Is there really a “right” answer?

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where I am in life and where I am headed, and whether I am ready to make a leap into something new.  I’ve been agonizing over finding the right decision, over and over as is my wont.  All of sudden on my commute home the other day, though, I had a real moment of clarity: what if there isn’t actually a right answer?  Or, more importantly, what if there isn’t actually a wrong answer?  I immediately felt a weight lift off my shoulders at the thought.  Perhaps, after all is said and done, each path I might choose has potential.  Each path has its own validity.  And no matter what I choose, I will be okay.  I will be okay.

I think perhaps I have tried to “do what’s right” for so long that doing something I want ceased to be a consideration.  Or what I “want” became conflated with “wanting to make the right decision.”  Either way, what will actually make me feel happy and fulfilled has gotten lost in the shuffle.  I cannot explain how revolutionary it is to consider that perhaps there is no one right answer.  And now, armed with that insight, I finally feel like I have permission from myself to move forward in a way that will make me happy.  I don’t have to feel obligated to check the “right” boxes.  Of course, in the abstract I am aware that there isn’t a right or wrong answer for many things.  We exist in perpetual shades of grey, where things are often subjective.  For some reason, though, it has never really occurred to me that was the case for my life.

It occurs to me that the patriarchy has insidious finger-holds in so much of our societal consciousness.  As a woman, we have rarely had the luxury of asking ourselves what we want.  And even though, in theory, we have progressed to a point where that is an option, can we really make those choices freely?  So much of our self-worth and happiness is tied up in making others feel happy and cared-for.  A spouse, children, our aging parents… they have needs we are conditioned to want to meet, and our own needs be damned — or at least, swept under the rug into unobtrusive invisibility.  I’ve decided I don’t want my desires to be forced into invisibility any longer.

I am incredibly lucky to have good people around me — people I love and trust and can rely on.  Maybe it is time to release the vise-grip I feel like I have to maintain on my image, the way I want people to see me, and the way I feel like my narrative should unfold?  Part of my fear in choosing wrong is that I will be judged, or seen as wanting somehow.  That not choosing correctly equals failure.  But then, so what?  No matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise, I truly have no control over how people see me, feel about me, or whether they will judge me.  Nor can I possibly please everyone.

So, as we embark on a new year, I am thinking a lot.  I am beginning to plan ways I might like to move forward with me in mind.  Not what I feel I should do, not what I think I have to keep doing, but what will fulfill me.  It is a strange feeling, I have to admit.  I feel selfish (I’m not) and perhaps a little bit adrift.  I’m going to try to move through that discomfort to a place of discovery, though, and I’m looking forward to the ride.  See you on the other side.

So proud

green ribbon border isolated on white backgroundAs Mental Health Month draws to a close, I want to talk about something often overlooked: personal pride.  A lot of press goes to self-help and self-care in the form of therapy, outdoor walks, or medication, all of which are excellent and good and necessary.  I’d also propose that something as small as a little bit of pride can be wonderful, too.

As someone with anxiety and depression, I am rarely proud of myself.  In my head it is always more about getting better at something, looking better, feeling better, or at least trying keep up a facade of being “good enough,” whatever that means.  So when a rare shiny moment of pride comes up, I’m learning to sit up and listen, and bask in it for all it’s worth.

Last month I attended a conference for work.  I am introverted, so I always walk into events like these thinking how draining they will be, and how nervous I’ll be.  Over the course of those few days, though, I was struck by how much easier networking has become for me over the last several years.  I had colleagues to greet, a committee meeting to run, opinions to share, and expertise to pass on.  I was doing it!  And I wasn’t scared.

During and afterwards, I discovered an immense sense of pride in myself.  I was proud of how much I’ve learned and grown professionally.  I was proud to see myself as a confident professional — a stark contrast to the shy grad student that first attended these conferences almost 10 years ago.   It was kind of novel, actually, how good it felt to be proud of myself.  To pause for a moment or two, and just glow.

I’m trying now to realize pride doesn’t necessarily have to come from something as grandiose as professional growth.  I can simply be proud because I got out of bed this morning.  Proud that I made it through another day.  Proud that I made a good choice for myself.  Acknowledging ourselves is so, so important.  And I’m learning.

Beginner-ings

As you might guess, my drive for perfection makes it difficult to be a beginner.  Recently I started taking ceramics classes, though — and when you start something new, you have no choice but to start at the beginning.  Time for beginner-ing.  Ooof.

I’ve wanted to learn to throw pottery for ages.  Something about the instant gratification that comes with a guided touch on clay, the graceful turning of forms and hands on a wheel, and the wabi-sabi imperfections that make up a particularly stunning glaze — all of these things have beckoned me for quite some time.  Rather than wait until I had some time, I finally decided to make some time this month to make it happen, and I am so glad I did.

The wheel and the clay both have their own learning curve, I have realized.  Gravity and centrifugal force have their own demands as well.  There is a sweet spot to be found between clay that is wet enough to become what you envision, and too wet to maintain the form you’ve shaped.  There is a strange satisfaction in trimming a piece, leathery clay spinning in ribbons off the wheel as you uncover the shape you’re imagining.  And there is a magical alchemy to glazes — the way minerals and heat combine to transform into something unexpected and beautiful.  That minty-green goop you just dunked a bowl into?  Of course it is going to be cobalt blue when fired.  Fascinating, yes?

Beginner’s mind is a challenge to get into as an adult.  Our society demands knowledge, know-how, swagger, confidence, momentum.  Being a beginner requires curiosity, surrender, awe, wonder, and acknowledgement of another’s superior skills.  It requires you to be open, vulnerable, and even silly.  It requires resilience.  A beautiful bowl can become a lopsided twist of clay in a heartbeat, and all you can do is laugh, smush and knead, and begin again.  I’m working on squishing down my irritation along with my misshapen clay, working on laughing and shrugging my shoulders, working on going with the flow, working on embracing a “flawed” piece as one I can learn from and experiment with.  And you know what?  It’s fun.  It’s hard and messy and fun.  And I am learning.

I have yet to fully complete a piece yet, so this is all about the journey so far.  Considering how results-driven I can sometimes be, I am surprised how much I am relishing it.  Each step is new and different and hard and exciting.  I’m eager to see how my work will turn out once it’s been fired, of course, but (shockingly) I’m even more excited to keep learning and creating — because there is so much to enjoy along the way.