Saturday, January 24, 2009

Following things which feel warmer

I used to flirt with daydreams about being able to walk to work - as I commuted an hour and a half in the snow and freezing cold in Minnesota, in traffic that oscillated between a complete standstill and reckless drivers weaving in and out of traffic at 95 miles an hour. I kept on dreaming as I explored various parts of Freiburg, Germany on foot during my study-abroad days. I used to picture myself in those twisty, hilly streets of residential Freiburg, living in a home with a vegetable garden in the backyard and walking to the city center to work. I picked up groceries at the daily farmer's market and cooked delicious meals, enjoying a glass of wine with dinner.

My daydreams took on various changes and shifts over the years, but one thing remained constant - how wonderful it would be to not have to rely on a vehicle to get where I need to be: no worrying about gas prices, no maintenance problems, and no driving in inclement weather.

I walked to work this week, a 1.7 mile trip that takes me about 25 minutes. I walked up the hills, along the twisty streets and tall trees. I walked to my new job.

I found an amazing position, working with some fantastic people, in healthcare research. I feel like I am living in a dream.

Oddly, though, I had never been the kind of person who could imagine their future entirely - when I was in grade school and we had to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up, I never knew. I learned to make stuff up so that my teacher didn't get mad at me for not knowing. I told them I wanted to be an astronomer...or a flautist.

Even when I started college, back in Minnesota, I didn't know what I wanted to "be" when I was done. I cringed as a freshman when I heard classmates and friends talk about their specific plans to major in biology and become a marine biologist, or major in math and become an accountant. My future didn't have a name. I just knew that I liked the humanities. Cultural studies made sense to me and opened my eyes to the hidden language of symbols and ideologies that are not so hidden if you only take a moment to observe. Psychology was full of interesting understanding of human behavior, while still offering many unanswered questions. The German language connected me to a unique group of people, people with whom I loved to converse and talk about the world. It fed my travel lust and further expanded my curiosity of humanity.

I chose to study all of these things, because they felt good. I didn't know what kind of a job waited for me at the end of the degree, but I knew that if my job fit my education, I would continue to be happy.

My love of learning lead me to graduate school, and I still didn't know what "career" I wanted. Psychology felt good. Research felt good. So, I followed those feelings. While in graduate school, I became intimately attached to the ideas of health promotion and positive psychology - why work to remove poor health, when you can work to improve health? Why study what precipitates depression when you can study what leads to happiness and the good life? It was a paradigm shift in our biomedical-model-laden, reactive culture.

I still don't know what I want to "be." I'm just following what feels right.

I am writing all of this because a friend pointed out this article to me, called, "How to escape your rat race." Not only is it a great piece, but I realized that my inability to name or perfectly imagine my future life isn't all that strange. In fact, it makes a whole lot of sense.

Many people have a hard time "finding" their lives, or imagining how they would like them to be. However, if you continually choose that which makes you feel warmer, and correct your course when you feel colder, you will inevitably create that life. You will also be less likely feel the need to 'cope' with your day-to-day situation. You will less likely be that person who says, "If only..." or "When X happens...then I'll be happy."

It takes a certain amount of self-awareness, I know, as well as the option of having a choice, but it makes a bit of sense - to follow those things which feel warmer.


Steph said...

I saw your topic heading, and immediately thought of that article. Funny that you mention the very article I had read and been pondering for the last week. I also have struggled with "knowing what I want to be" and feeling like my life is off track because I don't know. But, like you said, doing the things which you enjoy, which feel warmer, are all you can do to achieve that goal. At least, that's the way I look at it. Hope we can all keep doing those things that bring us happiness. Enjoy walking to work :) And congrats on the new job!

Lauren Denneson said...

Steph - so great you saw that article too! It really does make you think, doesn't it? Indeed, you don't have to know what you want your life to be to be happy :)