Walk With Me (#44): Who Do I Want To Be?

an advice column for folks who don’t like to be told what to do

Dear Asha,

Lockdown, shelter in place, stay at home, mask up, social distance, physical distance — 6 feet, 3 feet. Work from home. School on Zoom. Collective and personal grief. Has it been awful ? Yes. Have there been moments of joy? Yes.

I have loved staying home with no plans, no packed weekends, which is not to say I don’t miss going out to dinner or to a movie. But pre-pandemic weekends often included a soccer game, a dinner out, and schlepping kids all over town.

I think I have learned a lot, which I am still figuring out, but first is: I like staying home. We all are better cooks. I like my family and I like not having a hectic schedule.

Now I find myself asking: Where do I want to go? How do I want to use my new learnings? When the world opens again… who do I want to be?

FSO

Dear FSO,

I don’t think you are alone in experiencing the mandated closing down of the world during the pandemic as a personal opening. I think, especially for those of us in our forties and fifties, who grew up pre-internet, pre-cell phones, pre-cable tv, pre-everything rushing so incredibly fast all the time, we have concrete, visceral memories of a life that moved at an infinitely slower pace.

We got dragged into this new, faster reality as we moved into adulthood, and our kids know no other reality, but over the last year, we’ve been forced to realize that the pre-pandemic reality was a choice. That choice had consequences, and we may not want to bear those consequences anymore.

Plenty of people in the world aren’t connected to the internet 24/7. Plenty of people spend more time at home, with their families as their primary social unit, than they do out and about in the world. Plenty of people grow and cook their own food. Plenty of people do not text, email, spend much time on social media, or watch tv on a daily basis.

All of these are choices we make. Society, of course, tells us they’re not choices, that if we don’t stay constantly connected, consuming, running, that we will miss something vital and our lives will be less meaningful and satisfying.

I have known various people in my life who eschewed much of the hyper-connectedness and manic busyness of modern life. They have been farmers, homesteaders, contemplatives, adventurers, parents, children. Not one of them has been lacking in vitality or a sense of meaning or satisfaction in their life. What they have all universally been was two-fold: extraordinarily present and remarkably disinterested in consumption as a way of being.

The modern way of life in the United States is one that keeps us constantly off-center, convinced our current state of being isn’t quite good enough, that the next thing we buy, the next online “connection” we make, the next piece of content/news article/post/blog will provide us with some magic something that will make it all make sense, but it never does.

I hope you watched The Social Dilemma during lockdown, and if you haven’t you should go do that as soon as possible. The reality is that over a remarkably short span of time we have allowed our time and attention to be stolen for the benefit of a tiny group of people. We have become constant, unconscious consumers.

And look, I like social media and connectedness as much as the next person. The thing it was supposedly created to do, which was to make it easier for us all to keep track of each other, enhances my life. I have reinitiated relationships with folks from earlier eras of my life that I love and benefit from daily. Texting makes it easier to stay connected to my kids. Email provides a platform for my writing to get to people that might not otherwise see it.

It’s not the technology, in and of itself, that is the problem, but how we use it, and the ways in which it is designed to encourage our constant engagement.

What I hope for all of us in the wake of this pandemic is that having had the mechanisms of our society laid bare in all of their naked greed and exploitation we will think very carefully about how we want to rejoin the fray. More of us will work from home if that’s what suits us. More of us will seek a smaller, more deeply connected social circle. More of us, when we move out in the world, will actually notice the service workers (and teachers!) who have been laboring, with little support and at risk to their own safety, to keep the basic infrastructure of our lives moving through all of this. More of us will take a strong, consistent stand against white supremacy. More of us will think about the necessity of wage justice, universal healthcare, and community-based mutual support.

More of us will slow down and think critically, every time we are confronted with an opportunity to engage or consume, Will this lead me to more connection, more gratitude, a deeper relationship with the world and the actual, physically present people around me? Or will it leave me with less energy, money, and time, with relatively little that is lasting and meaningful to show for it?

Keep asking yourself these big questions: Where do I want to go? How do I want to use what I know now? Who do I want to be? These are questions that don’t ever have final answers, only temporary ones, and that’s okay. Focus on the asking, not the outcome. Take your time. Be deliberate and intentional. Enjoy the process.

Thank you for walking this journey with me. Love to you and yours.

XO, Asha

Do you have a question about relationships, sex, parenting, politics, spirituality, community? Send them to me at ashasanaker@gmail.com with the subject line “Walk With Me”. Let’s walk each other home.

Want to walk further together? Subscribe for free to my newsletter on Substack, “Let Your Life Speak”.

Asking questions, telling stories, giving my people information they can use to make change happen.

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