Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hello Carolyn: I have a rather boring problem, but hope you’ll take it anyway. I am 35, and all my life I have been striving toward specific goals. First college, then grad school, then the new job. After that my husband went back to school, and the next seven years became about getting him through school, certifications, and new job. Well, now we’ve accomplished all that (yay!), our three kids are older and life feels more manageable.
Except that small issues during all the big pushes are now bothering me quite a lot. Some of it is “me” stuff and some of it is “marriage stuff,” and some of it I am not sure how to tease apart into “me” and “marriage” buckets.
I am not sure whether I am fixating on all this stuff because for the first time (ever?), I am just focusing on my day-to-day. Sure, we have long-term goals. But, for the most part, life is about maintenance right now — keep the kids alive, build up savings, etc.
Never miss a local story.
So, is this why all these previous back-burner items are now pushing to the fore? Are they actually important, or do I need to settle myself down and quit looking for something to worry about? How do you separate all this out? Is this a therapy thing? I could use a fresh perspective.
Is This All There Is?
I’d argue the opposite of “quit looking.” You apparently need something bigger to worry about than your day-to-day.
Some people can snuggle contentedly into a routine and feel relief that a “big push” is over, but some people feel lost without a driving purpose. I don’t think one is better or worse; people just need to be realistic about who they are.
If the absence of a defined goal leaves you with too much time to think about minor nuisances, then you can drive yourself a little nuts.
Your current malaise could actually be a great opportunity for you, because you clearly have a lot of personal strengths that have paid off — in pursuing a bunch of externally dictated goals. You’ve gone after and gotten college, grad school, job, spouse, kids, just as the generic instructions said. It sounds as if you’ve never really looked inward and asked yourself, what do I want?
That alone can explain why life after your “big pushes” doesn’t feel quite right. Your goals weren’t uniquely reflective of you.
It’s a common place to be for sure. It’s also not necessarily one that threatens your state of healthy maintenance, since the goals you’ve achieved include getting educated and saving money; they alone give you more flexibility than most in finding a purpose closer to your heart.
So start thinking bigger about this next phase of your life than “me” and “marriage” buckets. What sounds like a rewarding target for your energy now? What do you want out of yourself, out of life?
If this idea scares you, sure, it can be a therapy thing — even if you’re just new to thinking this way and want help sorting it out. Otherwise you can take a more patient approach: Start taking really good care of yourself emotionally and physically, making room for answers to find their way to you.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.