We were... well.... having one of those rough times. Colin was stressed out with work, and we were both getting impatient with each other. Colin was in a funk, and I was annoyed that it was starting to feel contagious. I resenting him for being down, just at the time when he probably needed my support. There was a lot of snapping at each other and passive aggressive muttering under (my) breath. It was hard to have sympathy for each other since we were both wallowing. There was a dark cloud hanging over our house.
But then we managed a date night. We lifted ourselves out of our misery and met some friends for drinks at a rooftop bar/restaurant. And something magical happened. Simply being out of our house, away from fighting flashpoints like dishes and crying children, and looking over Kisumu city at night time put everything instantly in perspective. And it felt like a treat. We felt like a couple. Riding a wave of relief and euphoria, we even went dancin g. Dancing! On the tuk tuk ride home, we held hands and snuggled into one another feeling that charge of affection we had when we first started dating.
|For those who don't know - this is a tuk tuk. Second only to a horse-drawn carriage in the romance department. Obviously.|
Damn. Date nights are the best therapy ever.
So, we had another one.
This past weekend we went out for a quiet dinner - just the two of us. Our nighttime usually consist of cajoling Caleb to eat his dinner, pacifying a day-weary Emmet, running through the bedtime routines, and then sticking our noses in our computers until we fall exhausted into bed. We probably could have long meaningful conversations about life, but we don't.
But on our date night, with nothing but a candle and a table between us we were able to do just that. We talked about our future, our past, books, big ideas, and (inevitably) our children. And amid this conversation with my best friend and most honest sounding board, I figured out something important.
Here it is: OK. So, if there's one thing that periodically depresses me, it's when I compare myself to the achievement of others. I suppose this is typical - the result of growing up being told the world was your oyster, that you could achieve greatness, with the implicit assumption that you should.
But my comparison group of expats here in Kenya consists of a disproportionately large group of hyper-accomplished people. IPA is run largely by development economists - young, smart, over-achieving, idealists, who distinguish themselves intellectually at the same time as they make a contribution to alleviating poverty The other main group of expats work at the CDC, using their MDs and PhDs doing such noble things as working on malaria vaccines.
Compare yourself to this group and you come up lacking. I know I know I know, it's a fool's game. And I HAVE done things with my life. I did well at top tier schools, landed interesting jobs and earned a good reputation. Bla bla bla. But still....
Anyway, we got to talking, over wine and pasta, about my professional future and my return to the workplace. We talked about the importance of finding my niche, the best way make an impact with what god gave me. And I suddenly became totally overwhelmed. Why was I still having this conversation in my mid/late (just late?) 30s? That too made me feel inadequate.
And maybe it was the wine or the liberation from children, but suddenly my overwhelm tipped right on over to epiphany. F*@k it, I thought. Why is some socially sanctioned idea of success and achievement my goal anyway? It's a trap. A rat race for satisfaction that you can't win.
"You know what I really want?" I said, pausing for dramatic effect, "To be good to the people around me. Because you know, maybe that's my gift, and maybe that's what ultimately matters anyway."
"Well, you're not always good to me." He countered, only half kidding.
"OK. That's true." I admitted because Colin does bare the brunt of my bad moods. But I was busy with my epiphany, so I continued. "Maybe all this pressure to distinguish yourself, to leave a mark to figure out your unique contribution is self defeating. Maybe it's OK - even better - just to do what you can to support your family and make yourself happy as long as it leaves room for you to be good to people around you."
"It sounds like you're working your way into a solid graduation speech Kim." He teased.
"Or I was thinking more...religion." I deadpanned.
We laughed together. Colin probably at my wine-fueled enthusiasm and me at the relief I felt at my realization.
This is not a cop out are an excuse for mediocrity. It's really a way to refocus my intention on what;s important A way to feel satisfied and thankful for what the considerable gifts I have, instead of always wanting more.
It's also not at all original. But I needed that particular epiphany at that moment. And it might not have happened without the space of that date night.
Of course nothing is permanently changed. In a few weeks domestic drudgery might reemerge along with existential doubts. But at that point, I guess we'll just have to go on another date night.