be incredibly goal-oriented. It was my way of coping with a mostly miserable childhood. I survived by focusing all my attention on where I'd like to be in the future. Even when I only had small change to put in my piggy bank, in grade school, I was already saving up to move out.

I took the same approach to school. I was extremely self-disciplined, always putting off pleasurable activities until all my studying was done. I came first or second in my class all the time. I thought hard work would ensure that I could achieve approval, love, money, and a glamorous lifestyle.

But things didn't turn out how I'd envisioned. I didn't have the greatest social skills, nor a good understanding of myself. Starting from the age of 15, I had some disastrous experiences with boys. My first serious love affair ended badly, leaving me in a depression. Still, I soldiered on, gamely pursuing my agenda.

I put in 200% effort. And yet each of my dreams ended in bitter disappointment. My determination to become an engineer ended with disillusionment. Several other careers went down in flames, consecutively. My marriage, of which I had been so proud initially, also crumbled in my hands until I felt I must leave or I would lose my mind. (I'm not exaggerating. I actually had episodes of spontaneous, uncontrollable screaming because of the stress. I literally thought I was going crazy.)

At that point, nothing was working for me. I spent hours weeping every day. The dynamics of my marriage seemed unfixable. My job was driving me nuts. So I took one last big leap of faith and left my ex, moved out on my own for the first time, and left my job all within a period of a few weeks. Logically I thought it made sense to change everything at once and go for a fresh start.

Initially I got a high from the empowerment involved in making all these changes, and it seemed that my plan was working.

However, within the following year, I was laid off from the great new job I'd found. I had a breast cancer scare, around the same time that my therapist suddenly dropped all her clients because she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer. I don't mean that I imagined I'd found a lump because of my therapist. My doctor found it and I had to have a biopsy. I thought I might be dying.

A grey cloud descended. One symptom of the deep depression I sank into was an inability to imagine the future. I could barely get through one hour at a time, even five minutes at a time, sometimes. How could I even think of tomorrow? The idea of having goals was completely perplexing.

I stayed in that one depression for around two years. Since then, I have a tendency to sink into the greyness when things get tough. I recovered my ability to enjoy life, on good days. The grey fog is not the permanent-seeming feature it once was. But I never recovered my ability to have goals, or dreams. I have given up on trying to write the next chapter of my story, because all my efforts to do so only ever resulted in bitter failures.

Now I live as best I can day to day, following my heart and my genuine interests. My life progresses, but not because I planned it. In a way, I'm living like a child, growing because I can't help but grow. I figure that if I live each day with as much integrity as I can muster, I'll be headed in the right direction even if I don't know where I'll end up. And honestly, I'm as happy as I've ever been in my adult life since I started living this way.

What about you? Do you live for your dreams and goals? Or are you living in the moment too?


Anonymous said...

I hope you can have hopes and dreams again. You could just start with little ones. Most of my little dreams have already come true. I still have a few little ones floating around.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Hopes and dreams can be painful things. I want to have goals, but no idea where I'm going. I guess fog is as good a description as any.

Nicole said...

I never worked really hard for anything, I smuggled my way through Life.
But like you, every time I did dream of something or thought of a plan, of something good, it evaporated.
I'm more a day to day person, so no bad surprises or disappointments will wait for me.
I'm slowly learning to go with a positive attitude and wish for good things from the universe instead of thinking about the bad ones.
Cutting loose ends has helped to feel better as well.
I always try to go with my guts and have leanred over the past few years to listen first, then react.
It doesn't always work, but many times.

I hope the grey fog around you will evaporate in loads of sunshine!

jameil1922 said...

i go through goal bursts. i achieve one and temporarily relax. when that one annoys me, i figure out the next one. you were trying to get out in grade school?! wow. that's amazing. i was goal-oriented but for far in the future i just knew i wanted to go to college. as long as i got there i knew i'd figure the rest out. (i don't know where i got this level-headedness. none one else in my immediate family is like this.)

Sparkling Red said...

Unsigned: It's good to hear that most of your small dreams have come true. Sometimes the small things can see us through when the big things fall apart.

Warped Mind of Ron: I hear you. Despite the foggy days, none of us can really stand still, even if we wanted to, because the current of time is always pushing us along. You never know what's next, and good suprises are as possible as bad ones.

Nicole: Thanks for your warm wishes. :-) Spiritual sunshine sounds like just the thing to cure that stinky old fog.

Jameil: I have solved the mystery of your level-headedness. Clearly you were born with personality type J, which means you'll do just fine no matter what life throws at you. ;-)

Keera Ann Fox said...

I don't write about my childhood on my blog or home pages. I don't want to freak my readers out. Sometimes I'm shocked when I remember just how bad it was. (Hint: Had it been today, I would have been put in foster care.)

Love helps. Being loved at some point during childhood always gives one the strength to keep going. I had no dreams. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. What I did know is that I wanted the pain to stop and I wanted not to repeat the mistakes my parents made. Everything I have done so far in life has been with that in mind. It can be summed up as learning to love myself.

I can honestly say that life's been good to me so far - even the crappy parts. :-)

R.E.H. said...

I recognize a lot of what you're saying here.

I honestly don't know whether living for the moment, or planning ahead is the better option.

When planning ahead, I tend to believe too much - that I can be anything that I want, and that it is going to be sooo wonderful... while that may or may not be true, so far I have only been met by disappointment when I've had set goals.

Living in the moment causes one to A) Not have a path to follow, and as such I tend to keep wandering in circles. B) Get too caught up in the bad times when they come upon you... because then they are everything you have.

Wish you all the best. Seeking happiness is the most important thing of all - and any way we can find that, is the right way for us.

trinity67 said...

Day to day works best for me. I don't like it (I'm a control freak) but it keeps me sane, most of the time. Also, I try to honour what my body is telling me - sleep when I'm tired, leave the situatio if I'm uncomfortable, eat when I'm hungry, that kind of thing. Although I can't always do exactly what I want to at any given moment, I find that for the most part it works for me. Hope that helps.

San said...

Red, I seem to be happiest when I do have a goal or two to work towards but also when I'm not fixated on them--the goals--to the exclusion of unexpected wonderful things that might come my way.

Very thoughtful and sincere post. Thank you.

Aurora said...

Spark: Not to underestimate the depth of your sorrows, but you have a lot to be proud of in your life.

When we have habits of living in the future (for goals or fears) or the past, living in the moment takes a lot of work, I think. Good for you.

Karen said...

I have lived both ways and being the extreme of either one is difficult. When I was goal oriented, I missed out on a lot of little things. When I lived for "today", I screwed up my life really badly because I had no long term vision. Now I try to live in the middle of the two.

Dianne said...

At the moment, LOL, I am living in the moment! My therapist thinks it is best for me right now since I often get too bogged down in negative conclusions and past baggage (really heavy to carry all day) and then I just paralyze myself.

I am discovering that living in the moment is allowing my mind the breathing room it needs to look toward the future - in an abstract way for now.

So maybe I am in the middle that Karen described.

This post made me feel less alone, thanks for that.

Sparkling Red said...

Keera: You really do have an amazingly positive outlook for someone who came through such suffering in your early years. I have a lot of respect for you. :-)

R.E.H.: Thanks! Living in the moment is working for me. Despite all the bad stuff I wrote about, that's mostly in the past and day to day I'm usually happy with my life, I'm pleased to report. :-)

Trinity67: We have the same strategy! I'm a control freak too, so it's probably best for me not to be fixated on an extensive to-do list. Just getting the little things accomplished each day is enough. Otherwise I tend to turn things I enjoy into chores because I feel I "should" do them.

San: That sounds like a very healthy middle ground. :-)

Aurora: Thanks! I am proud of where I am relative to where I've come from. The sorrows of the past make me appreciate my current blessings more.

Karen: Yes, a balance between the two philosophies does seem to be the best way to go. It's something I shall aspire to.

Dianne: This all makes me feel less alone too, so thank you! :-) I think I know the paralyzed feeling you're talking about. Staying the moment keeps the past and future from being overwhelming. I'm glad to hear that you've found your middle ground.

Aric Blue said...

Dude, you always have your blog!

Sparkling Red said...

Aric Blue: For real. It makes a huge difference. Come to think of it, it was a dream of mine to have my writing published and read by an appreciative audience. So there you go - 1 childhood dream, Achieved!

Tink said...

After buying the nightmare house, going from a twenty-minute daily commute to a two-hour commute, quiting smoking, and having several misfortunes that lead to being broke (like car accidents) I really did lose my mind. It was not uncommon to find me crying in the bathroom, wild-eyed, for absolutely no reason. I once left the house without shoes or my purse and wandered around for a few hours until Hoop collected me. I couldn't sleep. I ate compulsively. Forget sex. People didn't want to be around me. Then I started taking Celexa. I bought an Ipod (I turn it on when I start feeling crazy), and I stopped thinking about shit that made me stress. Seriously. I don't clean unless someone is coming over now. I do the bare minimum at work. I bought a bunch of tv series on DVDs. Whatever it takes. It's time to start getting back to you. The rest will come... Later.

Sparkling Red said...

Tink: Wow, I never would have guessed. You've really been through it and came back again. Thanks for sharing your story. It's easy to assume that people don't have a dark past when all you usually see is their light.

Jenski said...

Grad school was the last selfish thing I said I had to do for me...That was how I rationalized not staying in Asia when I lived there (and I had at least one reason to stay). Now that this final goal is nearing an end, I question whether what I always said I wanted to do, is really what will make me happy. So I feel somewhere between goals and living in the moment.

Even though it has been a long hard journey for you, it sounds like being happy now means that you are doing what you should be, even if it is not what you planned. Here's to sunshine burning of the grey cloud!