sunset over Joshua Tree (more on my instagram)
I caught up with B today and heard about her story of chasing stability. I feel like we all have our own versions of this story (or are still living out this story). It’s the classic tale of putting in ungodly hours and putting up with degrading positions to work towards your ideal life. We’re taught that we’re not worthy at the start and that there’s an order to how these things work—we need to trust the process, to stick to the plan. Some struggle and others adapt to it naturally, but in the end, most of us convert to the mindset of paying our dues in order for us to live our ideal life—the downpayment of our labor and respect for the ability to admit to what we want and like and live for. Some of us develop an attitude of deference with respect to our desires. We become apologetic for ourselves and our passions because we imagine that they aren’t worthy of other people’s time, certainly not while we’re still on the journey towards our dream goal. We think that if we put our time in now, we’ll be able to enjoy a life of stability later. In reality, what we find is that the goal post is always moving: the ideal, stable life is always just a bit out of reach. In the extreme case, people never stop chasing that unattainable star and don’t realize they’re stuck in the chase.
It’s a fable of chasing after what we can’t reach, of putting our real life on hold to live out someone else’s idea of a life, of deferring to society’s pressures and whims rather than seizing each day, every single fleeting moment for ourselves to enjoy.
First, you have to work your way up. Starting from the bottom, it goes: 5. Background Oriental Male 4. Dead Asian Man 3. Generic Asian Man Number Three/Delivery Guy 2. Generic Asian Man Number Two/Waiter 1. Generic Asian Man Number One and then if you make it that far (hardly anyone does) you get stuck at Number One for a while and hope and pray for the light to find you and that when it does you’ll have something to say and when you say that something it will come out just right and have everyone in Black and White turning their heads saying wow who is that, that is not just some Generic Asian Man, that is a star, maybe not a real, regular star, let’s not get crazy, we’re talking about Chinatown here, but perhaps a Very Special Guest Star, which for your people is the ceiling, is the terminal, ultimate, exalted position for any Asian working in this world, the thing every Oriental Male dreams of when he’s in the Background, trying to blend in. Kung Fu Guy.
— one of the opening statements of Interior Chinatown.
This follows attachment theory, where we convince ourselves that “if I find X or meet Y or do Z, I will be fulfilled, and life will be good.” Instead what often happens is that we do this thing which we expect to solve all of our problems, and lots of our problems are still there. What gives? We put all of our hopes and expectations on getting out of our mess on attaining this one goal, so it’s no wonder it didn’t meet our crazy expectations. Our entire life becomes about chasing a happy life instead of being happy, let alone just living.
Tactically, our life naturally teeters between cycles of exploration and exploitation, of chasing something new and relishing something comfortable. However, there’s a certain kind of mental stability and emotional fortitude that comes with feeling confident in the person you are and the progress you’re making. Instead of feeling like you need to chase this lofty goal and need to achieve it to prove your worth, this stability comes from having an innate sense of value (feeling whole-hearted) and enjoying the journey that comes with the progression of your craft. I think it takes a lot of deliberate effort to unlock this mindset, but it changes the landscape of what your life looks like. When you’re present for every moment of the journey, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the middle of a foreign country where you can’t speak the language or whether you’re cozied up in an armchair with a book in your home, you’ll feel safe and empowered to not only be yourself but stretch beyond the limits of “youness.” The comfort in your own skin gives you the capability to push the boundaries of what you’re able to do and who you’re able to be. It means you can shape your future one present moment at a time.
When we choose a life of chasing stability, we’re just creating a life of chaos and flux for ourselves. Perhaps, stability is one of those things that can’t be found. It’s only when we slow down and enjoy the little things in life that stability comes to us.
I seem to be getting good results from posting questions for people to respond to, so here’s some more :)
What does a stable life mean to you? Where do you get your stability from? What is your story of chasing stability?
Feel free to respond in the substack post or reply via email!
This is the 32nd installment in my experiment of publishing raw, lightly edited mini-essays every day towards achieving 100 public pieces. Check out the rationale and the full list here or view my evergreen, longer pieces on my website.