Updated: Jan 18
It has been quite some time since I quit my job. I no longer have an excellent compensation package that allows me the comforts of the fancy things I was accustomed to having while I was working. I have also lost the feeling of being respected, having control of my time and surroundings in the workplace, and other benefits that came with my job that added a false sense of satisfaction to my life.
The other morning, I realized that I had not had a genuine smile for as long as I can remember. "When was the last time I actually smiled?" I asked myself. I had grown used to not smiling, so the thought had never occurred to me until recently.
You might be thinking to yourself: are you serious? You did not smile at all while working a respectable job that others would be jealous of and having the admiration of your coworkers for all those years? What about all the expensive luxury items and unique opportunities that came about? Did those not make you smile either?
Well, to be honest, I did find it in me to force a smile if necessary or hold my lips in an upward curve to resemble a smile if the time called for it, but otherwise, no, I was rarely seen with even a slight grin. I often felt stressed, anxious, and fearful of what was to come if I wasn't prepared or in control. Feelings of inner peace and naturally smiling were not familiar to me.
I was once the kind of person that people viewed as a perfectionist. I needed everything done in a certain way and by a specified time. At the time, I did not understand it, but looking back, I was in an unhealthy relationship with myself and my need for everything perfect.
My life was planned in minute timeframes. For example, I allowed myself ten minutes for specific tasks to be completed, meetings needed to be concluded within 30 minutes, and I only had two minutes for emails to be sent. Minutes between events and activities were also accounted for. I created a strict schedule, and I was determined to keep it no matter what was happening around me.
I had an uncomfortable feeling that if I did not do everything this way, the Earth would disappear, and the worst things in the universe would pour on my head. I am not sure if I truly believed the whole planet Earth would disappear, I would be the only survivor long enough for the universe to find me guilty and then punish me to the full extent, but that fear is pretty comparable to my thoughts in my head. I would frequently keep myself up all night as I recounted my minutes for the day, week, month, and year.
I was determined to optimize every single minute of every single day. There was always something that could be done and a better way to do it to save time for something else, followed by something else, and so on. It was an endless battle to try and always stay ahead and stay on time.
The more I tried to perfect my working day, the more depressed I became, but I could not stop. I did not want to know what would happen if I didn't try one day.
My focus on time and task optimization ultimately stole those would-have-been-great weekends from my family. It is ironic; I was always trying to save time but ended up losing the time that mattered most.
If I spent 15 or 30 minutes watching a funny Youtube video that randomly showed up on my page, I would feel incredibly guilty for misusing my time.
I was insecure, anxious, depressed, and scared. And the worst was, I spread all those things, feelings, and suffering to the people around me. My family, friends, and coworkers did not need to take on my personal feelings.
I was reaching a point of desperation and felt pathetic inside. How could I have let this happen?
This morning, things are different for me. I have been caught smiling, a natural smile, without even noticing I was doing it. I don't have to force myself to fake a smile or pretend anymore.
This morning, I am not reading any funny stories or watching humorous YouTube videos, but my mind is at peace, and I am smiling. My mind is calm, and I am indeed smiling. The simplest of things will bring a smile to my face. I no longer need outside influences to trigger a happy reaction within my thoughts to be forcefully expressed on my face. I no longer have a guilty conscience if I watch a funny YouTube video or two.
Years ago, I watched Zen Master Thay Thich Nhat Hanh's mindfulness lessons about staying in the moment of presence. Being in the moment of presence is a poetic way of saying being here and now. The Zen Master taught me how to be mindful and focused on what is happening at this moment, not what happened yesterday, last year, or what could happen tomorrow or next year. It took me a while to understand and apply what the Zen Master Thay Thich Nhat Hanh's lessons were teaching. Today, I am putting what I have learned to good use and staying in my present moment. I am not distracted by my past and not worried about my future.
"Waking up this morning, I smile" is a quote I heard from the Zen Master Thay Thich Nhat Hanh when he was the primary guest on a talk show I enjoy watching. This sound-simple sentence really intrigued me. Could it be that simple, wake up and smile?
The quote and my curiosity woke something deep down inside me that had been lost for so many years. I knew right then that I had to do something, anything. I no longer wanted only to exist. I had to make a change if I wanted to live an authentic life.
Now, this morning,
I take everything slowly.
I calmly take steps while walking; it's no longer a race against myself.
I slowly make a cup of coffee for myself and bathe in the aroma of freshly pressed coffee grounds.
I express gratitude for what and who I have in my life.
I no longer try to optimize every minute of every day.
I let everything be the way it is naturally and watch in awe as life happens on its own.
I choose quality time with my friends and family, not a predetermined quantity of time.
I deeply listen to every single word in my daughter's stories and say thanks for every moment I get with her.
Waking up this morning, I smiled, and I felt that everything smiled with me.
Calm. Peaceful. Inspired