A reoccurring conversation between my partner Neil and I goes like this:
“do you think I should write?”
“because you are good at it and you like to do it”
“that’s not enough of a reason”
“because it doesn’t really matter– it doesn’t pay the bills – it is just about me ”
“does it make you happy?”
Two years into survivorship, real life is imposing on the good life I intended in the post cancer survivors bliss of “I have to make this time on earth meaningful”. I am battling the feeling that that life is really, really short but excuse-me-I-have- to- go- clean -the –toilets- now- what- trivial- problem- did -you -need –me- to- solve- for- you- before -I –eat- my- “lunch”- at -4pm- where –is- that-stupid -bill – I- can’t-justify- that- new- pair- of- boots- after- all. I am again doing more because I feel like I should instead of because I want to. I am back to having to justify to myself doing what has pleasure, depth and meaning to me alone. I struggle with the feeling that even though I LIKE something, it has to serve some larger utilitarian purpose in order to be worthwhile. But I am also actively engaged in figuring out what makes ME happy and how to have more of that in my life.
I became “Mom” when I was 20, and even though I didn’t let parenthood change my life or choices too much, I always had someone else’s needs to consider. I went from being a kid to being responsible for a child with no time in between. I never spent any time assessing what I ALONE really wanted until both kids moved out the year before cancer came knocking. Just as I was beginning to get a feel for who I was -gaining strength as an INDIVIDUAL instead of as an appendage of my kids – I was told cancer was trying to kill me. Having to take extreme measures to save my own life kicked me deeper into reflection about who I was and what I alone wanted. Cancer made me choose ME first after years of putting myself at the end of the line – and my life depended on making myself most important.
Choosing to place ourselves first is ALWAYS a life or death decision. Regardless of the circumstances that brought us to this place – be it cancer or something less dramatic, we may suddenly realize that we lost ourselves along the way. A rescue is in order and the person we are saving is the most important, worthwhile one of all……our deepest, most precious and unique selves.
We rarely take the time to examine exactly what we really want ; instead we are pulled along by circumstances until something knocks us over and we realize that time has slipped away from us. A divorce, illness, children leaving or parents dying forces day light through our comfortable fog. Suddenly something took over our well ordered lives and threw everything into the air. And we cannot predict or control where things are going to fall. We may have forgotten to live our own life in the midst of everyday dramas and the “necessities” around us. We may have settled for someone else’s version of ourselves in order to be “responsible” and “grown-up”. We may be more or less happy with the person we have settled into but the tiny voices of our dreams and hopes still sing at us creating a restless wind if we care to notice.
It is a necessity of soul survival to discover our own lives – not our parents, our partner’s, our children’s, or our so called “responsible adult” one. JUST OURS. In order to LIVE it is required of us to be “selfish”-to learn what makes our own heart sing and to pursue it with wild abandon. If we do not explore all the potentials – if we do not let ourselves write, dance, create, play or whatever – we are starving ourselves and the world around us of a glorious life. We need to give a voice to our creative, active and spiritual selves in order to stay vibrant and alive. As we live a more honest heart centered life, others are inspired to be more true to themselves too. We must all find ways small and large to create our happiness. Everyone benefits, instead of loses, when we each learn to put ourselves at the top of the list instead of at the bottom.
In the movie “All About Steve” Sandra Bullock plays Mary, a quirky single girl trying to figure out how to be herself in the so called “normal” world. She wears a pair of tall red rubber boots with every outfit and when her father questions this unusual fashion choice she cries “they make my feet happy!” The boots were silly; they never really went with anything – but they made her feel confident, alive and HAPPY. When her life shifted and something else came along that spoke to her more deeply about her true self and her happiness, she passed them on. And so we should take her example: instead of trying to fit into someone else’s idea of what your life should look like, find what makes you happy. Celebrate your quirkiness, don’t try to stuff it because it doesn’t pay the bills, look responsible or “pays off”. When you open your arms to what brings you joy – in large and small ways – you will find yourself surrounded by opportunity, joy and happiness that you had no idea was available to you.
Letting ourselves indulge in our own happiness doesn’t have to be a gigantic life shaking event….it can be as small as choosing the watermelon flavored gum you loved as a kid instead of the “adult” mint flavor. There are all kinds of small things that we gave up along the way because they seemed like an indulgence or just silly. We stay in joyless situations, marriages, careers and all sorts of ruts with no escape plan simply because that is where we landed. We may just find ourselves constantly thinking “I wish I could…”
The path we must go down might be a rocky one in order to get to the end of the rainbow but set your compass on whatever is your “red boots”. When there is no clear reason besides our own happiness to change our situation, we must ask ourselves “what better reason is there?” When we hold ourselves to a standard of supposedly grown up responsibility that does not allow us to be our happiest and truest self, we are slowly killing ourselves off just as surely and subtly as cancer tried to kill me.
Create your bucket list and GO FOR IT! There is no better reason to do anything than just because you want to —- it doesn’t have to serve a purpose, pay a bill, result in an award or recognition or matter to anyone else but you. Honestly, no one even needs to know unless you decide to share the delicious secret of your happiness….that you took care of you. This is about discovering who you really are instead of who you became by accident. Choose to save your own life by finding out what it really looks like.
Who will cheer-lead you even when what you are doing has no value to the outside world? Have coffee with them….TOMORROW!
What did you always want to be when you were a kid? What is stopping you now? How can you still participate in that??? Read a book? Attend a class? Volunteer?
If you are a parent, what kind of example do you set to your kids by not doing what would make you happy??? We think we must hold it together for our kids, but they understand inner chaos and self discovery and exploration more than we know…..
If it took a lot of work to get to wherever dissatisfied place you are now– won’t it feel like less work to get to someplace that really rocks your world?
Make a list of all the things you stopped doing that made you happy but didn’t have a real purpose. AND DO ONE EVERY WEEK. Then make another list of all the stuff you have always wanted to do, but didn’t because it seemed useless. Take a step towards exploring yourself each week!
Set your sights high – you never know if the Universe was just waiting for you to get it together so that it could rain down bliss on you!
Choose yourself first and all else will follow.