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Notes On Figuring It Out

A guest blog from Brigid May

Brigid May is currently a human trying to figure out her life through writing, photography, and the other arts.

She's not quite sure what the answers are yet, but when she finds them, she'll let you know.

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There’s just so much to figure out, isn’t there?

It feels constant. When we’re born, we’ve gotta figure out how to do the essentials: swallow, sleep, walk, talk, use the toilet (that’s essential!). We get older and we’ve gotta figure out how to get dressed, eat with a spoon, form coherent sentences.

We figure out how to create social relationships, navigate school. Then it starts getting more complicated: driving a car, dating, studying, finding a job, having sex, navigating more dynamic and more complex relationships, friendships, jobs! It’s all just a lot!

But eventually we figure those things out.

And then there is something new to figure out. Figure out how to get married or how to not get married. How to maybe get un-married. Figure out how to have kids or how to very intentionally not have kids. Figure out how to support yourself on an income, find a place to live, maybe add some houseplants and pets into the mix.

Once we have something mastered, there’s always something new to figure out.

Currently, I’m completely overwhelmed by what needs to be figured out: How to live in a pandemic. How to manage pandemic anxiety and depression. How to handle work burnout from living in a pandemic. God, there’s a theme.

But let’s also throw on how to be a good citizen, a good neighbor. How to dismantle our white supremist foundation and build systems that truly support everyone. How to take care of each other when we can’t even get close to each other.

Yeah. It’s overwhelming.

Ya know, when I was little, I thought that when I grew up, I would look like a different person. I thought that I would start out in this awkward little body I’d been assigned, but once I hit adulthood, I’d look like Julia Roberts.

It eventually dawned on me that no, I would continue in this awkward body I’d been assigned. The body would just get taller, and wider, and maybe a little bit more tired. Well, f**k.

But all the 90s movies I consumed in my youth showed me that the young girl grew into Julia Roberts! And even if she didn’t have it all figured out in the beginning of the movie, she would by the end.

And that’s simply not true! I don’t have it figured out and I still don’t look like Julia Roberts!

But I suppose I do have some things figured out. I know how to dress myself and eat with a spoon. I’m generally good at driving a car and I know how to navigate dynamic, and therefore fulfilling, relationships. I’ve figured out good study habits and I’ve figured out good working habits, and I’ve also figured out good reflection habits so I can tell when I’m being utterly awful at both.

As we slowly settle into a life that we have figured out, the figure-out to-do list gets more daunting. Figure out how to find meaning, how to accept failure, how to persevere.

Sometimes this list is so daunting, we want to run away to the problems that we know we can figure out. I fantasize about moving to a new city, a new house, a fresh start completely.

Maybe it’s a coastal town with brightly colored buildings and the smell of salt. Maybe it’s a bustling metropolitan or a house in the woods. Wherever it is, I’ll be able to leave my problems here and go live there. I’d just have to figure out the easy things: How to get around my new city. How to get a place to live. How to get my groceries. How to get my income.

Those challenges would have stressed me out in the past, but now I know I can handle them. I long for them because the challenges I’m currently dealing with are fresher and scarier. What if I could just leave them behind, move to a new town, and then people would give me the space to focus on the small things because, well, “She’s new here.”

But I won’t always be new there. Eventually, I’ll figure out all of the easy things. I’ll settle into that life. And as soon as you're settled, the figure-out to-do list gets daunting: What is my purpose? Who am I meant to be? How do I make excitement in a life that is so very settled?

I think, ultimately, we bounce from problem to problem until we hit old age, where the last thing we have to figure out is how to greet death.

I’ve seen so many interviews where they ask an elderly person for advice. They almost always say to take life less seriously, that they wished they hadn’t made such a big deal out of the problems they had at the time.

But that’s like me telling a three-year-old to not take eating with a spoon seriously. That’s not fair! To a three-year-old, eating with a spoon is serious. And it should be!

The problems we have now are serious. And worthwhile. And daunting. But they won’t always be. We will eventually figure them out. But we won’t have it all figured out. That’s just not how it works.

Sometimes our problems will feel insurmountable. We’ll think we can’t possibly figure this out. It’s too much. Sometimes the problem to figure out will be how to get out of bed, how to show up for work. Other days, those things aren’t problems at all, and you’ll have the capacity to figure out the harder, more complex problems.

Be gentle with yourself. We’re under an unusually high pile of problems to figure out right now. Take it one problem at a time. If you’re trying to climb a mountain but you don’t have any shoes, the first problem you address is finding shoes. You could climb the mountain without shoes, sure. But you’re going to cause more problems to figure out if you do. And that’s fine! We’re in the business of figuring out problems.

And anyone who says they’ve already figured it all out? Well, pay them no mind. They have less figured out than they’ll ever know.


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