As I revel in my newfound contentment, happy with the status quo and excited by the prospects for our future, I still hold onto one nagging question: where will we ultimately settle?
I’ve often imagined that the desire to settle in one place will hit me with immediate, unwavering certainty. I will arrive in some city or town, and after a quick tour, I will determine, “THIS IS IT! This is the place where I want to spend the rest of my life.”
I suppose the assumption comes from the fact that I do form nearly instant opinions, affection, and attachments to places. I like to suss out the soul of a new place–find its character. As I’ve mentioned here before, I love to travel. I hold onto memories of places I’ve been like bits of a prized collection in my head. I gather pieces of those places to surround me in my everyday life–recipes I cook regularly, pieces of art or decor, habits and customs I establish in my home. And while I have some places I know will always be at the top of my list to return to, I’m always eager to explore new ones.
In other words, my heart is wide open and I’m ready to find The One. But while I’ve lived all over and have traveled quite a bit, I just don’t feel I’ve found that place. Many places I could see myself living for a finite amount of time, but a lifetime commitment? Haven’t found that yet.
I suppose that kind of commitment is scary. How does one choose just one place to live when there are so many fabulous places in the world? I can’t even decide between city or country, let alone which city or which country!
Perhaps the nagging question is not “where will we settle” but “will we settle in one place?” Even as a young traveller, cross-country camping with my family, I was aware of my wanderlust. I wrote an essay in college that predicted the likelihood that I would be a sort of citizen of the world, comfortable with living on the go and not staying in one place very long.
But this lifestyle isn’t practical as an adult with a family. It seems more likely, or just necessary, that we will choose a home base from which to stage our adventures–hopefully some adventures with extended stays in new spots.
So I’m still left with the where question…
Maybe it’s too much to expect love at first sight. Or maybe it happens that way for some people, but not for everyone. Perhaps I need to give a place time to grow on me, or for me to grow into it. After all, the whole “putting down roots” thing implies a gradual process of growth and settling over time, slowly soaking up the habits and life-force of a place and letting them nourish and become a part of us.
Or maybe The One is still out there, just waiting for our arrival.
What do you think–do you just know when you’ve found your forever home? What has your experience of settling down been like?
In my previous post, I explained that I am very content with my life these days, a feeling I haven’t had for a while.
But I don’t want to come off as bragging. The fact that I am happy with my current life situation does not mean that I am happy, hopeful, content, and care-free 24/7. There are absolutely moments in a day or week when I am losing it, or questioning what I’m doing, thinking maybe I can’t. Being a stay at home mom is hard. I rarely get to pee alone. Some days I don’t eat lunch beyond scamming cheerios from my kid’s bowl. It’s not exactly a cushy gig, even if I don’t get out of my pajamas (and I assure you, when that happens, it’s not by choice).
Is anyone ever completely happy and content, all of the time? I’m pretty sure most people would say no, that’s an unrealistic expectation. But there is so much self-help out there, so much commentary on happiness, so many tools available and possible avenues to finding contentment. These things seem to imply that happiness is a goal, a result. So isn’t it confusing to simultaneously expect that result, while knowing that the result can’t be constant. How do we measure success when the goal is so slippery?
The ultimate goal of Buddhism is Nirvana, which may look something like constant happiness. But that sort of happiness is only achieved when you have relinquished attachment–to your body, to the physical world, to your experiences, the ones that feel distinct–recognizing that this feeling of distinctness is illusory.
Apparently. Sometimes I can somewhat grasp what that means, but I don’t know that I can fully appreciate how that works. I can’t claim that I’ve ever reached Nirvana. But I think you can still apply that concept in a more practical way, while we feel still very much connected to the responsibility of our life on Earth. You relinquish attachment to those every day trials–and successes–recognizing that happiness is much bigger than what happens from moment to moment.
This is why instant gratification doesn’t provide lasting satisfaction, and thinking that you have to be always happy will likely disappoint you. A happiness assessment requires a wider lens–a look at where you’ve come from and where you want to be going, and whether you see your current life fitting onto that track somehow. Happiness and well-being require investments–defining and working towards goals, cultivating patience, being willing to work hard and not settle for anything less than amazing while recognizing the limits of what’s possible.
What do you think about happiness? How do you separate the day to day feelings from your overall outlook?
I haven’t relayed much about my own life in a while (mainly because I haven’t written much of anything in a while, something I’ve held a lot of guilt and self-disappointment about). Here’s an update:
Two and a half years ago, my husband and I came back from a trip to England and Scotland and decided we needed a change–of jobs and location. So we packed up and moved to Toronto to open our own jewellery store. We knew the economy wasn’t great, but calculated that if we could ride it out until things picked up, we’d be in a great spot to build a thriving business.
Well, a couple of things happened. First, I got pregnant not long after we opened the store. Linden was a good helper in the store for the first six months of her life, but there’s no way I could be running a store and running after a toddler, which I now do all day!
Secondly, the economy never picked up — in fact, it’s still sluggish, especially for retailers. We made the tough decision to close our store at the end of April 2013, after a year and a half. To some, it was too soon to give up. But while we never expected instant success, we felt that we could not keep on when all signs were still pointing to a rough road for retail. (And as we’ve seen store after store on our street close, our decision has sadly been validated.)
Most success stories have at least one chapter of failure tucked in among the triumphs. While we loved our store and our customers, and closing the store was gut-wrenching, we have changed direction fairly smoothly and are happy with how things are going now. Mike has worked his butt off into a great job, enjoying the benefit of a Master’s degree. I currently stay home with Linden and take care of a friend’s baby a few days a week, I’m working on a website to sell our jewellery, and I hope to keep writing and perhaps finding new opportunities with that.
When I take a moment to evaluate our current life, I actually feel I am on the path I’ve always seen for myself–less of a career person, and more of a multiple-sources-of-income-to-support-a-happy-life person. I’m beginning to see a framework to my life that makes a lot of sense. In fact, I knew I had written it down before, and here it is, from the self-styled life’s very first post:
I’m starting to dream up my own model. To me, the perfect picture is this: I am essentially a stay at home wife and eventually, maybe, mother… I want to create that perfect home… But I do other things too, either part-time or from home. With any luck, it’s writing. Or maybe a cleaning business, yoga instructor… I build a career that is varied, flexible and reflective of who I am, and my value in our life is measured not just on my income but also the home I create. I want a successful life, not just a successful career.
This isn’t the end of my journey, of course. There’s still ambition here–to keep learning and improving, to develop professionally in whatever opportunities I come across–it’s not like I’ve reached some final goal. But while I can see a life of adventure, change, growth, and movement ahead, I am also feeling pretty settled in the Right Now, and that is a very nice feeling.
When you trip too hard on the guilt glitch, you might fall into the guilt gulch, which can swallow you right up and render you completely useless (really, it’s quite dire).
In my previous post, I mentioned that my biggest guilt glitch is when my guilt over pending important responsibilities keeps me from doing things I love, things that build me up and nurture me emotionally and physically. When I am in a good yoga routine, I have more energy and confidence, which help me tackle the difficult tasks. When I’m writing regularly, I feel more grounded and happy, which again spills over into me being more efficient and effective. And when I do take time for these things, I don’t feel guilty because I feel great!
Yet somehow I repeatedly forget how much I need these me-activities when there are “more important things” to do. I think I’m doing the right thing by allocating my time toward the Important Things, and I worry that whoever is depending on me to do these things will be upset if I do things that appear to only benefit me. Because I know the real importance of these things, I then feel MORE GUILT for neglecting them! Downward into the gulch. Madness.
How can you avoid the guilt from the start?
Well, to be honest, as is usually the case with the challenges I discuss here on the self-styled life, I’m more sure of the problem than the solutions. However, I will offer some of the strategies I have found useful, and others I imagine would be helpful.
1. Indulge in some perspective. In most cases, our overwhelmingly large responsibilities are often small things in the grand scheme of things. Recognizing this can give you more confidence in your ability to handle them. And the most blunt form of perspective is that we all die anyway, so don’t let fear of failure stop you. Just go for it.
2. Define yourself–find your yoga and writing. What makes you feel AMAZING? When do you feel the most YOU you ever feel? These go beyond mindless, guilty pleasures. They are your Substantive Delights–the diversions that contribute to your person and sense of self. Recognize that they, too, are important.
3. Schedule your time. Rather than letting the Important Responsibilities hang over you 24/7, define a time in which to complete these tasks and stick to the plan. Then, carve out time for your Substantive Delights.
4. Don’t fall into the Lazy Trap. Plan some lazy time, too, and enjoy the superficial dopamine high of watching Gossip Girl on Netflix or playing Spider Solitaire on your phone (hey, I’m old-school)–just don’t do it every night.
5. Ask for help and/or support. Sometimes we’re overwhelmed by the important responsibilities because they are actually too much for us. It’s ok to ask for help. Communicate your conundrum over needing to nourish yourself, even when there’s Important Stuff to do. Often, your loved ones will agree that you need to take care of yourself, and the responsibilities will be met when you’re stronger and happier.
This last one can be scary. We don’t like to admit we need help. We worry about disappointing people we care about. But when your husband ushers you out the door with a smile as you head to the coffee shop with your laptop, you’ll remember that he really does have your back, and the guilt is just wasted energy.
How do you avoid getting crushed by guilt? What sorts of activities nourish you?
Guilt is a powerful force of self-destruction, an evil glitch that can throw you completely off track.
The type of guilt I am reflecting on now is the type of guilt that occurs when you feel the weight of responsibilities as yet unfulfilled. You have a responsibility to your job, to your studies, to your family. Often times, these are responsibilities that impact others. While these responsibilities are unmet, whether through neglect or just not having time to address them yet, you feel guilty as they hang over you, like last year’s Christmas lights hanging over your porch in June.
Why Guilt Sucks:
- It’s unproductive–counterproductive, even. It does not inspire action. It makes the important tasks feel MORE urgent, more difficult, and it becomes therefore more likely that you will put them off for lack of knowing where to begin, fear of failure, or the belief that you can’t finish at this time. This guilt glitch stops your progress everywhere.
- It is a negative force. You fixate on your weaknesses, the times you’ve failed, your doubts. I’m openly skeptical about zealous belief in the “power of positive thinking,” but it’s undoubtedly true that a positive outlook contributes to positive outcomes. If you focus on the negative, you’re more likely to experience more of the same.
- It causes you to neglect yourself (this is the biggie for me). You feel that to do something that only benefits yourself (for me, yoga or writing or reading for pleasure), is irresponsible when there’s a to-do list of “more important” responsibilities. The irony I’ve discovered, however, is this: I feel this guilt BEFORE doing these good-for-me things and I will feel guilty if I DON’T do them. Lose-lose.
Since becoming a mom, I now have the pleasure of adding mommy guilt to my guilt repertoire. Mommy guilt is the weight of feeling responsible for the well-being, happiness, health and development of another person. It’s a feeling that you can and should be doing better, but whether through lacking or slacking, you’re not measuring up (and therefore your kid is going to be forever scarred or somehow less-than). Oh, joy.
My hunch (hope?) is that even the healthiest of us are sometimes overwhelmed by carrying an excess of guilt. Every so often, if I’m feeling a little down, I’ll realize that I’ve been actively and passively abusing myself with a glut of guilt. How do we overcome it? I’ll be exploring that in my next post, which I will deliver in a timely manner, lest I die of blogger guilt.
Are you ever crippled by a guilt glitch? What type of guilt do you carry?
I still get mad when I think about the lone B on my college transcript. It was a writing course, of all things, and there was a single comment about a short story in my final portfolio reading too much like an essay. Ten years later, and I’m still bitter.
I was a very good student. Even in the subjects I didn’t love or have an easy time with, I could pull off a good grade and I was usually got straight As.
When we’ve spent roughly 20 years of our lives studying, testing and being graded, what happens when we are suddenly out in the world without these very clear measures of ability, but still the need to learn and progress? Life tests us every day, but it’s not the kind of test you can cram for.
Sure, you can read a million books about anything: parenting, entrepreneurship, gardening, cooking, investing. And you can learn. But the fact of the matter is, no one is grading you. There is no A as reward for your diligent mental note-taking. In fact, the most constant judge in your life is yourself.
Parenting is opening my eyes to this fact (and the fact that perhaps I’ve been waiting for the report card from these last 8 years).
Linden is by most measures an “easy baby.” But after sleeping through the night since less than a month old, she started waking, needing to eat, not wanting to go to sleep without us around the 4 month mark. Baby sleep can make a person crazy. I’ve read several books, blogs and articles, conducted at least a million late night google searches from the cold corner of my bed as I waited for Linden to wake yet again.
Her sleep issues began to shake my confidence in every aspect of my parenting. The easy, self-assured mommy attitude I’d had since her birth melted into a puddle of constant worry, self-doubt, and anxiety about everything I was doing. And the frustration. Oh, the frustration. It takes a lot of effort not to throw the yogurt some days.
Studying up on baby sleep helped me form a plan, and the plan has helped me feel more confident in my approach. But it took a commenter’s remark on a blog post that there’s no A grade in parenting to fully appreciate the fact that there are no right answers. There’s no instructor, no test. I can’t just read the book and pass. But, this also means I can’t fail.
In some ways, adulthood is harder for this. Life was less complicated when my job was to take notes and get an A. The weight of free will can feel like a burden, and sometimes we may weaken under the pressure we put in ourselves to be Amazing–our Ideal Self.
But in other ways, this reality is freeing. Because there is no RIGHT WAY, the possibilities are many. And the ability to grow into a unique person is profound. I can take all the advice I want on how to parent my child, but in the end, it’s how I read her, how I apply what I’ve learned, and what I value for our relationship that determines my approach. What grows out of that is something that no outside judgement can touch.
Have you faced a challenge that’s shaken your confidence? Are you still waiting for the report card?
P.S.: You may have gotten a glimpse into my writing process as I mistakenly published an earlier draft of this post. Sorry!
So I find it very sad how often food is vilified. Sad and ironic, because despite this vilification, we’re fatter than ever. I think we should take that as simple proof that seeing food as the problem is not an effective, healthy mindset.
Despite how much I love food, how much I love to eat, and yes, how much I actually eat, I am not fat. I am sure that part of it is to do with genetics; some, certainly is to do with activity level. But I’ll still give myself some credit for my health. Have I ever dieted? Nope. Do I feel deprived? Never. (Ok, well sometimes I’d like to have 2 and only allow myself 1, but that’s not exactly deprivation.)
I’m not a fitness, nutrition or health expert. I’m not a doctor. But others have found my philosophy on food and health helpful, so I thought I would share. This “philosophy” isn’t necessarily my own. It comes from everywhere–books, magazines, tips from friends, my upbringing, travels and trial and error. It’s also not a weight-loss “solution” or diet plan–it’s just a collection of thoughts I find helpful to stay on track!
Stop thinking “I must eat less” and start thinking “I must eat better”
We need food to survive. There are lots of important things in food that contribute to our health. I like to think of the number of calories I need in a day as precious real estate. When you consider all of the nutrients and vitamins we need, you’ll realize it’s a challenge to consume all of the good things we should be eating in a day!
Educate yourself about what you’re eating.
Through various courses, books, discussions with friends, documentaries, I have learned a lot about what’s in the food we eat. This information really inspires me to only put healthy things in my body. There are plenty of excellent resources. “Foodie intellectual” Michael Pollan‘s work or a documentary like “Food, Inc.” is a great place to start!
Consider Michael Pollan’s simple advice:
Eat food. Mostly vegetables. Not too much.
In his book, In Defense of Food, Pollan makes a big point about focusing on eating REAL food. Basic, unprocessed, not chemically manufactured or altered food. And the message is simple: if we eat food, real food, and not too much of it, it should be pretty easy to stay healthy.
Don’t buy junk.
This is a basic one. If it’s not there, you can’t eat it. Don’t keep soda, chips, candy and such in your house. When they’re in my house, I eat them, too. So just don’t buy them. Simple.
Having a healthy mindset about food and making eating an enjoyable, guilt-free process is, in my opinion, very important. Eating should be a wonderful experience–to enjoy with friends and family, to relish and to delight in. Not something to do in shame, in the kitchen alone, in secret, with sadness. Food should be happy.
This advice is pretty simple, but it’s all about having a positive mindset and being mindful about what I eat.
What advice and tips do you have to eat well and stay healthy?