Sometimes in life, the most obvious stuff is right in front of your nose, but it takes a cold, wet flannel in your face to make you see it. And that ‘seeing’ can change your life, forever. Here’s what seeing an old school-friend on TEDx and my eldest son’s 9th birthday made me wake up to – and how you could use this to turn your life around.
My eldest is 9 next week. Nearly a decade. It’s been a long decade. Lots of massive life experiences, scary choices, wonderful events and personal growth – for both of us. He’s gorgeous and I’m proud to be his mum.
But, of course, there’s a ‘but…’
I stumbled across a video clip from an old school friend of mine last night, presenting an inspirational talk at a TEDx conference. Last month I found out that a uni friend (who did the PhD I turned down) is now not only a university lecturer, but a professor. And my old uni tutor is now head of one of the biggest and best Mechanical Engineering departments in the world. And I keep coming across old friends – all my age and all men – who are FTSE 500 directors, major company CEOs and internationally-renowned experts in their fields.
And I cried.
No, I’m not jealous. I’m proud of them and love them every bit as much as I ever did, for achieving what they have.
I cried because I realised how they did it.
They spent the past ten years focussing on their careers.
I spent the past ten years focussing on my kids.
Don’t get me wrong – my books are successful and my online courses are popular, but I’m not living my dharma to the extent that I want to be; not by a long stretch.
I can hear all of the ‘politically-correct’ comments running out there, as people read what I’m saying:
Oh, but you put your kids first – they’ll appreciate it.
Oh, but family is more important.
Oh, but you can pick up your career afterwards.
Oh, but being a good mum is so vital.
Oh, but you have to put your family first.
Oh, but those early years pass so quickly, you don’t want to miss a minute of them.
Oh, but you can’t have your cake and eat it.
Oh, but why have kids unless you want to stay at home with them?
Oh, but you’re so lucky to have the choice, whether or not to work full time.
But none of that is my truth. It’s someone else’s. So why do I give away my power to other people’s judgements?
Want to know how my kids appreciate me giving them the past 10 or so years of my life? By yelling at me this morning because I made them the wrong breakfast 🙂
Ok, seriously, I know that I have done my best by my kids and I don’t regret it. But it has come as a real shock how often in the past decade I have made the choices that were based on what I thought was for the best for them, rather than meeting my needs, too. And it’s incredible how often those choices were driven by guilt, based on my projected assumptions of how others would judge me, if I didn’t make those choices.
Before my eldest arrived, my business as an NLP Trainer, author, mentor and spiritual guide was growing well. I was running a #1 website and had plenty of one-to-one and corporate training contracts. I had massive dreams and plenty of enthusiasm to go with them. I loved my work and, to be honest, it never felt like work. It was a hobby I felt passionately about and I could have done it 24 hours a day.
Then, during the pregnancy, I had to start turning down contracts, because I knew I would be on maternity leave by the end of them.
I stopped networking. I closed down the website, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to support it for the next few years. I made choices, on a daily basis, that would allow me time to be a mum, not realising how important it was to still be ‘me’, too.
All of that was nearly 10 years ago.
And for the past 10 years, I have lived by those choices – and fed them, by making daily choices that supported those old decisions.
I feel I have put my life on hold for nearly a decade – and I hadn’t even realised I was doing it.
It seems to me that we have created a society where women can’t get it right.
If we have children, a huge number of people expect us to feel blissfully happy, hanging around at home with them, going to toddler groups and having our creative needs met by finding original ways to persuade a child to have its nappy changed, without smearing poo on the walls. And I know lots of my friends love this life.
Then there’s the ‘other group’ that writes nasty articles in national papers about how mums should go back to work and shouldn’t be a burden. But those same authors tell us that we’re wrong and bad for handing our kids over to child carers, rather than raising them ourselves.
Every single day of the past 9 years has been an emotional juggling act. I have had to balance my deep-rooted need to create and to serve and to help people to change their lives with feeling guilty about daring to have childcare for my toddler (3 very short mornings per week) – and being too exhausted to run the weekend workshops and evening classes that I desperately long to lead. I had been pretending I felt happy about spending all of my time being ‘Mummy’, whilst locking ‘me’ in the cupboard, to be brought out again at some point in the distant future when my boys are old enough not to mind me having a life that’s independent from them.
What happened to authenticity in all of this?
Yes, there are mums out there who manage to ‘have it all’. One example of this myth is a woman who recently crossed my path with a super-smug blend of ‘Ooh! Look how wonderfully successful my business is! I only work 3 seconds per day and I love weaving the fabric for my children’s cloth nappies, which I wash by hand in a nearby stream, whilst making up fairy tales to sing to them while we’re home educating’. And, based on her course and book sales, there are plenty of people buying into her brand of motherhood. Really? Is what she’s offering truly possible? And, if it were, do we really want it? Or is it yet another lie we tell ourselves, along the road?
Are we being real with motherhood?
If being a mum means we feel out of balance and not having our own needs met, then no, we’re not.
What I realised this week was how often I had made choices that I felt were the best for others, rather than the best for myself – and that most of those choices were driven by guilt and fear of being judged. Yet the person driving the guilt was me. I was the one doing the judging, too. And I was letting all of that colour the life-choices I was making, pretending I was ok with them. That is what created the shock and, if I’m being honest, a large dollop of grief.
It’s a pattern that so many of us run – and it doesn’t stop with motherhood.
If we keep making the choices that we think society expects us to make – or which we think will make others happy – then we’re not being authentic. And is that really the example we want to set for our kids?
I’m not saying we should be selfish.
But if you don’t put your own happiness – and your own dharma (living your life’s purpose) – pretty near the top of your priority list, how can you expect others to do so for you?
And is that really what we want to teach our kids?
Putting your needs high up your agenda won’t ever make you a bad mum – but it could make you a brilliant role model.
Had I spotted this, ten years ago, I’d have made some very different decisions. As it is, the decisions I made have taken me to where I am now, for which I am grateful, though I wouldn’t make those choices again.
I’d just like to thank those old school and uni friends – and my wonderful 9 year-old – for helping me to see it now, rather than in another ten years’ time.
Now I can see the pattern I was running, I can do something about it!
As ever, awareness is the first step towards change. 🙂
I’m wondering: are there any choices you’re currently making where your own happiness will be sacrificed? If you were to look ahead to your 80th birthday party, I’m wondering what that 80-year-old you might advise? Are you letting guilt or fear get in the way of living the life your soul was dreaming of for you, when you arrived on this planet?
Please do share your thoughts, feelings, ideas, questions and solutions, via the comments box (below).
And if this article has helped you in any way, please share it with your friends.
With love, Namaste,