Living Out Loud

This entry wanders all over the place. Please bear with me. I do eventually get to a point. I think.

I actually had a different topic in mind when I started. But I was sidetracked when I started the entry with a sentence stating that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt like myself. I paused as I realized, I’m not 100% sure what “feeling like myself” is.

I say this with no bitterness whatsoever, just a sense of amazement that I’ve lived on this planet as long as I have without knowing exactly who I am. And I know I’m not alone in this, either. Like so many others out there, I’ve always been someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, someone’s mother, someone’s employee, etc… and I’ve spent most of my time trying to juggle the responsibilities of each of those roles. So I don’t believe it’s unusual that who *I* am is lost somewhere in there.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to “find myself.” Ever since my best friend in college died I’ve been on journey of spirituality and self discovery. That journey started 23 years ago. To be clear, that’s HALF MY LIFE. Twenty-three years of countless books, seminars, classes, and lots of inner work (through meditation, affirmations, etc.), and I still have NO clue who I am. I’m still thinking of myself as someone’s mother, as someone’s wife… and hopefully again someday, as someone’s employee.

That is BY FAR the most frustrating admission I’ve ever made.

Again, I’m not bitter… just frustrated… because— while I definitely love being a mom, a wife, a student— I should still have a sense of who I am and what I want in life, shouldn’t I? I should know what my hopes and dreams are. I should have lifetime goals. I used to have lifetime hopes and goals, but after years of heading down dead-end paths pursuing them, I’ve scaled it down a bit. Right now my sole hope is to reach a point where I might make enough money to be able to start traveling again (I miss that the most). And my only goal for the time being is: “make sure I can pay bills this month.” There has to be something more than that, right?

The biggest problem with not knowing who you are or where you’re headed is that who you are can change with what happens TO you. IMO, there have been far too many times where I’ve been at the mercy of my circumstances.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers, but I’m fairly certain the situation I describe above is not ideal. Yes, I believe that external situations (yes, the positive ones, but especially the negative ones) should help you to grow, to evolve. But evolution implies that you are building onto something that’s already there— a core of sorts.

That isn’t to say that I don’t have core qualities within my personality. I am supremely stubborn. I am compassionate and empathetic (some have accused me, to a fault). When I see someone who has done something horrible, one of the first things I want to do is try to figure out what kind of pain they’ve experienced that makes them act out that way. I go out of my way to be kind to everyone, including complete strangers because I believe that everyone should have a bright point in their day, and I have no idea what kind of day they’ve been experiencing by the time our paths cross… but that doesn’t always go well.  And I have a hard time saying “no” because I always want to be helpful. These are definite constants in my life. I think some would consider them to be okay qualities, but if you think about it, these qualities indicate that I think too much outside of myself.

Keeping this in mind, I realize that I have allowed my life to “happen” around me. That’s not to say that I haven’t taken action to change things. Since I was laid off six years ago, I’ve started businesses, I’ve gone back to school, I’ve put myself out there time after time after time in an effort to find ways to make ends meet.

I started my post-layoff job search with the goal of “finding myself”— thinking that would lead to the “right” career; namely, my life’s “passion” (which is a trigger word for me— it drives me crazy– but that’s another post)— but after several failed attempts, my sense of responsibility kicked in and I realized that I didn’t really have the time to “find myself.” Since then, I’ve just been trying to make it from one stepping stone to the next, not really having an ultimate goal in mind.

I believe on a certain level I needed this experience, because it’s taught me that 1) I am stronger and more resourceful than I think (even though I still have trouble giving myself credit for that), and 2) when I focus on what’s happening NOW, I let go of worry about the future. I tend to do what I need to do in order to get to the next stepping stone. I don’t look ahead, and I try not to look back. I just keep my eyes on my feet and try to be thankful that somehow, I keep managing to find another stone that will support me for the moment.

I’m the first to say that mindfulness— the ability to “be in the moment”— is valuable. In fact, it is key to making the mundane magical— or as I also call it— turning up the volume on joy. Some of the simplest things can bring the greatest joy, but it’s hard to recognize that beauty if you’re not focused on what’s happening at that moment. Being in the moment also requires a good deal of faith— because you are letting go of the notion that you have to worry about what’s coming next— and I find that faith leads to hope.

But there’s also something to be said for being able to see the big picture every once in a while. At the very least, it can help you figure out the path to the next stepping stone. In order to create an effective path, however, you need to have a final destination. And I would argue that it’s hard to determine a destination when you aren’t clear on what you want. How am I supposed to eventually get to that point when I have no idea where I want to end up?

You may be wondering where I’m going with this. I felt the need to get the background out there because I believe I’ve had an epiphany of sorts… thanks to Janet Mock. If you don’t know about her, please look her up on Google. She’s pretty amazing.

I saw an interview with her recently where she talked about her journey of self-discovery— which was full of years of “going through the motions.” Things only really clicked into place for her when she opened up and started telling her story to her soulmate for the first time. It was at that time that she realized— in her words—  “what I needed to do was tell myself the story…. I’d never told myself my own story.”

Like her, I’ve been going through the motions, but I’ve never really sat back and reflected on what I’ve been through. Among other things, I’ve grieved the loss of what I thought was my identity when I lost my job and couldn’t find a new one. There are other situations of loss and grief that have taken place as well. Throughout that time— again we’re talking several years— I managed to keep going through the motions— with the main goal of trying to make things as “normal” as possible for my family. I also was able to find pockets of joy— bits of magic— in the midst of despair. But I’ve never really stopped to reflect on any of that time with any thoughtfulness.

After 23 years, I think I’ve been going about this all wrong. I’ve wanted to find myself, so I’ve gone through this roller coaster of taking action (by putting myself out there and opening myself up to several new experiences), and sitting still (through meditation, prayer, and other zen-based activities). But there’s a third option I haven’t tried. I haven’t actually verbalized my experience. My accomplishments and my failures. My tragedies and my triumphs.

I think it’s time to sit back with a recording device and tell myself my own story. The whole sometimes-beautiful, sometimes-ugly, soul-crushing-but-also-enlightening story.

Couldn’t hurt. We’ll see what happens.