Mama M: Running in Place

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dear Mama M,

As a grad student, I feel like I’ve spent the past three years of my life running in place. I haven’t had any professional or personal successes: no paper, no graduation in sight, no relationship, and I feel left out of life. It seems like everyone around me has something to be congratulated about, and I’m coming to resent it. How can I be happier for my friends when good things happen to them without just being angry and jealous?

Running in Place

Dear Running in Place,

Let me first give you a giant virtual hug. You sound like you have spent what precious little spare time you have beating yourself up, and that is a hard road.

So, first, take one minute to close your eyes and let some love into your busy, angry, jealous mind.  There is such a paper-thin line between jealousy and inspiration. I am asking you to delineate that space for a moment.

Every emotion has two sides. The other side of jealousy is inspiration, so flip it over like a pancake, and make it into something more useful.  

Here are a few thoughts that can help. First off, you will graduate one day. I know it does not feel that way, but you will. Second, you deserve to be loved even if you are not published yet. You will see the results of your hard work in your own time, and you will get published at some point.

All of your “running in place” has given you awesome quad muscles but not much perspective. Look beyond your peers for a moment and recognize that you succeeded at getting your ass into this amazing school and jumping through hoops of fire each day, especially the ones in your own psyche.

The thing about happiness is that it is a moving target. You reach one goal, and then you want something more. Expand your worldview. It may be time to stop running in place for a minute and breathe. Catch your breath and try to remember who you are, darling.

Your primary purpose on Earth is not really to reach those external goals set down by society, your department, your parents, your ego and everyone else. You are really here to learn who you are, and to find your own bliss in the process.

Elie Wiesel wrote in his book Souls on Fire: “When you die and go to heaven, your Maker is not going to ask, ‘Why didn’t you discover a cure for such and such? Why didn’t you become the Messiah?’ The only question we will be asked in that precious moment is ‘Why didn’t you become you?’ ”

Like you, many people in our world think they need to achieve things, publish articles, get degrees, have relationships, and in so doing, they think they will discover who they are.

But the truth is, they have it backwards: First, we are here to discover who we are, and in so doing, all the other good things will follow naturally. And if we can learn to actually like who we are, that will give us a more permanent state of happiness.

Here is my third point (and get a glass of wine, because I am about to give you some cheesy advice): Take 10 minutes every morning and every night to be grateful for all that you are — for your amazing mind, your healthy body, your quiet, soft bed or 10 other things that you are blessed to be and to have.

This practice is your lifeline. If we don’t take time to notice what we have, then our minds get full with what we don’t have, and we feel nothing but despair. Comparing your life to others’ is an automatic process that has to be stopped by you and you alone, sugar.

You are the superhero that can stop the runaway train of stuff that doesn’t matter. But you have to practice every day, and that is hard to remember when you are in an environment of external demands and rewards like academia.

Keep expanding your world-view, darling. You are very special, and who you already are matters so much more than you know.  Self-discovery and unconditional love make an elixir, a magic potion, so drink up, relax, and — if you need to make comparisons — then choose to compare your yesterday with your today and leave everyone else out of it.

Make time to appreciate the wonders of your own life, honey.

Unconditionally, Mama M