Being content and fulfilled is another seemingly lofty goal that I have had for the last decade or so. The quote on my photo above reminds us that we can be content now. Today. Even if everything’s not perfect. As a recovering perfectionist, I understand that this can be a very difficult practice to adopt into one’s life:
Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have. – unknown
I have improved in recent times, but still today, if I’m not careful, I can assign high expectations to the next milestone of life as if it could be the oasis in the desert of whatever life stage I am currently experiencing.
A quote from one of my all-time favorite movies, written by Richard Linklater, describes this common human experience:
I loved the movie Dazed and Confused so much as a high school kid because it so accurately depicted our common urge to rush through childhood because we thought that the freedom of adulthood was going to be way better than this dependent child thing.
As many angst-filled adolescents, in high school, I was wishing for college freedom. Spreading my wings and becoming a college grad would bring me contentment and fulfillment, right?
Wrong. While approaching college graduation, contentment was delayed while I focused on starting graduate school ASAP. Sure, I paused for about 2 months and basked in my accomplishment (and the sun at my cushy lifeguard job).
I was definitely content those two months. However, as content as I was that summer, I was not yet fulfilled because I was in a state of countdown once again – to graduate school so that I could fulfill my lifelong goal of attaining a master’s degree. Surely that would leave to contentment and fulfillment, right?
Yes and no. There were times, after achieving that lifelong goal, when I felt content and fulfilled in many areas of my life. But, at the same time, I felt discontent and unfulfilled because I was wishing for a mate. I didn’t think that I could feel fulfilled or content until I found “the one.” In my mind, meeting and marrying him was what would bring me eternal contentment and fulfillment.
Do you see how I always think I’m, as Linklater says, reading the preamble to my own life…waiting for it to start?
Even as I’m now happily married, the life goals have turned into having kids, buying our dream home, etc. To this day, Contentment and Fulfillment only visit me periodically. They haven’t decided to move in and stay a while…or maybe it’s that I haven’t accepted them as part of my life?
I hear this country song called, “You’re Gonna Miss This” on the radio sometimes which as lyrics sound like something my Dad would say to me about this feeling of chasing happiness and rushing through today to get to tomorrow. See below:
Trace Adkins, You’re Gonna Miss This
Thankfully, in the last few years, I have taken song lyrics like this and others to heart and have learned more about being mindful of the present moment in order to notice my own contentment and fulfillment.
I’m learning that there is contentment and fulfillment in big and small things every day. We just have to take time to notice them.
Days get busy and over-scheduled. Life’s demands tug us in many directions. Everyone wants a piece of us sometimes. And yes, we have to give a lot of ourselves away, as we should. But, as we give ourselves away, we must remember that self-care comes before everything else in order to stay healthy and balanced. At least, this is true for me.
One of my favorite songwriters, Paul Simon, echoes my repetitive search for contentment and fulfillment in his song, “Slip Slidin’ Away.” He tells us that “the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away,” which to me, has translated to: the closer we get to the next major milestone in life, the more life we have behind us…and while life passes by, moments of contentment and fulfillment may be missed while we are searching or hoping for happiness…instead of being mindful of what there is to be grateful for today…what’s right in front of us…even if today is imperfect…because life will always be imperfect. I’m learning that imperfections make our lives unique and sometimes even beautiful.
In this same song, Simon describes a woman who “became a wife (and tells us that) these were the very words she uses to describe her life”:
Paul Simon, Slip Slidin Away
I have sung these lyrics many times, seeing myself as the woman who “became a wife” thinking that marriage would be happily ever after. I know that when I’m depressed or anxious I’m the woman who lies in bed of thinks of things that might have been. In those moments and all others, I strive to remind myself to focus on what is going right today…like a day with no rain.