Misdirection of Stress
Once again, life got in the way of my plans to lead a mindful, centered life. Working a day job and running a podcast and a side-hustle can do that to you. Although, that’s just an excuse: life likes to get in the way of your plans, period.
I always feel like I have something to say. Something profound. But when it comes to writing, part of me gets caught up in the drama of it. My mind wonders if anyone will like it. A personality trait pushes me to maximize the outcome and tries to figure out what the best thing is for me to write in order for all my dreams to come into alignment.
But worst of all is the stress. It washes over me like a wave of tiredness, and like someone flicking the back of my neck with their finger, reminds me of the stuff left undone that I should attend to.
I try to get it all done. But it just never happens. Ultimately, it leads to others being disappointed, which I internalize as a failure. This in turn leads to procrastination via distractions: I log on and read the news. (Ever so helpful.) Or I tune into Netflix or play a computer game. By the time my anxiety has simmered down, my mind has turned into a zombie, and there is no will left to write, and no inspiration.
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been traveling throughout India for a wedding. Thankfully in southern India, outside the grasp of the heatwave in the north. In the south, it was only 105 degrees during the day, and 86 degrees at night. Unfortunately, there is no A/C in the village. Tossing and turning in the heat, I slept very little. The next day we had A/C, and I spent the afternoon and night desperately trying to catch up on my sleep. We did this three times, before finally returning to Chennai, where we have A/C and the modern comforts.
I am still recovering from this zombie state. But it was interesting. Instead of being stressed about everything going on in my life, I could only deal with what was in front of me. It wasn’t comfortable, but I was more mindful. (By the third night without A/C, I was also really grumpy, something that doesn’t usually emerge from my easy-going personality.)
It occurs to me, that for the last week, I’ve spent zero time thinking about all the typical stressors in my life. And that’s a huge relief. Intellectually I know that stress is linked to disease and I should be reducing stress however I can. I observe my body and mind frequently, and I can see how blocked/overwhelmed/exhausted/burnt-out I am on a continual basis.
Today, for once, I feel like I can breathe, and think clearly. The world isn’t pressing down on me at the moment, and my mind is playful. I don’t feel the pressure to perform or get something done. This is the space where dreams are born.
For a long time, I haven’t been able to see that dream, so I’ve been holding onto the story that I want to be a social entrepreneur. It’s a topic I’m quite passionate about because I think it holds the potential to solve many problems that typical non-profits or charities cannot. It also fits with my Vipassana meditation practice, as a livelihood that feels like it is lifting up the planet, not creating more consumption and greed.
My podcast and side-hustle are my life as a social entrepreneur. My day job is as a technology partner for a retail consulting company, where I manage our technology… which means managing outreach platform, and overseeing many of our internal technology projects… a role which keeps me busy, and running from one task to the next without much break. Smush these two lives together, and I barely have enough time to spend with my wife, before making it to bed, exhausted. I’ve coped by bringing on some partners to help me with the podcast, but it still doesn’t work.
My plan is to leave this job next year and focus on creating a freelancing income through my social entrepreneurship activities. I’m supposed to be spending this year developing that income stream, but that takes, well, time that I don’t have. It wears me down, which fuels the stress, which in turn makes it more difficult to find the inspiration I need to move forward.
A sane person would say, stop. Simplify your life. But do I drop my side hustle, and just focus on riding out my term as an employee. Or do I leave my day job early? Neither option sounds right.
So, next, my thoughts turn to the burning question: when I leave my day job, what exactly am I going to do? Some days I feel like I’m yelling the question at the edge of a cliff, waiting for an echo to come back with the answer, but there is nothing but silence in return.
I do have a loose idea — I would love to create a career where I’m facilitating groups, coaching others, helping develop social enterprises, blogging, and podcasting — and all the while earning income from these activities. But part of me wonders if this is something I’m cut out to do. There is a fear that I’m not capable, and that there is something ultimately wrong with me, because how could I make these dreams come true?
Maybe the point is to let go of the need for a strict future plan.
Rather, I ought o make sure that the time I’m investing in my side hustle is enjoyable and fulfilling in itself, without needing to provide an answer to what it may become. In this sense, let life unfold how it intends to unfold, and be in joy through each step.
It’s hard because in the employee life, I’ve felt trapped and at war with myself for so long — part of me wants to hash out the answer, draw up the business plan, and then follow the steps so that I’m guaranteed some outcome where I’m living a happy, peaceful life.
The road to a happy, peaceful life, however, is not achieved through stress, anguish, and torture.
We are creatures of habit, and if I’m not cultivating a happy peaceful life now, then leaving my day job certainly isn’t going to do the trick.
The point is: I don’t need to figure out my future now; what I do need to do is cultivate how I want to live in the future, and do that now, so that it becomes part of my life, long before arrive “somewhere else”. The joy of this approach is that I’ve arrived before my journey has even begun, and can enjoy each step of the way.
If I can do that, then maybe the stress will realize it has no effect on me anymore and will evaporate into the great void from where it came.