This week I went to a ceremony for new judges being welcomed to the BC Supreme Court, as a friend of mine was appointed to the bench just prior to the start of the pandemic. We had been invited to this ceremony back in March of 2020, but of course it was cancelled in that flurry of early days when no one knew what they could or should do in the face of a deadly virus. Walking the Vancouver streets at rush hour on Monday I noted that even with many activities having resumed, the city is not nearly as busy as it was when I still lived there and went from office to home by public transit or bicycle every day.
This becoming-a-judge thing seemed like a big enough deal to travel over for, to see this old friend in their robes in an official proceeding, and congratulate them in person. I am impressed, of course. It’s not a simple thing to achieve this kind of social standing – and it’s a big commitment to public/civil life. As a judge, you give up a certain right to a private life in the sense that what you do reflects on the office, which is a big responsibility to carry around.
When I was in regional union leadership, I felt a shadow of this in my own life. Putting oneself in front of others in any capacity invites appraisal and criticism after all, and I found that aspect of leadership exhausting. I also found that my time was no longer my own, and that the role demanded I spend time with a people who I sometimes didn’t like very much. At a certain point I had enough, and I left union leadership at that level to pursue a Master’s degree and spend time with my partner and his child – all things that were much more satisfying to me on a day to day level than flying back and forth across the country and living out of hotels. It was 100% a choice that I made – to step out of office and off the treadmill of political ambition – nothing that was forced on my through losing an election or any other mechanism.
And yet…… sometimes when I see people in political or civic office these days, I feel a kind of envy, or perhaps it’s more that I feel like I have not done enough with my life. I’m not really sure if that’s the right way to describe the feeling. What do we call it when we feel we have not achieved anything of importance in our lives? And further, what do we call that feeling when it is groundless – based on social ideas that we don’t find particularly relevant to our own beliefs about society and how life should be lived? I feel like there must be a Japanese word that describes this combination of envy and disdain for accolades of life, but when I Google that phrase nothing turns up.
I have long struggled with the feeling of not being enough, and having quit my big career opportunity in May (for excellent reasons and I am not sorry I did), I am once again facing feelings of inadequacy. It’s ridiculous, as my partner likes to point out, especially as I have a good job to return to and another opportunity that I’m trying out at the moment. I want for nothing material, nor do I want to make more money or have more things. But I suppose it comes down to being at this mid-point of life, almost fifty, and wondering if anything I do is relevant, or carries weight outside of my own tiny sphere. The answer to that is not really, but that is true for almost all of us on the planet, and so I’m not sure why it should be any different for me.
My union is having its convention virtually this week and I’ve been watching the speeches and debates off and on in the background while working. I know everyone running for office, having worked with most of them in years past, and I know what it feels like to be in front of a large audience answering questions about what one brings to the leadership table. When I watch them perform for the audience, there is no part of me that wishes I was in that spot, or that I had made different choices in my life years ago. When it came down to running for the next political office, I chose not to so that I could spend more time with my partner and his step-daughter, and then I went on to get a Master’s degree which lead to meditation and Zen Buddhism, writing, weaving, and eventually (somehow this is all connected), moving to Gabriola Island.
And this is what I have to remind myself when I feel a bit unaccomplished – that I could have spent my life in a single-minded pursuit of one thing, but by nature I am a generalist and I would never have been happy doing that. Instead I’ve wandered all over, using my (sometimes boring) job to fund the rest of a life that has kept me engaged, and hanging out with people I actually want to be around. Though these regrets are transitory, they remind me that so often we struggle with the what and why of existence. We seek things that are unhealthy; we strive for things that take us away from our purpose and our joy. And in so doing, we fail to be present for the real truth of our life. This is a lesson I return to over and over, hoping one day I’ll learn it so I can move on to the next one.