In this world we live in, we so often see this glorified idea of how things should feel. We’re led to think that when we really want something and work hard to get it that it is somehow going to feel completely rosy all the time once we have it. That somehow now we have the thing we want, that all of our worries will slip away.
I’m here to tell you that this couldn’t be any further from the truth. I’m not trying to put a cast of negativity onto things, but a sense of realism. Of course, living a life that involves experiencing and exploring things you love is hopefully going to give you fulfillment in many ways, but it won’t remove the day to day realities that we all experience. I also believe that it shouldn’t, and I believe we can find richness in our entire experience. The truth is, if we don’t let this range of emotions be a part of our lives, we will never experience the life of ‘full HD’ that we actually want. When we think of how we want our lives to be, we often hear people using words such as ‘rich’, ‘intense’, ‘complex’. So, it makes sense that in order to experience a life like that, we will need to experience variety.
When we start to focus on only wanting to experience one emotion within our lives – or a small set of emotions, we start to limit our experience and our development as human beings living a full and rich life. If you want to live a life that is going to feel full up, you have to open yourself up to putting to bed this toxic positivity idea that it’s all ‘good vibes only’ and that there are never any waves that don’t feel as good when living the life we want. Because it makes you question your reality. It makes you question if you’re doing it right and it makes you wonder if you should be stretching for the next thing rather than soaking in where you are.
I think its about living in contradiction, and absolutely accepting that within what you do. Absolutely embracing that so much of what you do and experience in life contradicts each other.
I’ll use some of my own ‘living in contradictions’ to explain. I love being outdoors. I have huge ambitions. I get really excited about climbing mountains. However, it gets to the day and I am counting down the hours until we hit the trail sometimes like I’d rather anything happen than that. I’m hoping that traffic will stop us getting there on time. I’m secretly hoping the car park is full so we don’t have to go. I want to make these big, pivotal moves forward in social impact storytelling with the work we do, and yet because I live with anxiety and depression, I sometimes find myself feeling extremely apathetic. Like the work I have to put in is too much and that I can’t be bothered. I love nothing more than spending days on end in the backcountry without a shower but I also love spending time in a health spa being pampered. I love living a scrappy life when I’m backpacking – love feeling like the wind is taking me where it wants to. I simultaneously love designer furniture, boutique five star hotels and tasting menus at restaurants.
The thing is, if I let all of these contradictions on their own determine my experience of life, I’d most likely stop myself from truly claiming every element that makes me, me. I wouldn’t allow myself this full experience of what it means to enjoy my life. If I listened to what society tells me I should like as a result of liking something else, or that if I don’t enjoy an element of x thing I want to do, then I would refuse to allow myself a full, rounded and eclectic experience of life. I wouldn’t allow myself to design my own life in the way I have.
You see, life is there to be enjoyed in variety. Yet we are so often told that if we take one route, then we can’t experience something in a particular way. Who really makes that rule? Who really gets to tell us that if we enjoy backpacking, we can’t enjoy having our nails done? Or that if we want to climb a mountain that we can’t feel terrified of it before we get there? Who gets to define what makes us happy? Why do we listen to people when they say “I’m really surprised you like that because…”? Why does everything we like have to come with a prefix because of something else we like?
So how do I start to honor my contradictions and be more me?
Look with curiosity
As children, we have a sense of curiosity that we seem to lose us as adults. One of the most effective ways I’ve really found to allow myself to explore my many contradictions and allow them to be in my life is to develop a feeling and questioning of curiosity. The next time you find something that feels contradictory to you and it feels like it is getting in your way, say to yourself ‘how interesting’ as you observe, and then ask, ‘how can I be more ok with exploring this?’ This is not an overnight solution, and certainly takes some work to keep implementing this questioning until it becomes second nature, but it is incredibly effective.
Explore your emotions
Working to reduce this notion of toxic positivity and the idea that we should really just be focusing on good emotions all the time doesn’t mean you are making a commitment to feel negative. Far from it – and this binary approach also takes away from the idea of feeling a range of emotions. It is fairly safe to say that society tells us that in order to feel like we are living a full life, we need to experience a positive emotion is incredibly limiting. There are a whole range of emotions that can be experienced that allow us to feel that we are living in, how I like to say, HD. Being able to witness an emotion but not entirely attach to it will help you accept it is there and understand why that might be coming up. This nuance will really help you to explore what you love to do and what you don’t, and how your emotions change as you do it.
Stay in your own lane
It is really easy when we are comparing ourselves to others to remove the enjoyment of our eccentricities and contradictions. If we are experiencing an event at the same time as someone else, we might feel like the fact we feel nervous, but they don’t is somehow a reason that we’re ‘not as good as’ or that we maybe shouldn’t do it again. Every single person is so unique, with unique tastes and natural attractions to different things.One reason we compare our experiences to others is that it is a way of being able to define who we are and therefore allows us to define who we are in context of someone else.So, if we feel like we’re seeing other people starting to have all these things, these thoughts and start to live this much (in our minds) better life than what we are, we want in on it. This can lead to us going after things we don’t actually want. It can make us feel inauthentic to ourselves. It can even make us feel like we’re failing.If you notice this happening, question it. Again, this is a practice that takes time, but learning to claim what is you is a process. Being unapologetic to what it is you want will take time. But that questioning and curiosity is going to really help you – and help you understand your wants more.
Claiming my individual contradictions has not been an easy process for me – and it is still one I’m working on. The one thing that I always come back to is a sense of forgiveness and kindness. If I am having a particularly bad day, I find myself starting to compare in so many ways. So, I get curious. I allow myself to really explore why that is happening and what that is trying to say because honestly, once you start to see just how rich and textured your life can feel when you accept that there are so many parts of you that feel contradictory and that is part of your experience, you’ll start to feel fulfilled in a way you might not have ever experienced before.