December 28, 2016

Life Satisfaction


It is Wednesday, December 28, 2016. It is a good day in chilly and cloudy, Phoenix. It is gray outside, and for the most part, it looks a bit like “rain.” I am not sure if our weather forecast calls for rain today or not, but from my brief stint outside (to take the garbage out), I would say it sure looks like it could rain. Here’s hoping we see some wet stuff this good, good day!

I passed a good night last night, despite the fact that I didn’t fall asleep until well after 12:30 a.m. I had sciatica pain all day yesterday, and needless to say, I lost productivity because it was so uncomfortable to sit at the computer. Still, I did get some work done during the day, but most of my evening was spent laying on the bed. Finally, I did some stretching, and that seemed to help relieve the pain and pressure on my nerve. I think I drifted off to sleep in the early morning hours, and well, I eventually woke around 8:30 this morning. I feel better today, less pain, less strain, but still not as if I can go 10-rounds with my desk chair today.

I am praying the Lord covers my research progress this good day. I am asking for His intervention in order to make progress today. I need His help, and I am trusting Him to provide it to me. I cannot do this work on my own, and frankly, I cannot do it in the time I have left — so the Lord MUST — help me! He must help me or else I don’t know what I will do. Sigh!

Choosing This Day

I woke up this morning thinking about my life, about where I am and about where I hope to be in 2017. You know, New Years, is right around the corner, and for many of us, this fact means that it is time to write down goals or resolutions for the upcoming year. I don’t really have any goals or resolutions outside my “normal” ones. I have my school, of course, and then there is the search for full-time work; but other than these two goals, everything else — my focus and my attention — is centered on the business of living (paying bills, making ends meet, caring for the ins and outs of my daily life).

This morning, however, as I was reading social media, I came across a Ted Talk where the presenter discussed finding your “calling,” and suggested that to do so wasn’t a matter of falling into it, but rather “fighting for it.” I thought the approach was novel, interesting, and yes, even in some ways, spot on. What surprised me more than the good talk itself was the negative comments posted about the talk, and the sheer number of people who blamed privileged white folks for keeping them from “finding their calling.” In many ways, the threads were filled with an overwhelming number of people who said they were “too poor,” “too X color,” or “too late” to do anything but focus on making money. A few people posted that they had sacrificed money, prestige, and other “musts” in order to find their calling, and these people shared that they were deeply satisfied in their work. What struck me most was that the majority of people dissed the presentation for failing to include material satisfaction as part of a “calling” and that, “helping people or serving others,” had nothing whatsoever to do with life satisfaction.

I thought the whole thread, the whole discussion, was fascinating from a religious, spiritual, and sociocultural perspective simply because there is research, and I mean, RESEARCH out there that clearly shows that material satisfaction plays little role in complete life satisfaction. Study after study has shown that helping others is a sure-fire way to increase life satisfaction as well as happiness. Furthermore, study after study has shown that people who seek material wealth, who are interested only in how much a job pays, have by far the least satisfaction in life. It didn’t take me long to realize that the majority of people posting negative comments on this Ted Talk thread were dissatisfied with life because they didn’t make enough money (or what they think is enough) to be happy. Yes, clearly, these people had placed the pursuit of money as a goal, and in doing so, were feeling the rub of dissatisfaction as they realized that they will never have enough money to change their life circumstances or even make their life better. In short, money or the pursuit of it, had let them down, and rather than name the responsible party correctly (choosing a better goal), they blamed everyone and everything else. The truth is that their aim missed the target (money), and as a result, they did not have what they hoped for, and as such, they are disappointed in life. Life sucks.

As I thought about how disappointed these people were in their life, I realized that the reason they were unhappy was simply because they had chosen their life goals poorly. Yes, these people had set goals that were impossible to achieve, set priorities that required sacrifice beyond what they were able to give, and decided to pursue ideas and dreams rather than concrete reality. Please understand that I am not saying that pursuing ideas or dreams is a bad thing because I am not. I am simply suggesting that if you pursue a dream of becoming a doctor but you can’t pass basic science and math courses, well, the dream is not likely to come to pass. You can, of course, overcome these setbacks, study harder, get help, etc., but in the end, if you cannot pass the required courses necessary to even be accepted to medical school, the likelihood that you will become a doctor is slim to nil. Reality, rationality, and realistic goal setting is vitally important when it comes to choosing a career or any significant or important achievement in life.

I can tell you that less than 6% of all people (all people) today hold PhD’s. Yes, this is true. There are fewer PhD’s in the world than any other degreed equivalent. Why? Well, some might say that it is because only privileged white people can become a PhD (false) or that only the upper class have the resources to become a PhD (false). Some might argue that only those with time on their hands or those who can give up eight years of their life, who do not have families, jobs, or other commitments can become a PhD (all false). There are oodles of reasons why so few people attempt a PhD, but the real reason is that it takes hard work, A LOT OF HARD WORK and it takes SACRIFICE (a lot of it), and most people simply are not interested or willing to put forth the effort. On top of the hard work and sacrifice, it also takes intelligence, and not just book smarts, but real intelligence, critical thinking ability, and the desire to create ideas, to create new ways of seeing the world. The majority of PhDs are involved in research, and through their research, they are creating new information. This process of creating new information is difficult, and at times, all-consuming. For many people, the desire for a PhD fails to motivate them to take the steps necessary to actually pursue one.

Life Satisfaction

What is life satisfaction? According to Positive Psychology (2015), life satisfaction is a, “Complex term and is sometimes used interchangeably with the emotion of happiness, but they are indeed two separate concepts. Life satisfaction is defined as one’s evaluation of life as a whole, rather then the feelings and emotions that are experienced in the moment” (para. 1). More over, the Life Satisfaction Index, which rates how people evaluate their life states, “Life satisfaction measures how people evaluate their life as a whole rather than their current feelings.” (para. 1). According to their studies, people in the United States rate their life satisfaction at 6.9 (on a scale of 0-10). The higher the number on the scale, the greater the overall evaluation, which suggests that people consider their life as satisfying more than they consider it unsatisfying. Furthermore, since life satisfaction rates overall experience, it considers many different factors.
The OECD Better Life Index for the U.S. ranked higher income and education as number one priority for American women, aged 45-55. Number three priorities included jobs, safety, health, housing, environment and life satisfaction. Interestingly, civic engagement and community were ranked number 10 and l1, respectively. In comparison, women, aged 35-44 in the United Kingdom ranked life satisfaction as number 1 along with education, health, safety, and work-life balance. Income and jobs were ranked 7. While not a spot on match, what this shows is where people, women in particular, place priorities in life. And, if life satisfaction is an evaluation of everything necessary to live — then where you live greatly can influence your choices, goals, and aspirations. More so, how you think about your life has a direct impact on your attitude and your evaluation of satisfaction. Chompoo (2015) writes, "Our past experiences undoubtedly effect the way we think about our lives in terms of satisfaction. Establishing a satisfying life for yourself is not decided only by circumstances; it is also influenced by the way you think about and relate to the environment around you” (p. 1).

I will give way to the naysayers who place income and education as number one priorities because, frankly, this is overarching theme or drive of the world we live in. However, we cannot always control these two aspects of life, thus to base one’s life satisfaction on how much money they earn or the level of education they achieve, seems to negate the other positive influences that can directly improve the overall evaluation of life. Building relationships with the one’s you love, for example, can improve your sense of well-being. Writing your life story, and sharing it with others, is another way to increase your satisfaction. And, most importantly, realizing that satisfaction in life is controllable, and that while some situations cannot be changed easily, our attitude about them and even our willingness to accept them, can have great impact on how we feel about our life (Chompoo, 2015).

In my view, the latter is what is most important. How we think about our life can directly relate to satisfaction or a sense of happiness, wellness, and general satisfaction. Thus, when we focus on what we can change, we are moving toward happiness and satisfaction. When we focus on what we cannot change, we remain stagnated in negative experiences and in thoughts that tell us our life is not what we wanted. In truth, while I will not say that we control all our choices in life, the fact remains that we control many of our choices. How well we choose can also directly influence our life satisfaction. For example, choosing to remain in a negative work environment simply because one believes there is no other option for them cannot only be depressing, but it can negatively impact their health. The same is true for relationships that are toxic. Choosing to stick with a relationship in order to preserve family ties or with the hope of changing the other person, not only will not result in happiness, but it can cause increased harm to one’s self-esteem, self-worth, and self-valuation. In short, we can control many things that impact our daily life, and often, we choose not to change our life because we are afraid of what the outcome might bring.

Making Good Decisions

How then can we make good decisions when we are stuck in bad situations?

One of the most difficult aspects of decision-making is having to make choices in the midst of turmoil, pain or sorrow. It is a fact that our judgment is most clouded when we are emotionally invested in a relationship or in some situation whereby we feel obligated to remain. For example, I worked in a job many years ago where I held a very important position in a high-tech company. I was relied on, looked to, and generally favored by my peers, my supervisors, and my subordinates. I loved my job, but the work-life balance and environment were toxic to me. Over time, I began to feel the ill effects of working in this place, and as the environment became more and more unstable, my role in the company began to flux. I lost my position, my power, and my praise simply as the tide of leadership changed. My love for the job turned into hate, and in a very short amount of time, I came to see the reality of my position. I was a work horse for the company, and what was more, I realized that my bosses knew it. I saw how they had used me, abused me, and under the guise of praise, had told me how much I was “needed,” valued and wanted. Yet, all of this praise was not genuine. It didn’t happen over night, but once I started to think outside the box, to desire more than my present circumstance, and begin to look for other opportunities, I realized just how worn down I had become the longer I stayed in this toxic place. Furthermore, I realized that as I listened to the lies of those in power over me, I began to lose all sense of reality, of fairness, of justice, and of truth. Consequently, I knew that if I did not make a sharp change — change environments — I would succumb to either a physical or a mental breakdown.

What was so difficult for me was processing the fact that I had worked for this company for almost six years. During this time, I had devoted my life to the company, and I had made such sacrifices because I believed they were worth making. Moreover, I had good friends in the company, and the pay, the location, everything about it, seemed so good for me. But, I was miserable inside, and I was ill from the stress of the work place. Day in and day out, I was miserable. I was the go-to person, the one on call, and even with sick leave and vacation leave, my time off never made up for the daily toxic cocktail that was brewing inside this place. I was sick, and I was becoming more ill as the days wore on.

In 1991, I made the difficult decision to leave this coveted job, when I stepped out in faith and returned to school. I had returned to school, part-time, in 1990, with the hope of completing my bachelor’s degree. I thought my BA degree would help me land a better position in the company or that it might simply open doors for me in another company. But, after returning to class, my eyes opened for the first time, and I began to see the world as being much larger than my corporate job, much larger than my little worldview. It was after a couple semesters when my advisor took me aside and said that I would not be able to finish my degree unless I went to school “full-time.” Back then, this meant to commit to campus classes, M-F, for several semesters. The decision to leave my job, a job where I believed I was needed, and where I made decent money was very difficult. However, the more I began to develop my perspective outside this company, the more I realized that my future was within my control; I realized that I could direct my future simply by choosing a different or alternate path in life.

In hindsight, I look back on that decision, and I realize that it was the best choice I could have made. I saved myself (well, the Lord did) from physical depletion, and the next one-half years were beyond blessing to me. I loved school! I loved everything about school, and as such, I threw myself into my studies, committing to excellent grades, and to exploring new ideas, opportunities, and possibilities. I also recovered physically, mentally, and emotionally from the strain of working 60-70 hours a week, and even though I didn’t get to finish graduate school once I completed my BA, I did grow as a person. I learned so much about myself, my ideals, my visions, and my desires simply by changing my path, by choosing to do something different with my life. More so, as I came to know myself better, I began also to believe in myself. I found new power, and I became empowered by the pursuit of knowledge, of ideas, of theories, and through my increased cognitive abilities, I realized that hard work and effort could work together to radically change the outcome of my life.

For me, making the decision to leave a job I hated and return to school was my “tipping point.” It was the point “a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change” (Dictionary.com). In a larger context, a tipping point is where change can no longer be stopped. The moment I made the decision to quit my job and return to school full-time, I put into motion a series of events that directly influenced and impacted my life for the greater good. Yes, I didn’t complete my goal as I had planned (to get my PhD), but over the ensuing years, the goal has still been a part of my hopes and dreams for my future life. And, today, I sit here blogging as I think that in just 3-4 months, my goal of a PhD will become a reality.  Thus, I can say that this was one of the best decisions I made in my life.

Making Choices for 2017

Now, I am thinking more about the choices I will need to make for 2017 and beyond. With my PhD in hand, I have a number of options, but no real potential offers yet. I know that I will be ready to work full-time, and that means that I will be open to relocating for a job as soon as the option is available for me. One thing is for sure — I cannot keep on working adjunct in perpetuity. I need full-time, salaried, benefitted and retirement-invested work. Yes, I need one position only — one position, one school — and not all these piecemeal positions. I am thankful for them, don’t get me wrong, but I cannot sustain this work-life balance for much longer. My life needs some steadiness, and that means steady employment. Furthermore, without a full-time position, I really cannot be settled — as in set — on where to live or even where to go to live. I remain in flux, in stasis, in transition, and that is not a place where I am comfortable living longterm. 

My hope and my prayer is that the Lord will bring me opportunities that will help get me to that next level, that next position. I am eager and excited for my future, but right now, my future seems so tentative, so uncertain. I know the Lord has a great plan for me, but it is so hard to stay focused, to stay committed to this way when there is such open-endedness around me.

Thankfully, the Lord knows my needs. He has me well-covered, and He knows that I panic over uncertainty, over this whole “unknown.” Just this morning, I was praying to the Lord, and His Spirit put thoughts into my head to ask for confirmation on my path, confirmation on the way I am to go. I wasn’t sure what I was even saying, but I went with His inspiration, and I asked the Lord to provide confirmation to me regarding my career (teaching), the place He intends to settle me (relocation), and the provision He intends to use to help me manage my daily life (resources, jobs, etc.). After I finished praying, I sat back down at the computer and checked my email. I noticed an email from the Faculty Head of the Writer’s Studio where I had applied this past summer. This is a major public university in my town, and while I didn’t get that position (online), I was surprised to see an email asking me if I would be interested in more part-time work. My first inclination was to say, “No, thanks!” I mean, I am already overworked. I have more work than I can handle, and frankly, more adjunct just isn’t what I want, need, or desire right now. However, as I thought about my response, I couldn’t help but remember that just 30 minutes before I had prayed to the Lord and asked for confirmation on my career/calling. I had asked for full-time work, one job, and for some confirming activity that would help me know that I was walking in the right direction. So, this option isn’t the best thing for me, but still it is confirmation. I have a call with this person in 10 minutes, just to learn more about it, and to see if it is online or campus. I am in a confident position, but I cannot take on more on-campus work this spring. I can possibly take on some online teaching, but in small doses. “We will just have to wait and see” as the saying goes.

So what does this mean for me? I think it simply means that the Lord is definitely moving behind the scenes for me. He is moving to make my life come into focus, and all my prayers have been heard. Yes, He has me covered, and that means that everything I have heard Him say to me is true. He has a place for me (as in job), and He has a plan as to where I will live (relocate), and that in time (in His time), He will make everything clear. I simply need to be patient and wait for His lead, to wait for Him to open the next door.

In Closing

As I close out this blog post, I am reminded of His faithfulness. The Lord is not slow when it comes to His promises. Often, we see His slowness (as it appears to us), and we think He is not actively working our case. Of course, this is not true, but from our perspective, it certainly can appear as such. Yet, the Lord is actively working our case, so to speak, but from His perspective, He is also working the cases of individuals with whom we interact. He is moving hearts and minds and lives of people, many people, in a masterful way that incorporates not just our lives, but the lives of everyone involved. It is like a grand game of chess, and in order to be successful, every piece on the board must be sequenced and activated toward the end game. This is what He is doing in and through our lives, and we must be patient and wait for our turn to move. We cannot simply move on our own, because if we do, we run the risk of changing the game plan, upending the board, or worse yet, losing the game entirely.

I am thinking today that the Lord has this game all figured out. I am simply His knight, His rook, His Queen, and as such, He moves the pieces and counteracts His opponents charges with one aim in mind — Kingdom win. Yes, He is focused on bringing His kingdom to victory, and to bring His people home.

Update — December 28, 2016

Well, it looks like I will be adding another school to my roster this spring. Baring my reference checks not panning out, I should begin teaching at our local public university as part of the pool of associate faculty for their Writer’s Studio. I cannot believe that it is true, and frankly, I am a little bit stunned by it all, but the Lord has this figured out. For now, that makes five schools — three online — and all with different accents on compositional studies. How did I get here, you might ask? Well, the Lord has seen to it to provide a way for me, and that way is clearly through English. I am blessed, overly blessed, ashamed of my foolishness and my unwillingness to believe Him and to take Him at His word, but there you have it. My confirmation, affirmation, and provision has been made manifest in one-fell swoop. He is good. He is faithful. He is my King, my Lord, and my Shepherd. Amen! So be it, thy will be done!

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