I did this really “important” thing at the end of college. Those who know me, or of me know exactly what i’m referring to. To this day, it remains the most important and consequential thing i’ve ever done. I look back at that experience as a point of pride, but also as an inflection point in my life journey.
I spent the next two years of my life after it trying to match that moment; the spark of it, and the expectations that came from it. So much of what I did became calculated to reach this arbitrary, and sometimes unrealistic standard I had set for myself. I won’t blame others, but constant “when are you gonna do that again-s” from friends and mentors didn’t help matters either. I developed this feeling that unless I did more, right now, then I was a failure. Those two years I was literally trying to do everything (I’m sure many of y’all know how that feels). Somehow pushing myself in the direction of my goals became synonymous with not letting other people down. Every decision I made became about perpetuating an image of how I saw myself through the eyes of others. And in that process, I lost small parts of myself. Parts that helped me get here in the first place.
And it might have stayed that way too, if it weren’t for last summer.
My 83 year-old grandad who I love dearly began to suffer from health complications. I spent the summer traveling back and forth between a grad-school internship in DC and home in New Jersey (Bolt-bus is the absolute worst by the way). In those last days, him and I spent hours together at a time. We would look at pictures and he would ask me if I remembered this distant uncle or that cousin, he asked me to fix things around the house that weren’t broken, but most pointedly he talked about the future. While he acknowledged the goals I set for myself, what he was most concerned with was much more simpler, and as I have come to realize, so much more important. He was concerned with my well being. In so many words he wanted to know if I was whole. If I was just as committed to the parts of life that don’t come with degrees, offices, and raises as I was with the parts that do. And at that moment, I honestly wasn’t.
By the end of the summer he was gone.
Like anyone else who has lost a loved one, I struggled. For the next few months I struggled. I was on auto-pilot. It affected my studies, my work, and my personal relationships.
I took a step back from life. Limited my interactions with some, had superficial ones with others. Restricted my social media intake. I just spent a lot of time with my own thoughts thinking about how I move forward with life, how I could live in a way that honors his legacy, and how to find the same level of fulfillment and completeness as a man who lived a much simpler life than me.
And while i’m still working that out, what i’ve discovered so far is that as much as life’s aspirations demand the most efficient version of each of us, we can never forget to nourish the intangible parts of ourselves. The parts that aren’t wrapped up in a promotion, an acceptance, or the admiration of others. Because it’s those intangible pieces: our spirit, our faith, our happiness, and our completeness that make up the best parts of ourselves.
Those who know me, know that I’ll still be out here pushing, grinding, and chasing the dream(s). But doing so with a new set of priorities; putting the best parts of me first.
Thanks for that last lesson grandad.
Grandad, 1970 in hometown of Clarksville, VA.