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May 15, 2020

The Buddhist Quote that made me Re-think my Explorer’s Life.

I read a quote by Chögyam Trungpa that mirrored my thoughts recently.

It reads:

“We must be willing to be completely ordinary people, which means accepting ourselves as we are without trying to become greater, purer, more spiritual, more insightful. If we can accept our imperfections as they are, quite ordinarily, then we can use them as part of the path. But if we try to get rid of our imperfections, then they will be enemies, obstacles on the road to our ‘self-improvement’.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa

Reading this, I remembered a day while driving home from work with my mom. Driving past vineyard after vineyard in Napa Valley, she was telling me how proud she was, how she’s watched me go after and accomplish so much in my life—especially now as I switch jobs to gain more experience in the wine industry as a cellar hand.

I felt good that she was proud of me; I always want to make my parents proud. After everything they have given me and done for me, it is the least I can do in return. But something nagged at me.

What if this was it? What if this was all I wanted? What if I was content to stay in Napa, work at a tasting room that doubles as a postcard, and pour wine for couples on their honeymoon all day? It was enough for some people—what if it was enough for me?

“Mom,” I asked, “would you be proud of me if this were it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Would you be proud of me,” I repeated, “if this was all I wanted to do with my life? Just this. Working at a vineyards, in the tasting room.”

“Oh, yes, honey, of course.” Relief flooded me. “But you have ambitions and goals! Australia!”

I laughed, because this was typical of my mother, and I knew she meant well. I know that she has great hopes for me and for the amazing things I will see and do, because what else does a mother hope for?

She’s always been my talking board to sound off ideas and dreams. She’s been my support system through each decision and lifestyle change I’ve made–no matter how many. And I know that if this truly were all I wanted, she would be happy for me. She would continue visiting me at work, bringing her friends, bragging about me at dinners and holidays.

But we both know that this isn’t where I’ll end up, though it has been a wonderful, eye-opening resting spot.

I read Trungpa’s quote today, and I thought of the conversation with my mother, and what I had asked her. Except now, I understand that my question had actually been for myself.

I have a dream life; I’m from one of the most beautiful states in the country. I lived in Barcelona for a year working as an English teacher, and now I’m working in wine country, a place that people dream about visiting, much less living in.

Looking around, I don’t have many complaints and my blessings aren’t lost on me. But would I be proud of myself if I stopped here? When I ask myself this, what I really mean is, is this what you want to do for the rest of your life? Could you stop here and feel as though you didn’t miss out on anything? Didn’t forget to cross any t’s or dot any i’s?

There’s so much that goes into the choices that we make for ourselves, starting with the daily tasks up to the big decisions that we have to ask ourselves, “Am I really doing this?”

A lot of it is looking inward and asking hard, open-ended questions that don’t always have a simple, pleasant answer.

>> Does this choice align with my passions and dreams?
>> Why am I choosing x instead of y?
>> What are my motives?
>> Where do I expect this to take me?
>> Will it promote growth, or am I doing it for another reason—perhaps logic or financial?

I’ve always been indecisive, but more and more lately, as I work toward a deadline that I’ve set for myself, I wonder: will I be proud?

I’m not asking anyone else, because at the end of the day, I’m the only one on that journey. I live with my choices in the world that I build. I’m asking myself now, as I make more serious, permanent moves:

>> Why am I doing what I’m doing?
>> Are the reasons substantial, or flighty and escapist?
>> Am I moving toward or away from something?
>> Does this align with what I imagined for myself?
>> Would a younger version of myself want to be me?

When I moved in 2018, I got a taste for this. I had firsthand experience in being away from my family and friends when I moved to Barcelona to chase a position teaching English as a foreign language. It was hard at first, and then it got easier, as is typical when moving from your home to a new, foreign place.

I realized then what it meant to truly miss out on key parts of our lives—being away during holidays and birthdays and major turning points. I realized what I was truly sacrificing.

When you weigh in your hands what you’re giving up for your dreams, you better make damn sure that your dream is worth it.

Although my time in Spain was undoubtedly enriching, I couldn’t honestly say I was living out my dreams.

Living in Europe? Check. Exploring a new city? Check. Waking up happy and excited to work at something I love? Not exactly.

I was teaching because it was expected of me after graduating with an English degree. What else are we supposed to do after college? And it was definitely an easy way to travel. $50 round trip to Italy? Sign me up! But for the reasons that truly mattered, I felt empty.

It wasn’t stimulating in the ways that I feel stimulated when I am writing and thinking creatively. It challenged me, but the challenges felt like a task. It had its merits and I learned so much from my first year as a teacher, and I’m not saying I won’t do it again, but it wasn’t where I wanted to stop. I knew I had a different purpose with each class I taught.

So as I begin dreaming up another life for myself, I’m soul-searching, I’m asking all of the necessary questions and deciding: is it worth it? Is this a step toward my dream life—one that I can see myself settling into, not running from?

And above all: would I still be proud of me if this were all I was?

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