The Fun is in the Chase

I am a planner by profession, I like planning. I like spending months reading reviews and investigating appliances. Dreaming about what my house will look like when I finally do an addition is how I drift off to sleep at night. My imagination runs wild when I open the possibilities of all that I could do. But then when I actually get the appliance, or make the change that I've been looking forward to for months (or even years), the satisfaction from the accomplishment or purchase is short-lived. I immediately move onto the next goal. 

This revelation came to me a few years ago when I was feeling frustrated. I had achieved these amazing things, won fellowships and awards and traveled the world, and yet, I wasn't satisfied. I spent some time really thinking about it. Why can't I appreciate what I've done and feel content with my accomplishments? Why do I have to keep pushing myself? The answer came to me as if by revealing a secret. In my mind's eye I saw a little pearl of wisdom glimmering under what seemed to be obscure leaves. The answer was: perspective. 

It seems radical to me. What if I spent as much time AFTER the fact of getting or accomplishing something as I spend in the planning mode? That would mean months of observing and appreciating the details of what this new thing adds to my life. For a new stove, maybe that would mean taking time each day to admire the details or trying new ways of cooking to experiment with all the settings. For a fellowship, maybe that would mean writing about how the experience added to my perspective of the world or enumerating the ways that the fellowship has boosted my career. We live in an "I want everything" world, where we focus on the individual and possession. What if we spent the time reflecting on what we have and how we have been formed by our past experiences? I think it would help us better understand where we are going in the future. 

Abundance of Different Kinds

I have been taking an online course this year called the Art of Money. It's great that it's online because you can go at your own pace, but there is also the community aspect if you want to have the support and ideas of others. On the day that my book launch party happened, one woman wrote on the Facebook page that she was devastated that her daughter just received a rejection on a major scholarship. The woman had been counting on to help her make college tuition affordable for their family. She wrote in angst about her devastating news and the teacher who leads the course said, "Have you talked with Lucy? She's in our group and has a new book about getting fellowships, scholarships, and grants." I also responded to her and offered my help.


That night, as I was signing copies of the books we sold, a woman approached the table and said, "You won't believe this but I'm the woman from the Facebook group!" It turned out she looked up my website immediately after she saw the Facebook post and the splash page that afternoon said, "COME TO MY BOOK LAUNCH PARTY TONIGHT!!" In a further twist, her son was already attending my event with his friend and had invited the mother along.


What a crazy coincidence, right?


So we got together for lunch one day and I helped brainstorm some ideas for her daughter. We then talked about the money course. She said something that I really liked and that has been on my mind for the last couple months. 


"I find with my business and personal life that abundance comes in different forms. Sometimes, when I'm running low on the money side of my business, I realize that the abundance at that moment is in having lots of friends who are helping me. Other times, I have abundance of trade or health when there's less money. And sometimes there IS an abundance of money." At that particular point when we had lunch, she was recognizing that the abundance in her life may have been access to loans to help pay for her daughter's tuition. 


I thought this was a really beautiful way to see the world and an inspiring look into all the ways we are supported. It's easy to streamline the definition of success as having lots of money or lots of "wins" but the gifts in our lives can be in unfamiliar packages. In this woman's case, realizing what she has that other people would like to have (access to credit) helped her see the support where other people would see failure. 


My work focuses on helping people get out of the uncomfortable situation of working in uninspiring fields or owing lots of money for school, but sometimes recognizing where a supposed burden is actually a support helps build a positive world view. 


Giving Thanks and Feeling Joy

At this time of year, especially this year, I have trouble letting myself feel joy. I am caught between a scarcity mindset (not feeling like I have enough money to buy nice Christmas presents) and a guilt mindset (refugees around the world don't even have homes right now). I think it's ironic that Black Friday follows (now coincides) with Thanksgiving, previously the only holiday when Americans weren't force fed consumerist incentives. Neither the scarcity nor the guilt allow me to feel joy, which is supposedly the sentiment of the season. 

I have so much to be grateful for: a healthy family, a beautiful house, my forthcoming book, a friendly workplace and prospects in the new year. And yet something dark is lurking in the back of my mind as I count each of these blessings. I can't name it exactly, but it feels like shame. I'm afraid to even elaborate on my blessings for fear of being immodest. Why do I deserve all these things? Am I allowed to feel happiness and joy in these things that are privileges to me and not to others? And, if I am so lucky, why do I want more? Is there something wrong with me that I can be so greedy?  

I turned for guidance this week to Dr. Brené Brown, vulnerability researcher and writer. I read her life-changing book, Daring Greatly, in 2012 but I've been re-reading it to try and integrate some of her findings into my life. She has helped me see that ingrained in scarcity and guilt is fear, which is what really hinders joy. Fear that what I have, and more importantly, what I AM, isn't enough. Fear that what I have won't last. Fear of allowing myself to feel joy. 

Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store for us next) will be too difficult. We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster. And we struggle with the worthiness issue. Do we deserve our joy, given our inadequacies and imperfections? What about the starving children and the war-ravaged world? Who are we to be joyful? If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough.
— Brené Brown, Daring Greatly p. 124

And so it seems that not allowing myself to feel joy isn't helping anyone. By feeling guilty about my life, I'm not making anyone else's life better, I'm not realistically changing either my situation or another person's. Instead, I'm just holding up a shield which stops me from appreciating the gifts in my life for fear that feeling true joy in them will make me vulnerable to losing them. 


When I read this three and a half years ago, I started crying. I saw how fear of joy held a tight grip on me. Letting it loosen, letting true joy and gratitude for my parents and my husband overwhelm me was emotionally scary. Letting them know how much I love them made me raw. "Don't squander joy," says Brené. This is good advice, and a reminder I need to hear repeatedly, especially at this time of year.