The purpose of this blog is in part, to talk about how I am trying to stay sane in a hectic world. Last week, I let my mini-figure help.
This week, my family and I are in Rio de Janeiro visiting with my relatives. Even though there are so many things to do here, we are having a great time just hanging out and reconnecting with my cousins. Having new experiences together without worrying about seeing all the sites. We did head up to the Parque Nacional da Tijuca where we made a new friend:It has been very relaxing and we still have a week left here. It am definitely grateful that we have the flexibility with my job and the kids’ school, and the financial ability, to make this trip possible.
But while I was sitting by the pool this morning, my mind wandered itself back to the same stressful thoughts that often plague me. Where are we going to move to next? When are we going to move? Will my new business idea work? Will I ever feel truly fluent in French and, if so, when will I find the time to learn Portuguese so I can communicate easily with my family in their language? Sure, sitting poolside is great. But it’s temporary. And I was sitting there alone while my cousin and her husband were fighting traffic to drop off the kids at school and get to work. Life isn’t simple just because you live in the tropics.
One step forward, two steps back.
Work, parenting, life on the expat planet (hell, life in general!)… it can all get overwhelming and frustrating. I am not a happy-go-lucky person by nature. Sometimes (and not-so-secretly), I SOOO wish I was. I wish I could just shut it off. Or wave a magic wand and make everything simpler!
The problem is, I am what’s complicating my life. And maybe there are some of you reading this who feel the same way. We look for complexity in everything. And if a task seems easy, we are less like to feel satiated and proud when we complete it.
Why do we do this?
Blame it on the brain. (I’ve got the Milli-Vanilli song in my head now! How about you?)
Seriously. Our brains can be our worst enemies. The human brain has evolved the frontal lobe. This is the part of the brain involved in higher thinking, or “executive functioning.” The frontal lobe is involved in problem solving, working memory, impulse control, and planning. It is also involved in emotional expression.
Yes, the same part of our brain controls both our thoughts and our emotions. No wonder I find it easy to think myself into an anxious frenzy!
The crazy thing that you may not know about brain development is that it doesn’t end in childhood. In fact, current research suggests that the frontal lobe continues to develop well into our 20s.
Into our 20s! At a time when, in most Western cultures, we are starting to make life choices about living an independent “adult” existence.
In my 20s, with my university diploma in hand, like many of my generation, I fell victim to “paralysis by analysis”. Bright eyed and naive, I looked at all the choices that lay in front of me and thought, “WOW! This is great! I can do anything I want to do!” Then I looked at ALL.THE.CHOICES in front of me and thought, “Holy crap! There are so many! How do I choose one?”
I tried to lay out pros and cons, tried to hear what my gut was telling me, tried to tell myself that “it would all fall into place”. But, the truth is, in trying to find “the perfectly balanced choice”, I drove myself crazy. So afraid of making the “wrong choice” that would have meant maybe having to retrace my steps and start over, I pushed through. And probably knocked over a lot of barriers and warning signs. Did I over-complicate my life? Absolutely. Did I realize I was doing it? I don’t think so.
Yet, all the same, I have heard the complaints come out of my mouth lately about how “hard” and “complicated” life seems. Planning for the future and trying to balance the needs, wants, and expectations, of not just myself but my husband and children too. And I know I am not alone. I have heard many friends say, “it just shouldn’t be THIS hard” when talking about their jobs, or their marriages, or their inability to master a foreign language after 6 years of living overseas (okay. I admit it. That last one is me.) It feels like we are salmon swimming upstream and we just want to turn around and go with the flow a bit more.
But, no pain, no gain, right?
Which is why I honestly stopped in my tracks when I saw this quote from Bruce Lee:
Because unless you have a magic genie tucked into a bottle on your mantle, you will never achieve a 100% easy life. (And let’s be honest, both Aladdin’s and Major Nelson’s lives still seemed pretty chaotic despite having genies.) Sure, we could all find ways to simplify our lives. We could downsize our material goods. Maybe meditate more to stop complicating our thoughts. Learn to say “no” more….
(I’m sure if I thought long and hard about it I could compile a nice long, complicated list to share with you.*)
As I read and re-read Bruce Lee’s quote, it actually seemed like a really simple solution. Life will never be free from struggles. It will never be easy all the time. Even if we try to simplify what we can. So why waste energy and time wishing it could be so? Instead, we can choose to celebrate the inner strength that got us through a difficult time. Reward ourselves for our courage and perseverance. And, even, take time to appreciate our frontal lobe in all its developing complexity for connecting our thoughts with our emotions.
* NOTE: I actually googled “How to simplify our lives” and found a blog post from Leo Babauta on Zen Habits that listed 72 things you could do. It’s a long list. And each one links to additional material but it is definitely worth a read if you are really struggling. Several of the ideas really hit home for me, especially Numbers 15, 23, and 46.