Redefining contentment

I am a logical person.

I enjoy specific directions. I get a little too excited when I find a new planner. I’ve only recently come to terms with the existence of seasons and calories from beer, two things I, for a period of time, thought should not exist. I enjoy deadlines and thrive in task focused environments.

The real world has been a transition.

The year following college graduation, I was miserable. My chest felt stomped on and my mind was a tornado of inner monologues I never let anyone hear. Before graduation, I’ve always had a reason behind pain. You ran too long in those crappy shoes. You failed because you were hungover in class. You ate too much ice cream last night. You’re on your period. There was always an answer, and a reasonable path in seeking it.

Yet, the ‘Why do I feel this way’ had become a billboard of neon, illuminated against the forefront of my brain, never ceasing to settle, despite how loud my music played. The question largely stemmed from me over analyzing past decisions — wondering if I came up with good enough resolutions or if there was still time to resolve them.

There’s a study about the mental health benefits of self-distancing through writing. The theory indicates that reflecting over negative experiences from a self-distanced perspective facilitates adaptive self-reflection and can change the way people cognitively represent negative experiences in ways that reduce their ability to emotionally process the event. Or more simply put, forcing yourself to be treated as you would your best friend.

A moment while I was breaking down at dinner which I’m certain my sister disregarded, as it was a routine at this point in my life, (ex: I have no idea what I’m doing/I don’t know what I want/I need to figure out my life now) she replied in the simplest manner, “Maybe your 22 year old self is feeling like a basket case, but if you told 18 year old Mary Kate what you’ve done and who you’ve become, I think she would be pretty damn proud”. This is an instance of self-distancing. Removing yourself and recognizing your existence from a different angle. I was shocked at this image — what if I was able to see my 18 year old self for a moment in time — what would I say??

Embrace ambiguity.

I love my laugh, despite it flirting between sounding like a hyena and an Adele-cackle. I love funny people. I get giddy on Saturday nights in because I get to watch SNL. Because of this, I decided I wanted to dig deeper into this creative aura and sign up for classes at Second City. Originally, I wanted to take a writing class. In my mind, it seemed to make the most sense — writing assignments, lesson plans, maybe a project? However, in order to do anything at Second City, one must go through their improv training. Improv? … I dismissed my Tina Fey dreams almost immediately until I thought — welp, why the hell not.

Improv is, at its very base, illogical. It forces ambiguity and promotes carrying on, regardless of the task at hand. The Golden Rule of improv is a mindset of “Yes and…”. You accept what scene has been given to you and continue with it in whatever direction in order to keep going. Improv is impulsive. It thrives on vulnerable participants and has no definition of success.

Life is long. I get caught up with the ‘life’s short, figure out your roadmap or GTFO’ so incredibly easily that it’s easy to not appreciate how far I’ve actually traveled. A friend told me her Italian roommate abroad once compared cultures quite simply — “Americans stress to create long to-do lists everyday, if Italians make a list, they choose one thing, and devote the day to it.” I recognize deciding to drink cappuccino all day is not ‘efficient’ use of a day, but I think if we were able to find joy in what we were merely able to get done, we would be more fulfilled in other capacities.

If we can find moments to self-distance and in turn, validate our own accomplishments, we can see our everyday lives are enough. Contentment should be redefined without an apathetic connotation, but instead, a mere appreciation for how far we’ve come. Ambiguity of our future should be embraced and finding joy in the adventures everyday should be sought out. One of the most beautiful things about life is that it gives you an infinite amount of tests you can retake. Despite not knowing how many tries you are given, it’s positively delightful knowing you are not confined to a limit but instead, open to the unknown.