Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Years Ago?

Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Years Ago? May 31, 2020

“Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

Expect to hear this question often between now and November 3. It’s a favorite of politicians who want to personalize an election, especially a Presidential election. As such, it’s disingenuous. While political leadership matters and government policies affect us all, life involves so much more than politics.

Also, even if you are better off than you were in 2016 that’s no excuse for voting for Donald Trump. Unless you’re a multimillionaire, if you’re better off it’s in spite of Trump, not because of him.

Last week Sara Mastros of Mastros & Zealot: Witches for Hire asked this question on her Facebook page. The responses were extremely mixed, as you’d expect: some people’s lives have improved, others have declined, and many are a little of both. Such is life.

The Ring of Brodgar – Orkney – Scotland. I was here in 2016. It’s pretty hard to top that, even if the weather was horrid the day this was taken.

By some measures I’m better off

As for me, financially I’m better off. I’ve benefitted from the rising stock market and my paying job has done well. Not great, but well. I’ve lost some income due to the pandemic and if it doesn’t come back I might answer this question differently next year. But for now, I’m slightly but clearly better off than I was four years ago.

Health-wise, I’m about the same – and honestly, at this age that’s a good thing. I was worse for much of last year, but things have improved. I need them to continue to improve – mainly so they don’t get worse – but overall my health is about the same as it was in 2016.

Spiritually, I’m definitely better off. My regular practice is stronger. My spiritual relationships are deeper. My understanding of the world – or more properly, the worlds – and my place in it is clearer. I know who I am, what I’m called to do, and I’m doing it. I’m on the same path I was on in 2016 but I’m four years further down it, and I like it.

But I feel worse

Emotionally, though, I’m far worse than I was four years ago. 2016 was a very good, very optimistic year for me. That optimism turned out to be accurate – 2017 was the best year of my life. But in 2020, the state of the world and its general direction, and the limitations the created by the pandemic have made life far more stressful and less enjoyable.

I went seven weeks without seeing any of my closest friends, and I still haven’t seen some of them. I don’t know when I’ll be able to attend an in-person Pagan ritual or UU church service. Three Pagan gatherings I planned to attend were canceled. Not only can I not travel, I don’t know when I’ll be able to travel.

I know I have it better than many. Cathy and I are still healthy. I’m still employed. We never came close to running out of anything. Texas has been less affected by the pandemic than many areas, though we got it later so we’re probably reopening too soon. We will see. We’ve flattened the curve but it’s not going down yet. It could be much worse.

Still, as I frequently point out, the fact that other people are suffering more doesn’t make your own suffering any less. That’s as true for me as it is for anyone else.

Beltane 2016. This year’s Beltane was an on-line ritual. It was very good, but it’s not the same when you’re not all together around the same fire.

I’m doing what must be done

I’ve been focusing on coping. Part of that has been diving into my spiritual work: increasing the intensity of my regular prayers and offerings, doing on-line rituals, prepping for the Operative Magic class. It’s kept me busy, and that’s been helpful. I’m not one for retail therapy, which is a good thing given the income reduction and general financial uncertainty. But I haven’t said no to anything in the realm of food and drink.

Occasionally I hear people say “this is the new normal.” My doctor said it to me when I saw her for a checkup last month. What she meant was “don’t wait for things to come back to normal.” On one hand, that makes sense. Don’t let what you can’t do keep you from doing what you can do.

On the other hand, for as much as I’ve preached “live week to week” and for as much as I’ve tried to live that way, I can’t stop thinking about what I can’t do.

And that makes 2020 a substantially worse year than 2016.

2020 isn’t even half over yet

Every year on or around January 1, I do a detailed review of the completed year. I started doing that when I was first out of college and I’ve kept it up. It helps me put a year in perspective, and like any form of journaling it helps me to see how far I’ve come. That’s how I can say with confidence that 2017 was the best year of my life – I’ve got the notes to prove it (to me, anyway – and that’s the only person I need to convince).

Lots can still happen to make this a better year. The pandemic may subside and we may be able to gather in person for the Lughnasadh ritual I’m leading on August 1. I may be able to do some day trips this summer and a fly-away trip in the fall. The pay cuts may be restored. Trump may be voted out in a landslide.

How I feel in December may be very different from how I feel on the last day of May.

Of course, the opposite may happen. There may be a strong second wave and I’ll still be doing on-line rituals at the Winter Solstice. I may not be able to travel any farther than the local parks. The pay cuts may be permanent, or worse. Trump might be re-elected (and he will if the people who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary don’t find a way to vote for Biden).

How I feel in December may be very different from how I feel on the last day of May.

Walking in a local park during the quarantine, coincidentally (?) wearing my souvenir from Orkney in 2016.

This is a year of learning

1995 was the worst year of my life. I was stuck in a bad job in a bad location working very long hours with some genuinely bad people. I didn’t escape until I found a good job in Atlanta in 1997. Those 2 years 4 months and 9 days (no, I didn’t have to look it up) were a horrible time.

They were also a very educational time. I learned I was never going to find fulfillment in any job. I wouldn’t go through that again for anything. At the same time I recognize it was an important step on the journey from where I was to where I am now.

I’m learning a lot this year, mainly about how to structure my life after I retire from my paying job in somewhere between 7 and 12 years.

I’m learning what’s really important – even as I mourn the loss of things that are less important but still very meaningful.

I’m taking a refresher course in something I learned a little too well growing up – doing what I have to do to get by until things get better.

That doesn’t make this year any more pleasant. But sometimes you don’t get pleasant. Sometimes you have to settle for educational. The trick is to make sure you actually learn something in the process.

Another walk in another park. If I can’t do what I want to do, then I’ll do what I can do.

Are you better off than you were four years ago?

So, are you better off than you were four years ago?

If the answer is yes, even with everything going on, that’s a very good thing. And don’t feel guilty about it for one minute – your good fortune isn’t increasing anyone else’s suffering. Life isn’t a zero sum game. I feel better when I see other people doing better, even if I’m not.

If you’re not, the year’s not half over yet. What can you do to make your assessment of 2020 look better in December than it does in May?

And if that’s not possible, what can you learn from this year? What seeds can you plant, what foundations can you build, what skills can you learn that will make 2021 better than 2020?

What service can you perform that will make the world a better place?

2016 was a very good year for me. It’s what my paying job calls a “hard comp” – a high baseline that’s difficult to improve. 2020 was probably never going to be better than 2016.

But I’m going to do what I can to make these next seven months better than the first five.

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