Continuum: What Do We Say When Things Are Okay?
Often I forget that life exists on a continuum.
Black and white: that’s the world I inhabit. There, things are clear-cut, simple, easy to understand. I am either good or bad. I am acting crazy or sane. I am productive or unproductive.
But that isn’t life, is it?
Things aren’t so cut-and-dry. Life is a continuum. It is black, white, and every color in-between.
We are continuums in miniature. A million little moments smushed into one moment that’s gone as soon as it’s captured. And on to the next.
Let’s take a single moment: right now. Sit back, close your eyes, think about your life, and let your mind allow thoughts naturally, without targeting anything specific … Ready? Go!
How many various and/or competing thoughts come rushing in?
If you’re like me, a lot. For many of us, the background hum of our brain functions like that—a billion thoughts at once—TV fuzz on a faulty channel.
You can’t clearly define your self any more than you can clearly define the myriad thoughts (and emotions) within that self. It’s impossible. Attempting to black-and-whitewash yourself simply doesn’t work. If we strive to pin down the un-pinnable, we’re effectively striving for dishonesty.
It begins early, with parents and school.
Heaps of praise for saying a new word or behaving well at the dinner party. For an A+ on the test or running fastest in the race.
In the same way: condemnation.
“You have to clean your room!” “You need to get your grades up.” “You’re not trying hard enough.”
So: praise or condemnation. You’ve been good, you’ve been bad. You did well, you did poorly.
We grow, we get jobs, and this continues. You’re acknowledged for achievement or lack thereof, but not so much for anything in between. Certainly not for serenely chugging along beneath the radar.
We don’t hear things like:
“Hey, I just wanted to point out you’re going about things in a completely prosaic, productive, and acceptable manner. That is all.”
We receive feedback on the good or the bad. The continuum therein? Neglected, inconsequential.
I’m not pointing this out to condemn it or even say it should change—it’s just culture. Perhaps it just is what it is.
The Color Wash
But if we attempt to leave the world of external judgment to pursue internal satisfaction (pursuing creative arts, starting a business, etc.), we must develop our own feedback systems. Attempting to maintain the pattern of good vs. bad on a new frontier (of your own creation, to boot) is arbitrary and generally ineffective.
The creator must create something more reasonable and realistic.
As my own boss, I get caught in constant self-judgment, holding myself to a standard higher than the most demanding boss.
When my book’s progress is simply moving along and there’s no news to report, I immediately want to plunge myself into a world of “not-good-enoughs” where a lack of gold stars—a lack of measurable achievement (by stars, no less!)—sends me to minor panic and berating self-talk.
In relationships, even, when things seem normal and healthy I begin to wonder … what’s wrong? What horror awaits an almost certainly-doomed happiness?
(Sidenote: Have you ever asked for an update on your friend’s relationship with their significant other and they say, “Yeah, things are just fine.”? Isn’t that boring? Don’t we always want the high drama?)
Or what about a day when you eat healthy during every meal, but you have a cookie before bed? Does that mean the day was a wash? You did a “bad” thing, now none of the good counts? Might as well eat more cookies.
Accepting the In-Between
What do we talk about when things are okay?
What do we think about and tell ourselves when there’s nothing to worry about? No goal to achieve, no mistake to run from?
When everything’s okay—just okay—are we okay to say so?
I’m not advocating underachievement here. Not advocating anything, really. Just trying to write and remind myself (and maybe remind you if you’re still reading) that life isn’t one thing or the other.
Life is a continuum, a guitar string plucked, vibrating every which way.
I’m trying to be okay with that.
I’d love to hear your thoughts…leave a comment below!
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