A few years ago, I went to Paris alone for a month. I had dreamed of this trip since I was very young. When I finally decided to go, my life was in no way perfectly together. With my life, career, and future not at all clear to me, I went anyway.
Painful as it can be, we usually experience contrast through crises and things falling apart. But contrast is one of the best teachers we have. Every bit of pain, grief, and despair can point us to what we really want. It’s through that contrast that we begin to ask ourselves—sometimes for the first time ever—how do I really want to live?
My old emotional spectrum vacillated between busyness, doubt, ambivalence, and more busyness. After a series of (near) mid-life traumas and dramas, I added grief, anger, and frustration to the mix—until I realized I didn’t want to feel like that forever. If crises teach us from the negative end of the spectrum, adventure teaches us from the positive end.
For me, going to Paris, provided an exaggerated, wonderful contrast. One very cold night in the middle of January, I visited the Eiffel Tower, where I rode all the way to the top. After blowing around in the bitterly cold wind, I decided to enjoy the view from the warm second level.
Freezing and not ready to leave, I ordered a hot chocolate with whipped cream. The server rewarded me for ordering in my slow, measured French—a rarity at the Eiffel Tower—by not charging me for the whipped cream (a rarity in Paris). Relieved by the warmth and delighted by my unexpected boon, I walked over with my hot chocolate to sit at a table and stare out a window.
As I sipped my cocoa, the steamy liquid warmed my throat and soon the rest of me. The flavor was indescribable—without a doubt, the very best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. I savored my drink while staring out the window, mesmerized by the lights of the city, the wind whipping outside, and the welcome warmth of my indoor perch. The moment felt timeless and perfect, one of the happiest I had ever experienced.
Since that evening, I have experienced dozens of delights, which showed me that I had spectacular alternatives to misery. I’ll admit for a while, the swings between exhilaration and despair were wide—and occasionally overwhelming. But in the process, I created enough contrast on both sides to know what living felt like.
Over time, something miraculous—and really cool—happened. The gap between my lows and highs started to narrow. With a new plateau for feeling good, my troughs became less low. In giving myself permission to have fun, uplifting, hopeful, adventurous experiences, I created a new vantage point from which to view life.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love travel and adventure and laughing with abandon. And I do have off days, but as they relate to my new perspective, such days don’t feel all that bad.
As I watered my houseplants this week, appreciating how they are thriving, I felt the same sense of peace and well-being I experienced that night at the Eiffel Tower. Recognizing the feeling, I began to dream and wonder. If I can feel like that in my own living room, how might I feel these days at the top of the Eiffel Tower? Now that’s a delicious question.