The last ten years have been one long exercise in expectation management. Life can sometimes throw you just enough wins to keep you shuffling in the same direction. I don’t know, maybe it’s an age thing, but getting to the next “level” seems to require a lot more grinding than it did when I first started out.
Ever play a video game? You start out at level one, and the world does a great job of ushering you to level two. The rules kinda just explain themselves by the time you’re at level three, mostly because there’s only one way forward at this stage. “Leveling up” can be done in a single sitting, and the grind-to-happiness ratio is pretty satisfactory.
Life’s not been like that for me in a long while. Each level has been a real grind with far too many side quests that eat up my time, and just when I think I’ve reached the big boss fight, I realize it’s only another one of his lieutenants. The grind continues.
I’m now teaching creative writing at a university in Florida, and while it promises to be more fulfilling than a corporate job, I am surprised at my attitude towards the journey ahead of me. When I’ve started a new job in the past, my mind would immediately jump to a year later or the next level up. I would map out a plan for career progression and figure out which projects would allow me to have the most impact. Now? I exhale. The next level up? I couldn’t care less. I’m content to learn what I need to perform today. Tomorrow will come. Hasn’t it always?
I left England not really knowing what to expect of my future. But, I’ve moved enough to know that at some point we’d settle into a home, the girls would be enrolled in a school, and eventually a new norm would be established. I was hopeful, but the last decade had left its impressions. I was prepared for more grinding.
I don’t know if it’s the Florida sunshine, how well my family is doing, or the fact that I’ve got a job that fulfills me (the grind-to-happiness ratio is satisfactory), but sometimes I just can’t get over how joyous my life is. My girls laugh a lot more now, my husband cracks jokes like he used to before we had kids, and I find myself relaxing. I’m learning to let some things go. I live a lot lighter now.
Sometimes, when I walk my dog, I am moved to tears. The views. The sunshine. I was so afraid of longing for the natural beauty of the English countryside after I left in January, but Mother Nature, she exists in all corners. Yes, the grass is different, and Saachi can’t run freely like he did, but it’s green here, too. Instead of geese, I have ducks. I no longer have horses and cows and red kites, but I’ve got alligators, snowy egrets, and the American white ibis.
Brené Brown warns us against letting fear steal our joy: the fear of the other shoe dropping, the fear of what ifs and what’s to come, or the fear of a let down because we seemingly celebrated too early—when the three-book deal takes years to sell or gain any traction, or when we look up into the stands feeling victorious only to discover the spectators are long gone.
She tells us to be brave, celebrate the small win, and seek the joy in all things because when we harden our hearts, we cut off opportunities for connection.
So, I’m working on being brave. Today, life feels damn good, and I’m just going to own that instead of preparing for the hard times. Oh, sure, hard times, they’re a-coming, but today, I’m going to take my youngest out for a bike ride. I’m going to play that live-action role-playing game my eldest keeps asking me about. The girls and I are going to toss around the beach ball like it’s a hot potato while my husband plays in his football (soccer) finals. He and I are going out for breakfast after we drop the kids off at school tomorrow. I might even have a Bloody Mary.
I’m going to accept that today, the grind-to-happiness ratio is balanced.