I have come to a stage in my life where I realize that one of the main reasons I have worked so hard is to be secure and safe. We are immigrants and my parents grew up poor and survival was utmost on their mind. Even when they arrived in the United States, they continued to work hard and earn more money than they needed, not trusting the vagaries of fate. I pursued an education and career that was most meaningful to me. Almost eighteen years into it, I find that my own attachment to security keeps me from taking enough time off, or expanding my specialties and more fully pursuing music, art, gardening, sports and travel. Anytime I want to devote extra time and money for these endeavors, I feel guilty that I am indulging and not working on developing my career and building greater financial stability. When my business slows down a bit, I start to fear that things will not be okay. Then I become more afraid of taking extra time off. As I get older, I feel the loss of not enjoying my interests. Yet, I feel trapped in my need to keep succeeding.
This is not an uncommon dilemma at your age and with the background of being an immigrant. You seem to have an added fear of things falling apart. Where might that be coming from? Your parents’ world view was greatly shaped by their economic and generational conditions. How much of their interests included much of what you are talking about? Did they have to give up some of these joys of life to survive and raise their children? If so, those choices and changes in lifestyle were a part of your family upbringing. As you feel these urges to expand in various ways, you hit up against your conditioning and the gravity of your survival drive pulls you back. The fact that you are noticing this dilemma in your life, is a great beginning. Without this awareness you would simply be knocked around by these forces.
You need to redefine the meaning of success for yourself. Besides career development and financial stability, it needs to include fulfillment of other interests, more freedom and time, and using your resources to grow, learn and enjoy yourself in ways that are meaningful to you. You have worked hard enough to deserve this. Think of money as energy to create what you want in your life. Security without creativity, fun and fulfillment is dry and ordinary and can make people feel depressed and bored. Life loses its juice and luster; it becomes a task instead of an adventure. For whatever reason you are in a fortunate and privileged position to have these choices. Be grateful. Start small by taking one music class at a time that doesn’t interfere much with work. See how that feels and expand from there. Slowly stretching yourself to stop obsessing about security and letting go into your dreams will change your life.
Those people who live full lives, exploring new things and taking risks, find aging less empty and sorrowful. Approaching death does not bring up heavy regrets or lead to existential despair. Rather, they feel more satisfied in having lived a full life and are letting go with feelings of gratitude and ease.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com