Despite every good intention, sometimes I set myself up to fail.
Over the last few months, I have been guilty of thinking, “If only this one thing would happen, then everything will get better.” I subscribed to the belief that I would find happiness by renovating my house, making a big change at work, or crossing something off my bucket list. While it might not seem like it at first, those are some dangerous ideas to cling to. They’re called thinking errors, and they are little thieves that rob us of our happiness if we let them. Here’s what happened when everything didn’t magically fall into place after I let myself wander casually down the path of believing, “If I could just…”
A few months ago (6 to be exact) I hired a contractor to do a major reno on my house. The goal? I was going to work from home for the first time in the 11+ year history of my business. I was changing my life– and my business model– in a big way. After mulling it over for a year and weighing the fear of change against the possibility of more freedom–creative and otherwise– I finally decided that yes, this was absolutely going to happen. And, as I have found to be the case with most big decisions I’ve made, it seemed totally manageable when I was still stretching at the starting line. The optimism and excitement of having a new project–something coming down the pike that would ultimately make my life more enjoyable– was exhilarating. The reality of what all it would actually entail hadn’t kicked in yet.
*Before I go much further, let me tell you this is not a post about the house renovation- we’ll save that for another time. This is just where this particular story starts. Bear with me.
Upon hiring a contractor and making some decisive forward motion toward The Future I Want to Create, I thought to myself, “All right, perfect. Once I get this next mildly uncomfortable part out of the way, things will be so much better.”
But it didn’t stop there. I still had a building in Centerville to sell so I could actually work from home and not be stuck in the 3,200 square feet I wanted to vacate, while underutilizing the new space I was about to pour my heart, soul, and bank account into building. I was acutely aware that the timing didn’t necessarily have to work in my favor, and it was quite possible that I would be stuck with two workspaces. I found myself thinking, “If I could just sell this building, then everything will work out…” And it became Thing Number Two on the list of things that needed to happen before “happy” would kick in.
In the meantime, Paul was leaving on a two month deployment overseas. Introducing Thing Number Three. The pressure was building, and things seemed to be getting further away from the future in my mind I couldn’t wait to enjoy, while I kept adding more items to the list of things to “get through.”
Then January hit. The building was under contract (hooray!) and the contractors said it would be a matter of a couple weeks before they finished. They were, and I quote, “running to the finish line.” It seemed like the end was in sight. Paul was leaving on deployment, and I was prepping to move the shop home, get settled in, and take a much needed vacation to Costa Rica that would come at precisely the perfect time to fully embrace it. It was going to be my reward at the end of months of living out of my basement, subsisting on crock pot or microwave food, having strange men invading my home every single day for months, losing sleep worrying whether the building sale would fall through, dealing with with inspections, negotiations, packing, downsizing, selling furniture and product, moving the business (and the many, many details it entails), and then merging essentially three households into one, largely by myself. Not to mention attempting to conduct business in a house that might still be under construction.
It was now February. I sold the building. I moved the business. The workers were not done. We were all getting on each other’s nerves because I was, in fact, trying to work, but again so were they. And then two things happened I hadn’t planned on: my printer broke, and I realized a monumental mistake on an order that was scheduled for pickup in less than 18 hours. It seemed like every step forward came with a side order of two steps back. I thought again to myself, “It’s ok. If I can just get this order corrected and find a new printer, it’ll all work out.” I scrambled to correct the order, along with finishing two more weddings since my only printer was 100% out of commission, which involved driving to Cincinnati and back (twice) and staying up into the wee hours of the night to get it all finished in time. But I did it.
And finally, 2.5 weeks into February, two days before I was supposed to leave for vacation, the house was finished. I wrote the final check, shook hands, and breathed a smaller-than-expected sigh of relief. I was ready to experience the joy of popping the confetti popper I had been saving for over a year, just for this moment. I was ready for some peace and quiet. But I still couldn’t shake the underlying feeling of anxiety that had permeated the last few months. Maybe I was just tired; maybe it hadn’t hit me yet. Who knows. But I packed my sleepy ass and my kid into the car, drove us to the airport, and flew south.
Three days into the trip, yet another hurdle presented itself. I won’t go into detail, but it’s sufficient to say this was not the trip I was envisioning. The weight of the past few months was most definitely not melting away like I had hoped. And I have the underlying feeling that no matter what I do, or how many hurdles I leap, another unpleasant thing will just unpack its bags and plop itself down on top of my would-be happiness.
Which brings us to this morning. I was at a low enough point that I even Googled “How to shake the blues” which led me to a bunch of articles about eating more omega 3’s and getting regular exercise. But let’s be real for a second and dig a little deeper. The problem lies within. Thinking, “If I could just…” was not increasing my optimism- it was adding to the problem. It wasn’t providing some vague future hope to hang onto–it was simply creating more conditions that had to be met before something good could happen. I had set all these expectations of how things were supposed to be once all the other stuff was behind me, and it was compounding my disappointment and frustration every time one more thing jumped onto the pile.
The biggest hurdle I’m facing isn’t getting through the stressors of the past several months, it is the idea that I can’t be happy until it’s all over. I set an emotional trap for myself, and I fell right in. Because the truth is, there will always be something to get through. Stuff happens. Life happens. It’s unrealistic to think that once you reach a certain goal, or overcome a certain situation, that things will be magically better.
Knowing all of that, I also realize I have a choice. I can dwell on what hasn’t gone the way I had hoped, or I can choose to be happy despite the stressful things going on around me and seek out the everyday things I have to be grateful for- of which there are so, so many. I can keep setting deadlines in my mind of when I’ll “finally get to relax and enjoy this,” or I can find ways to enjoy today, regardless. And only one of those methods holds the key to sustainable happiness.