Looking back on my thirty-third year of life on Earth, it’s been one in which I’ve discovered some of my limits. For the first time, and then the second time, this year saw me break down in tears right along with my toddler. I’ve gained ten pounds, pour a second drink more often than I used to, and for a few strange months I even relapsed into playing World of Warcraft again. Friends have told me I’ve seemed unhappy. By most measures, this year has seen me less the person I aspire to be. At this point in my life, I thought I had things pretty much figured out. So it’s been interesting becoming once again a riddle to myself.
So what the hell happened? Two tides in my life have risen, suddenly and simultaneously. At home, my infant daughter has become a three-year-old roommate with all that that entails. Beyond a baby’s creature needs, she now has opinions, preferences, and an iron vision for How The World Should Be. No longer content to be coddled, she demands to be reasoned with. I am of course immensely proud of her for that. But I am also an introvert, unused to beginning and ending each day in the crucible of high-stakes negotiation (most often over the necessity of eating, bathing, and sleeping). It costs me an energy I have newly found in short supply. This would be more manageable if that energy weren’t also depleted throughout the day. You see, at work my responsibilities shifted this year from programming to managing programmers. I was excited for the opportunity to be the manager I’d always wanted, and I devoured with gusto introductory texts like The Manager’s Path: a Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change and Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. But that opportunity brought with it hours—sometimes whole days—spent in and out of meetings, negotiations over hiring and promotions, and the constant feeling that no matter how hard I try, the best I can hope for in most situations is to disappoint the smallest number of people.
Besides the emotional exhaustion, the overarching feeling has been one of life becoming increasingly out of my control. My daughter—probably unaware of this fact—gets to decide how I’ll spend each morning and evening, what time I’ll wake up and go to bed, and even what my partner and I have the time and energy to cook for our dinner. And at work, as the self-appointed “shit umbrella” for my teams, I am often surprised when, to extend the colorful metaphor, my plans are canceled due to that particular kind of rain. It’s been interesting watching how this feeling of powerlessness has manifested itself in my reading habits; from the Stoics Epictetus, Seneca, and Aurelius who thought deeply about how to make peace with the aspects of life outside of one’s control; to Sam Harris’s Free Will which makes the case that all of life is outside our control; all the way to the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, who turns a hard eye inward and finds that our very selves, the “I” we imagine could be in control, is nothing more than a sensation. As a teenager, a brush with the idea that I might not exist threw me into a full-on existential crisis. It is a small but pleasant comfort that as an adult and a parent, I can shrug it off and wonder how I ever had time for that.
I’m writing this from the Holliday Park bird sancturary on August 27. For seven years in a row I’ve written this kind of annual reflection on my birthday, May 6. And indeed, I’d started writing this on my birthday, though what’s kept me from publishing it has been the lack of a tidy ending, “and here’s how I figured all this out and plan to make next year the best one yet!” But life is not an essay (except etymologically), and neat conclusions are rare. So I won’t try to force one.