Joy Is Not Made To Be A Crumb
Authenticity: When I Wonder If I Am Enough
I didn’t really set out to be a teacher – or a parent. I wasn’t a child who dreamed of my ‘perfect’ career or ‘perfect’ family. I didn’t have names picked out for my future children. I rarely thought about life too far in advance. I mostly did what I needed to do, took the side roads instead of the highway, and generally landed on my feet – often times a bit wobbly or off center, but not completely upside down.
At least not more than once or twice.
The fact that teaching and parenting have defined me for 27 years is really quite surprising.
I’m grateful for my teaching job. I’m told I’m good at it; I’ve stuck with teaching middle school, through three different districts, dozens of principals and multiple iterations of teaching kids. Yes, the content and class titles have changed, but not my focus: kids first, content second.
And I’m grateful for my parenting job. I’m thinking I’m pretty good at it; my oldest is graduating from college, my youngest from high school. Neither has been in ‘trouble’, they care about people and take their education seriously. They are good humans. And they still check in with mom and dad and put up with my innate tendency to worry and create elaborate ‘what if’ scenarios in my head.
And yet, still, those moments creep up on me, silent and stealthy and surprising with their intensity – moments when doubt creeps in, wraps like a tourniquet around my forehead and squeezes out my confidence. The moments that I’m learning to beat down, to thrash out at with a violence built up over half a century of battling self-doubt.
I’ve been rolling around this idea for awhile now, waiting for just the right inspiration – and today, the Universe responded with a quote from Coco Chanel in my “Year of Daily Joy” guided journal: “How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something, but someone.”
I honestly think that’s where I am right now: deciding to be someONE. I’m fairly certain it has to do with being 50+, with having a supportive husband who helps me along a path that just feels like the right one to take – even when I’ve got no other justification than that. I would bet that it has to do with feeling supported in my work – but administrators, colleagues, parents, and students who allow me to succeed and fail, who listen to my audacious ideas and trust me enough to join in.
Authenticity: loving fiercely
And I know for sure that my children, the two humans who have taught me the most in life, are at the core of my decision. Loving fiercely, parenting two spirits that aren’t afraid to call me out and show me their side of the story, enable me to look in the mirror every day and ask, “Am I enough by THEIR standards?”
Knowing that if I walk my talk, if I believe in my power enough to show them they can believe in theirs, is flexing my authenticity muscle. With every risk I take, with every failure and stumble and crash I hope I’m showing them that I care. That I believe in searching for fulfillment for myself and being open to what the Universe has in mind…even when I want nothing more than to stay under the soft covers of my bed and listen to the birds chirping outside on a cloudy morning.
Martha Beck says, “Refusing to risk is like allowing a muscle to atrophy; it doesn’t hurt, but when the muscle isn’t fulfilling its purpose, it loses whatever strength it has.”
I love thinking of these moments of wondering if I’m enough like a muscle I need to exercise. We all have authenticity inside, wrapping our bones and covering our hearts with abundance and love. Why have so many, like me, found it easier to refuse to risk, to scramble under the covers instead of undertaking the hard work of finding – and cultivating – it?
I have struggled most of my life with a paralysis of perfectionism. I don’t know where it comes from or why, and I honestly don’t care.
What I do care about, however, is how this paralysis impacts my ability to find authenticity-in my parenting, my teaching, my writing, and my daily interactions with strangers and friends. Part of that is recognizing that when the Universe sends me former students who remind me I was their ‘favorite’ teacher, or when my son responds with a hug to my request to spend more than an hour a day together, or when I connect with a stranger on Twitter who honors my work, I am making a difference.
Authenticity: Being enough
I care about authenticity. I also care deeply about being ‘enough’. So I’ll show up, I’ll puff out my chest when I’m feeling less than brave, and I’ll live. I’ll take the risk. I’ll flex the muscle. I’ll show the Universe more love. I’ll do things that I want to do, and I won’t let perfectionism paralyze me ever again.
Doing Good When People In The The World Are Doing Bad Things
Our connectivity is a wonderful thing – but with all the good, also comes the challenging.
Last week, listening to the terror and violence of another school shooting left me frustrated, angry, and so very sad. At times like this, being a teacher, it takes a tremendous amount of positivity and trust to walk into a classroom each day, wondering if like so many others, this ordinary day will end up going down in history.
It makes it hard to focus on the good – but in the end, that’s what I have to do. I have to trust in the beauty of people, in my desire to make the world a better place.
The world may, overall, be a beautiful, positive place that has more good than bad, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it even better. Most people have a desire to do good in the world, especially if they’ve been watching the negative news, but don’t really have an understanding of what they can do. Well, there’s good news: there’s plenty of things that you can do. Indeed, the potential stretches across many different facets of life, such as our careers, hobbies, and roles in the community. Take a read of some of the ways you can make a difference below:
What Can You Bring?
Everyone has something they’re good at. Discovering what you’re good at will be key to figuring out where you can make a positive impact. For example, if you’re a master organizer, then you might want to consider organizing local groups. Campaigning is one of the most effective ways to make a positive difference in your local community, but not everyone wants to play this role. Are you a good writer? Then start a blog, and educate other people about the world. find some platform to use your voice to make a difference.
Looking at your Career
Of course, how much time you can spend making the world a better place will depend on how much free time you have. You do, after all, need to make sure that your job is well taken care of first. But what if your job enabled you to make a positive impact? Take a look at careers in public safety, education, healthcare, or social work, and it will. People tend to think that doing good is something that you can only do in your spare time, but this isn’t true; many jobs allow you to earn a living and make a positive contribution at the same time. If you make doing good a priority, you will find a way to integrate it into all aspects of your life.
We’ve talked so far about the big things you can do in life. But the truth is, you don’t have to over complicate your desire to do good things. Indeed, some of the most powerful contributions are the small ones! Giving up an hour of your time to volunteer, or agreeing to donate a percentage of your income to charitable causes, or any other small gesture can have a ripple effect that stretches beyond the initial deed. If you don’t have the time to do more or don’t know where to start, then just start small and see where it takes you.
Being the Change
Finally, remember that make the world a better place doesn’t just mean going out and affecting other people. It starts with you. Gandhi taught us to “be the change we want to see in the world.” It’s a simple phrase, but oh so effective. Think about the global issues that you’re most affected by, and make sure you’re not contributing to them. You never know who else you might influence just by being the best version of yourself.
You’re not going to solve all the problems by yourself, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try: you might solve one of them! And along the way, you’ll be setting an example for those around you, building momentum, and doing good. Together, we can achieve great things!
“Just where you are – that’s the place to start” ~ Pema Chodron
The next six months are a countdown in my life – or a count up, depending on how I look at it. That’s the issue right there, actually: am I brave enough to embrace change?
Ever since Lily went away to college Cam has been watching me – aware of my shifting focus from her to him, noticing my changing routines, a slight twist towards examining myself as the mom of a college kid, and as a result of his observant mom-study, he declared that he “realized how hard I took it when Lily left, so he needs to start preparing me now.”
Way to play on my anxieties, kid.
I suppose in his wisdom there’s some truth to his strategy. I DID take it hard – I knew it was coming, I tried to prepare, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in her convocation freshman year that I could start to verbalize what I was feeling.
I don’t expect a repeat next August when Cam moves across the country. Yes- he’s moving to Boston, just about as far as he could go from California. He was accepted early decision to his dream school, and without hesitation, he committed. Done deal, he’s going.
Early decision is kind of nice, except for the fact that instead of starting my empty next visualization in May with most of the other parents-of-seniors, he kindly gave me five extra months of it.
The silver lining? It made choosing my mantra for 2018 quite simple: EMBRACE CHANGE.
I’ve been procrastinating on actually writing about the impending change for months. I guess that’s a strategy – avoidance, right? If I don’t think about it, it won’t happen…except, he’s 18 and reminding me daily that he’s an adult and that I should get used to it. As the days pass, he’s less and less patient with me, and I’m finding myself more and more often in my upstairs writing perch, candles lit, gazing out the window and wondering if I’m actually brave enough to break my own heart….as a mother.
Now logically, I know there’s no choice. My heart will break a little more each day, the cracks carefully covered with smiles and hugs and making his favorite meals. I’ll play along with the ‘when I”m in Boston’ talk, and remind him that roommates don’t like people who leave their wet towels on the floor. I’ll grin when he comes in for a hug now and then, and compliment him when his room looks clean and he goes out of his way to fill the gas tank. I’ll be grateful that he texts me from his girlfriend’s house, and rest easy knowing that at least her parents are getting to see what a nice young man he’s becoming during all the free time he spends hanging out with them, not us.
And I’ll let go of what’s no longer serving me – the story of all the things I thought I would do when he was little, the trips we never took, the books I never read aloud. I’ll let go of all that part that tells me what I should have done…and try to hang on to what I did.
I was recently listening to Cheryl Strayed talk about her writing and her reflections on motherhood, and she shared a story about making decisions as a mother that really resonated with me. No one prepares us for motherhood; we do the best we can with what we have, and hope that everything turns out ok. Along the way, we learn to navigate the rough patches, smooth the hurt feelings and wipe away the tears.
She reminded me of one of the most important lessons that motherhood has taught me: to do things that scare me and to let my kids do them, too. Making decisions for our children is a hard habit to break, even when we’ve been practicing for years. Sometimes when I tell other parents that my kids both chose colleges outside of California they tell me that they would never let their kids move so far away. I hear all sorts of excuses, but really, all I can think is how could I forgive myself if I never let them fly?
I have to be honest – I KNOW I’m brave enough to embrace change. I’m sure I will survive. I made it through Cam’s adventures at the ski academy, and Lily moving to Utah. I know that like all those other times when I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have a child that was any older than they were at that exact moment – that just like then, I’m going to find that with change comes joy just on the other side. With change comes a new opportunity to push away what isn’t working and amplify what is.
I wear my mantras on my wrist, daily reminders of the words I promise myself. Courage. Trust the journey. Be here now. And now, embrace change. I trace my fingers over the letters, I twist and bend and alter their position but always, always the words are right there to remind me that yes, I am here and yes, I can.
Being brave enough to embrace change isn’t easy – but it’s worth it. I’m going to trust in that.
When are you really your true self?
Flying to St. Louis last week, I finally had a quiet moment to finish listening to Ali MacGraw’s interview on the Super Soul podcast. Plane travel isn’t always pleasant for me – my anxiety kicks in and the only way I can balance my wanderlust and my irrational fears of heights and closed spaces is to distract my mind with whatever means possible. And when I am lucky enough to have a window seat…well, that is a curse and a blessing.
I have huge gratitude for podcasts and books in those moments…
I suppose it isn’t too coincidental that I’m thinking about my true self while the demons of plane crashes and motion sickness are dueling it out in my monkey mind. Looking out the window over the Rocky mountains, knowing down below are thousands of souls just like me, moving through their work days and trying to do the best they can, without the benefit of being isolated inside a metal tube with the thought-provoking words of Ali McGraw soothing my worries helped me breathe deeply. Settling into my seat, I allowed myself to be truly present. I allowed myself to look out the tiny oval window and know that all would be well, that the raindrops on the outside were reminders that I am here, now, exactly where I should be.
Travel offers the opportunity to be our true selves. Away from home, anonymous in our human package, we may carry out authenticity. Travel strips us of our comfort zone, our ability to fall back into the shadows and hide in our places of control. Travel reminds us that we are real, just one tiny piece in the massive yet minute conglomeration of humanity. We look around airports and hotel lobbies and fantasize If we could just have that life… maybe then ____________ (fill in the blank with hopes and dreams).
Seriously – why not? I’m just real person trying to figure myself out. I’m just a white woman, traveling alone, knowing there’s a high likelihood I will arrive at my destination and life will be just fine.
But the monkey mind jumps in as I shiver and remember I’m thousands of miles up in the clouds, at the mercy of a pilot (whom I noticed with great glee was female) – and think Jen, when are you out of your mind joyful? When are you really your true self – when you’re back IRL, in your home and your classroom in your small hometown surrounded every day by people who know you, from childhood to adulthood, when are you really settling back into that seat and breathing deeply? Is your true self shining through the clouds right at this moment? Are you a model of what a woman could or would or should be?
Motherhood was never a goal for me. I never thought much about it until I was worried it would never happen. I established some arbitrary goal of being 30 and pregnant and now looking back, with that child I bore in that third decade living so far away, I wonder if that was my true-self speaking or perhaps the idea of what I thought I should be or maybe, most likely, the Universe whispering to me that she was ready to join us.
Whatever magical, powerful force brought her to me, I know that she is what brings me unconscious focus and pure joy. I know when I’m in the present moment because I feel all the grounding of the spirits that came before me, all the safety and soundness and rightness that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.
I know I’m really my true self when I’m in the kitchen and watching my beautiful almost-grown boy cook and chatter about his goals or progress in school or why he’s so excited to move away to college or start his next phase- what he feels school has really prepared him for.
I’m really my true self when I’m aware I’m avoiding wishing it were another time, or that we were back snuggling on the couch on Friday nights, sleeping bags all around and pillows stacked to the ceiling. I’m not wishing we were biking together to school or holding hands when we cross the street or sitting on the kitchen counter beside me while we beat cookie batter…
I am my true self right now, and it’s ok. In fact, it’s awesome. Those memory-moments wind together to help remind me that yes, I am here and I am human and I have made choices that right or wrong, sideways or upsidedown, have led me to this instant of sitting alone on a plane, traveling to a place I’ve never been but which is covered with the footprints of those who came before me. I am my true self right now and in that space, may I keep making a difference in this moment. Slowly, often unwittingly, I’m unpeeling the secret to inner peace, looking for gratitude in every corner. I’m enjoying the small moments and trying to focus on what is in front of me while resting in the comfort of having experienced all the joys and sorrows of life that has come before. I’m learning that the richness of life comes from beyond what we are experiencing right now, and rests in the journey we have survived.
I used to think my legacy was built on the quest to be better, to find perfection and then I could relax. I know now that perfection paralyzes, and when I sit back, breathe, and find joy in the moment I am really my true self – and I like her. I’m proud of her, too.
As the podcast concludes, I rush to jot down Ali’s response to reflecting on her life’s journey, and where she sees her legacy. I smile, rewind, and know that if I’m lucky and say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ at the right times, I might be lucky enough to be known as “the crazy lady in a black dress with a bunch of silver bracelets and 439 stray dogs” too.
Touch down. I’ve landed.