I cried at Target yesterday. I was standing just a few feet from the customer service lane, where a helpful employee was working on my situation. It had been a successful resupply run, and my cart was full of enough diapers, wipes, toilet paper, and coffee filters to last a couple months: I wouldn't have to come back anytime soon. But I'd forgotten the PIN to my new Target credit card, and I really wanted to get that 5% discount for using it. At the employee's prompting, I'd called the customer service 800-number to reset my PIN. After ten minutes of waiting, the system hung up on me. After some wizardry in button-pushing, and what felt like saint-like patience (except for my occasionally muttering I just want to go home now, I don't want to be in this store anymore), I was successful with my second call and could now use my card.
Zoë was getting antsy in her stroller, her squawks and cries putting me on edge. We'd been at customer service too long and we were both anxious to go. The Target employee had canceled my previous transaction and now was going to give me the discount by doing the transaction again. But first, he had to go to the register where I'd originally paid, to get something from the cashier.
And that was it. I told him, tears filling my eyes, that I didn't want my 5%. I just want to go home, I said. Please, can I go home now? But I couldn't. He'd canceled my purchase and I had to pay for it again, this time using my Target card. I don't remember quite what happened next. The tears spilled down my cheeks, and I pulled Zoë out of her stroller and strapped her to my chest in the Ergo, hoping to put something between me and him, between me and other people, between me and the world. Maybe they won't notice I'm crying if there's a baby on my chest, I thought.
Somehow I got out of the store with all of my things paid for. I was sad and distraught and a bit unhinged, perplexed at why this interaction had been the watershed moment. Because of course it wasn't about anything that happened at Target; it wasn't about having to call customer service twice, or having to do my transaction twice, or anything happening in the world that I could point to.
The rest of my day was like this, full of unexpected tears and a discomfiting sense of displacement. Which isn't entirely surprising, given that I've just moved country with three small children. While my immediate concerns are taking care of the kids and putting together our household, all of my hours are suffused with the thought of what next? What's next for me? What am I doing here? What am I doing with my life?
And while you can argue that that's a rather big question and maybe right now isn't the best time to be asking it, I don't agree. Right now is exactly the time I need to be asking it. In addition to all of the moving-and-transition funk I'm feeling, there's some major-life-purpose funk that I'm feeling, too, and I don't want to ignore it. I want to face it, head on, and try to find a direction and a sense of rightness in myself.
The only time in my life that I've felt any clear direction or inner purpose was when I decided to move to Los Angeles, and in my first months there. I wanted to be an actor (specifically, a character actor in critically-acclaimed independent films), and the steps to get there were fairly clear: move to LA, take acting classes, go to auditions, get an agent, and network my butt off—and get a lucky break. I did most of those things, with zest and verve, in my first six months. At that point, I liked the struggle. I didn't mind the rejection. I got a decent agent, landed my first SAG gig, and befriended some wonderful, accomplished, and deeply kind people, both in and out of the entertainment industry.
In that time, too, I got very sick. In those early months in LA, I developed Celiac disease, which left me in intense gastrointestinal distress nearly twenty-four hours per day for weeks. Also, I met a boy and fell in love. Coping with those two things, as different as they were, one life-sucking and the other life-affirming, took most of my energy. I had nothing left for acting, for either the business of being a successful actor in LA, or for the creative work of becoming a competent screen actor. It took me well over a year from my diagnosis to begin feeling well again, and in that year I reshuffled priorities. I was no longer willing to play the game to become an LA actor. I realized it was more of an ego dream than a heart dream to make it in LA, so I stopped trying.
Every now and then it comes back to haunt me. Usually it's after I've seen a deeply moving film or gone to a transcendent concert—when I've witnessed a sublime work of creativity and vision and passion and hard work—that I get thrown into a terrible melancholic funk. It's a "what if" sort of funk, as in what if I hadn't given up so easily? What if I'd learned how to work harder? What if I'd had a clearer vision and slowly, determinedly plodded my way toward it? What if I hadn't gotten distracted, or sick?
Look, I know regret isn't the most helpful emotion or mind state. I know that more elevated people will tell me that it's useless to feel regret because nothing can be done about the past. But I don't agree. I think regret, like jealously, can point us toward pivotal moments, people, and ideas that are stuck in us because we aren't done with them. Regret, like jealously, can help us to identify what matters, what we ought to think about as we move forward.
So what the hell happened at Target yesterday?
Surely it was the aggregate stress of the move. If I haven't mentioned, it's been hell. That, combined with the reinvigorated questioning of my life's purpose. And lately I've been hearing on the radio that someone I knew back in LA is playing a concert in a nearby city next month, and hearing his name has taken me back to those LA days; days when I felt freedom and purpose and agency and energy, things that are painfully lacking in this season of my life.
Yesterday it was too much. Shopping for diapers at a Target store in Albany, Oregon, felt the antithesis of everything those purpose-driven days were. But yesterday I couldn't articulate these things—I just felt sad, and under-accomplished, and too associated with the minivan I now drive. After some tears and melancholy and introspection (and whisky) I have some perspective, which I've tried to lay down here. I still feel an ache, but naming it has taken some of the sting away.
I have to know: do you ever feel this way? Regret for what you haven't done? Sadness about the life choices you didn't make? What sends you into a melancholic funk? Are you ever disappointed about where you are, vis-a-vis where you thought you'd be?
Top photo by Steven Pahel. Middle photo by Henning Witzel. Bottom photo of me by the inimitable Woods Wheatcroft.
PS. I'd never intended for this to be a confessional blog, one overly concerned with my own neuroses and regrets and inner turmoil. I'm a bit chagrined to have so many personal, confessional posts lately. Bear with me, and I'll work my way back to writing about things happening outside of my own head. =)
I feel like I need to give this more thought, but a few things come to mind. First of all, this piece (which is about whether or not to have kids, so that's not exactly relevant, but I think you'll see the connection anyway): http://therumpus.net/2011/04/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-71-the-ghost-ship-that-didnt-carry-us/
I don't know that I have a lot of regret for things I didn't do, nor do I have a ton of jealousy (most of the time, anyway). I'm fairly good at recognizing that my choices (and a shit load of privilege) got me to where I am, so if I'm not super rich or whatever, it's because I made specific choices (nonprofit!) and that is what it is. That doesn't mean that I don't have a ton of hangups and insecurities and sometimes even shame about things I wish I did differently or was better at. Lately it has a lot to do with not bothering to get any exercise or take care of my physical appearance (I hate shopping and clothes, but want to look good with little effort) and I really do want to start exercising again but haven't done anything about it. I also have a ton of baggage and shame about housekeeping. I'm crappy at it and it weighs heavily on me because I care a lot about harmony in my physical space, but I seem incapable of staying on top of it. Both of those things sound kind of stupid in comparison to what you're wrestling with, but they actually weigh on me quite a bit. We're going to Charleston for Thanksgiving (thanks to my parents) and both K and I recently admitted to one another that we're already stressed about packing for that trip because whenever we're around my sister we both feel super insecure about our physical appearance.
We saw Rob and Joel recently and were talking about our HS reunion (which is this weekend) and both Rob and I said that we sometimes wish that we had more professional ambition, but neither of us really does. I sometimes feel some regret that I'm not doing something super impressive with my career because growing up everyone thought that I would, but to be honest I don't want to be doing anything harder or more demanding. My big dream was to be a mom, and now that we also have a house (which was my former hang up), I feel like my life is pretty much what I always wanted, but I know that everyone dreams of different things and all of those dreams are valid.
I'm sorry you're struggling right now. I remember the stress and sadness and anxiety of uprooting what we'd known for 13 years and hoping it was the right move. It was for us, but there was a ton of uncertainty in those early weeks. I'm sending you love.
Thanks for this thoughtful response, Dava. I DO think that this is the right move for us, and there are so many positives in our daily life and so many things we are happy about: but the day-to-day is still rough, with Leif having regular meltdowns, and with me dealing with this more existential anxiety.
It's funny, because I was nodding along with a lot of what you wrote, both about career and appearance. I really don't want to work ridiculously hard to look or feel accomplished—I want a strong work-life balance; and yet, there's a part of me that wants to be known for being good and successful at something (and that simply wants to BE good and successful at something). A lot of it comes from looking at others who made choices and took jobs and worked hard, or even just plodded along on ONE path—rather than jumped ship every few years—and now have something to show for that. I've got some great stories from my twenties, but really, nothing to show anyone. No career, no prestige, and now, after three kids and two international moves, no savings.
It just suddenly feels like it's time to DO something.
And by the way, that Dear Sugar is beautiful and wonderful and so so thought-provoking. Thanks for sharing it here.
Jodi and Dava.
This is my first time writing on a blog. Yay me! I’m not much of a writer nor thinker really. But I think that you “girls” might be over thinking these things. Or maybe looking in the wrong direction.
The only thing that I truly wanted to be was a mother. So, in my opinion I have met my goals. I have two loving, handsome and successful sons. They have found the women who return their love and created homes together. One has given me a grandson, who has added another kind o f love that has enlarged my heart. If you think that “I love you Mommy” sounds delicious, wait until you heard a sweet little voice say “I love you Grandma.”
But I digress. Jodi is such a beautiful women that she doesn’t need to worry about her looks. When one looks at her they just see that beautiful face. There is no need to go any further. Make up, clothes, jewelry doesn’t matter. Ok, so as her Aunt, I’m prejudiced. But it’s true.
Ladies, I know that you are intelligent women. You know that you are living one chapter of your lives. You will have others. You can go back to your previous goals and complete them if they are still relevant. If not, you will have others. Fresher ones?
Non profit? That sounds wonderful. Strong. Helpful. Courageous. Loving.
As a mature (sometimes) woman, I have found that the hardships that have been thrown my way, have shown me
how strong that I am. And sometimes that’s enough. Affirming.
And as a Professional Organizer, I know that there are people out there to help you with the things that you don’t like to do... shop, clean, organize...find them. (FindMy Organizer.com is one place to begin.) And if money is an issue, try bartering! Or ask a family member for a gift certificate from these companies.
I hope that I have helped in some way. Maybe I have helped myself. It’s always good to stop and take stock of where you are and how you’re doing. And what’s next.
Thanks for reading.
Wow, Jodi! I feel you, mama. I can so relate. In fact, I'm going to have to tackle my response in an email. Until then, know you are not alone, and I greatly appreciate the rawness of this post.
Thanks Kristin. I appreciate your support and look forward to your email.
During big life changes things can shift around like tectonic plates and bring about sudden eruptions and move the earth under our feet. I think it’s great that you are taking this opportunity to dive into introspection and reflect on the direction your life is moving towards and to take stock of what has been. To my mind, letting anxieties and insecurities surface when need be and sharing those generously with compassion and reflection, is a very compelling and fulfilling way to lead ones life.
I have one to me well-known and articulated regret in life, which is that I wanted to become a psychologist. This is actually what I wanted to do the most, but I never had the courage (there were some practical issues at the time also, but I could have overcome those if I had had more courage). Of course it wouldn’t be too late now, either, but then I also feel that I have built up so much in what I currently do, that it would be difficult to let go of that also. In addition, I would’ve liked to do psychology early on to have time to deepen the practice and move forward with complementing educations (psycho-analysis and many other), which I would neither have the time nor the money for, at least if we want to keep our current lifestyle. Anyways, I think you are not alone in feeling that the one time we felt purpose and direction (and freedom), was during those early years. There are other regrets that I also have, but those are too sensitive to share publicly.
And of course you have already built a beautiful, meaningful life and are doing a wonderful job with the children and your home. But perhaps all of this thought filled movement within you means that there is a new season coming up, and I will be excited to follow-up on what might emerge.
As to this whole transition period, I can totally imagine it to be difficult on many levels, even if it is the right thing for your family in the big picture of it all. Sending you our love and warmest thoughts!
Lotta, I had no idea you had such a strong desire to be a psychologist! You would be so great at it, too - you're a fantastic listener, you're empathetic, and you're a great observer. It's always been a wonderful experience for me just to talk to you - I feel heard, understood, and validated by all of my conversations with you. I'm sorry that you feel this as a regret, and I wonder if there are ways you can move toward it without sacrificing the (beautiful, messy) life that you guys now live.
Oh, I miss you!