The essential is invisible to the eyes

It’s strange how I’ve been so busy the past six weeks or so that I haven’t been able to post anything here. And now I see that my previous post was a list of new year’s resolutions, and how off target I am.

Just to reiterate the resolutions, which were not in any particular order:
1) Get promoted.
2) Buy a house.
3) Love ballet.
4) Be in a relationship.
5) Accept that I’ll be 30 soon.

The title of the post is from The Little Prince, which I’ve recently re-read in some of those few waking hours when I’m not at work or at ballet. After this re-reading of it, the book has basically vaulted into my top 10 favorite books of all time. It’s so beautifully succinct in its themes, so forcefully yet whimsically and mysteriously direct in its message.

And maybe these feelings are also compounded by the fact that I also recently read Tuesdays with Morrie, but looking at my life now — in a moment of reflection while having a nice, much-needed chat with a friend after a rather grueling workday — I see that almost none of what I’m doing is essential; and that furthermore, all but one of the resolutions I’ve made is essential. The rest are inconsequential.

What is essential? I think only resolution #4 truly matters.

Take #1, for instance. I’ve been pushing myself this year as a stress test to see where my breaking point is, and I think I’m near the limit. I’ve gone from essentially needing at most one cup of coffee’s worth of caffeine to three recently. Work and other life stresses I believe have contributed to my being sick this year, and while I can’t say for sure, I think stress is also related to this skin allergic reaction. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my work: I do, and I believe that most of what I work on is for the greater good (one of the benefits of working on the search side and not the ads side). Maybe this is not the most impactful way to contribute to the world, but I do truly believe that the projects I’m working on are steps in the right direction towards a vision of the world that we would want to live in.

The work-life balance pendulum swings in one direction and then the other, but when I start having nightmares about work, when I’m able to get 8 hours of sleep a night and still not feel at all rested — these might be signs that I’m overexerting myself. (Writing this, incidentally, means I’ll be short a couple hours of sleep tonight and tomorrow will suuuuck.) I’m straining to figure out how I can be more efficient at work, or how I can offload some projects. It actually does distress me a little knowing that last year I “won” our team’s award for writing the most launch reports (one of the bread and butter tasks of our team), and that the previous two recipients were the only two teammates in the past three years that have quit the company. One can’t say that my coworkers aren’t a smart and ambitious bunch, but working at this sustained level of stress is probably not a great long-term, steady-state solution.

Why do I even want to get promoted? Partly it would be for recognition. There are some interactions that are inherently difficult for my position: it’s part of my job to ask others to do things, and sometimes rank does play a noticeable role. But as long as I can do my job, which is true for the vast majority of cases, the title (and thus promotion) itself should be meaningless. Except for the part regarding compensation.

#2. As much as I keep repeating the mantra that I should be satisfied with what I have — which, objectively speaking, is tremendous — it’s so hard to not try to keep up with the Joneses. My income level is more than enough to let me do anything I can modestly desire. I feel like I should be able to afford to buy a place around here, and yet it seems so difficult to put together that 20% down payment when housing prices are rising so quickly. When you have enough friends your age who are millionaires, I guess it’s impossible not to feel a little envious, even if your materialistic desires are not as great as others’.

Part of me wants to own a place just so that I have an anchor somewhere. A mortgage would give me a much greater incentive to care about working (and #1) and to be vested in the Bay Area. Because while I enjoy living here, this is still not the place that I can readily call home. A part of me still yearns for San Diego. Having a house would also let me more easily get that Welsh Corgi or Scottish Fold.

The thing, though, is that there’s no reason why I can’t wait another year, or a few more years, before purchasing a home. I’m not even sure I’m in the right stage of my life to be owning a place, especially when other parts of my life are not settled down — does it really make sense to own a place if you’re not in a relationship? And if I don’t need to buy a house, I certainly don’t need any additional income from a promotion.

As for ballet (#3), it certainly has its benefits: good physical and mental exercise, a welcome and very different way to spend time outside of work. But it’s also a huge time sink: its very nature requires a huge time commitment to improve, and progress is glacial. (Of any activity, ballet is among the most time intensive to be passably okay at it. You can train for a year and run a marathon. If you do ballet for a year, you’ll still be terrible and look like absolute shit. Although maybe this sentiment is due to the fact that I knew it would be difficult for me even to begin with; the challenge was and is a big draw.) And frankly, the cognitive dissonance of it all has made me want to quit many times over the past few years.

I think my friends are right, though, that I’m not meeting any girls (or at least none within dating range). One of the secret (i.e., secondary) goals of my doing ballet was that I had hoped that I would feel less awkward around girls. I’m not sure that’s worked out at all. And while there’s probably nothing *inherently* wrong with spending practically every non-working, waking hour with teenage girls and married or older women, it’s also not particularly constructive in my search for a girlfriend.

And maybe there’s actually some truth in my friend’s statement that my devastating crush on ___ might be as much due to the fact that she’s conveniently *there*, rather than the fact that she’s, you know, absolutely perfect. (She also implied the same thing when she rejected me. I still don’t agree.)

And as others before me have pointed out, for #5, the other option is to be dead.

And so my friend has brought to focus that I’m currently spending all of my time pursuing #1 (for the sake of #2) and #3 (which admittedly does make me incomparably happy at times), and trying to quell those doubts of #5 and whether I should bother or if I’ll just die alone, that I’ve denied myself the energy and ability to spend on what really matters: #4. Maybe it’s time to re-prioritize my life to focus on what really matters and not these other distractions. That is, to spend time finding someone to love, to be able to share the experience of living with somebody, to finally be able to see the essential.