“Frustration is not an interruption of your process, frustration is the process. … You don’t just get to leap from bright moment to bright moment. How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren’t going so great, is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation, and how equipped you are for the weird demands of creative living. Holding yourself together through all the phases of creation is where the real work lies.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
In this quote, Elizabeth Gilbert is talking about frustration and persistence in creative living, but I’d like to argue that this can be applied to living in general. Life is what happens between the good moments and how you deal with it.
In this period before leaving Rome, I’ve got a lot going on. Luca and I are trying to soak in our last few weeks living in Rome; my sister is here for six weeks, having never lived away from home or even been outside the States before; I literally have no idea what I want to do when Luca and I get back to America, and can’t begin to job search because we don’t even know which city we’ll be in yet. Woof.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining: I am so excited both about having my sister here and starting a new adventure with Luca. And I have full confidence that things will work out – they always do, one way or another. But that doesn’t make it less stressful while going through it and figuring it out.
So when I read this passage in Big Magic, it really resonated with me. Life isn’t just about the “ups” – it’s about riding the waves from the ups to the downs and back again and finding grace in that. (I’d also like to mention that I am super aware that my “down” right now is laughably simple in comparison to the hardships in the world, but regardless of the source, stress is stress.) With that in mind, here are two things that I am trying really hard to work on during this period of uncertainty and pressure.
Sometimes it gets super daunting trying to balance all the important aspects in our lives: work, partner, children, working out, friends, alone time. Having my sister here, I am getting a taste of how a mother must feel: I find myself worrying about whether she’s safe (and consequently where she is or who she’s with) all the time. I’m making her text me every time she gets home safe at night. I check in with her throughout the day, worried if I haven’t heard from her in a few hours. I’m aware this might seem overbearing, but being in a foreign country where she doesn’t know the language and feels lonely, with a history of excessive drinking and, oh, yeah!, the threat of terrorism are pretty good reasons to be a little hands-on, thankyouverymuch! However, after two weeks of stressing over the state of high tension in Europe on top of worrying about my sister, I’ve realized that I’ve changed my schedule and my habits to the point that I’ve been put on the back burner.
This weekend, I found myself being snappy with Luca for no good reason, and when I took a step back I realized it was because I hadn’t been prioritizing my own needs. I am someone who regularly needs quiet, alone time in order to function well. It’s important for me to balance yoga, writing, and simple chill time (reading, taking a bath, or zoning out to Netflix) in order to stay sane. And I hadn’t been doing that since my sister arrived. Like so many women (men, too, but this is particularly a female trait), I had been putting the needs of my partner, my family, and my friends before my own. Being aware of this makes it easier to make a change and prioritize myself, knowing that if I do, I will have more to give – more energy, more patience, more attention in the moment – to the other priorities in my life.
One important way to prioritize myself better is by finding the courage to say “no” to the things that don’t serve me. This could mean saying no to a question asked of me, or even to ideas that pop into my head out of misplaced guilt or pity. For example, last night, after a weekend in Naples with Luca running between appointments for his Green Card, my sister was feeling lonely. My first instinct was to offer for her to come over, despite the fact that I was super tired from travelling and just wanted to go to sleep. But on second thought, I checked myself and said “no” to my first instinct to put my needs on the back burner.
Why is it, though, that so many of us find this tiny word so hard to say?! I’m always worried about hurting someone’s feelings, or making someone angry, or making someone feel unimportant, or whether someone will think I’m lame. But these are just fears and perceptions that we are projecting onto the situation – I’m pretty sure my sister’s world didn’t end when I decided to stay in last night! In fact, because I said “no” last night, I have more energy and enthusiasm to get together with her tonight as we had previously planned, and therefore we can enjoy each other more. By saying “no,” I allow myself the time to rejuvenate so that I can be better for the things I say “yes” to.
I used to push against the “downs” of life, thinking that it wasn’t fair to go through the tough stuff just to get to the good stuff. But how would we know the good stuff is so good if we don’t have the downs to compare it to? Life is complicated and messy and unpredictable, but with the right mindset and tools, I’m finding it a lot easier to surf the waves from the highs to the lows – and that part in between is where life happens.
Let’s find grace in surfing the waves.