The Struggle is Real

I shake myself out of the blue light stupor of my computer screen, it is 11 pm on a call shift, I don’t have to be awake. It has been pretty easy – this place sees less than 1 person/24 hours in the ED.

But, I can’t stop my mindless scanning of real estate websites and various gadgets on Amazon. I don’t even like gadgets. We aren’t planning on a buying a house anytime soon. But I can’t seem to stop.

This is a known symptom for me. I rarely buy anything. Real estate browsing is pretty safe – I have never made a impulse home purchase at midnight on Zillow.

Even Amazon rarely tempts me into an impulse purchase. The closest I get is adding something to a wishlist – usually to be forgotten.

The disease attached to this symptom is feeling stuck. I do this when I feel like I am not working towards something, just living in a gerbil wheel holding pattern.

I am really, really bad at assembly line life. So, I start to browse Amazon, Zillow, Airbnb – fantasizing about something else. Mindlessness sets in.

It is not good for me. I almost always feel worse afterwards.

“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”

― Brene Brown

I am coming to think happiness is overrated. On the other hand, being miserably is obviously no good either. However, I think too many of us confuse elation or rapturous joy – that mountaintop emotion – with happiness.

The thing is, people have never lived on mountaintops, they live in the valleys. A life on mountaintops is unsustainable – ask someone with a Bipolar Disorder just after they have finished a manic phase.

Wind River Range Wyoming, Public Domain.

Moreover, no one has ever started down the road to a significant accomplishment with the phrase, “Things are pretty good right now, I am happy with this.” And per Brene Brown, human beings are wired for struggle.

Survival doesn’t just happen in the wild. Every day is a struggle and humans are no different. I tend to feel most alive and full when I am in a good meaningful struggle.

On the hand, when you actually complete something, like say becoming a doctor, it can be unsatisfying. Then you are back and stuck in between struggles.

Humans need a struggle, a purpose, something to strive towards. We are always looking for more, for improvement. It is a pretty good survival mechanism, constantly looking for advantage.

I think this is an impulse consumerism taps into. It is also why it can be a hard habit to break. Sure, sometimes we are trying to fill a void or a hole.

“If I can just solve this couch problem, I will have figured out life.”

Of course, more stuff never fixed anything. I have never been much of a consumer. I don’t like spending money – I never even get the fleeting joy of something new a lot of people describe. But, the temptation is still there.

So, if I am not actively trying to fill a void with more stuff but still feel the need for something more – where is the problem?

Is the problem I am not content with my current situation? If that is the case, then the solution is working on being content with now or trying to change my situation.

Or, is the problem that my struggle mechanism is just spinning in circles with no focus? If so, then I need to find some struggle to throw myself into.

In Northern Minnesota, where I have spent some time, it is common for families to have lake cabins or houses for family vacations. They are often old and the harsh climate requires frequent repairs.

The classic joke is that the old Norwegians and Swedes would only take vacations if they felt like work. As long as the cabin needed fixing, there was an excuse to head up to the lake.

Maybe I need a cabin….or at least more hobbies.

2 thoughts on “The Struggle is Real”

  1. There is something innate in our wiring that gives truth to the adage, “the thrill of the chase.”

    We often feel most motivated/elated when we are chasing something only to find that once we have “caught” it, we have this void that happens causing us to chase the next big thing.

    This happens with relationships (chasing a girl, early dating is often the most exciting time, but soon you get into a rut and what was exciting becomes boring. This has the makings of the 7 year itch phenomenon).

    It does sound like you have the early grips of burnout and much like someone who turns to food to chase away depression, you are using an online substitute via Amazon or real estate offerings.

    Being content for me is better than anything else I have accomplished. Once you are content you push away the desire to keep up with the Joneses, etc. Of course being content in itself doesn’t prevent burnout (as I still have twinge of that myself) but I want to get to a place where I can eliminate that by retiring early on my terms.

    1. I definitely flit in and out of burnout. I think it is less an end-state than a chronic affliction that comes and goes and can be managed over time but can reach crisis levels. There are some specific things going right now that are temporary and I just have to be patient – which isn’t my strong suit.

      I think my point with contentment is that it is more complicated than simply being happy with your situation. We are supposed to strive for something, we are wired that way, and I think the trick might be finding a way to channel that energy into being a more whole human being, rather than the external, but that can be difficult as well. Because the rest of the world doesn’t give kudos (or dollars) for improving ourselves. For me, I don’t think early retirement would help this, I think it would be just another goal achieved – hollow after a period of time.

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