The feelings accompanying drastic life changes often include dread, anxiety, and stress. These are feelings that I have been all too familiar with recently as I crawled to the finish line of my college graduation and prepared to start the first full time job of my career, all while expecting the birth of my first child. Talk about a lot of big “firsts.” And yet, even in the midst of these gigantic firsts, what I feel most is peace.
Sometimes I wonder how I got here - to feeling calm during such an erratic point in my life. I suspect that it was the journey itself - as well as the lessons that I learned along the way.
Just months ago, I was deep in a mental and emotional slump. I was set to graduate from one of the most highly regarded design schools in the world, but the long, taxing journey to that point had left me jaded, drained, and burnt out. To make matters worse, I was painfully suffering from Imposter Syndrome, feeling like I didn’t belong at this school and that at any moment I would be found to be a fraud. Even continually receiving praise from professors failed to alleviate the feelings of inadequacy that I experienced every day.
From the outside, it appeared that everything was going great for me. I was about to graduate college and begin my career as a designer. I had a great job lined up. I am happily married and had a baby on the way. From the outside it all looked good, but inside, I was feeling down. It was an assumption held by some of my friends and classmates that had me feeling isolated— that since my life appeared to be going great that I certainly had to be feeling great. Eventually I began questioning my own feelings, which only made the pain worse. I felt like I could no longer talk to anybody about the feelings I was experiencing.
I found that I was staying home more and more and purposefully avoiding social gatherings. The quality of my work diminished, and I watched several close friendships disappear. It seemed like I had lost the ability to be a good husband, a good friend, a good son, and was terrified that I would not have the capacity to be a good father. I hid all pain because I felt that it was not legitimized. I had nowhere to turn and talking to other people about this burden felt impossible. I wish somebody would have realized I was not doing as well as I appeared. My lesson learned? Talk to the people close to you. Even if everything seems to be going right for them, you may not know the pain they are experiencing on the inside.
The most pressing, most stressful of all was that I had a daughter just months away from entering the world. While I was incredibly excited to meet her, I wasn’t at all certain that I was ready to be a father.
As the due date grew closer and closer, I realized what the biggest point of concern for me was: it was that I would no longer be completely in control of my life. I had been accustomed to having everything very rigidly scheduled and planned. I absolutely loathed the idea of having to rush to the hospital at any given moment and have no control over when that moment would be. The idea of not being able to plan every detail of the hospital visit was terrifying.
As my wife was about to give birth, I was a complete wreck. For the next few hours, I was in control of nothing and panic set in. But then, something unexpected overwhelmed me—pure bliss.
My daughter arrived and was in my arms. She didn’t care about my schedule or lack of a plan, and I didn’t either. Everything was alright. In fact, everything was perfect. From this point on, my schedule depends entirely on other people. And I am learning to be okay with it.
Until my daughter was born, I had never realized just how selfish I had been nor how selfless I could be. Having a schedule that depends on so many things I cannot control and having someone depend on me for so many things has changed not only my behavior but it has changed my view of the world.
I am working hard at becoming less selfish—the constant evaluation and analyzation of every aspect of another's wants and needs, of their happiness, and of their well-being is changing me. Having a child depend on me for so much has stretched me—stretched me to be aware of not only her needs but to be aware of the needs of others. Stripping myself of some of my selfish attitudes has allowed me to connect with others, to feel what they are feeling, essentially, to become empathic. This newfound ability to see and care for the needs of others has brought an extreme sense of joy and fulfillment to my life.
As the wise Ferris Bueller once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
I had heard people talk about how fast life goes by, but I had never really experienced any sort of sadness or longing for life to slow down—until now—until I became a father. Every time I look at my little girl, she looks older. It’s through her that I’ve learned that each small stage of life is fleeting and that once it’s gone you can never get it back.
I am also learning to love the little things—even inconvenient things. When she wakes me up in the middle of the night, the frustration of lost or a lack of sleep subsides when I look down and see her big blue eyes staring back up at me. I am doing my best to enjoy each and every moment of her life, and in turn, enjoy each and every moment of my own life.
This is all to say that my life has taken some drastic twists and turns over the last few months, and I have come out of the experience with more compassion and empathy than I ever thought I could. For the first time in a long time, my heart feels completely at ease after months of stress and anxiety. Rather than fear change, I’ve chosen to learn from it. To let it teach me how to continuously deal with life’s inevitable shifts. And I hope that by being vulnerable and sharing my journey to these lessons, you can learn something from change, too.