I have started graduate school. As I walk around campus, I look for people who are my age, and I don’t see many of them. Most people there are younger than me, and many are older than me as well. Sometimes I do feel a bit out of place–I know that there are graduate students my age, but I am settled in my life in a way that feels very unique: happily married, owning my own house, raising four kids.
Sometimes I feel a bit strange going to school. Unattached to my children, I somehow have transported myself to where I was 13 or 14 years ago, and yet I am not the same person. I think about them often, and I feel more alive and more of myself when I look to them.
But now I exist where people don’t know me as a mom of four children. By way of introduction, they want me to state my area of research, something that I am still figuring out. I’m not really figuring out what I want to study–I’m just figuring out the terms of how to categorize it. “Practical reason,” I finally decide to say, and then I add, “And economics,” just because it’s interesting. And I still very much like economics, and find myself slipping an economic term into a philosophy paper because different fields of study aren’t really that different after all.
There is always too much to learn, but I try to be a bit mindful of my time and my resources: I can’t go after every interesting idea and topic, but yet there are so many interesting ideas and topics.
It is a strange thing to tell people that you are getting a Ph.D., but in philosophy. As if the two things cancel each other out somehow. Smart, but completely unpractical. I get to spend years of my life writing things that no one will read, learning things that not many people care about.
But it fits me right now. And every time I learn, I want to maintain in the back of my head: how is this practical? Why would I care about it? Why would other people care about it? And hopefully, find some element of something useful and true in the sea of everything.
School starts tomorrow for most of my kids. I need to go fold laundry so that they can find what they want to wear, though I think they may have sorted through the laundry already.
This doesn’t feel that different: we just fall back into the old routine that we had a few months ago. I wake up at 6:30, get my daughter on the bus, come back and get the other kids ready.
But then something new happens. I’m going to school too now.
I am excited about it. I’m excited to connect with other people. To have time where I can exist outside of my home and my kids, and to be able to grow and learn, and then come home and share a bit with my children. They probably won’t ever care. My daughter said that all my books were boring and were about algebra or something. Philosophy isn’t math, and she sort of knows that, but she just categorizes everything she considers hard and boring together.
My daughter isn’t like me in some ways. She’s outgoing; I was very shy. She love cartwheels and handstands; I could never do one in my life. But we both love reading, even though she likes more adventuresome books than I do. I love watching her simply be herself.
I will come home every night after school to my somewhat unfinished home, to my children and my husband. I’ve never come home before like that. I’ve always just been home. And I think I’ll like coming home.
Also, I am including an interesting picture. It is of me holding a goose in a bathroom. I was on my computer in the evening and I looked up to see a goose staring back at me. We have a magnetic screen door, and Amelia figured out how to get inside. I had to pick her up and take her back out and shut the door, but she and Abigail still really wanted to come back in. The duck was in the pond, quacking and being sensible.
Editing sometimes focuses too much on the mistakes and weakness. I want to cross out everything I don’t like and reanalyze every word that doesn’t work quite right. But editing works better if I remember to look at what I’m doing well and build on that instead. The same often goes for life and relationships: instead of only seeing what could be better, look at what is doing really great and build on it.
There isn’t usually a best solution to difficult human problems. There are many solutions, some are somewhat better than others. Some sound crazy, but they would work. Some sound sensible, but they don’t work at all. Eventually, you just have to stop arguing and overanalyzing, try a solution out, see what happens, and then do something even better from what you’ve learned.
It’s easier to be successful in certain ways if a person has more wealth. Money can be used to pay for extra lessons, tutors, supplies, gear, or travel. It’s not fair, and it’s hard to compare when you don’t have the same advantages as someone else. But usually the success that money can buy isn’t the most important type of success anyway.
We should all have our own coaches and cheerleaders to help us get through life. People who encourage us, who help keep us accountable, and who help us press forward when it gets tough. Sometimes I don’t share my goals, which is not helpful for me or for others. It’s better to share so we can all help each other.
Sometimes I hate cleaning up just as much as my children do. I have to make it fun for myself too. I see how much I can clean in five minutes. I time myself to see how long it takes to deep clean my kitchen. I record time lapses of myself cleaning, or text my husband before and after pictures. And I always either watch a movie or listen to an audiobook while folding laundry.
I have generally been taught not to gossip, but I would rather live in a world where people gossiped about each other than a world where no one talked about others at all. I hope people do talk about me behind my back, because then they at least care in some way about me. Sometimes gossip can lead to helping other people. It can lead to a sense of community. Gossip helps us keep in contact and informed about the people around us.
Gossip can be mean, founded on lies and meat to make other people hurt. But talking about other people is an important part of life and living and being neighbors and friends.
Recently, I had a choice to make. I was working on a book and I could try to get that published and be a writer full-time. Or I could go to graduate school and keep learning. And I chose to go to graduate school.
I love writing and I want to write for my career (my career goals are to write books and teach college classes). I wanted to start writing multiple books and articles and blog posts and figure out how to get a social media following.
I went to a nonfiction writing workshop this spring, and at the end of my workshop, I talked with my teacher and told her I was thinking about graduate school. She suggested I was young enough that I could put my book away and just focus on graduate school and that what I would learn would enable me to be a better writer for the future.
That’s hard sometimes. It’s hard to play the long game, to work on improving yourself and your skills instead of just going for things.
And sometimes that is not the right decision. I know some people who may have spent too much time developing their talents and not enough time sharing them. Some people hesitate when they need to go for it.
So how do we know when we’re ready? How do we know when it’s time to slow down, and when it’s time to speed it up?
First, I think we always should be working on self-improvement and becoming better. We should be continually learning and improving ourselves, even if we have obtained some success. We should maintain humility that we can become better.
Second, we should look at our long -term goals and see if slowing down would work better for those long-term goals. I could have pursued writing full-time, but I have always wanted to teach college classes, and so going to graduate school was the opportunity I really needed.
Third, we should look if our actions are governed by fear of rejection and failure. If you don’t think you’re good enough, is that simply because you are afraid that you might fail? Would there be any harm in trying?
Fourth, we should always be working on good long-term goals that will enable us to improve ourselves and help others.
You might not have a clear direction of exactly where your life is going, and that’s okay. But how can you become better? How can you serve others? In what areas of your life do you need to slow down and in what areas do you need to go for it? Maybe your answer is that you need to do a little bit of both–step by step, improving yourself, sharing with others, and working towards being the best you can be.
There’s been a lot of commotion in the world today. I don’t want to look at the news that are filled with violence and confusion. I don’t want to hear stories about house prices and gas prices and inflation that make it hard for people to afford basic necessities of life. I don’t want to hear all the frustrating developments in politics.
So many people are struggling. It wears at my heart: empathy drives me to mourn, and in that mourning, I want to act.
But what can I do? What can I do that has an impact?
I find myself realizing that I am powerless in so many ways. I can list out the problems in the world and I can list solutions, but there seems to be a chasm between the two–a chasm of power and money and inaction. Solutions are too complicated when too many people have their opinions and they never agree.
I want to do something, but I don’t know what, so I do nothing. Maybe I’m making excuses. Maybe there is something I could do to take this world a better place, but I don’t know what it is.
If I speak up, my voice just feels lost in the crowd and I am often ignored. Other people live their life, make their own decisions, and I must sit back and simply watch.
I feel too privileged, unfairly so. I know people have worked harder and have less. I have to sit in my nice house knowing that so many people can’t afford a home. I don’t deserve this.
And what do I do when all of this wears at me? How can I continue to try to live my dreams when I know of so much struggle?
I realize that there also needs to be happiness in the world. There needs to be people living good lives and serving in small walls and being kind to others. There needs to be people raising families. There needs to be people creating. We are working towards a better world, and so there needs to be joy somewhere.
While I am undeserving, I can also be grateful. And there is work for me to do–maybe I won’t change the world, but the small things I do do can increase happiness, step by step. I can visit friends. Listen to someone who needs to talk. I can mourn and pray. And I can write and speak, trying to make sense of a nonsensical world and finding some good that can bring a measure of peace.
Pretend that you’re a young college student, and you go into a class about the universe. And you learn about how massive the universe is and how much space there is. You learn that you can never travel faster than the speed of life. Your professor very convincingly argues that aliens can’t exist–and even if they do exist, they would be too far away to ever hear from.
Now let’s say at home, you’ve taken up a radio hobby, but one day, you start getting weird interference and you end up intercepting very strange noises you can’t interpret. You start transmitting back on this frequency basic information–like how the weather is and what day it is and all of that. For quite a few years, you transmit back and forth on this frequency, and you start to understand the person on the other end, who gradually learns English and tells you that they are an alien.
Well, of course, aliens don’t exist, so this must be a prank. But the alien gives you instructions on how to conduct a few simply experiments that allows you to see amazing things that you can’t explain and goes beyond current scientific reasoning.
Reasonably, aliens can’t exist. And yet, your experience is starting to tell you something totally different. You’re talking to an alien. The alien is talking back to you. You’ve see amazing things that seem at the very least highly improbable.
What would you believe?
If you had to trust your own personal experience (the things that happened to you and the things that you witnessed) or a well-reasoned argument, which would you believe?
If you saw a blue tree, but then heard a really good argument that there can’t be blue trees, would you think that your experience was wrong, or would you take the person with the really good argument and try to show them the blue tree?
I often trust my own experiences more than I trust reasoning. Reasoning can often be based in incomplete information, and no matter who convincing an argument may seem, it is almost never perfect.
But sometimes my experiences are fallible too. Sometimes my senses deceive me. Sometimes I don’t remember right. I have to use my reasoning too to make sense out of my experience.
So they both have to come together. I want personal experience and reasoning. I can’t just learn about something–I want to experience it too. If I learn about a location, I want to go there. I want to meet people. I want to have conversations. I want to see and hear and feel what something is like. And when I experience something, I want to know the reasoning behind it.
Certainty is difficult to achieve, and when my experience and my reasoning don’t line up, I sometimes have to press forward and keep hoping that I will learn more in the future. I’ll figure out how I could talk to aliens, even though it seemed scientifically impossible.
Four thousand weeks in a lifetime. 168 hours a week. Split into 15-minute increments. Planned and agonized over. We think we want to master time, to figure out how to use all of the time we have to do more and become better.
I have enough time. Time management isn’t my problem.
I can sit and figure out how to use my time. But I have a much harder time figuring out how to my energy and focus and capabilities. There are constant interruptions and I get overwhelmed.
I have time. But now matter how much I plan out my days and weeks, life is unexpected and I don’t have the energy to do everything I want to.
So I wish we would stop talking about time management. It’s fairly easy, because it’s quantifiable and straightforward. Time keeps going in the same direction.
But I want to know more about energy management. And focus management. And emotional management. I don’t really need to use my time well, but I do need to use myself well. And that is a whole lot harder.
The Easy Way to Simplify and Delete
Like many of us, I have a hard time letting go.
I don’t want to let go of some things I own. I spent money on those things. I really liked them. And even when they no longer fit into my life, I want to figure out how I can save a space for them.
I hate deleting something I’ve written. Even if a paragraph doesn’t fit into a blog post or a chapter of a book, it may still hold insight that I really like.
And I really don’t want to delete things off of my to-do list and the goals that I have for myself. I may not be quite capable yet, and I may not really have the time, and there might be higher priorities, but I really wanted to accomplish that thing.
There is a common phrase in writing to “kill your darlings.” This phrase has been floating around since 1914–so writers have been hearing it for over 100 years now. But at a writing conference recently, I heard a writer say that instead of killing his darlings, he puts them into a penalty box.
So if I’m not quite able to get rid of my possessions, or the things that I create, or my goals and to-do list, then I can put them into a penalty box instead.
A penalty box might be a cardboard box in the garage. Or a drawer somewhere. Or a separate computer document that never gets looked at again. Or a new textbox in OneNote with the label “Penalty Box.” Or a folder in your Inbox.
Your penalty box might expire at some point, but it doesn’t necessarily have to either. You can decide the rules.
It’s really painful to get rid of some things from our lives, things that we love, even if they don’t serve us well. And a penalty box sort of cheats that pain on both sides. It allows us to remove something from our daily lives and move forward, but it also defers the pain from losing it completely.
What do you need to put in your penalty box right now?
I’ve never resonated with the extroverted/introverted personality dichotomy.
Carl Jung came up with extroverts and introverts, but after describing extroverts and introverts, he says this:
“There is, finally, a third group, and here it is hard to say whether the motivation comes chiefly from within or without. This group is the most numerous and included the less differentiated normal man . . . The normal man is, by definition, influenced as much from within as from without. He constitutes the extensive middle group, on one side of which are those whose motivations are determined mainly by the external object, and on the other, those whose motivations are determined from within. I call the first group extraverted, and the second group introverted.Psychological Types by Carl Jung
So the person who came up with extroverts/introverts says that most people people are in the middle.
And that’s how I feel. Normal. Somewhere in the middle. I like being with people, and I’m get motivation and energy from other people. But I also like to be alone, and I get motivation and energy from myself too. Both.
We can become the stories we tell ourselves. So when we hear the story of being introverted and extroverted, we often choose one or the other and then we become that way. We think we are introverted, so we act introverted.
But we will learn and grow and change throughout out life. I thought I was introverted until being introverted was no longer a viable option to happiness–I had to make friends and be more outgoing to emotionally survive. So I changed.
My personality changes a lot with age, experience, and circumstance. I am not fixed. I change regularly. And so do you.