Well-behaved women seldom make history
– Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
I will not live an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
Of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living to open me,
To make me less afraid,
To loosen my heart
Until it becomes a wing,
A torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
To live so that which came to me as seed
Goes to the next as blossom,
And that which came to me as blossom,
Goes on as fruit.
– Dawna Markova
[Editor’s Note: I have a compulsion to apologize for this article. Actually, it’s worse than that. For some reason, this is the scariest thing I’ve ever published. But all I can say in my own defense is this…I sat down to write something supportive and inspirational and SAFE and then I thought, this right here what I’m doing is why 1 in 4 working moms cry alone from overwhelm every week. This way that we’re living isn’t working. We’re not thriving in life; we’re hobbling through. And I guess I just felt like someone should say it. And that someone might as well be me. And if you read the referenced report and my musings on it and say to yourself, nope this totally isn’t my experience—mostly I’m living the dream, than I say, good for you! You’re further up the mountaintop than I, but I’m making my way there. And by the way, there’s a lot of us down here, so any guidance you could give on how to genuinely, entirely leave the cycle of overwhelm and loss to live fully, please do tell :)]
To say that Care.com’s recent report (see infographic below) was disturbing for me would be an understatement. I’ll be honest, there was an entire weather system going on. I felt a rush of relief [please don’t judge me…it was just good to know I wasn’t alone], joy even [I know, that’s why I said don’t judge me], which was quickly displaced by an appalling sense of fear, followed closely by a forceful consternation [aka WTF?!].
[Let me guess…those of you who hadn’t yet read it, just did. Am I right? :)]
Let me interject a little backstory before I go on. Lately I’ve been practicing paying attention to what goes on inside of me. Perhaps the scariest thing about this process was to realize how much of my own inner life I’d been missing. Like many of you, I’m a nurturer by temperament. Also like many of you, I was socialized to be nurturing and selfless, with my locus of control somewhere external to myself.
For as long I can remember there have simply been too many other people around requiring my attendance, for me to afford the luxury of self-presence. Because I was taught this way of being was a virtue for a woman, I didn’t feel ‘wrong’ about what I was doing. And, [let’s be honest here] I had a sense it would be scary as shit inside myself [it was, but not in the way I thought it would be]. So I went into the control panel of my mind, found the settings options and turned off all feeling notifications. Voila!
This mode served me really well for a time. Sort of like when you turn off email notifications from Facebook and come to your inbox to find it so much more spacious and uncluttered…until you realized you lost touch and you start receiving angry emails asking why you’re not “liking” anymore…[but that’s another day’s post—don’t get me started on FB :)] So for a while I felt better, until I woke up and realized that I no longer knew what things made me excited or sad or angry. I didn’t have any boundaries left [I just knew that people were making me feel really tired].
Then one day, I picked an argument with my husband, and when he took the bait, I lashed out that I was miserable, that I hated our life [Whoa!! Yeah, I know. This is probably as good a time as any to mention that while my husband is no saint, he is incredible—the best man I know] and I needed a change. And do you know what he asked me? [Did I mention that he is clever and most annoyingly, almost always right?] He looked at me calmly and said, “What do you want?” [Busted!] I had no idea. The truth was this wasn’t about him, or whatever silly thing I picked a fight about. I was unhappy. But I was so out of touch with myself I didn’t even know where to begin with figuring out what was wrong. What did I want and need?
I found out really quickly that dealing with ourselves affirmatively is much more challenging than dealing with ourselves negatively, especially when we don’t know ourselves well. It’s a funny thing about the human mind—apparently it doesn’t really register negatives. I read once that when training bank tellers to identify fraudulent currency they don’t bother to show them the fakes at all, they just make them spend a great deal of time going over the real thing. Because if they know the real article well enough, they would know when it wasn’t right. [Hang with me here…I really am coming around to my point in all this]
Knowing something affirmatively is more powerful than knowing it negatively, and it is much harder. It’s why most people prefer multiple-choice exams. When you don’t know your subject matter well, it’s easier to identify what it isn’t than what it is. Getting to know myself affirmatively [in other words, not just what I didn’t like or didn’t want…] proved to be terrifying. And I think it’s for the same reason that the Care.com report was terrifying [Ahh, finally we’re circling back to our main point again!]
You see I’m one of those of the 62% who feel like their friends have it much more together than them. If you’re also in that 62% then you get this. There is a tremendous amount of shame in believing that you are somehow inadequate, that you are failing at life in a way that most other people are not. This shame is accompanied by a cruel inner dialogue that goes something like, what the f*ck is wrong with you? You failed again, you *insert string of expletives here*! It is a vicious cycle where exhaustion and overwhelm lead to further shortfalls and the shortfalls give way to emotional self-badgering which feeds into the exhaustion and overwhelm. Somewhere in there, despair is born. A sense that the situation is hopeless. A sense that you are hopeless.
And as bad as that cycle of shame feels (and it does feel bad!), it is somehow less painful, less terrifying than the hard truth. The truth that it isn’t you that is broken, but the system in which you are attempting to exist. It is easier to believe that it is your individual failure leading to your feelings of exhaustion, overwhelm and despair, than to metabolize the idea that we exist in a culture where the expectations are untenable and where experiences of chronic loss, overwhelm and disappointment are normalized.
Why was it so hard for me to know affirmatively what I wanted? I’ll tell you [because my therapist is brilliant and helped me sort all this out]. I felt I couldn’t know what I wanted because there wasn’t room in my life as I knew it for the song that my heart was singing. Which meant that if I was going to make my life a reflection of my values and yearnings, I was going to have to shake some shit up.
It would mean doing things that many people [friends, in-laws, jealous colleagues, etc.] didn’t think I had the right to do. It would especially mean not doing a lot of things that I had been doing and that most everyone else was also doing. It would mean expressing my wishes, asking for what I needed, and risking that someone I love might say no or decide that I wasn’t worth loving if I was going to be so much trouble. [I still want to have a coronary just typing that!] Isn’t it terrifying to think that if we reveal ourselves for who we really are and ask for what we need others might reject us?
Here’s the thing. When you do find it in yourself to brave the control panel again and resume receiving your own emotional feedback, you will start to notice just how intolerable it is to live in a chronic cycle of overwhelm and loss, and you will start to feel your own yearnings again. You will notice that you have needs and that when those needs go unmet over long periods of time, something important is lost. You will start having wild imaginations of what it would be like to have down time, to experience a sense of completion and fulfillment in your work, to nurture your inner creative, and to sleep! And you will most likely begin to feel a deep dissatisfaction with the way things are going now. [I’ll warn you now, that last part will feel like hell, because you’ll be thinking that there’s no other way for things to be] But it’s at this point, that you can actually start to make a change.
Remember that thing about the human mind not recognizing negatives? If you are part of the 80% of working moms who have surpassed their tipping point, than you are registering on some level of your mind that this lifestyle isn’t what you want. The problem is, your subconscious is registering that complaint as affirmation of the status quo.
The path to change begins with spending your time thinking about what would work, what you do want. I can almost guarantee that if you try to back away from that tipping point by drawing a line in the sand around what you will no longer tolerate, it will end with you crying into a glass of wine [that is probably your dinner] somewhere [probably the bathroom floor] alone in the wee hours of the morning.
Instead start cultivating a connection, a passion, a fixation with what you want more of in your life. A connection to something you truly love and desire is the only thing that will be strong enough to fuel a change in your lifestyle. It is really tough to get out of the rat race, to take a stand and decide to live your truth [especially when it’s an unpopular truth attached to stigmas like failure, lazy, negligent, or (god forbid it!) selfish], and you know this. Because if it wasn’t hard, if it didn’t terrify us to stick out and do something different and wildly unpopular, if it didn’t threaten our sense of being enough and loved…we would have done it already, don’t you think? I believe that love of who we are, respect for what we want, and passion to chase our wildest imagination of possibility [enough sleep, anyone? Or, being present with our loved ones?] are the only things powerful enough to overcome our fears and to propel us into new realms of possibility.
If this resonates for you, I’d like to share some resources that are helping me on my journey and also to invite you to join me in the brand new Forum Discussion Am I Crazy Or Could Life Be Better? where I want to collaboratively explore and trouble-shoot key lifestyle afflictions for mompreneurs and imagine new ways of doing things. I know the care.com report was about working moms, that many of us became mogul moms in order to break the cycle of loss and overwhelm, and that some of us are succeeding in doing that. And yet I keep hearing the same struggles over and over again…we do too much, we attend to ourselves too little, we are spending so much time and energy striving for the “living” that we want that striving has become our life. I don’t know what the answers are, but I know that we owe it to ourselves to try to unlock something better.
Latest posts by Megan Barnes (see all)
- On Tipping Points, Being Well-Behaved and Building a Lifestyle I Actually Want to Exist In - November 16, 2014
- Pitch Perfect - October 14, 2014
- Cultural Diversity Is Hard… But Worth It! - September 24, 2014