It’s 4am in Hargeisa; I’m awake in the Ramadan rhythm that includes a small meal before daybreak, the last opportunity to eat or drink until sunset. Normally I’d fall over back to sleep, but my mind is alert and it’s the weekend, so I’ll welcome the afternoon nap later.
In May, we took a trip home to the US. The cross-country, connect-the-dot stops feel normal now, as does the rush to see and do and eat as much as possible.
I tried out a stress-reducing tactic that worked beautifully: Dedicate a couple specific days to buy all the Needed Things, and then proceed to totally ignore the To Do and To Buy lists outside those days. I don’t think I spent any less money, but this freed me to enjoy the moment without anxious glances at every pharmacy and Target I passed.
A huge thanks to our generous hosts from Cleveland to LA to DC for accommodating this visit, in addition to the last 5 years of whirlwind drop-ins, which normally include mild to severe illnesses on my part. The older I get, the harsher the jet lag.
For the last several weeks, I’ve been floating on a sea of ambiguity, especially about my vocation. Floating feels like the right metaphor–not drowning, but definitely not commandeering any ships, either.
My current humanitarian gig definitely fills my time. I’m learning every day and feel pretty good about my work. But there’s something lacking–my heart’s not in it. Back home, I found similar ambivalence among friends who also find themselves questioning their passions and purposes. We’re a bit late for a quarter-life crisis, and much too early for a mid-life one, so I’m not really sure what this is about.
Nevertheless, I take some amount of pride in the questions: better to wonder and probe than to blindly conform and find yourself hollowed out in the end. At least the questions are juicy.
Also proud of my friends whose questions about purpose are closely tied to their instinct to contribute to the world around them: What am I here to give? How can I help? What’s my legacy? Considering recent politicking, I think the moment is ripe for these queries. Unfortunately, the answers are usually on a different timetable.
The ambivalence doesn’t weigh on me the way it might, but it’s perplexing and subtly worrying, nagging at me when I lose my focus in the office or take breathers on the weekends. Shouldn’t I know by now? Shouldn’t I be 100% committed to… something? A path, a ladder, a goal? I’ve long been envious of those who have a genuine (especially creative) passion that they’ve managed to turn into a career–photography, writing, social justice.
I also find myself a bit envious of friends and acquaintances years younger who have their eye on a prize, and are barreling full speed ahead towards it. In the space of a single day, I convince myself I should: work for the UN, start a pop-up restaurant, try my hand at writing a book, become a yoga teacher, cultivate pasture-to-table goat cheese, launch a social enterprise, become a masseuse, become a farmer.
There are so many ways to think about vocation. Some insist that each of us has a single calling–it’s a matter of shutting out the noise and submitting to it. Others argue that your calling isn’t WHAT you do, but HOW you do, well, anything: What do you bring to the table, to the conversation? How do you impact the people around you, as a banker or a shepherd or a teacher or a chef?
Still others say that vocations aren’t meant to be static; instead they should suit our changing lifestyles and the call of the times.
The thing about these gems of life advice is that they come from people in comfortable places. People working at it aren’t necessarily shelling out suggestions. As a friend in a similar state of mind offered: Your passion doesn’t have to culminate in a single, grandiose gesture to humankind; you can live out your calling in small pieces, offering yourself to the universe as you go.
As we work on it, here are a few things I’ve enjoyed over the past few weeks:
Been thinking about the impact of my mobile phone on my life, and the thin line between handy gadget and anxiety booster. Working towards a healthier balance, I’ve disabled all notifications, and downloaded a few wellness apps to repurpose this bad boy (a Nexus 5). Still, seriously considering swapping my SIM card to a dumb phone, just to try out for a week or so.
Along the same lines, see this article on the ways GPS affects our spatial awareness and navigation abilities–and some other important skills as well:
Historically, humans always had to work hard (if largely unconsciously) at this problem, paying close attention to their surroundings and assembling pictures in their heads that were populated with an array of landmarks, roads, intersections, and boundaries that, in sum, helped them figure out how to get where they wanted to go.
…With the arrival of personal GPS devices in cars or phones, the tough cognitive work involved in mental mapping was suddenly rendered less necessary…The study underscores that how our brain works is subject to use; the brain is plastic, and the more mental mapping we do, the stronger our cognitive navigation skills and the bigger the part of the brain that encodes them.
Speaking of jet lag (see above!), this is an interesting take on jet lag cures that I’ll definitely try out next time I cross time zones, and an exploration into sleep deprivation as a cure for depression (via NYT).
Clinicians have long known that there is a strong link between sleep, sunlight and mood. Problems sleeping are often a warning sign or a cause of impending depression, and can make people with bipolar disorder manic. Some 15 years ago, Dr. Francesco Benedetti, a psychiatrist in Milan, and colleagues noticed that hospitalized bipolar patients who were assigned to rooms with views of the east were discharged earlier than those with rooms facing the west — presumably because the early morning light had an antidepressant effect.
Feeling inspired by this interview of centenarians on life lessons, especially by the woman who seems to find everything–including major loss and the passing of time–to be wonderful. Aspiring to get on their level, and live for the day.
The steward came through with the cart, and each one of the Louis Vuitton bucket bags and the full-length foxes and the razor-thin silver laptops spilling out of the rows in front of us ordered their water, tomato juice, white wine, organic purple potato chips with Hawaiian sea salt — and in so doing, confirmed their classy virtues. The lady in seat 4F, though, the one in the light cashmere pullover reading the newspaper, she clicked the latch on her seat-back tray and said: “Double Smirnoff, on the rocks. And Doritos.”
Behind the Brand interview with Candice Pool Neistat. I’ve watched the first, 20 Questions segment half a dozen times, because I think she’s hilarious.
Q: What makes you mad?
A: Eh, everyone.
Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?
A: Moody, obsessive, funny.
She keeps it real.
For now, focused on small steps, on crafting an everyday that resonates, on pushing away the noise in the hopes that clarity will slip in.