Live Life in the World, Not In Your Bedroom
Two and a half months ago I jumped off a cliff and landed in Punjab. There were some bumps and bruises along the way, but I found a doctor — direction — and bandages — accountability partners — to keep me in one piece.
But, despite all the care, my perfect balance regressed into a directed nothingness. A powerful emptiness.
It has taken me a hot second, but think I figured out why.
In a country where I only officially work for five hours a day, and in a house filled with social calls and new people, I have managed to over do the work portion of my work-life balance.
I began hitting my goals, but those goals were consuming every moment outside of school. I went from aimless and feeling overwhelmed by social situations to having a direction and counting the minutes in every situation because I couldn’t wait to get back inside and write, learn Punjabi, or listen to the latest book I had downloaded on Audible.
And then I started to go into my “Introverted spiral” as Kris Gage calls it. I lived in my head, and in my room. I spent more and more time alone, and the more I did this the more I wanted to spend that time alone. Because alone I felt productive.
Alone I felt like I was going somewhere instead of just watching other people go somewhere… or nowhere.
Just watching was infuriating, I just wanted to do, and I couldn’t stand the feeling of stopping once I had gotten my momentum up. Even a moment was too much to spare, and I began calculating how many hours it would take me to do this task, or that.
Before spending dedicated time with the people I live with I would consider how much more I had to write on this post or that for my blog or for medium, or how much time I had left in that audio book, or that Punjabi lesson.
And finally, when my new sister came home from school and didn’t say hello for the first time, and when we didn’t talk and laugh about our day like we had at the beginning of my stay, I realized that my priorities were screwed.
I didn’t come to India to live in my room, or to become productive. I came to live in the country. I came to experience it, and its people — and I was missing that.
I’m in freaking India
I had to remind myself of that one once again.
I can write from anywhere in the world. But I can never seek out these people to the depths of their soul and back once I leave. Phone calls just don’t work like that.
I can learn Punjabi online from anywhere in the world. But I can never live the culture or the language as fully as I can right now if I step outside my door.
I can read books from anywhere in the world, but I can never learn the lessons that Punjab has waiting for me there. Because those are lessons are hiding beyond the gate.
I was passing up all of those things every time I tried to squeeze in an extra couple hours in my productive introverted hole instead of walking out the door and playing with the kids living beyond my constructed home.
Stop and smell the flowers
Had to remind myself of this one too.
For all of my insane getting-stuff-done, I couldn’t see the efforts of all my labors. I wasn’t racking up views on my blog, I didn’t understand Punjabi, and for all the books I was reading on becoming a better me, I was only becoming that better me for myself, which is fine if you want that, but for me that’s useless. I don’t want to be better for the sake of being better, I want to be better for other people. Better so that I can help other humans in times of need, and laugh with them in times of joy.
With all of this productivity leading nowhere, I started bashing my head against the wall just wishing that I could do something, anything, right.
But doing more, isn’t the answer. Trying to do more right, be faster, be better, be, be, be all the time is exhausting. It doesn’t help.
You get so caught up in how you are falling short of what you should be that you enjoy the fact that you are on your way there.
So, Ellie, smell the damn flowers.
And I did, I took five minutes before school just to enjoy the sun and the birds. I took those minutes to set myself up to think about how I had improved, and how much I loved working with three year old’s.
I smiled at every little conversation I had with a kid, because it meant that I was actually learning Punjabi. And even though there were times I was as lost as Google maps in Boston, I just asked someone to translate, cached those words and moved on. Failing didn’t seem to matter as much.
Haul the progress out of the bedroom
I had been trying to write, learn, and do all in theory. I was creating plans for how to go where I wanted to go and live how I wanted to live. I was thinking about the things I disagreed with at the school and creating lesson plans to teach in a more holistic and enjoyable way.
And that was just about as far as I went.
The progress I was missing in the section above? Some of it was the mindset, but another reason I couldn’t see the progress was because it was tucked all neatly away in my closet, going nowhere and doing nothing.
My closet was full of the emperor’s clothes — useful, and even gorgeous in theory — but in reality, I was walking around stark naked yet proud of the ‘progress’ I was making.
So I stopped creating lesson plans and I started implementing them. I started taking one or two students aside in classrooms whenever they were free and teaching them the things they were missing.
I began talking to people in Punjabi, and forcing myself to have conversations — in any language — with people outside my house.
Somehow I was going to have to get to know the teachers at some point and the conversations I was having with them in my head were eating a whole lot of time and doing nothing but making me more nervous to talk to them.
From here, I focus in the mornings and I live during the day. I smile at the little things and I don’t get lost in my getting-stuff-done spiral while forgetting why I am doing that thing in the first place.
I take time to recognize that productivity is useless without people and there sure as hell aren’t a lot of people in my bedroom, nor will there ever be.
I thank god for the little things that had the guts to tell me the progress I was armoring myself with was a load of well… nothing.
And finally, I get out of my bedroom, I stop planning and doing only in my mind, and I jump — this time for real — into Punjab.