Imagine being told your whole life that there is a very specific playbook that, if followed, will bring happiness in the game of life. Nothing to worry about, right? Follow the playbook and you’re good. Well, you follow the playbook to a tee. It takes decades. It’s not easy. It involves sacrifice, but there is gold at the end of this rainbow. You just know it. You’ve been assured of this your whole life. So, you power on.
You wake up early and the first thing you do is figure out what day it is so you can mentally do the math to determine how many more days until the weekend. You give yourself a pep talk and go to work in a well-paying job that you “should” be grateful to have. With the money that you make, you accumulate stuff. Lots of stuff. But then you get bored with your stuff and look for the next temporary thrill. For fun these days, you religiously follow the news and sports because that’s what everyone is apparently supposed to be interested in. Come to think of it, you can’t remember the last time that you had any actual hobbies that excited you.
Though you feel like you are living for the weekend, when it actually arrives you generally feel unfulfilled with how you spend it. You do some yard work, play with the kids a bit for maybe the first time all week and then drink beer to relax while you talk about the news and sports with some other guys in the neighborhood. These endless, superficial conversations sometimes make you stop and wonder if you have any “real” friends anymore.
You seldom have actual conversations with your spouse these days and you two are having sex even less. You both are so damn busy and distracted in the evenings. You end up going to bed probably too late because the Monday Night game doesn’t start until 9. Even though you could care less about the game, you have the kicker on your fantasy team and convince yourself that it’s worth it to stay up and watch. Sometimes you don’t sleep great because you drank one too many IPAs and then you ramp up on the coffee in the morning which makes you more anxious.
You see yourself getting older, the kids growing up and there are parts of this life that you love, but it also scares the hell out of you to think that give or take, this is what the next 20 years will look like. At some point it dawns on you that technically you have “made it.” That THIS IS IT. That scares you even more. You have attained what society told you would bring the ultimate goal of life — contentment —m yet you find that you are actually quite miserable. Well, what in the actual hell? You have followed the plan that was given to you. You should be all set, so where did it go wrong?
The first move for most of us is to view this outcome as more evidence of our own defectiveness. It didn’t work like it was “supposed to” and something has got to be wrong with the player of the game as opposed to the game itself. After all, we’ve invested a lot into this game and to start questioning the rules now would be a tough pill to swallow. “I’m in too deep!” you think to yourself.
So we tell ourselves, “I’m probably not grateful enough for what I have. Or, maybe I have low testosterone; I have been hearing a lot about that on sports radio. Maybe I should get that new truck. Or, maybe if I get promoted to Bob’s position that would do it. Yeah, that’s probably it. A little bump in salary might put me over the top. I gotta work harder to get there.”
The white picket fence playbook may work for some of us, but the playbook did not work for me and I’m sure as hell noticing a lot of men in my personal life and therapy practice for whom it’s not working as well. In fact, most men I know are not happy. There, I said it.
As Dan Reeder wrote in his song Shackles and Chains, “I got a job, three kids and a wife, I gotta baseball cap and a Swiss army knife. And I guess I’d have to say I can’t complain. But I think almost every day, I wanna leave this mess; make my getaway. And throw off these shackles and chains.” Don’t lie, you know EXACTLY what he’s talking about. And you know what? It’s ok!
Because not being fully content with the rules of the game does not mean we don’t love our wife and children or that we aren’t grateful enough for our blessings. It doesn’t mean that watching football with friends isn’t fun, that buying a new car isn’t exciting or that an IPA isn’t delicious. Those things can be pieces of the puzzle of our contentment, but they in and of themselves can’t MAKE us content.
If you have had it with the game, reach out to talk; therapy can help. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or feel free to text or call 804-210-7891. To learn more, visit www.richmondanxiety.com.