Here’s what I intended to do with Somali this week: work on exercises for chapters 1-4 of my book and study vocabulary every day. Maybe I would have a Skype call with a teacher or even take a trip downtown to a Somali coffee shop.
Here’s what I did this week. I studied vocabulary every day and I got half-way through chapter 1 of my book. (I plan to work on more of the book today.)
What happened? Life happened.
Work was really busy—up to 10 hours per day. I’m giving a presentation at a conference in a week, so I was finishing that up. My wife works full time, and my kids had activities most evenings this week, so I have to help feed them and drive them around. And I slept under 8 hours per night.
Life keeps happening, though, and I spend less time on my languages than I’d like. I want to spend a good amount of time daily, studying multiple languages and connecting with native speakers on the internet or in person. I would also love to spend time on languages with my kids like I used to. Since I don’t, I end up frustrated.
This week I got honest with myself. I realized that I’ve set the bar too high. I’m someone who always figures he could be doing a little more; I don’t look at my limitations in a realistic way.
Then I asked myself how I ended up setting the bar so high. All the language podcasts and blogs I surround myself with have set up many of my expectations. “Find some time,” “Just 30-60 minutes per day,” “Stop wasting time,” “Dedicate yourself,” are the messages I surround myself with. This is what I continue to do.
But I realized that much of this advice does not fit into my life because my lifestyle clearly differs from the life of most of the authors. They are often single people, without families, even students without jobs. Some are stay-at-home mothers, speaking languages to their small children. A few are professionals who travel or move for work, which puts them among speakers of other languages, and since several of them are European they can easily pick up and work in another country—a great advantage of EU citizenship. A few have a spouse who earns the majority of the family income.
How does this compare to my life? I support a household, alongside my wife. My kids are in their teens, so I spend much of my free time with them. I used to speak Russian with them, but since my wife does not speak Russian, and we only have a few hours together a week, we nearly always speak English now. In my neighborhood in the US, everyone except two people speak English as their native language. Traveling for work too much is a burden on my family, and they like living here, so we’re not moving. Even getting together with friends can be stressful because of the few hours we have to unwind from the week. For example, a friend of mine had a baby this week, so I think, “I wonder if I’ll be able to fit in a quick visit to them this weekend?” I can’t even know for sure!
Unfortunately, I find myself upset with my life because I don’t achieve these arbitrary benchmarks, in spite of a fantastic situation. We make plenty of money, my kids love school and are successful, my family is healthy, my wife enjoys her work, and I’m working with the best colleagues I’ve worked with in my life. I work with a very dear friend, and we spend time supporting each other at work when one of us has an exceptionally wonderful or difficult day. My wife is also the best. Just last night, once my wife heard that both kids were with their friends, she got out the nice china and candles and we ate dinner together in the dining room—just the two of us.
It’s really a sin to feel sad about a life like mine.
I refuse to complain now. My life is too wonderful. I love my languages, and I’m grateful for the moments I have. I made the sad decision to stop listening to the podcasts; they were stressing me out because of the dissonance between lifestyles, and I wasn’t getting any better. Even worse, through no fault of their own they were setting up a benchmark for me that was depressing me. They were preventing me from loving my wonderful life.
What I want is a realistic outlook on my life, that accepts what my life is and—more importantly—loves it for what it is. My kids, house, wife, neighborhood, and work are not a hindrance; they are a gift. Loving language plays a part in that, but it has to play a part alongside everything else going on.
At this point I only need advice in one area: how to thrive in and love the life that I have.
How is your life? How do you remember that your life is already wonderful? Does everything fit together? What do you do when you wish you had a different life? How do you keep from chasing something that won’t make you happy?