It’s my birthday! How did I get to be this old? I honestly cannot tell you. I guess I wasn’t paying attention as the years zoomed by. But luckily, along the way I have acquired some knowledge that I will share with you today, even though, as Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz, you will have to learn it for yourself. I’ll plant the seed, but it’s up to you to water it.
1. The number one most important thing I have learned in life is that in the final analysis, you can depend on only one person to always come through for you, and that is YOURSELF. Everyone else is eventually going to disappoint you or be MIA when you need them. I’m sorry to be such a downer, but I say this in the hope that someone might be spared the crushing pain that comes from believing the people in your life will always live up to your expectations. It’s liberating once you embrace it, actually. You can still have expectations, of course, and a lot of them will work out just fine. But in the end, know that you have just YOU, so be the best YOU there is.
2. Perfect segue into the 2nd most important thing – a very close second. Be YOURSELF. This sounds obvious, but it is a lot harder than it sounds. All the people in your life who have told you to try to be different from the way you naturally are have engraved the notion in your brain that you, unvarnished, are not ENOUGH.
Well, they are quite wrong. The sooner you make friends with the real you and love her for exactly who she is, so-called flaws and all, the sooner you will find true peace. I spent years and years trying to be different, trying to emulate other people I thought were better than I was: more controlled, more disciplined, less emotional, less passionate, more regulated, more predictable, less mood-swingy, less volatile….Not only didn’t it work, but it was very painful, because I simply could NOT be that other way. I tried and tried. It was like trying to push a coconut through a funnel. There was no way I could trade in my natural-born personality for someone else’s.
Don’t waste your life on this fruitless endeavor, PLEASE. Instead, put your energy into getting to know yourself and try to find the good aspects of all the things you think are terrible flaws. I know it sounds like a self-help book, but you don’t have to get all gooey about it. Pretend your traits are someone else’s and tell that someone else why she is fundamentally a good person and why you like being around her.
I did this with a client once, after he had read a report that listed all his problems and failures: can’t keep a job, gets angry too easily, lack of insight, and so on. The report was good for his case (I was trying to help him to become eligible for Social Security disability) but bad for his ego. He was near tears. So he and I sat in my office and made a list of all of his good qualities: dedicated dad, loyal partner to his sweetie of 10 years, energetic, a fun guy to be around, respectful. I watched him turn from a wilted flower into a sturdy tree. You can do this for yourself – really! Or ask a trusted person to help you make that list of good qualities. Write them down — that is key! You may need to refer to your list from time to time.
3. Find something that brings you joy, and make it your mission to indulge in that something as often as you can. For me, it’s live music. There was a long period of my life, in the dark first-marriage-unraveling time, where I did not go to live music. I thought we couldn’t afford it and I didn’t feel jolly enough to do something fun. Now I realize it is medicinal! I HAVE TO DO IT or I will not be mentally healthy. Sometimes it ends up being disappointing, but at least I got out and experienced something ephemeral instead of doing the same old stuff over and over. Yes, we all have to do the wash, and it’s always going to be drudgery, but you can balance that with your Joy-Bringing Something!
Your Something may be spending time on crafts projects you enjoy or hiking or solving crossword puzzles – anything that sings to your spirit and refreshes you, that you look forward to doing and that maybe you feel you don’t DESERVE to do, because you have soooo many other obligations. That’s exactly when you need your Something the most. Of course you deserve to spend time on special fun things! Even if it’s an hour a week, make it happen. Remember, it’s medicinal.
Also, let me address the concern about not being able to afford something. It’s helpful to learn to prioritize and amortize! Don’t say you can’t afford skiing lessons if you are choosing to stop at Starbucks for a latte every day. And try to look at those skiing lessons in a different way: not $500 for one winter’s worth of fun, but $500 for YEARS of fun. If you are 35 years old, you can expect to ski for another 40 years! That’s only $12.50 per year!
Sometimes the harshest judgment we moms express is towards OURSELVES. Now that we have learned to be less judgmental towards others, it’s time to bring that skill home. And it took me only 62 years to figure that out.