I don’t believe in a whole lot anymore. The only time I say the words God or Jesus, it is in a fit of profanity. If I had to fill in a bubble on a survey, I’d be some Zen Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, existentialist. I know that is an offensive contradiction, but I change my mind all the time, and I’m not quite ready to commit to my spiritual status yet. But, despite my lack of spiritual certainty, I’ve become so much more present in my life lately.
I ended up on an interesting website the other day after a marathon of TED talks. I took a Character Strengths Questionnaire after watching a talk by Martin Seligman, whom I was introduced to by the book, Learned Optimism. His book was a revolutionary read for me, as it made me realize I would create envy in the most die-hard pessimist. After reading this book and applying Seligman’s theory to my own way of thinking, I’ve gone from raging pessimist to hopeful optimist … or at least less raging pessimist.
Knowing how much I enjoy Seligman, I watched his TED talk and ended up at authentichappiness.org to take the Character Strengths Questionnaire, which revealed my Character Strengths:
- Judgment, critical thinking, open-mindedness
- Kindness and generosity
- Love of learning
- Fairness, equity, justice
After you take the test, 24 total values are given, ranked from most to least. Among my lowest ranking strengths were modesty, faith, self-regulation and humor. My complete list of ranked strengths surprised me at first, and many things that were at the bottom of the list, I would have thrown on top without much thought. After expending some time and thought, it makes more sense than I originally realized. I won’t dive into my perception of the inner workings of my psyche for your sake, so don’t worry.
The purpose of this little exercise is to identify your strengths and find ways to work them into your daily life, so that you will ultimately find more happiness – since doing the things you are ‘good at’ will reap higher rewards than those you are less ‘good at’.
It had some other profound benefits for me as well though. Some of these questions really stuck out to me. Among them were:
I am always busy with something interesting.
Initial reaction: Hell no. I’m either working on something I have to work on, taking a break so I don’t think about something I’m supposed to be working on, or sleeping and dreaming about the things I’m supposed to be working on.
I am the most important person in someone’s life.
My initial thought: Of course. Then … I’m not sure if anyone would label me as the most important person in their life, or if I can call anyone person the most important in mine. I have a lot of people I love, but the idea of choosing one as more important that anyone else? I’m still not sure. Maybe that’s reserved for people in love, or when those people have a baby and re-fall in love.
I can accept love from someone else.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have no problem expressing my feelings. I shove it in your face. But, accepting love is a different story. This ended up toward the bottom of my strength list, based on this answer and those of similar questions. Accepting love from someone seems like such a primitive idea, and maybe it is something you’re innately given, and lose over time. I want to be able to take in all the love I can. I may have just forgotten how.
I have created something of beauty in the last year.
There has to be something … But I can’t come up with a single thing. That’s one of the first things on my newest bucket list (and not for the sole purpose of crossing it off the list). I want to make something I’m proud of – because I deserve to be proud of myself.
If you would have asked me 15 years ago where I would be today, I’d be a singer/songwriter/supermodel finishing up my first term as president. Biological factors and a short attention span have obviously led me on a different path, but I can’t help but miss the spirit I once had. Naivety is a beautiful thing.
A lot of these questions, and obviously the results to the questionnaire in all, were really positive for me. Sometimes seeing who we are on paper is the best way of recognizing who we’d rather be. I did more than identify my strengths (and am currently on some kind of mission to put them into practice), but I was able to identify some areas that I did not even realize I was struggling in.
I hope you will take the time for a little reflection today. You don’t have to go this route if it doesn’t speak to you, but sit down with yourself for a few minutes. Check the path you’re on. Ask your past self if you lived up to your own standards. It’s never too late for a little modification.
Driving today, enjoying some Lilly Allen, I took a left turn, and ended up about 15 miles south of the right turn I should have made before I noticed. I was on a divided highway and couldn’t turn around. Next exit: 5 miles. Five miles of knowingly driving the wrong way after 15 minutes of unknowingly driving the wrong direction. It made my eye twitch.
Because that’s a frustrating thing, to be driving on a road, going in a direction you don’t want to be headed, and be told you are not allowed to turn around. I did what most people in my situation would have. I examined the height of the median, weighed the consequences, and “flipped a bitch” as the saying goes. Nothing damaged, no cops chasing me, I carried on my merry way.
And I thought,’that was easy’. And it was. I’m sure I broke a few laws, but I saved 5 miles each way. Or rather, didn’t lose it.
So, of course I’m leading to a big, sweeping analogy, because that’s how I make sense of the world and my decisions in it. Here it is:
I drove 15 minutes the wrong direction without even noticing. I was driving. I should have my license revoked at least. But how often do we do this? Keep moving forward with the lowest possible level of consciousness to get us by, a lot of times knowing it isn’t right. Our jobs, relationships, diet, lifestyles, and all of the choices we consistently seem to forget we are actually making. Nothing is just the way it is. We are making the choice every day.
So the next part of that is turning off the radio and tuning in to our lives. Being aware of all of the things happening around us. Making an effort to check in on the people we care about. Making an effort to check in with ourselves. Taking that cooking class, going on that jog, buying that dress that we’ve had our eye on.
We are exposed to countless stimulus constantly throughout our day. We are driven by timeframes and deadlines and the expectations of our bosses, our friends, our lovers, our family and our culture. Often, it feels like we are being pushed by a momentum we can’t control.
But just remember whose foot is on the gas.
If only every decision in life was so simple as flipping a bitch. If only when we felt like we felt like we were going the wrong direction, we took a moment to think about it and then we just turned around. If only people didn’t get hurt in the process, our money was safe and we had insurance on our decisions.
But, we don’t. And that’s scary.
But it might be more scary to wake up behind the wheel one day and not even know that we were the one driving the entire time. So, if the urge strikes you, flip a bitch.
This has been one of the most exciting months of my life. I moved back home, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and had my first surgery.
This made me realize a few really important things about love that I’ve always thought about but spent little time contemplating. Not sappy, Nicholas Sparks love, but real-life, down and dirty way-you-love-your-best-friends-love.
First: moving home.
Not an easy task when you’re 24 years old. I was mostly embarrassed at first, but my friends helped conjure up some good excuses, and then reminded me of them after the first week of my Dad texting me when I wasn’t home by midnight. Bigger picture excuses. This brings me to thing I’ve learned about love and friendship NUMBER 1: Be a public defender.
Moving home was the right decision for me, as difficult as it was to swallow the giant lump of pride I kept gagging on the first few weeks. Moving home allowed me Prague. If I would have continued my lease, not only would I not have the money to go, but I wouldn’t have realized that my family will survive without me. I needed the support of my friends to make it okay. Even though I was trying to convince myself that it was okay to be 24 and living at home, and it was okay to make a leap and be scared to death, I needed the people around me who know me the best to tell me the same thing. I needed the people around me to believe in me.
Which led to the next step in my journey: Committing to Prague.
There were mixed reactions. A little sadness, some excitement, but one really bad reaction that came from some of the people I’m closest to:
The selfish reaction. A ‘that’s not fair of you to leave‘ reaction that I got from some people – some with whom I’m closest. It was disappointing. I realize that I’m going to be really far away and that’s scary. I realize our dreams were different when we were younger. We won’t get married like we joked about; I may not be around for the things I thought I would; you may die while I’m gone; I may die while I’m gone.
So this led to thing I’ve learned about love and friendship NUMBER 2: Listen to all testimony before delivering your verdict.
I’ve sooo been this friend before: “OMG you’re engaged… are you sure that’s a good idea?” WRONG. “Have you thought this through?” WRONG. “You’re kidding, right?” WRONG!
By this time, the person telling you does think it’s a good idea, they have thought it through and they are not kidding. A lot of times, your initial reaction has your best interest at heart, even if you might not realize it. The life you have been picturing is shattered and you are hurt. I know that a lot of the bad reactions I got about Prague were because my friends were scared and felt betrayed that all of the plans we had been making for so long went up in a puff of Eastern European smoke.
But here’s the thing: even if you know – without a doubt – that your friend is ruining their life, now isn’t the time to bring it up. Hear. Listen. Absorb. Our little brains are swimming with endorphins and nerves are firing like missiles in WWII at the point. Shooting down someone’s dreams won’t talk them out of it. They just won’t talk to you about it. If someone you care about is really making a bad decision, bring it up another time when the anxiety of their big news is no longer around and you’re both able to breach the subject with a cool head.
Chances are, even if they are making a mistake in your eyes, you are going to have to learn to live with it, because as much as they love you, they probably won’t be changing their mind. Which brings us to things I’ve learned about love and friendship NUMBER 3: The judge sits alone. In other words, if you decide to be judgmental, you run the risk that no one will care what your ruling is.
Next came the surgery.
So, with the excitement of Prague still fresh on my mind and my Facebook wall, I started feeling bad. Eventually, my stomach ache led to a surgery (This isn’t a pity post – I’m fine). But, this was my first of anything like this before. I only told a few people because it wasn’t a big deal at the time and I didn’t want people to worry.
But, it made me realize who did worry, which made me see things differently. I got flowers from work and at first, thought how caring that was. But then I realized, no one from work asked how I was doing but one person (my boss) and no one even responded to the email I sent updating everyone. The disheartening truth is that the flowers are probably a box on a list to check when someone is out of work for more than a week. A corporate facade of concern. And that wasn’t the only facade. The one person who I confided in completely couldn’t even remember to remember. He pretended to be concerned, like he thought he was supposed to, but didn’t follow through in the end (and trust me, that wasn’t the first time he wasn’t able to follow through.) There’s another lesson here: Eventually, you run out of appeals. And, when that day comes, you don’t get to be a thing that matters anymore. People will stop answering your calls.
The check-list flowers did make me realize, one thing, however: There are people who genuinely care about me. That is a good feeling to have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not measuring the value of my friendships on who showed the most concern about me during this one week of my life; I only told a few people anyway. I did grow to re-appreciate a few people a lot more though. Dominic, who I forced into being my best friend in the seventh grade, has been texting me relentlessly. Having him prove that he was worried to death made me love him even more. Kaylyn came over just to spend a few hours doing nothing with me on a Friday night because I couldn’t go anywhere. There are others, of course too. This leads me to thought on love and friendship Number 5: When you love someone, never stop proving it to them.
I’ve received more love in the form of calls, texts, skypes, cards, flowers, milkshakes (thanks mom), kind words and favors
than I remember ever having received at any one time in my life. Or, maybe I’ve just noticed it more.
And, it’s not that we need these things to validate our love, but I’ll tell you this: it is good to be reminded. So thank you
to everyone in my life who continues to be my public defenders, my jury, my peers and my constant support.
You make me better and make me strive for better.
So my closing thought is this: Notice the love around you, and return it in droves.
The word “single” is an interesting one. I’ve never thought about it a whole lot. I’ve never really wanted to, I guess. But today, I started thinking about the word. Single: only one in number; one only; unique. Then we have dollar bills, hits in baseball and a size of bed that is really not big enough for two. I guess a single is better than a cent or a strike-out or a twin, but it still seems to fall flat. We don’t usually use it in a positive way. We want a queen bed, or a king, or a California king… are the kings really that much bigger in California? Nothing seems to make much sense anymore. Especially trying to justify being alone at 23 in a world where the population is some seven billion. Single isn’t simple.
Medically, the prefix sin means “hollow, cavity, or to curve.” Otherwise, the prefix sin translates to “without”. I do admit, I have an overwhelming urge to track the guy down who chose the word for single and give him a hearty smack across the face. “Without” suggests that something is missing. However, I am whole. All the pieces are here. I can’t think of anything that needs two of something to be considered a whole (unless it’s a half…) but I’m all here. One whole entire person… I’ve almost got enough for two. Listen and you’ll hear my heart beating. Cut me, I’ll bleed. I’ve seen the x-rays. There is nothing hollow about me.
I’m not without anything. Im just ante-relationship is all. I just haven’t found anyone to make me care to be any other way. I’ll always be single though. It will always just be me at the end of the day. One person. Maybe that’s why so many people are relationship addicts. The guy who got to decide the word for “not being in a relationship” tricked the world into thinking we are only part of a person when we are alone. A hollow, empty cavity of a person. Seriously, that guy better be glad he’s long dead. That is so many of the problems I see around me. People think they are better off settling for a mediocre, luke-warm definition of love than being alone. I read too much Shakespeare and Jane Austen and Homer to be luke-warm about anything. I bleed passion that can’t be found in 10 Things I Hate About You. Love sure isn’t what it used to be.
So I am not with anyone. I am just with me, free to roam the concrete pastures of the city in search of whatever whim prevails for whatever day of the week it may be. I won’t pretend I don’t get lonely, I certainly do. The thing about it is that I am in charge of my lonliness. I could be with somebody- we all have the option of somebody. Somebody is not good enough though. Especially in a generation where people can tell you everything about Mike the Situation but nothing about Michaelangelo. We’ve got to be picky. We have to choose and throw people away if necessary. Forgiveness is all fine and dandy, but we can never expel the experiences that we learn from being betrayed. Forgive someone who wrongs you for your own sake, let the anger go, but never let the feeling go that accompanied it. You only get the excuse of being naive the first time, after that… well I can think of a few different adjectives.
The prefix spec is “to look”. The suffix ance is “in the process of”. So Im not single- I’m just Speccance. That “single” word guy can roll around in his grave, for all I care.