The Players & Pawns of My Very Own Existential Crisis

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During my existential crisis, I did a lot of soul searching that was done in the form of traveling, experiencing new things, interviewing all kinds of people, and devoting a good deal amount of time to contemplation and self-reflection. I had to re-situate myself in the world in terms of my faith and religion, my thoughts on relationships and dating, my purpose in life and my philosophy of my job. And, it was the people I encountered along the way that shaped the new way in which I look at the world, and at my participation in that world (I think it is an excellent reminder that we actually do have opportunities to touch lives everyday, whether we realize it or not). Now that this crisis is nearly over, I feel it necessary to recognize these influential players & pawns:

1. Those Who Know Me Best: There were so many things that I already knew about myself: I don’t like painting my nails, I don’t wear perfume, I don’t drink coffee that often, and I am extremely competitive. But, I needed to spend some time figuring out the “why”, so I turned to those who knew me best. I knew that I really liked to be busy, but I didn’t know why, so I asked my dad, who has watched me be busy my entire life. He said, “Britany, you work best under pressure, because when you give yourself too much time to think, you over-analyze, and when you are forced to make a split second decision, it is always the right one anyways”. I knew that I have a difficult time opening up to people, but I didn’t know why, so I asked my mom. She told me, “Britany, you have always had this F-You attitude with people; you know that what you have to offer is a gift, but if they aren’t willing to work for it, you aren’t willing to share. It’s a defense mechanism, a way to protect yourself”. And, I knew that I have always been attracted to country boys, but I never quite understood why, so I asked those closest to me. They said, “It’s because those kind of boys exhibit the same kind values of hard work, respect, selflessness, quality time, they don’t care much about their physical appearances, and they are always up to no good that you strive for”.

For a long time, I always ignored what everyone was trying to tell me, because I was narcissistic, immature, and very, very vulnerable. EVERYONE was always telling me my long-term boyfriend was a terrible idea, and I never listened to them, because I thought “they just don’t know me”. But, as it turns out, those closest to us probably know us better than we know ourselves, and I am trying to be better about listening to their advice. I know that my sister will always call me out when I look like a Holocaust survivor, and instead of getting defensive, I take it as a warning that I probably have been neglecting food, and that I should probably start getting more Chick Fil A milkshakes. I can always count on my friends to tell me how offensive that love letter or text message came across, even if I didn’t mean it that way. And I can always count on my mom to tell me when I am being snotty. But, as it turns out, all of these criticisms really are just in my best interest, because the people who know me best are just trying to look out for me.

(SEE: My Hamartia: Being an Idealist, 10 Ways Being a Pom Encroached on My Adult Life)

2. The Counselor, my Grandma: My grandma became one of the most influential players at the beginning of my existential crisis. When it first began, I was a wreck. I found myself driving over to her house for the first three consecutive Friday nights in a row. Although she had her own fair share of issues to deal with, she would sit with me in her kitchen, listen to me sob, and let me fall asleep in her very comfortable living room chair. I am so fortunate for her counseling expertise, because she really got me through some tough stuff.

She also played a huge role as I began dissecting my roots, and figuring out where I came from. I spent a lot of time re-thinking the family background I came from, and how that shaped the person I am today. Up until this point, I never quite had a strong connection to my family, because I grew up in such a dysfunctional environment. However, I began realizing just how foundational these people were towards my development. When my sister and I were little, we spent every single weekend at our grandparent’s house. I would sit in the sandbox, we would drive the riding lawn mower around the horse property, and we would build Fort Opa’s. During the summers, my grandpa would take us to baseball games, to the pool, on train rides. And, we were always so excited to stay with grandma, because she let us stay up until 9 PM (but, we also knew we had to get to sleep before she did, because if we didn’t, her snoring would keep her up). My grandpa’s sisters came into town, and I hung out with them. We took some trips to see my dad’s family in Fort Collins. I saw my grandma’s sister. We went to stay at the funny farm in Iowa.

Until this crisis, I never quite held a strong connection to my family, because we were so dysfunctional (and my long-term boyfriend was always trying to get me away from them). But now, I can better understand myself, because I know the kind of people I come from: we are problem solvers, constructors, learners, lovers of new experiences, hobbies, telling stories, making fun of each other, and the outdoors. We are feisty. We fight vehemently and passionately. And while we have many, many problems, we never take things too seriously, we always know how to make something into a joke, and we love each other indefinitely. I am proud of the generations of my family, because they built the foundation of who I am today.

(SEE: Cultural Heritage & Being Dutch, Roots & Dysfunctional TendenciesMy Life Without T.V., and Women of Families)

3. The Guy at the Golf Course, Hans: Hans came into the golf course every Friday and every Saturday. After a round, he would plop down at the bar, order his Fat Tire, and we would talk. About 65 years old, he was one of the most fascinating old men I had ever met, and I loved his stories about living in Germany, being a ski instructor at Keystone, learning to play guitar. We would talk about grad school, reformations in teaching, my grandparents. He was kind to everyone he encountered, always treated me with respect and sincerity, and was always so calm, so content, and let me unload my grief this summer when our chickens were massacred.

For a long time, I was always afraid of change, and I always gravitated towards order and structure. I wanted routine and schedule. I think this was mostly due to the fact that so many other aspects of my life were so chaotic, that I needed something to depend upon. And, I always felt like I was racing against the clock; like I had a limited amount of time to do a infinite amount of things. I wanted to accomplish so many things in my life, I wanted to be so good at everything, that I was running on turbo speed, and not really getting much out of everything. I especially felt pressure, because I felt like I wasted six years of my life, watching football games and recovering from football games on the weekends, and I recently discovered some new found talents (skiing, biking, shooting…but not hunting), that I felt I had to play catch up.

However, what Hans taught me is that I don’t need to do it all at once. I can spend a season of my life learning how to be a Olympic-rated skiier, and once I acquired that skill, it will never depart me, which gives me time to work on another. In teaching, especially, there are so many things to become a ‘master’ at, that I felt tremendous pressure to be good at them all: to be a star backwards design planner, to know all the cool SmartBoard applications, to know how to use the advanced functions on the copy machine, and to be familiar with every single possible story and novel a student could ever read. But, I realized that this was impossible; I can’t be perfect and an expert at everything all at once, because that takes away from the depth I gain from doing less, slowly.

And, he also taught me that it’s not necessarily about mastering these skills, but rather about the journey that encompasses them. It’s important to have goals, because goals keep us motivated, but it’s not necessarily that important what those goals are. So, I drove to the store, bought myself a dry-erase board, and began making a list of the goals I have for myself and the things I want to do: wear one new outfit combination a week, do something nice for someone else once a week, travel to Europe, teach abroad, take singing lessons, join a Bible study, learn to shoot a bow and arrow. And, even if I don’t accomplish all of these goals, that is ok, because the important thing is I am working to improve myself in some way.

(SEE: The Power of Setting Goals, Being Beyond My Element, What I Learned Playing Adult Softball, Climbing a 14er)

4. The Master Teacher, Jill: I started my existential crisis by interviewing all of the more seasoned people that I knew about their relationships, how they knew they were going to marry their husbands, how they ended up in the jobs they did, when they decided to quit coaching/go to grad school. I needed to hear that everyone’s journey was different, but that everyone’s journey ended up just where it was supposed to be.

Jill, one of the most amazing teachers I have ever met, served as a very important mentor throughout this journey. Although our jobs are incredibly busy, whenever I had a question, she would always drop everything, and talk to me. I gained so much wisdom from her: about work relationships, and learning to create boundaries, about dedication to the self, about learning to phrase comments diplomatically, and learning to accept differences.

One of the most important lessons I gained from my conversations with Jill, my existential journey is my purpose in life, which is perhaps the whole reason one is put in an existential crisis. This process began last April, when I started thinking about how all the people in my life create physical, tangible products for a living, and that my capital is just measly ideas that cannot be measured. I didn’t really value anything I have to offer the world until just recently when I determined that my purpose in life IS to think; that I am supposed to contemplate problems, figure things out, and then share my conclusions with other people. I am supposed to use my knowledge and optimism to uplift other people in times of their own crisis’. I am supposed to use my cynicism and criticism to make people laugh. And, any time I am called to do any of these things, I must show up.

I have been working to find the balance between work life and private life. My first year of teaching, I worked 7 days a week, 24 hours a day (Yes, it can happen–I even dreamed about working). Last year, due to being in a crisis and needing to take care of myself, I tried to focus more on creating boundaries between my work life and my private life. I stopped work when the bell rang at 3 PM, didn’t take anything home on the weekends. A lot of things didn’t get done, and I most certainly was not a great teacher, but I needed to take time away for myself. Ironically, this year, I have never felt a better balance between my work and private life, because I have found ways for my purpose to transcend my job. I love teaching, because I get to instill (and sometimes, corrupt) ideas into minds. I love teaching, because I can be put up on stage all day long, and serve as a role model for other people.   I love teaching because of the relationships I can create with my students, my athletes, and my co-workers. But, I teaching is not the only venue I can adhere those skills to; I also can do all of these things while teaching, and after teaching. I can fulfill my purpose while coaching. I can also do that writing on my blog. I can also do that speaking at a conference, attending Bible study, going to yoga, socializing with strangers. As long as I am transmitting ideas, making people laugh, and serving to uplift, I am happy.

(SEE: The Mr. Feeny’s and the Fix It Felix’s, What I Really Want to Be When I Grow Up, The Hidden Treasures of an English Major, My Teaching Philosophy, Updated)

5. My Single Friends: There was a time when I emotionally could not be dating. It was too taxing, and I didn’t feel like it was fair for someone else to potentially fall for me when I was still trying to figure myself out. However, being 24, it wasn’t really economically efficient for me to just take myself off the dating market, because, as research suggests, I better be actively searching for Prince Charming if I want to pop out six kids before that magical age of 35. Luckily, through hearing all of their stories (and tragedies), I could date vicariously through my single friends.

And, I learned that I am actually not really a dater. I love meeting new people, and I love hearing other people’s life stories, but I don’t want to be the girl that has lots of boyfriends. I don’t really want to date someone that all of my friends know; it has to be someone from an outside circle, because I need variety and newness. I really need to date someone who has life experience, because I do, and I need someone who knows how to tackle obstacles with humility and humor. I probably won’t work well with a financial planner or car salesmen, but rather someone in construction, engineering, military, a fire fighter, police officer, pilot. And, most importantly, I realized that my long-term boyfriend could not have been THE WORST match for me, ever, and if I were ever stuck on an island and someone like him was the only guy I could marry, I would probably choose a life of singledom instead.

(SEE: Boy for Boy’s Sake or Boy for Idea’s Sake?, My Breakup Project, Navigating as a Single-Ite, The Social Stigma of Singleness, That Dreaded ‘L’ Word, Things I am Forgiving My Friends for in Terms of Dating, The Disadvantages of Being Single, I Hate Dating, An Analysis of Why We Date, 5 Non-Negotiables for My Prince Charming)

6. My Not-Single Friends: One of the most important things I learned from my not-single friends is that we are all different; what works for them may not necessarily work for me, and I began defining what a potential husband could offer me in a relationship. For one, I need someone who can handle finances. Due to the trauma that was always associated with money during my childhood, money is just not something on my radar. I need someone who can plan vacations and trips for me. As an over-analyzer, I just can’t do it, because I want to look at every single hotel option, every single route option, every single potential attraction, which is super time consuming and painful. I need someone who can just make a decision.

And, I need someone who just lets me exist, the way that I am. I am a risk-taker, impatient, stubborn. I am fearless, I live life intensely. I get stuck in these funks of ‘solving the world’s problems’ (you know, problems such as why our society is on the moral decline, and how come our children don’t have coping mechanisms, and what kind of effects does divorce have on future generations), and I spend too much time in thought, writing on my blog, and reading books. When I get mad at people, I won’t say anything to them until I have logically thought it through. I am weird, ultra nerdy, and can often be impulsive. But, once an idea pops into my head, I have to see it come to fruition. Sometimes, I stay up really late, working. Sometimes, I get up too early, just so I can sit on my deck with a cup of tea and watch the sunrise. I don’t sleep and often forget to do normal life tasks, because I am always so busy, thinking about other things. And, I have to be with someone who gives me the ability to be that way; to exist, just as I am.

(SEE: What is Marriage, But, Really, the Beauty of Weddings, ‘Congratulations on Your Marriage‘,  The Modern Meaning of Marriage, Common Misconceptions of Relationships, Baggage)

7. The Spiritual Advisor, Anika: I grew up Catholic, my mom sent us to Religious Education classes every Tuesday night, and then when my parents got divorced, we stopped doing church-y things. It’s not that I stopped believing in God, but I went to a wedding that really turned me off of the church, and I just stopped trying to seek guidance. One afternoon, I felt this inkling to go to church, so I called up my most spiritual friend, Anika, and asked if I could join her. Much like the rest of my crisis, I had to re-discover my faith, especially in finding out WHY I believed in certain things. Anika has been such a critical role in this. Whenever I had a question about heaven and hell, or about angels and ghosts, or about grace and forgiveness, I know exactly where to turn to. She is so well versed in Christianity that she is always able to offer me her own opinions, altering opinions, and additional resources for me to turn to. She is a God send, and I am so thankful for her guidance throughout this journey.

(SEE: Why I am Forced to Be a Believer, ‘The Good and Beautiful God’ and the Outcome of My Bible Study, Are We Praying Incorrectly?, Forgiveness)

8. The Yoga Mentors: Yoga became one of the primary tools of my existential crisis. Because, while I was stuck in all of this turmoil, I still had show up to my job, I still had to coach my dance team, I still had to do my grad school homework, and I still had to eat (which, sometimes went out the wayside). Sometimes, I would walk into my yoga class, needing to meditate on one particular concept, and other times, I would walk in, and just need my brain to be clear of thoughts for an hour. Yoga taught me how to pay attention to my physical body and my mental brain; if the pose is painful, there is probably something wrong, but if I am just making up excuses to get out of it, then it’s all mental. Yoga taught me the unimportance of time; there is no clock in the studio, and you never quite know how long you will be holding a pose, but sometimes letting go of time is necessary. And, yoga taught me how to give up control, and let someone else guide me. At my job, I spend all day telling people what to do: write in a red pen, put your name on this line, read these pages. But, when I get onto my yoga mat, I finally feel a sense of relief, because there is now someone telling me what to do, and I don’t have to make any decisions for myself; they tell me when to breathe, they tell me how to get to warrior pose, they tell me how long I have to lay in savasana. For an hour, I am not responsible for anything, other than listening to someone else’s cues, and that is so relieving.

(SEE: While Laying in Extended Savasana, Yoga Saves, Suffering)

9. Generation Z (including my students and athletes): One of the nice aspects of being in an existential crisis, and teaching high school, is that I often place myself back in that time, and see myself in a different perspective. I didn’t have any friends, because I was really weird. Even though I never admitted it, I was totally boy crazy. And, all those fights I got into with my friends were really just evidence of my insecurities. If I could go back, I would change SO many things that I did, but then again, that is what high school is for: to be awkward, and to learn.

My students and athletes always give me perspective on life. They deal with unfathomable things that, as adults, we cringe at: alcoholic and abusive parents, mom and cousins dying of cancer, self-esteem and bullying issues. No matter how much sleep I did not get the night before, how chaotic my morning became because the dogs ran away, or what kind of stressful afternoon I can look forward to, when my students start arriving for that early morning class, I am always reminded of the great gift, and great responsibility, I have to shape these young minds, and at that moment, nothing else matters in the world, because for the next 95 minutes, we will be suspended in the sanctuary of my English class, or two hours in our practice space.

There were certainly times during my existential crisis that I was a mess, and I wanted nothing more than to run to Brittny’s room, and cry. But, I still had to show up. The kids still needed me. Life still went on. And, it was because I had to check my own emotions at the door, pretend nothing was going on, that I started believing everything was ok, and through this self-talk and self-motivation, I was able to survive. In dance, we have this phrase, “Fake it until you make it”, and Generation Z helped me to learn the very importance of this.

(SEE: Other People’s Children, Why I Teach High School, My Teacher Salary and My Teacher Summer Vacation)

10. And, Simon: Simon was actually the one who pointed out I was, in fact, in an existential crisis, and perhaps served as the most important pawn of the whole thing. I met Simon about three months after my long-term boyfriend and I broke up. Although I did not realize it, at the time, I was still in this strange post-breakup survival trance; I was still very numb to the world, very unsure of myself, and was still doing whatever I could to just get through, one day at a time. I remember practicing for that dreaded time he would ask me about my past relationships, and I could ramble off, like a robot: “I dated this guy for a while. We broke up this summer. I am really glad because then I would not have met you”. I actually can’t imagine what dating me was really like at this time, because I was so sporadic, anxious, and awkward. He certainly was a trooper, and I would not blame him one bit for putting me down in the category of “Crazy Girls I Once Dated” (we all kind of have those ‘What Was I Thinking’ lists).

He was much older than anyone I ever dated, and he gave me a glimpse of what a more mature, adult relationship looks like. We stopped talking about five months after we met (mostly due to some slightly irrational thoughts on my part), but the ideas Simon planted and the questions he asked me to consider exploded as I continued searching for my sense of self in the proceeding next few months. Through our conversations, he brought up many questions I never thought about, and after we stopped talking, I began searching for my own answers to these questions. He asked me if I wanted to settle down in Colorado, and at the time, I didn’t know. But, I later realized that I am actually a wanderer, a modern-day gypsie. I love being in new places and meeting new people, because there is always new knowledge to gain, the world has so much to offer, and while I love living in Colorado, and I love teaching high school, there will probably come a time that I get bored of it, tired of the monotonous routine, and I will move on to something different. He would ask me what kind of wedding I envisioned having, and at the time, I didn’t know. But, after working a wedding at the golf course this summer, I realized I probably cannot have a wedding, because I probably would be too emotional and overcome with gratitude of the people who showed up for me, that I couldn’t even make it down the aisle. He would ask me stories about my childhood, and at the time, I didn’t really know any, because it had been so long since I had to share those with someone. But, as I began inspecting my roots, I also began digging up my favorite stories of my childhood, my high school and college years, and I began learning how to re-formulate and re-tell the stories to explain why I am the way I am. And, he would ask me questions about my teaching philosophy, my political opinions, my religious affiliations. At the time, I didn’t know. But, as I started grad school, I began re-examining these things, finding holes in places I didn’t have an opinion on, and began researching and investigating. Now, I know that I don’t support big business exploiting the masses, I think every politician is a skeeze, and society is just very, very corrupt.

(SEE: Liking Someone, and Caring for SomeoneMy Thoughts on Abortion, Same Sex Marriage, and the Likes, What’s Your Quality of Life, The Power of Vulnerability, Infidelity, The 10 Most Influential Events in My Life Thus Far)

I can’t tell you how amazing this journey has been, and I can’t thank these guides enough for their influence in my crisis. While I am still uncertain what career I will eventually retire in, I do know that, as long as I am creating and transmitting ideas, I will be happy. While I am still figuring out what my own personal concept of heaven and hell is, I do know that I believe we are too great of creatures and too many unexplained phenomenons for something to not exist. And, while I am not sure who my ‘Prince Charming’ will end up being, I do know that he will be of the boy-scout type, a hard worker, probably someone who reuses his plastic water bottle for five months like I do, and always up for a really good time.

But, boy, am I glad that existential crisis is over, because it sure was hard work.

(And, still not really sure where my irrational fear of fish came from. Perhaps that is set for the next identity crisis).

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