“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”
— Kurt Vonnegut
Years ago I used to work in a big office building in downtown Chicago. Most weekday mornings, I rode the Red line, or sometimes the Brown line, downtown and then walked across the bridge over the Chicago River into a big, tall building where seemingly Very Important Things happened.
Back then, I felt like I was always rushing and racing, always working and waiting for the Next Big Thing.
It has been years now since I’ve worked in an office building. I’ve long since traded the suit pants for yoga pants, the power lunches for sack lunches. My commute now consists of walking down 14 stairs from upstairs to the kitchen where seemingly Very Important Things happen.
And still I feel like I am often rushing and racing, still working and waiting for the Next Big Thing.
The way the Next Big Thing looks has changed over time, but it’s always been there. Looming. Shining. Beckoning.
Get a job promotion. Earn a raise. Find a new job.
Have a baby. Get some sleep. SURVIVE.
Have another baby. Survive.
Write a book. Publish a book. Sell a book. Sell more books.
Write another book.
There’s always a Next Big Thing out there, and when I reach it, a New Big Thing pops up like one of those smiling animals in the Whack-A-Mole game in an arcade.
There is nothing wrong with working toward a Next Big Thing, of course, and the path to the Next Big Thing is often paved with good intentions and admirable goals and dreamy dreams. But it is also a rocky uphill trail that can become littered with envy and frustration if we aren’t careful. It can become overgrown with discontent and doubt and insecurity when we get weary. And the path can start to feel lonely from time to time.
Because with all this rushing around, moving forward, working toward something bigger and better, and walking on our Dreamy Dreams Path, we’re bound to get tired. All this working toward and waiting for the Next Big Thing – whether it’s building a family or building a home or building a career (which sometimes happens all at once!) – can be downright exhausting. And it never ends. It never.freaking.ends. Inevitably something new pops up, the Old Big Thing starts to feel a little weak or small compared to the new Next Big Thing. And in our quest for happiness, we put ourselves at risk of forgetting that we already are happy.
The Dreamy Dreams Path toward the Next Big Thing is a good and noble place to be much of the time. It is what propelled me to write late into the night when what I really wanted to do was snuggle into my soft sheets and sleep. It is what still calls me to write almost every day. It is what guides me as a try to say “Yes” to the right projects and “No” to the wrong ones. But there are plenty of If/Then landmines that have yet to be disabled. If this happens, then I’ll be happy. When that happens, then I’ll feel comfortable. If I sell this many books, then I’ll feel like a writer. When I get an article published in that magazine, then I’ll feel legit. If I get as many followers as her, then I’ll be content. When my kids are in school, then I’ll focus more on writing. If…then…When…then…
If you had asked me about my Next Big Thing a couple of years ago, I would have said it was to publish a book. But now that the book is published and the frenzy of its release has died down, the publishing part doesn’t seem like quite enough. Now it is book sales and marketing and speaking gigs and another book.
There has to be a way to stay on our Dreamy Dream Path toward the Next Big Thing without getting torn to shreds or falling off a cliff or getting lost, doesn’t there? There has to be a way to press pause on the Whack-A-Mole game long enough to catch our breath now and then. There has to be a way to sweep away the envy, loneliness, doubt, and not-enough-ness. There has to be a way to appreciate the Big Things We Have while still working toward the Next Big Thing. Right?
Of course, there is a way. I know this and you know this. But like I’ve said before, there is a difference between knowing a truth and living a truth. And what I know to be true is that the Dreamy Dreams Path to the Next Big Thing is never one that is walked alone; it takes connection and kindness, vulnerability and honesty. These are the brooms that clear the rubble and dust, the shears that cut those thorny branches, the ropes to hold as we climb the hills.
It sounds so idyllic and pleasant, doesn’t it? But I have found that these things are, at the same time, both the easiest things and the hardest things to do. Smiling at strangers. Writing an heartfelt email to a friend. Telling someone you’re scared. Asking for help. Giving a complement. Apologizing. Listening. Really listening. Forgiving. Showing up. Paying attention. Showing up some more.
As simple and easy as these words – connection, kindness, vulnerability, and honesty – sound, in practice, they can be hard, really hard sometimes. And yet, I think we are craving meaningful connection, radical kindness, raw vulnerability, and authentic honesty with an insatiable hunger and a desperate thirst. We are desperate to know we aren’t the only ones who get hurt and scared and excited and overwhelmed and sad and just totally over-the-moon sometimes. We want someone to bear witness to this, to all of this. We want to be seen and heard and known. We want someone to hold our hand while we walk on our Dreamy Dreams Path even though they might be walking on their own, very different, path.
Last week I wrote about some of the things I’m scared to write about and about how hard it is to live in a wide open kind of way, how challenging it can be to be our best selves instead of the version that we think others want to see. And so many of you said, yes. YES, it is hard.
But what if we all did this? Would be a little easier to be bravely authentic? What if we decided to lay down our weapons and cut out the bullshit for a while? What if we said thank you and I love you and I’m sorry and I appreciate you just a little more often than we think necessary? What if we decided to be just a little more open, just a little more kind, vulnerable, and honest? What if we raced and rushed just a little bit less, and paused just a little bit more, would we be able see each other a little more clearly? Would we see that we aren’t alone? Would we see that we’re all in this together? Would we see the hands to hold along the way?
And, most perhaps most importantly, would we see that those hands reaching out to us on the Dreamy Dreams Path are the truest and biggest of the Next Big Things, that they always have been?
Would we see that in our quest for happiness we actually are happy?
This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge with Angie McMonigal Photography. She sends a photo; I write a post inspired by that photo. Please make sure to visit her website or facebook page. Her work is amazing.