On dignity and contentment.

Slow down. Stop for a second.

You don’t have to be completely mature already. That is, there are immaturities in you, and that’s okay. Don’t rush the process. It’s okay to be imperfect, we all are.

I have to stop and take a deep breath, because I want to pretend that I have it all figured out. And if I don’t, I want to pretend that I’m in a mad dash to figure out, and I’ll have it figured out before you know it, promise.

But I don’t have to.

So this isn’t a solutions blog. This is a hash-it-out blog. This is an I-have-a-long-way-to-go blog.

It occurred to me the other day that I struggle with comparison to a crazy degree. The following situation may or may not be fabricated, and it may or may not be reasonable.

Situation: at a bar with some friends.

Friend 1: I’m going to New York this fall!
Friend 2: Oh, awesome! I’ve been to New York. It’s so fun! You should visit the lower east side. There’s this sweet little hole-in-the-wall restaurant with the most amazing food. Oh, and there’s this coffee shop…I might be taking a trip this fall, too. I’m probably going to go to Florida.
Friend 1: Nice! Where?
Friend 2: Probably Miami. It’ll be so cool to check out the nightlife.
Jeff: [sits quietly as friends banter on about travel and the like, and the conversation moves on to other things like music, the latest vinyl they bought at the store, why vinyl is awesome, their favorite records, etc. As the conversation moves on, Jeff feels more and more detached and feels smaller and smaller, because Jeff listens to the same bands, hardly ever gives things a try, doesn’t travel much, and doesn’t have too much intention to.]

Perhaps I didn’t make my situation clear, so I’ll abandon the whole story tactic in the future.

What I mean is this: I find that I don’t want anything until I find out that someone else has it. It’s been a lot of things – it’s been travel, it’s been music and even how people listen to it, it’s been hobbies and skills, it’s been a job, etc. Once I hear that someone else has done something, I start to feel behind or unvaluable because of the fact that I haven’t done or otherwise experienced that very thing.

If I discover someone’s been to the Kentucky Derby, I suddenly want to go to the Kentucky Derby.
If I find out that someone took a train from one city to another, I suddenly want to.
If I’m told that a certain city is awesome, I suddenly want to go, and I feel boring until I do.

It’s one big, nasty case of experiential jealousy, coupled with experiential comparison.

The word that keeps coming up the more I think about this issue is dignity.

I suspect that because I haven’t done certain things, or haven’t been certain places, then my life doesn’t have dignity. All of a sudden, none of my experiences hold up their significance (or relevance or value to me,) none of my hobbies are worthwhile, and none of my interests are interesting.

In other words, I disqualify myself.

In other words, I idolize other people and I esteem their lives a lot higher than I esteem my own.

In other words, I stop believing my life has dignity.

And it’s funny, because if other people think their life is boring, or if they feel discontentment with where they’ve been or what they’ve done, I don’t judge it for a second. I’m really bad about feeling invalidated by people who have a lot of experience, but I don’t feel especially validated or justified by the people who don’t.

Here’s what I’m finding to be true, and what I want to be able to believe on the regular:

You do what you want, and the best thing is to want what you do. The best thing you can do for yourself and for the world is to be happy with who you are and where you’ve been (I mean none of this in theological senses, strictly cognitive and practical.) You help neither yourself nor the rest of the world by feeling as though your life is less; you do no favors for anyone if you fall at their feet and worship them for the places they’ve seen, the Instagram pictures they have at the beach (or beside Big Ben, or the Eiffel Tower, or in the Rockies, etc. etc.) and sulk and wallow in your own self-insufficiency. It’s not helpful.

Instead, it’s better to own what you do, what you’ve done, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. If you spend your afternoons in a house with no tv and you read books, own that. If your hobby is to write lyrics and you only occasionally do anything with them (as in write songs,) own that. If you work a job where you make less than minimum wage and work 40-50 hours a week, own that. If you only get out of the state once every quarter or even once a year, own that.
Contentment is a good, good thing.

I’d like to learn that more permanently.

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