I recently celebrated a birthday. I love turning 37. I have loved any age that ends with 7, really. We had celebrated with cake and naps and beautiful, decadent lunches and dinners, and babysitting. My children ate most of my cake. My heart was bursting with gratitude, my body was languid and warm with contentment.
I am happy.
I first came across the concept of existentialism from Gail. Gail probably taught me most of my big words in secondary school, and she also taught me about angst and Pearl Jam although neither of the latter two ever rubbed off. I’m not an existentialist, although I recognise small overlaps. I’m a Christian who believes that I have liberties in Christ and free will. I am not fatalistic, but I believe we live in a designed world, and there exists a higher order.
But I’m still prone to wondering about my life, and questioning its purpose and value. I still struggle between living for God and others, and “doing the right thing by my self”.
Four things have caught my attention lately, given me pause.
- I’ve stumbled upon a fantastic women’s devotional called The Comparison Trap, and it completely distills the problem I have with my inner dialogue. Without actively meaning to, I constantly benchmark myself against others. It’s an insidious habit. Whether it’s to assure myself that I’m doing alright or to motivate myself to do better, I am constantly looking around to valuate my progress and worth. I’m also rather clever at couching it in acceptable terms to assuage the conscience. I am “recognising things to be thankful for”. I am “not being complacent”. I once tried to count the number of times I found myself mentally comparing up or down in a single day. I got to five, easy. But I’m pretty sure it was a much higher figure, except so much of it is done subconsciously after years of habit.
- Mei Ann had posted an article on the hidden dangers of comparing yourself to others – dovetailing nicely with the previous point. Self-judgement! The harshest judgement of all. God is just, but I give myself too much grace in some areas, and hardly anything in others. I am my own worst critic, mostly because I am only human. There is so much to love about the article, but here’s the bit that took me gently by my shoulders and shook me:
…not only are you a bad judge of your own work, it is not your job to judge your own work. It is not your place to compare it to others. It is not your responsibility to figure out how valuable it is or how useful it can be. It is not your job to tell yourself, “No.”
Instead, your responsibility is to create. Your job is share what you have to offer from where you are right now. To quote Pema Chodron, the Buddhist teacher, your job is to “come as you are.” (And then find your inner Sisu and keep coming.)
- I loved having our long chats into the night while crashing at Gail’s during our recent holiday in Singapore. And apart from feeding and sheltering us, she gently prodded me quite a few times on my dismal levels of self care. What was I doing to feed my soul and get some breathing space? Bear in mind that I had just come out of a marathon few years of mother’s death and aftermath, working, having baby, building house, moving house, and bringing up two young children on lousy, broken sleep. My fuse was short, my temper long frayed, my migraines frequent. I knew it wasn’t sustainable but while I was in the thick of it, every reminder that I wasn’t doing enough for myself felt, ironically, like yet one more thing I had to do. Find time to exercise. Find time to sleep. Find time to meditate. Have to talk to God. Have I talked to God?! Talk to GOD! I didn’t have the reserves to build up reserves, not back then. Yet every failure to do so felt like an indictment on my priorities and values. O vicious cycle! The foot is off the pedal slightly, now that I’m job hunting and preschool has started. I can look back on the last few years with relief and a sense of accomplishment. But boy, did it feel lonely now and then.
- A most counter-intuitive article came across my Facebook feed a couple of days ago, its author boldly asserting that yes, she wants her mediocre life. And immediately, hundreds of tired men and women cyber-punched the air. On a related note, job hunting has been a predictably soul-sapping exercise, partly because some twenty-something year old twinkie in a recruitment agency just summarised my crazy stint away from the corporate world as follows:
- stay-at-home mum
- didn’t do nuthin’.
So here’s my cyber-punch: yes, I currently lead a quiet life. In the last five years, it has been my ambition to lead a quiet life. It is a simple life, filled with simple pleasures. Teaching my daughter how to control her paintbrush. Listening to her read her first book. Watching my son walk across the room before he figured out what he was doing. Training my children to sleep. To entertain themselves. To focus on a single task and see it through to the bitter, complicated end. Singing to them. Watching them tidy a room and learning about chores, standards, and responsibility. Learning how to mother with compassion. It is a simple life, but an industrious one. I am poured out from the moment I wake until my head touches my pillow. My stakeholders are tiny, but there’s so much more at stake. It has been my ambition to set aside the corporate life for a little while, and with it my fancy suits, my big words and hobnobbing. And through it, I have grown. I am not the poorer for it. My soft skills have expanded. My juggling has improved. My attention to detail has been honed. I know now when to rush ahead and when to be present, because children will do that to you. I maximise my minutes. I understand Eisenhower’s decision matrix in a way I never did before. You have read the words, O Twinkie, yet missed the point of my entire curriculum vitae – my “course of life”. My “time away” hasn’t robbed me of experience. There is no gap in my resúmé. I am ready to work because I never stopped.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
I love being 37. I feel more comfortable in my skin.