For the first time in seven years, I am unemployed. Calling it that feels inaccurate, as it is not merely a situation I have found myself in. Rather, I quit my job, packed up some stuff, and moved from New York to Belize. I am fortunate to have a partner who works remotely from here, which affords me the privilege of not having to work right now. I am incredibly grateful for this. Not only do I no longer need one or more jobs to make ends meet, I am now in a country where the cost of living is considerably lower, which has relieved me of the pressure to work endless hours. It has also created space for me to decide what kind of work I want to do and how I want to do it.
I am still adjusting to this new rhythm. Being that I don’t have a job to go to on a regular basis, my days are my own. Some days are more structured than others, with a meeting or two, errands, and trips to the market. Most of the time, I am able to enjoy this. But, sometimes I feel an undercurrent of worry and doubt that I am not doing enough with my time and am being lazy somehow. I am able to recognize this as my conditioned thinking, not reality. My life feels full. I am adjusting and settling into living in a new country, and all that that process entails. I have connected with some folks here personally and professionally, and have a paid speaking gig under my belt. I recently got my first private client. I’ve been writing. I am working on a collaborative project that my friend and I have been talking about doing together for over ten years. Even when I’m not feeling particularly “productive”, I am more engaged in my life than I’ve been in a long time.
One of the things I appreciate most about this time is that I feel like I am actually living my life. Not just doing. Living. Choosing from moment to moment how I want to spend my time. This feeling of freedom overrides my worries about not knowing what I will be doing from day to day. I recognize that worrying is a habit from living in New York, baggage from years of trying to “figure out” what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. In my 20’s and (earlier) 30’s, there was always this idea of potential, the hopes and expectations I had about what I wanted to become. This way of thinking about myself framed every aspect of my life, from romantic relationships to my profession to creating art. There was always something ahead, on the horizon, to aspire to, to strive for. There was always something I hadn’t become yet. As I approach 40, I realize that now is the time to actualize. I am more interested in being than in becoming.
Initially, this idea felt a bit scary. Holy shit, I’m middle aged.
But lately I’ve been embracing this and actually feeling excited by it. For so long it seemed I was preparing myself for when I could eventually be something – a writer, an artist, a therapist, a wife. These identities I longed for were really about wanting to find my own happiness, which I have come to learn is just an acceptance of what is. Not in a defeatist or settling kind of way, but as a true embodiment of what is present for me right now. As I am typing this, I am a writer. It is not a title I must strive to earn; by doing it, I am that. As I apply this to other aspects of my life and experience, I am aware of all that I am and all that I have. I value the different hats I have worn and skills I have acquired and relationships I have nurtured which have led me to this stage of my life here in Belize, where I feel I am meant to be. This is the understanding I come back to when doubt creeps in and I feel stuck in ideas about what the hell I’m doing with my life.
For five years, I went on a week-long annual silent meditation retreat. We practiced Vipassana, which is an Indian meditation technique that emphasizes developing awareness and seeing things as they really are. It was difficult at times to just be with what was happening in my mind, and to see the absurdity of my thoughts, particularly those which were critical or jealous (many of them were). There were moments I struggled with wanting to be really good at meditation, and my practice was usually about not beating myself up for being who I was. The wonderful gift I received from those retreats was self-acceptance. Even though I do not regularly sit Vipassana or practice formally, I often come back to it as a way of bringing myself into the moment, especially when I am overwhelmed with thoughts about Who I Am. These thoughts have not been as loud since I left New York, but they are still there. I have gotten better at catching them when they come up: Hey, that’s a nice tree. I love trees. I used to draw trees. When was the last time I drew anything? And I call myself an artist? I’m a goddamn fraud!
And so on.
The truth is that it’s best not to take myself so seriously. I believe that I am actively evolving, and just when I think I know everything about myself, something comes up that surprises me. Lately, as I am in this slower-paced country that isn’t so focused on striving and ambition, I am noticing how neurotic I am at times. And I can laugh at myself. This is necessary and essential to my wellbeing, and keeps me from holding onto any identity too tightly. When I allow myself to simply be in the moment and let go of who I think I should be, I am actually able to enjoy myself. I’m not worried about whether I will become something in the future, I’m digging what’s happening right now. And I recognize that I can make a choice, take a step toward actualizing even more what feels good and right.