Oh, the Things I Don’t Know

Chief among the pitfalls of blogging is believing that each post must be focused, insightful, and uplifting.

Well, screw that—at least for this morning. Today I just need to share what’s on my mind without worrying overly much about its presentability. Today I am mired in second-guessing, cluelessness, and impatience.

To continue the stream of thought begun in last week’s Four-month Checkup, I find myself quite busy and quickly plugged in to some very good things here in Austin: Clearview Sudbury School, the Austin Zen Center, and both ensembles of Chorus Austin. Yet as early as I might be in the process, it’s frustrating how elusive a feeling of having arrived, of being settled and at home, is proving to be.

It doesn’t help when hearing news of my school and choir back in Colorado make me wonder if I made the right decision in coming here; whether my undeniable need to shake things up in my life required this particular, 900-mile shakeup. It also doesn’t help that I can’t write this without worrying what others will think of my expressing this doubt so publicly.

But this blog is, if nothing else, about chronicling one man’s quest for a “viable life of mindfulness and creativity,” to quote my tag line. And honest reporting of this quest requires sharing the anxiety as well as the exhilaration.

Speaking of honesty, there are plenty of ups as well as downs. Tearing myself away from the familiar and the relatively safe was undoubtedly a good thing, as it’s opened up new opportunities and introduced new people into my life. I have to remember that if I hadn’t made some serious changes, I would still be feeling restless and, in an important sense, stuck.

On the contrary, putting myself into a situation where I feel adrift and clueless may well turn out to be the best thing I could have done. To the extent that this is difficult, perhaps those are growing pains.

There are so many things I don’t know, yet need to learn. For example, I don’t know how to build up a nonprofit that’s essentially a niche (of collaboration without control) within a niche (of Sudbury schooling). I don’t know how to generate a sustainable income from blogging and freelance consulting. And I don’t know how to accept that this process will develop mostly on its terms, at its own pace.

I don’t know whether I’m too busy with things that don’t pay (i.e., basically all the things I currently enjoy doing, including this blog), and whether I should scale back my involvement in them. I don’t know whether I should focus full-time on CASE while I can afford to, or whether I should start building my freelancing portfolio.

Above all, I don’t know how much to create and follow some kind of plan for all this versus going about it more spontaneously, adjusting on the fly as intuition suggests. While I really like the idea of a schedule mapping my expenses against my savings, charting a course through the above questions, I doubt how realistic or accurate any such plan could be. Yet while I’m not about to run out of money, it’s high time I got a clearer sense of moving toward something, whatever that something is.

As I mentioned in the Checkup post, it’s really tough not knowing most of the time whether I’m wasting time, investing in future work opportunities, working on myself or simply living the life I want. It’s extremely frustrating how elusive a sense of place and direction continue to be. At times I’ve told people who were “between jobs” to enjoy as much as possible the unusual amount of downtime. As with much advice, this is of course much easier to give than to follow.

Another piece of pseudo-advice I’m having to own up to lately is my recent refrain that, increasingly, I’m finding it harder to believe in the concept of the mistake. The idea is that while of course your shouldn’t be negligent or fail to do due diligence, your decisions can only be so informed. Consider and prepare for various contingencies, sure, but at some point, you just have to leap.

So now I’ve leaped. Was it a mistake? Perhaps I should heed my own lesson and be as mindful as possible—watching, listening, and trusting, allowing myself the broad margins in which the answers can emerge.

If you have advice on how to determine whether this is my new home or merely a pause in the journey, how to get involved without overcommitting, or how to go about learning to craft a life of one’s own, by all means, don’t keep that knowledge to yourself! I started this blog understanding that I can’t achieve the dream it represents and recounts without the input and support of others. It would be truly wonderful blog grew beyond the confines of my personal story and became a resource for people wishing to build more authentic, sustainable lives.

Yes, that much I know.

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9 Comments

Filed under My Quest

9 responses to “Oh, the Things I Don’t Know

  1. Small Girl Big World

    I felt exactly the same way when I moved to Vancouver. I knew I loved being here, but the first year was kinda rough. I don’t mean to discourage you in any way, but I think it does take time for it to become “home.” Now I feel like I really am home here, and I miss Colorado, but I wouldn’t trade what I have here. There are things in Colorado I miss so much, but it makes my visits back that much more meaningful. It may not take as long as it did for me, but I think you will settle in and it will become home, it just takes some time. Or, it might not happen, but I don’t think you should look at it being a waste or a mistake, because – as we say at AVS – you learn no matter what, and I’m sure things have happened already, and will happen, that were worthy experiences and worthy of your time there. If nothing else, don’t see it as a mistake, because it’s not. 🙂

    • Thanks! I’ve heard from lots of people that it takes at least a year, if not two, to feel at home in a new place. So maybe I’m just getting even more impatient in my middle age. Anyway, most of the time I don’t worry about the move being a mistake, but all joking aside, I think we do become more sensitive to opportunity costs and lost time the older we get.

      Mostly I just miss the good things (and people!) I had to leave behind, and truly, not knowing what to do each day does become unnerving. To use a writing analogy, it’s the terror of the blank page, as opposed to its glass-half-full counterpart, the fresh canvas. Regardless, this blog is suddenly making me feel a bit less isolated, so there’s something to cheer! 🙂

  2. Emma

    Hi Bruce,
    Thank you for sharing where you are. I don’t have any advice for you, I’m afraid. But I am sending you a lot of encouragement, and I see you’re asking yourself so many great questions in this blog. Exploring the answers to those kinds of questions is always what gets me out of feeling “stuck.” I’m thinking about the zen story you blogged about the other day–the one about the guy with the horse. What I find challenging (annoying?) about teaching stories is that along with the clear message of the story is the message the generally flat characters send; in this case, that a commitment to not knowing what’s good and bad means we travel through life in this detached, disengaged, feeling-less fog. I think that commitment is actually enacted in the real world when we feel every bit of the discomfort of an experience (including the “I HATE THIS!’s”) and keep at least a toe still dipped in the waters of “I don’t know if this is good or bad.” It’s so human (and so Zen) for us to question our choices, to be smack in the middle of not-knowing with all its accompanying feelings of frustration, fear, groundlessness. Ugh, I’m sorry it’s yuck. And yay, you, for sharing it all with us, Bruce! It’s a pleasure to be on this journey with you.
    Emma

    • Thanks so much, Emma! I especially liked this: “commitment is actually enacted in the real world when we feel every bit of the discomfort of an experience (including the ‘I HATE THIS!’s’) and keep at least a toe still dipped in the waters of I don’t know if this is good or bad.’” That’s the fun thing about Zen, isn’t it? As soon as you realize some wonderfully clear and cogent point, you realize that its polar opposite is just as insightful. Agh! 🙂

      I am truly glad that my journey has brought me new friends like you. It makes the “frustration, fear, [and] groundlessness” that much easier to bear.

  3. Julie Dietz

    Bruce,
    Making a change, even a desired, purposeful, and chosen change, also involves ending something. And ending something requires some variant of the grieving process.

    Grieving takes 9-12 months — hence the old practice of the year of mourning, during which certain activities were prohibited. Many of those activities were major life change events (marriage, etc.).

    So….give yourself time to “mourn” the loss of the old place, and understand that that takes time, just as acclimating to the new place and forging new connections does.

    You planned for this, and prepared for this. Give your preparations full range and scope to fulfill their potential.

    • Thanks for reminding me of the grieving aspect of this, Julie. That was especially hard this past weekend, as my Colorado choir performed without me for the first time in 9.5 years.

      I’m reminded of the year I took between public-school teaching and Sudbury schooling — not that I intended it to be that sort of transition. In fact, I’d gone for a second round of grad school, then quickly found it not to be what I had anticipated or wanted. That was supremely challenging, yet I was able in that year to find and prepare myself for the career I’ve pursued ever since.

      My primary task at the moment, aside from summoning the patience to see this through, is deciding whether (and if so, how) to scale back my involvement in the fun, fulfilling things I’m doing in order to ensure that the larger project can be more sustainable.

  4. ab

    your title reminds me of another title and, combined, my belief for this (and any) transition: Oh, the places you’ll go with the things [you] don’t know!

  5. Pingback: No Time for Self-Doubt (?) | Write Learning

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