Is It Me, or Is It the Universe?
May 12, 2011 7:01 PM   Subscribe

If the only constant in life is change, why is nothing changing? And can I do anything about it?

For the past several years, I have woken up every day in the same apartment, gone to the same job, hung out with the same people, and watched everyone around me go through some pretty massive changes while I wake up in the same apartment, go to the same job, and hang out with the same people. I want to say first off that I am grateful that nothing bad—illness, unemployment—has happened to me in these four years. And it’s not that I’m particularly unhappy. But I can’t help but feel that somehow I have stopped . . . moving. Am I not trying hard enough, or are things just supposed to “happen”?

I recently made a list of all the developments I have witnessed in my friends’ and coworkers’ lives over the past few years. I’ve watched people move across the country, find new jobs, buy houses and condos, have children, move to new countries, get married and/or divorced, change careers, start their own businesses, consciously drop off the grid, change sexual orientation, retire early, go to law school, whatever. I am in my mid-40s, and my friends and coworkers range in age from 25 to 60, so this can’t purely be a function of age. And it’s not for lack of trying on my part. I have applied for—and been offered—a good handful of jobs over the past four years, but for various reasons (salary, location, “vibe”) they haven’t been a good fit. I am single and have given online dating a good try (actually, multiple tries). I have looked at apartments, condos, houses.

Until these past few years, I have subscribed to the belief that one should remain open to everything, and that when something is Right, it will happen. But this is the longest I’ve ever gone in my life when nothing has seemed Right, and it feels like the universe has stopped offering me opportunities like it used to. So I guess this boils down to three questions: first, what more might I be able to do to effect change in my life? Second, should I even bother, if I’m not that unhappy? And third, if this is just how it’s gonna be, what can I do to shake the feeling that luck/serendipity/opportunity has ceased coming my way? I have been helped through storms by Mefi favorites Pema Chodron, Jon Kabat-Zinn, etc., but don’t know where to turn for help through stasis/the doldrums.

Just to cover the bases: I exercise and meditate daily. I love to play music and do so every day, either alone or with people. I eat and sleep well. I’m not depressed. I love my family and friends. There’s nothing huge I feel compelled to do or feel that I’m missing—except something vague and serendipitous, that thing that drops out of the sky and changes your life. I know it’s out there because I can see it landing on everyone but me.

Apologies for the length. Thanks!
posted by fiery.hogue to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I have applied for—and been offered—a good handful of jobs over the past four years, but for various reasons (salary, location, “vibe”) they haven’t been a good fit. I am single and have given online dating a good try (actually, multiple tries). I have looked at apartments, condos, houses.

Until these past few years, I have subscribed to the belief that one should remain open to everything, and that when something is Right, it will happen. But this is the longest I’ve ever gone in my life when nothing has seemed Right, and it feels like the universe has stopped offering me opportunities like it used to.

It seems like you're saying (without realizing it) that none of the potential changes which have come your way seem worth shaking up what you've already got. Maybe what's "Right" for you has to be overwhelmingly perfect compared to your already good quality of life to make changing worth the risks and uneasiness which invariably come.

Many people experience life's changes without making a decision to take the plunge. They find themselves in a new situation beyond their choice or control. You, on the other hand, have enough control over your world that you have consistently chosen to keep your changes to a minimum. If you know that you consistently choose the familiar, that you turn down new and different things because they're not capital-R "Right," then you will continue to observe a lack of change.

You're bored, but you're also happy. You can't really ask for "change" in a general sense, because "change" could mean a wonderful sexy new job in an exotic place, or it could mean a boulder falling on you while you wait for the bus.

If you want something specific you're going to have to think about what it really is you want.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:12 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Volunteer somewhere. Focus your efforts on something or someone else, at least temporarily, and see if you don't feel better at the end of the day.
posted by phunniemee at 7:13 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have subscribed to the belief that one should remain open to everything, and that when something is Right, it will happen

This removes your agency in your own life. You're staring down at the tea leaves in the bottom of a cup waiting for them to turn into riches and travel? Swirl the cup!

Change draws change. Go change one thing - take a photography class, go wander around a hobby store, spend a month learning about classical music or silent films. Then be open to that, instead of being open to your own living room wall.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:16 PM on May 12, 2011 [8 favorites]

Maybe it's time to do something silly, shake things up and see what happens. Take a class? Pick up a new hobby that takes you out of your norm, like a sport? Find a volunteer opportunity that's not like anything you've ever done in the past?

Choose something fun, so that if the end result is still nothing much has changed, at least you had a good time with it. Even a totally-out-of-character new hair cut/color can take you out of yourself enough, sometimes, to get a little perspective.
posted by padraigin at 7:16 PM on May 12, 2011

Sometimes very small changes can give you a whole new perspective. move your bed to a different part of the room or to another room. Paint your walls or your toenails. Try different routes to work. Find some interesting event to check out every week. Change your exercise routine. Learn a new skill. Dance naked in the moonlight. Cut or stop cutting your hair.
posted by mareli at 7:18 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I stopped learning at my job and I started to get bored, I knew it was time to change jobs. With changing jobs a change of friends, housing, and everyday life always follows.

Don't wait for the perfect job, it is not going to happen. I made some mistakes and had some horrible jobs in consequence, but I started learning and growing again so I have no regrets.
posted by francesca too at 7:18 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

This sounds like an internal vs. external locus of control thing -- I make things happen vs. things happen to me, because of the universe, fate, chance. It sounds like it is a comfort to you to believe that the universe is in control of things. But I think it might be time to swing a bit back in the other direction.

As I was reading your question I was thinking back on the last few years of my life. In that time I've moved across the country twice, gone to law school, had several multi-year relationships, found a fantastic job. Some of those things, at first, seem like they dropped out of the sky -- I met one of the guys I dated by complete and total chance. And my job is one of those jobs that people tell you doesn't exist, and I also found it by chance. But no -- wait. When I met the guy I dated, I was in a period of meeting TONS of people, in all sorts of ways, every week. When I found my job, I had been on a 24/7 job hunt for months, making dozens of applications. So, those things may have happened by chance, but I made the chance a lot more likely.

So, you've applied to "a good handful of jobs over the past four years." To me, that sounds like nothing! When I was looking for jobs, I might have applied to a good handful of jobs in a morning.

You've given online dating a try -- multiple tries. But is that the only way you ever meet people??? There are what, a couple hundred or thousand guys on a dating site in your city, which probably has HUNDREDS of thousands or millions of guys? You say you've been hanging out with the same people every day for 4 years. Shake that up!
posted by Ashley801 at 7:21 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Two thoughts:

- you are changing, you have changed, you just don't know it because you're too close to the action. keep doing what you're doing, and one day the change will manifest itself in a more obvious way.

- sometimes, you need to lower your relative happiness temporarily in order to affect a permanent overall change in your life for the better. periodic discomfort actually leads to higher happiness levels and greater fulfillment. it's okay to shake things up just to shake things up; often, doing so after a long period of sameness can lead to unexpected and paradoxically positive results.
posted by sid at 7:31 PM on May 12, 2011

Find a new circle of friends.

Change and opportunity most frequently happen because of other people. Job offers, new perspectives, new dates... these are things that travel by network very often. If your current network has dried up, find a new one.
posted by fatbird at 7:32 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the past few years I have gone through a lot of changes. Absolutely all of them were caused by something negative happening to me.

E.g. I moved house twice. Once because we got kicked out when the owner sold, and once because the owner put the rent up to the point where it was cheaper to buy a place. I don't regret buying a house, but I wouldn't have taken that step if not pushed.

I changed jobs. That was because my old job really sucked and I was miserable.

For other people, relationship changes usually come from dissatisfaction with the old relationship, divorce or death of a partner.

If none of these negative things are happening to you, that's great. But perhaps you got used to change happening a lot in the past and feel a bit unsettled by lack of it now. Perhaps deep down you are even a bit frightened because you feel you are "due" for something bad to happen. These sorts of feelings are worth exploring, if you think that's what it's about.
posted by lollusc at 7:36 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I agree with everyone who is telling me to shake things up, and believe me, I've tried. I guess that's why I wrote this question. I meet a gajillion people in the course of my job. Last year I took a sabbatical and lived in a small town in Texas for two months (180 degrees from my "urban professional" life). Hell, I went to adult band camp last summer! I have volunteered in the past but unfortunately do not have a work schedule that allows for it right now.

The other reason I asked this question was that, reviewing where I am and where I've been, I realize that so many of the things I've done that have been positive for me--jobs, relationships--do seem to have come from out of the blue. Same with the changes in the lives of those around me--jobs that come up without people looking for them, a random one-night-stand on a vacation that led to a marriage and a new life in Mexico.

And I really am not looking for the Perfect job. I'm just well aware that jobs in my field are scarce, and I have a very desirable one. I'm just looking for something worth the risk.
posted by fiery.hogue at 7:37 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

You sound like you are in a rut.

I actually kind of like ruts because it means that nothing crazy is going on around me. Though I have to have some craziness sometimes to enjoy ruts.

A couple of suggestions.

Travel. Not just for a week, but go for a month.

Pick up and move.

Ask for crazy stuff at work, like working from home so you can do this stuff.
posted by TheBones at 7:38 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

when something is Right, it will happen


When something is Right, you need to make it happen.

Things change constantly, and easily, when you're young. Because you're forced into it: you go to college and have to create a whole new social circle for yourself; you get your first job and have to learn how to have a job; you rent your first apartment and have to learn how that works, or you buy your first house and have to learn how to maintain it. Things change all the time because your situation changes all the time, because your life isn't fully formed yet.

But after a while you establish a comfortable pattern, you're supporting yourself and you have a good group of friends and a decent place to live and there's nothing forcing you to keep changing all the time. And it's very easy to stay right there because you're comfortable. You've reached a local maxima: any major change would involve disruption and it starts to become easier to avoid the disruption and stay in your rut because you can never be sure the disruption is going to be worth it in the long run. So you start to unconsciously avoid change. Because you're comfortable. And eventually you forget how to behave when you're not in that comfortable environment, because you're so rarely out of it. And eventually that environment starts to shrink, because not all of your friends are going to be comfortable with that same stasis, and they'll start to move away or get married or have kids; and your job isn't challenging anymore because you've been doing it for too long; and you don't remember what you used to do for fun in the off hours; and suddenly it seems like life is happening to other people and not to you anymore.

You can't just sit back and expect change to happen. Change may fall on you out of the blue once in a while, sure, but you can't count on it; it's not going to happen often enough on its own, and it will happen less and less often as the years go by, and random changes are as likely to be for the worse as for the good.

Serendipity strikes most easily when you're already outside your normal sphere. You'll quickly exhaust the available opportunities for serendipity within your comfort zone. You have to go outside that zone if you want to find more.

TL;DR: stasis is death.
posted by ook at 7:48 PM on May 12, 2011 [9 favorites]

There's something I read, here, a few years ago. I don't remember who made the comment. But I wrote it down, so I wouldn't lose it:

"Life evaporates quickly if you don't take proactive steps to enjoy it."

Others are giving you some excellent tips on how to make that happen, but I thought I'd pass it along, because it's become a motto for me.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:49 PM on May 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

Last year I took a sabbatical and lived in a small town in Texas for two months (180 degrees from my "urban professional" life). Hell, I went to adult band camp last summer!

Did those things not feel like change? If not, you might want to ask yourself why not. What kind of earthshattering change are you looking for?

As someone who is in the middle of moving across the country, let me tell you that it has not felt Right or even Worth It, 100% of the time - even 75% of the time. Hell, half the time I think I'm making a huge mistake. I'm still going through with it.

But this is the longest I’ve ever gone in my life when nothing has seemed Right, and it feels like the universe has stopped offering me opportunities like it used to.

Consider this - the more opportunities you turn down (for whatever reason), the fewer opportunities will come your way. Maybe you need to try something that feels Okay or Maybe or even Wrong.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:54 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

fiery.hogue: "Last year I took a sabbatical and lived in a small town in Texas for two months (180 degrees from my "urban professional" life). Hell, I went to adult band camp last summer!"

OK so things are not in fact always the same for you; you regularly do different things, you just don't do them every day.

I feel compelled to point out to you that the friends who picked up and moved across the country? Still wake up every day in the same apartment, go to the same job, and hang out with the same people today as they did yesterday. The fact that the apartment, job and friends may all be recent acquisions does not make them inherently more valuable.

However, they mostly got that change by making things happen. They picked a city, applied for jobs, found new homes, made new friends. Those are active choices. Also, I would encourage you to keep dating. It's crappy to say but true none the less: very few things lead to significant life changes like coupling.

And then there's a lot of change. And then you find it's five years later and the two of you are waking up every day in the same home, going to the same job after the daycare drop off, and seeing a lot less of the same friends.

So basically there is another side to this coin and it's that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Barring war or revolution, that's pretty much everyone's life.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:00 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Everyone, this is really helpful and inspiring. Thank you. I remembered that I posted on here two years ago about a job offer I had in Abu Dhabi. The Mefite responses had convinced me to accept it. But then the client went rogue and the company I was going to work for pulled out. So, not "Right." But I hadn't remembered I had posted that dilemma until just now. I guess this has all been a problem for longer than I thought!
posted by fiery.hogue at 8:15 PM on May 12, 2011

I'm with you. I haven't "moved on" like everyone else seems to, and the town I'm in really emphasizes that. My friend circles evaporate about every 2 years because everyone else moves on. I've held the same job for 3/4 of a decade or so, have occasionally looked at other jobs but haven't found a darned thing I wanted to give up the bird in the hand for. (Until recently, but the jury's still out on that and who knows any more.) I absolutely don't give a shit about going to grad school. I only recently got my driver's license (and since I live in layoff limboland, I'm not plotting to get a car as soon as I might under those circumstances), which would enable me to move somewhere else. But as long as I don't own a car I can't really move unless it's to a big city and I hate big cities, and the two other places I'd really want to move to in the world guess what, require a car. And I haven't met anybody romantically whatsoever and have long since given up that that's gonna happen. So I have stayed stagnant as hell. Meanwhile, my friends go off to grad school and get married and I have one friend around my age who's still single (and asexual, so at least I get to keep one), and once they get married they don't seem to want you around so much.

You actually sound like my coworker, who flat out says he has no ambition, makes more money than he needs, and he just wants everything to stay the same for eternity. And you know what? If he can pull that off, good for him. But do you actually want things to change, or do you just feel left out? Because hell, I sure as hell feel left out compared to everyone else and it does bug me, but I haven't had a gigantic stroke of good or bad luck come along to force my hand either for years now. I've been trying to come up with a carrot to follow (rather than a stick/getting laid off) and I've been rather stumped. The career counselor doesn't know what to do with me. So far I've had a minor stroke of luck hit me on the work side of things, but that's about it for major changes in career for a long time now.

Sometimes the change finds you and it's a positive thing. Sometimes you get lucky and meet a person. Sometimes you meet a recruiter with an awesome job. These days a lot of people have the change find them and it's a bad thing, like they lose their job. (I'm hoping to god this ain't me.) And then the other sort of change is one you have to make. You have to feel some kind of pull towards something that makes you want to upset your comfy life. But so far, you just haven't felt that. No other job offered to you seemed as good as the one you have.

Are you okay with things not changing? If you weren't comparing yourself to the rest of the world and feeling left out, would you be fine with the way things are? Is there anything else you could remotely come up with that you'd want to do differently anyway? Because I hear you on feeling left out of the world when you are doing the same thing for a decade or whatever. But if you really have NOTHING pulling you in any one direction, and you only feel this way because of the rest of the world... well, maybe that's where you just settle for being content. Because it is damn hard to make yourself move when there isn't anything else you want more than what you've got. But if you're good with what you've got... well, most people aren't, so perhaps you're lucky like that?

As for me, I feel like I need to try this "moving on" thing for myself. I'm attempting it. But right now I'm still pretty stumped and the pulls I feel are vague and unhelpful and unclear, so mostly it just makes me insane :P
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:05 PM on May 12, 2011

Contrarian view for your consideration:

Feelings aren't facts.

They are manifestations of a complex entity of reality and interpretation.

It could be you have a Rainman-like brain problem. Maybe your "I'm satisfied" neuron is off-line. (My father had a broken "I'm not thirsty" neuron break a few years before he died, and he would drink water until he went into a coma... literally. I am not using an analogy. Poor man had to be restrained in a nursing home at 65. )

To realize your dreams a minimum of two things must exist. The first is a dream. The rest is just focused work (i.e., intent). There is little doubt in my mind that you haven't captured the first, so advice on how to perform the second is kind of useless, and both are irrelevant if you are possessed of a broken "I'm satisfied" neuron.

No easy answer, but IMO, safety is the hazard, my man. Wherever you go, there you are. Drop a cherry bomb in the composting toilet of life and see what happens.
posted by FauxScot at 3:39 AM on May 13, 2011

Until these past few years, I have subscribed to the belief that one should remain open to everything, and that when something is Right, it will happen

Poisonous thought. Only a few things happen which are outside of your control, and those are almost all the bad ones. Most things happen because you act - you do something to disturb the placid water of routine. Assume the universe actually doesn't care about you very much individidually, and act accordingly. Set some goals - if you could choose the changes that will happen to over the next 5 or 10 years, what would they be? Envision yourself in that future. Then start taking the early steps that will get you there. You make choices. You live your life. If you wait for things to fall into your lap, you stand a good chance of waiting so long that they;re no longer possible and you're no longer a flexible individual with opportunities to pursue. Then you die. Don't let that happen. Question that poisionous assumption that things "just happen." Interview some of your friends - did they "just end up" married with kids in a new job in a new city? chances are that something in them first chose to change, first leapt at an opportunity or was on the lookout for it. They weren't passive. Neither should you be.
posted by Miko at 6:15 AM on May 13, 2011

I think the universe meets us half-way. But you have to create the conditions and opportunities for the muse/universe/love to find you.

I do freelance work for a life coach, and while some a lot of her life lessons don't resonate with me, some of them are really useful. The reason she believes people are successful is because they don't stop taking forward action towards their goals. They don't stop just because the goals don't manifest immediately and just how you want them to. The goals you originally set out with might change-- and that's fine-- but you have to keep moving towards them, not just waiting for 'it' to appear.

So I would start by setting some goals-- and then going after them. It doesn't have to be a major life overhaul, but work towards something you want every single week. You'll be surprised at the small shifts that start to occur. After you've been working towards something for awhile, you gain more energy for doing this, and also your intuition starts to kick in to guide you.
posted by Rocket26 at 7:23 AM on May 13, 2011

Three thoughts:

1) Make a mistake. If you're as comfortable with yourself as you say you are, then it doesn't totally matter where you are, or where you're working, right? Make a mistake, and decide to DO something.

2) Work on a long term project. I mean, like a five year long thing like a novel, or really sit down and record some songs or pull together some gigs.

3) Most of all, it sounds like you're bored and lonely. I think, number one, you need to go out and try to date people. Join a Sierra Club singles outing, or get back to online dating. Another person is not your panacea, but you sound like you're waiting for your life to happen to you instead of the other way around.
posted by OrangeDrink at 7:27 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

"something vague and serendipitous, that thing that drops out of the sky and changes your life. I know it’s out there because I can see it landing on everyone but me."

I see meteors, hummingbirds, foxes and rainbows. I never saw them as a child. I only got to see the more commonplace stars, sparrows, squirrels and sunsets.

You have to spend a lot of time out and about to see something drop from the sky.
posted by serena15221 at 9:43 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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