Donald Miller recently shared a really good post called “What Are the 3 Things That Create a Meaningful Life?”
He starts off with a quote from psychologist Viktor Frankl: “When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.”
Any spouse of a working expatriate knows this is true.
You’ll distract yourself with shopping, eating, or vegging out in front of a TV or computer — all because you’re not only uncomfortable, you feel like you don’t have a purpose anymore.
There was one instance when Michael flew back to the US for a week while I stayed behind in Delhi. Absolute worst week of my life. Without Michael there, the full weight of my lack of purpose in Delhi hit me like a ton of bricks. Who did I get up for every morning? Who did I do dishes for? Who did I wash and iron clothes for? What was I doing in Delhi?
Who needed me in that big, chaotic, foreign city?
I remember when Michael finally got back to the apartment, all I could do was cry. Some of it was because I missed him, but most of it was out of desperate awareness that without Michael, I truly had no reason to be in India. NOT a healthy realization to have.
And it triggered a season of depression and insomnia that I have not experienced before or since.
Obviously I learned A TON from that experience, but the most important lesson was my need to intentionally seek out opportunities to express my talents and skills.
So after we moved back to the States I literally craved creative opportunities. It felt like the artistic part of me had been stifled for a year and a half and I was hungry for new and challenging things to put my hands to.
So I made stuff:
(Glitter Adventure’s Exploding Box Instructions)
And I painted:
(Crafts by Amanda White Cherry Blossom Tree Painting)
And I built stuff:
(Shanty-2-Chic DIY Wood Storage Crate Instructions)
(The Family Handyman’s Cutting Board Rack)
And I decorated (obviously after painting some more):
And I made wreathes:
And I made candles:
And I taught myself how to knit:
(Left: “Rosa” Knit Scarf Pattern by Anne Schulz on Ravelry)
(Right: “Thick Ribbed Hat” Knit Pattern by Brooke Snow on Ravelry)
And I started to finally find creative ways to display and store our keepsakes:
(Left: Ben Franklin Crafts and Frame Shop: “How-to: Photo Transfer to Wood”)
(Right: Kayla Danelle’s blog post: “Keeping Your Cards”)
And I painted some more again:
And I built some more stuff:
And you know what? I felt alive. I felt myself growing. I felt like I mattered. I felt like I had something to offer that was unique and represented a little bit of who I am.
I don’t think it’s just because I’m a “creative” or “artsy” person. I think e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e is born with a need to build, imagine, and create. It’s empowering to be able to make something beautiful or useful.
And it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, perfection is a really lousy and suffocating goal to force on yourself. (And trust me, I am a type-a, anal retentive perfectionist, so I know what it’s like to make excuses that you’re not good enough to try something new because you’re scared to try and fail.)
Every single project I have completed so far has at least one or two mistakes. Unless it was something I knew would bug the absolute living daylights out of me every time I looked at it, I just moved on. I did not allow myself to equate mistakes with failing.
I want to excel at whatever I try, but sometimes the most excellent goal to have is to simply finish what you started and enjoy the process of learning something new.
I have no idea what our lives will look like once we’re living in Mexico City (which is totally happening and a little scary), but I at least feel better about finding ways to add value during our time there.
I recently joined a knitting group for expat women that meets twice a month in the D.F. area, so I’m excited about that. The verdict is still out on bringing the miter saw, but I do know they have Home Depot in the city. Either way, it sounds like I’ll still be able to find all sorts of creative trouble to get into during round two of living abroad. 🙂