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The Outpost

Recreating Yourself to Find Happiness
By Theresa Potratz
Published December 28, 2020
Recreating yourself

Pausing a second here. It’s been a crazy, very rough, bizarre, and for many, a bad year. The Outpost (this community of creatives [that’s you too BTW]) is a sanctuary of the geeky, pop-culture loving peeps — a place where we come together and celebrate differences, creativity, and nurture hope and reframe the stories we tell ourselves.

With an underlying belief that “iron sharpens iron,” we believe we can think bigger by inspiring your passion to create things.

Internally, the corporate cadence drumming on my systems-driven heart says to write an end of the year reflection and project where we’re going. *Insert a Jeremy Clarkson power meme.* That’s not what this is. It’s not what any of us need, and truthfully, I can’t think of a single corporate end of year reflection that stuck with me longer than the time it took to read it. If anything, this moment feels like an opportunity to take stock and show appreciation for the community that feeds my passion.

You rock. Hard stop. 

Yes. You. 

You’re reading this. You’re a part of this community. And this community? Gah, it is incredible. 

Reframe Your Narrative

There are days where all you want to do is shake off the grit and shackles you’ve been forced to wear throughout the day and simply relax — to let your metaphorical hair down. For a good chunk of readers, that’s through playing board games, reading fantasy novels, or building escape rooms (we see you) because you’re under the weight of the day’s emotions. 

It’s easy to allow your emotions to frame your understanding of who you are. Last night, I watched Startrek Voyager (season 5, episode 5 for those watching at home). Neelix is watching over a little girl while her mother is on an away mission. The mission goes tragically wrong *spoiler alert* and it looks like the crew of three is likely going to die. Believing the end is near, the mother begins to break down at the thought of recording her final words to her daughter and asks someone else to go. 

Meanwhile, Tuvok, a Vulcan, who is also on the mission, removes emotion from the equation. He pauses. Then he voices approval of the people in charge of watching his four kids, saying that he knows he instilled his values in his kids and believes in those safeguarding his offspring. These protections are in place and ensure his children will be okay, regardless of how he feels.

This is why I love Vulcans. Tuvok is ready to die in peace. He is mindfully present. He recognizes the futility in struggle and rests in the knowledge of the work he’s done.

Are we able to do this? Honestly?

It’s tough. Maybe you are like me and believe you’re better at this than you really are. So how do we get better?

Allowing Moments of Downtime

When the lockdowns first hit, like many, I believed they would be short term and saw the opportunity to slow down and improve. Did anyone else meticulously clean the house? Bake through 10 pounds of flour? No? Just me then…

Despite taking advantage of the opportunity to slow down, I ran in the opposite direction. Initially, I saw the downtime as something that needed to get filled. I was used to being busy. The slowness was foreign. I wanted COVID to be a catalyst for six-pack abs and the best gluten-free cinnamon roll recipe and while in many ways it has been incredible, neither stated goal happened and that’s perfectly fine. No one should be surprised about not hitting these goals, because well, they are at complete odds with each other.

recreate yourself and allow downtime
Photo Credit: Unsplash @jontyson

To become more Vulcan (read: present in the moment), I believe we need to acknowledge the drive to fill time, to be busy, comes at the cost of being present. If I am constantly attacking my to-do list, then I am not able to actually make art, be creative, or do anything of emotional merit.

I should acknowledge why we commit to making art. This urge to build something special runs through the heart of us. From an evolutionary standpoint, our desire to make art serves very little purpose. Sure, it elevates our moods and causes us to dream, allowing us to accomplish more, but from a base level, it doesn’t add to our food stores, grant shelter, or keep us safe. 

Smarter people, more well-versed in psychology, would probably mumble something about Maslow’s pyramid. This concept requires us to ensure we have our basic needs met before we can advance to the next tier. 

But is that right?

Maslow’s Pyramid

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was first presented to me as a freshman in college. My professor asked us to think about the busy street outside of the classroom. “Imagine you’re standing on the sidewalk and you have no oxygen,” He started. “On the other side of the road is air. Because this is such a desperate moment, you aren’t going to be able to really check for cars before you dash across the street.” 

While this makes sense, is it a correct way to think? For Maslow — you needed to have all of the initial bits achieved before you could move up that pyramid and be happy — or self-actualized. For my psychology professor, you need to have stable housing and food before you could ponder the grandeur of the universe.  

Can You Be Happy Anywhere? 

At one point in my life, I came across a book titled Four Souls: A Search for Epic Life. It chronicles the journey of four friends taking a trip around the world. One thing they realize over and over, are the poorest people seem to be the most giving, opening their homes and sharing the few resources they have, as the authors work to help out and earn their keep. 

Does this anecdotal evidence have additional support? Do the poorest countries have happier people?

Looking at data, as is my want, two things emerge. First, I am unable to find data to support the claim that the poorest people are happier and secondly, it appears Maslow’s pyramid isn’t as linear as we are led to believe. 

Studying the “gross national happiness” reports, countries at the top are not the poorest or the ones my faulty memory claims the adventurers visited. The top-ranked countries year after year are the Nordic countries (Finland, Denmark, and Switzerland for the literal win). For American-centric readers, we place closer to 20 – it shifts from year to year, but we rarely make it very far from that number 20 spot. 

Countries the authors visited that experienced happy people rank as high as 50. 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ends up being more fluid than we realize. While the five tiers can be broken down into basic needs, physiological needs, and topped with self-fulfillment requirements, people tend to have a mix of everything. It’s not as if you have to have level one: housing/food/clothes secured before you hit that next “Achievement Unlocked” banner in your soul. 

When I pit the ideas of happiness and recreating yourself against each other, I see these are largely the same.

Well, at least they should be. 

If you are going to recreate yourself, I hope it would be to ensure you are happier. Of course, there are other motivators. You might chase after money or revenge, but my experience reading comic books and watching action movies shows those are hollow. 

Yup. I totally based my understanding of psychology on “Spiderman” and “Die Hard.” Moving on… 

What do we need to be happy?

In the book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin does a fabulous job of breaking down the components of happiness and applying them to her life. She takes one contributor to happiness and spends a month attempting to live it out. She focused on exercise, gratitude, and more. 

Rubin straight up makes a chore chart for herself and logs her attempts to live a happier life. The end result? She discovers happiness is largely based on taking care of what we have and who we are, which leads me to my next point.  

Perception is Reality 

How we perceive the world around us informs what we view as reality. A while ago, I was cruising LinkedIn and saw a post that I can’t find now. The poster was the CEO of a tech start-up. He commented that he recently reached out to someone to recruit them for an open role he had. The candidate responded with, “no. Thank you. I’m at the top of my career right now.” 

This blew the CEO’s mind. According to him, this candidate was nowhere near the top. Yet the candidate persisted with saying something along the lines of “getting to create in his current role, making (if only slightly) more money than he needed, and felt respected at work.” For him – he was at the pinnacle of his career. 

With this mindset, there is nothing a recruiter can say to get this happy employee to leave. He is at the top of his career. 

Even Villains Believe in Their Virtue

Our narratives are crucial to who we are, what we do, and our self-worth. In the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie tells the story of a cop killer who dies in a brutal shootout with police. When authorities discover the man’s body, they see his bloody handwritten note, talking about this murder’s high opinion of himself. 

He viewed himself as kind. He was loving. 

Meanwhile, I know I beat myself up for minor errors. I’m not alone. Many of us have similar internal monologues when we think about our days and missteps. It’s a sharp contrast to the note of a “loving man” who shot a police officer in cold blood in a routine traffic stop. 

Yet, here we are. 

Al Capone viewed himself as a person who tried to help the common man and give them what they wanted.

If both of these examples, of admittedly not the best society has to offer, view themselves as good people, how much more so should you and I? 

Closing in on Your Best Life

The year 2020 is a year many of us can’t close out fast enough. It’s pushed many to the limit. And as I find myself here, all I can do is think about what happiness is and how if I relax, allow myself to sit in the moment, I find the peace that allows me the space to process better. 

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe in the rush of constantly moving you feel a burden to be better, do more, and it’s rarely satisfying. The race moves me from obstacle to obstacle without a breath of gratitude. 

When I pause, I realize I am fortunate. My needs are met. My desires will always be there. If I am logical, like a Vulcan, I can rest and realize I am enough. I have enough. This inner fulfillment is what gives me the space to continue growing. It’s not based on a desperate need to advance. It comes from a centered place of contentment. 

Of course, there is always room to be a better person, but if great villains do not view themselves as awful people, why should I? Shouldn’t I give myself more space to be human and make errors? If I do, will that give me the greater latitude to achieve that next rung, anyway? My ultimate goal, like I suspect your’s, is to recreate myself to live a fuller, happier life. 

The best way I see to do that is to express gratitude for where I am and what I have, give myself room to grow and learn (while also giving that same room to others), and seeing the good in the world. By slowing down, I create room for creativity. This room allows me to unpack and build new ideas out to the best of my ability. And, I suspect these same tactics are crucial for you as well. 

I’ve gone on long enough. What helps you reframe and recreate yourself? How do you get the space you need to build the things you want? 

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