Meaning: keep it simple

For a couple of years I felt well and truly stuck…

I was well educated and thought that would automatically translate to ‘success’ in life (success was pretty narrowly defined in terms of paid employment, so perhaps I wasn’t that well educated after all).

I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but knew I wanted to make a positive impact, and started a career as a Probation Officer. 

After my second child, with a husband that worked away a lot and no family support in the area, I left this job to raise our children.

I naively thought that during this time I would figure out what it was I wanted to ‘do’ with my life, besides raising two small people (still talking employment here).

The problem with this way of thinking, was that I was so focused on employment as an indicator of success and worth, that I forgot to take account of all the other amazing areas of my life: a wonderful family, a nice home, good friends.

For the early years of bringing up my children I knew contentment.  I was exhausted most of the time, so maybe I had no energy to question anything, but neither did I have any idea where I would squeeze work in, even if I’d wanted to, so it wasn’t even an issue. I was content with my choice.

But the longer I remained out of paid employment and the older the children got,  the less ‘of value’ I began to feel.  I also became very sensitive to ‘lady of leisure’ jokes made at my expense (of which there were many).

As my children reached 7 and 8 and I approached my mid-thirties an imaginary clock started ticking.  There was a mounting internal pressure that if I didn’t ‘figure it all out’ in the next couple of years, all would be lost, I’d be over the hill, too old to retrain, unemployable, a fish out of water, consigned to the rubbish heap forever…ok I’m being a bit melodramatic, but you get the picture. 

The very fact that all of this reads like an archetypal stay-at-home-Mum-becomes-bored-housewife-and-has-midlife-crisis scenario made it even worse, I had zero sympathy or compassion for myself, and this translated to a lot of negative self-talk and internal chatter. 

I basically labelled myself a whingeing idiot, and veered between telling myself to just suck it up and be happy with my life (I am, after all, very lucky, and I recognised this, which didn’t help me think kind thoughts about myself when I was wishing for more), and berating myself for not getting out there and making something happen (I don’t know what I wanted to make happen, I’d say win the lottery, but I don’t even play it). 

I’d lost myself, and with it I’d lost sight of the fact that the definitions of success I was comparing myself to weren’t even mine.

I began to imagine myself in the life of every interesting person I read about or met.  ‘Could I do that?’  I would think, as I mentally tried on their life, would that give me what I’m looking for?

The more my thoughts circled, seemingly stuck on a loop, the more I realised I needed to do something. 

I began my foray into podcast listening with the podcast Pressing Pause, with Gabriel Trainor.  She has a lovely, soothing voice, and some useful cognitive behavioural techniques to combat negative thinking. 

On the recommendation of a friend, I tried Fearne Cotton’s podcast, The Happy Place and then Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail.

It was a complete revelation to me that seemingly ‘successful’ people, (the rich and famous), had the same internal struggles as everyone else.

So, if success is not defined by wealth, status and achievement, what is it defined by?

Well, that’s actually up to me, and you.

All is not lost

I’m approaching thirty-seven in a couple of months, and on the outside not a lot has changed, but on the inside it’s a different story.

I became a little obsessed with self-development for a while.  I’d already learned how good feeling strong physically made me feel, and I understood something about nutrition and the impact of what I consume on my thoughts and mood, so I suppose it was only natural to want to understand how I think, particularly because my negative thinking became so problematic for a time.

I learned a little here and there about neuroscience and how my brain works (it helps to label the machinery that’s at work when thoughts start spiralling), I learned about self-compassion, I learned how to meditate, I learned about breathing, I came to understand the role that fear plays in my life, I learned more about how to listen to my intuition, I learned how to get back in touch with my feelings and I learned how to trust myself a little more.

All of this is still a work in progress, so I’ve also learned that I’m never done learning.

I considered therapy, but then I started writing, and for me this has been it’s own kind of therapy.

I began to uncover what matters to me, and discovered that much of what I thought was missing didn’t matter as much as I thought it did, and much of what matters I already have.

I realised that I define my meaning, and that all the external success in the world won’t matter a bit if I’m not at peace with myself.

An important part of my journey has been practicing acceptance for myself where I am right now, because it’s where I’m meant to be (just ask the snail).

Keeping it simple

Meaning can be found in the smallest of things, from a chat on the street with a fellow dog walker, to volunteering with my daughter at the local community shop, and sometimes just noticing the nature right outside my window.

I took a part time job a couple of months ago as a midday supervisor at a local primary school. 

The role is somewhere between waitress, boxing match referee and negotiator.  I’m definitely underqualified.

Watching these young children play is like witnessing a microcosm of life playing out every lunch break.  There are tears, tantrums, joy, elation, injustices, creativity, boredom, anger, indifference, friendships and enmities, loyalty, caring, and compassion.

So many things flow through these children in such a short space of time, and for the most part they just get on with it.  They feel their feelings as they come up, let them flow through and then let them go.  They can be arguing one minute and best friends the next.  They keep it simple.

As we get older, I think we forget to keep it simple, because really, deep down, most of what matters in life is pretty simple.

‘The meaning of life is just to be alive.  It is so plain and so obvious and so simple.  And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.’

Alan W. Watts

I still feel stuck at times

I usually feel stuck when I slip back into patterns of framing success as employment (this happens a lot), or comparing myself to other people (usually with full time jobs), or thinking that I should have life figured out by now, instead of accepting that life will always be a work in progress.

That’s where I’ve got my writing to fall back on. 

A quick read of my poems reminds me what is important to me.  I make the meaning:  how I choose to look at things, interact with life, and how I choose to be present in my life, makes all the difference. 

Meaning doesn’t have to be found in a job, or a salary, or status, though it can be found in any one of those things.

I get to decide, because meaning comes from inside me.

How about you?  Where do you find your meaning?  Leave a comment below and let me know.

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20 thoughts on “Meaning: keep it simple

  1. We get it in our heads that if we’re not being paid for something it doesn’t matter.

    Especially ladies… being a housewife, homemaker, simply being a mom is a mindset of not living up to your potential. Yet, they’re essential. They might not make money, but they pay off huge.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s so true John.

      I’ve had the discussion many times with my husband and he always reassures me the same way you just have, that it matters even if it doesn’t earn money, yet it’s something I struggle with often, though I’m working on it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How refreshingly honest this is. I think it will resonate with many (women). What appears on the outside definitely doesn’t often reflect the multi-tasking, organising, reflecting, struggling and careful parenting going on inside. Society would not function without it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much lovely. It actually started off as a journal entry, when I’d written it I realised I’d written it like a blog, but I was still took me a while to get up the nerve to post it!

      I know in my heart you’re right. I think it would help if society valued the roles that are important more (verses the ones that make the most money).

      Though I suppose the most important thing to do is for me to let it go and adjust my mindset. Always working on it!

      Like

  3. Simplify is my word of the year and I’m working each day, maybe week, to implement it. I don’t know why remembering to do so is tricky, but you speak for many of us when you say it’s easy to forget to keep it simple. Kind of like how easy it is to forget that you’re adding value to your life even when you don’t get paid in money for what you do. Great thoughts here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ally. Simplify is a good mantra to have, but definitely tricky to keep.

      I think I struggle to keep it simple when it comes to expectations, what I put on myself and what I think others expect of me (think is the key word here).

      I like the idea of considering value in terms of other metrics than money.

      What would the world be like if we measured value in terms of love and connection instead of money?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very honest and insightful post. I enjoyed reading, and relate to what you’ve shared.

    I feel like I find genuine meaning from something within myself. My intuition let’s me know when I’m on the right path or not, or at least I think it does haha. Still figuring out how to understand myself.

    I also think a huge part of my meaning comes from my relationships with other people. And that’s where things can get very tricky, because people can judge me on standards I don’t feel are important. And I guess I should ignore that, but it can be a challenge to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you.

      I know what you mean about intuition…one minute I feel like it’s there and the next minute it deserts me!

      I think judgement from other people and their standards/ expectations is a big part of the reason why it’s so tricky, because when you value connection with others (as I think we all do) it’s a natural inclination to want live up to what they value, which makes it hard to ignore judgements, even if we don’t value the same things as that person, if that makes sense?!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that struggle to remember and stick with your values even in the face of other people’s is such a struggle. It makes me want to express open-mindedness, acceptance, and listening to others because that is what I long for from others.

        Liked by 1 person

      • it’s a really tricky balance to keep hold of ourselves whilst maintaining our relationships, I strive for balance but there’s always a kind of push/pull going on.

        Your values echo my own.

        Not enough store seems to be put by the adage ‘treat others how you wish to be treated yourself.’

        Imagine what the world would be like if we listened to each other with a compassionate and open mind.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The urge to make money is an urge to conform. Conformist behavior leads to a flock of sheep. Don’t be that sheep. Make up your own mind vis-a-vis the problems of your life and you will be happy. We don’t regret our profound choices when they’re informed by what we truly want & desire. It’s the sheep impulses that feel wrong and “out of touch.”

    — Catxman

    http://www.catxman.wordpress.com

    Like

    • This touched me deeply….thank you 🙏

      During the pandemic I felt drawn towards a slower living / unschooling lifestyle with my family (far from the traditional lifestyle we’re living now), but there’s always a voice at the back of my head telling me that’s not the ‘real world’…yet for many people it is.

      Why not us?

      You’ve given me a lot to think about.

      Like

  6. Very honest and thought provoking Rae.
    Having just returned to our “too big house “from 11 days in a motorhome travelling coast to coast, I have realised that my mind has been cluttered by all the “stuff “ in this big house. My goal is to minimise and prioritise all the material things we deem to be important. Having reached my early sixties I realise that the only things that matter are our relationships with family and friends and taking the time to nurture those relationships. Also to try to appreciate every day all the beauty of nature around us and be grateful to just be alive. “ Don’t sweat the small stuff “ and “ stop and smell the roses “ are phrases I often use. Procrastination is my biggest enemy and one I grapple with daily. We are all works in progress, let’s try to enjoy the journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love your insight Mandy.

      I’ve written before about the little things and it’s so true…it’s like we all know in our hearts what matters to us but it gets swept away by daily life (and stuff).

      I’m with you on the minimising…as our building project continues we’re surrounded by clutter, but I’m determined that by the time it’s finished we will only hold on to what we need and everything will have its place (though the kids stuffed animals will present a challenge 😂)

      I’ve had massive issues with procrastination too, but the more in tune I get with myself the better able I seem to be at making decisions, though it comes and goes, like you said it’s always a WIP.

      Let’s enjoy the journey indeed (especially the ones on the open road).

      Hope you had a great trip, look forward to hearing all about it 😚xxx

      Like

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