I want to tell you something that was told to me at times in my life that I didn’t heed until the day I HAD to accept it . SLOW DOWN AND BREATHE. There’s no reason to rush and you can’t control an unpredictable future, so why not take life in stride and see what it presents to you? You will miss so much if you life your life by a plan laden with benchmarks and goals and if you pressure yourself because others have achieved something you haven’t yet. So, if this is you, an over-planning, over-achieving youngster, staring at life through eyes-only-on-the-prize glasses, please stop and read my words and understand that I know what I’m talking about.
When I was growing up, adults loved asking children what they wanted to be when they grew up. Considering it is the business of children to grow at their own pace without agenda, this is the most stupid question an adult could ask a child. How can someone who hasn’t spent much time on a planet filled with so much to discover and experience answer such a question? Some adults forget what being a child is like because they have lost the creativity of their childhood and don’t know what to ask kids. As a result, they come up with a question about something they can relate to — the soul-sucking world of work and highly regarded careers, thereby unconsciously tampering with the natural programming of being human where we learn with our senses, thereby sparking curiousity. Posing questions about the future to a child, infiltrates their mind with pointless benchmarks and a man-made need to have a life-plan bombarded with goals for success without failure.
When I reflect upon my my mother’s younger years, I can see she did the best she could with what she had, living by society’s rules. I remember she would coach me to give impressive answers to the what-I-wanted-to-be-when-I-grew-up questions. I was coached not to speak my truth of wanting to be a creative person but to say I wanted to be a linguist working at the United Nations headquarters, a lawyer or a doctor. When I was young, I wanted to be a nurse who was also a dancer who painted and wrote stories to read to her patients for fun in her spare time. While I was praised for dancing beautifully with incredible expressiveness, lauded for my ability to move people with my writing, or complimented on the impecable first aid I lent to others, I was also told that certain pursuits (mine) allowed only a chosen few to find success and that the rest of us (me) needed to pursue not what we loved but what was sensible(things that were considered lucrative). After a while, I believed that any compliment I received for anything creative I had done was a polite lie. Disenchanted, I started buying one liner greeting cards instead of filling blank ones with my heartfelt words. Writing wouldn’t make me any money, dancing would mean I was an academic failure and since I was the firstborn and had to “set a good example” for my sister, I set aside what the adults in my life saw as “fairy tale”dreams and forced myself to find a profession that would not make me become a disappointment in a world that was “not going to get any easier, you know”. It was so confusing being encouraged to put my mind to doing anything I wanted to do, so long as it was the sensible thing to do. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life at eighteen, nineteen or twenty (I’m hard pressed to believe anyone does) and in my my haste to choose something to study at University, I choose to study for a career in Television and Radio like my father. And even while at the embassy applying for my student visa, my father, whose footsteps I was about to follow, told the man who was processing my application that he thought I was stupid to choose what I had because at sometime I would have to give it up when I had a family. Forgive my late father’s statement. I have. He was a product of his arrogant generation’s oppressive thinking and he also did the best he could with the tools that were available to him. I knew he loved me but I don’t think my father ever recognized when he hurt my feelings or made me feeel small. That’s just how fathers were then I suppose. To this day, to protect themselves (or rather be on the offensive), my family likes to brush off or pretend to forget the things they did wrong (because they are never wrong) and they all wish I would just let things go but I can’t. However, I use these things I can’t let go of not to be bitter towards them, but to be a better person and parent and offer better guidance to my sons and the young people I encounter.
There was only one adult in my life, a university professor, who made a statement about life and careers that stuck with me and perhaps my entire graduating class of 1992. He said, “Do what you love and the money will come later,”. If I could have my youth back, that is exactly what I would do, because success is not about titles or money earned but it is about soaking up what life offers us every day. Living is about experiencing moments, seeing things, meeeting people,trying new things, scary things, tasting new food and finding comfort in the familiar. It’s about helping people, feeling emotions, being selfless and inadvertently finding out who we are and what’s our purpose. Life provides experiences that fuel ideas and innovation and invention while art inspires and uplifts our souls and sometimes, we feel like we are soaring instead of sinking and it feels good, if only for just a moment. Life is short…even if you live to a hundred …life is short; too short to live by a plan or a ridgid schedule. It is okay to not know what you are doing tomorrow or next week, next month or next year. If you live life by a ridgid plan you will have more disappointments than achievements and you will not be happy. Now, let’s not mistake disappointment for failure. Failure is a reset button. Failure is the greatest teacher because you can’t improve or achieve anything great without the mistakes that lead to failure. Failure is the foundation and stepping stones to success. Failure is temporary, really, if you use it as impetus to try again. Disappointment tends to linger and sometimes never goes away.
I have learned that in life, (and to be successful you’ve got to believe this) you have to do what makes you happy and though sometimes you have to do what you have to do to get by, it does not mean you have to put aside or not do the thing that is the essence of who you are — the thing that comes from your soul. You also can’t find happiness if you hold on to regret. I suppose I could say I regret not doing this or that, but I realize I can still do some of those things now. I couldn’t when I was younger but I have the chance to re-visit some of the things I had postponed now. It’s up to me to do them. I have no reason or excuse not to. I had so many plans that were laid on a shakey foundation that consisted of what I was told would make me a successful. It was a plan laid on a foundation I made based on what other people had in mind for me — people in retrospect, who were not more intelligent than I was. It is quite surprising and a little unsettling when you realize you are far more intelligent and intuitive than the people that raised you — after all, they were supposed to know best and yet their guidance was often wrong. I know that nothing they did was malicious but rather were ideas that were formed out of fear because they could see the world changing, becoming harder and that human beings were becoming more ruthless and selfish and to protect us from being ravaged by the world, they felt they had to steer us to choose paths that would make us financially able to survive. After all, money has always made the world go round, but I see loopholes of hope. Having missed the opportunity to pursue my passions in my youth, I see that there are no age limits or rules that say I can’t at fifty four.
When I was in my twenties I had a life plan set on a time frame. By twenty-five I’d be working at this place earning this much. By twenty-seven I would own my first house in such and such a neighbourhood and I would be driving this specific car and be taking vacations in country X and Y. It was a tough, rigid, impossible plan, really. Back then, I didn’t have the extra tools like the internet or a smart phone to help out with these grandiose plans of mine but I was determined to stand out in any way that I could to get it all. And then, life happened and I became just like any other ordinary grunt out there. I wasn’t special, famous or succesful or financially rich. Life happened and I had a baby who would later be diagnosed with a life-long condition that would determine everything we would do, say, think or feel forever. And while I was suspecting something was worryingly different about him, I was pregnant with baby number two who, upon birth would be colicky for six months and susceptible to both bronchiolitis and bronchitis. Quickly, my life-plan was a vague speck of an idea created for some other woman from some other time. My husband and I bought a house much later than our peers, shared a very basic four-door sedan for a very long time and we spent more time worrying about the future of our one child while busting our asses to create a “normal” life for the other.We didn’t have a lot of money back then and when we did have extra life threw us major hiccups like a broken down furnace or kitchen appliance. We seemed to be perpetually climbing out of a very deep hole, shaking off the dirt that landed on our heads as life tried to bury us. Ours was a life set before a backdrop of constant chaos, constant change and movement, perpetual tiredness, brain straining days and nights of thinking outside the box to create the best environment in which to raise these two little boys while everyone our age in our neighbourhood was worrying about which tiles or hardwood they should buy to increase the value of their homes.
By the time I was thirty-six, my husband and I quietly understood that we had been placed in fixed roles. He would work outside the home and do other other lucritive work on the side to pay the bills and put food on the table and I would be at home with the boys, overseeing our special son’s therapy while raising the other and the only job I could do kept me inside the home, babysitting other people’s typically developing children and pretending to like the ones I really didn’t. I learned to re-use and re-purpose things and replenish the basic needs of our family with a budget based on what I called a creative banking system. It goes without saying that life was grinding us down back then and I could absolutely relate to Lee Lawrie’s famous sculpture of the plight of Atlas. I had to make a concerted effort to find joy in each day so that I could face the next. I was often bitter, angry, hurt and just so sad because at the time, I felt that my child was ripped off by his diagnosis and that we were ripped off as a family. It felt like we had to work so hard for the simplest of things; work so hard for peace and happiness.
Dear People between the ages of nineteen and twenty-nine, I can sincerely tell you that ALL my plans went down the drain. I couldn’t remember what they were or why they were important and I had no idea who I was. But, I survived and I truly lived because I got out of bed every day and sometimes went through the mundane motions and sometimes I experienced heaven before my eyes or in the palm of my hand and eventually, when the grief and pain subsided; when I stopped letting myself believe the medical community who kept telling me I had a short window to help my child develop; when I quit frantically rushing around trying to fix my son and fix our lives from something bad that I believed was lurking around the corner…. when I stopped to breathe and take life more slowly, I started to see and I mean really see what was life was all about and just how magnificent it all was. I understood that there was no plan that was going to make me happy. What was making me happy was what I have been doing for the past twenty one years. I had to get to the end of my parenting road to realize my value. I had to become an empty nester before I could say I understood the puropse of my life and now, it’s time to write a new chapter for myself at fifty-four — it’s time to see what other purpose I will fulfill.
I spent too much time doing what I thought I had to do in my twenties and not doing what I loved. Circumstance made me shelve my passions but I was able to take all the mistakes and poor advice that I spoke of earlier and make sure I did better as a parent and a person. I had the wisdom to break the cycle of haste and planning and mapping out a life that surely none of us could predict. In life there are only a few sure things — you are alive, you need food, water and air. You need love, joy and a sense of belonging and purpose and then, one day, you die and your life is over. So, don’t you think we should make the most of the time we have?
I encourage my boys follow their passions. I try to expose them to everything by taking them everwhere and showing them what this world of ours has to offer. I give them love and affection and I give them my ear, always. I think truly listening to a person is one of the most valuable gifts you can give to them. I welcome their ideas and opinions and love when they teach me something new. I have given constructive criticism and I have known when to hold back and let them fail. I have learned to be patient whenever I watch them flounder before they rise again. I have wiped tears and offered words of encouragement more times than I can count. I try to make them confident and strong knowing that some days, they can’t be strong and they just need time to be emotional puddles — but they are my puddles, my boys, two important contributors to the planet that I have had the great fortune and privilege of raising and propping along the way. I was there for every first and every struggle and every heartbreak when life was not fair. I have been there for every achievement and I am proud not just of who they’ve become but of what the four of us have been able to achieve as a family. I might not have become anything I dreamed of but my husband and I continue to take on the twists, turns and sudden drops of this roller coaster life of ours. We look at the short comings of our parents as teaching tools because we know we are able to do something better — we can support our sons as they shoot for the stars and we can encourage them to slow down and be patient and see how life unfolds amidst a world society that still bases success on archaic patterns of generations gone by. We try to do better by our boys because we know what it is like to not get the opportunity to try and pursue our passions.
I might not have gotten the promotions and important corporate positions I thought I wanted. I live in a simple house that is a glorious home. There is enough money in the bank and there are even some well-performing investments and we’ve since upgraded the sedan to two more reliable and comfortable cars. We are at the point in our lives where we are looking to do and see more and possess less. I didn’t become famous for anything earth shattering but my husband and I have been complimented repeatedly for helping nurture two incredible human beings. As we lived through those tough, tough times, we became passionate about helping our sons and other young people embrace their talent, live their truth and follow their passions and it continues to be extremely rewarding. What we feel every day is something money could never buy. I know now that if I was working for some powerful corporation when my son was diagnosed, my family would not have turned out as wonderfuly as it did. I cannot imagine doing all that I did with my sons and working in a demanding environment at the same time. All those moments I devoted to raising them would have been split with and lost on a career and I don’t want to imagine what kind of person I would have become . I don’t have material accolades to show that I am indeed successful. Truth is, I never needed them and I was able to get the necessities of life in the long run. It didn’t matter that the things I needed came when I was twenty-five, thirty-five or forty-five, the point is, we got what we needed and what we don’t may still come, or not but I don’t care because there is no benchmark or deadline. We have our health and we have a bit of wealth but most of all we have love and an openess to receiving and accepting all that is to come or that is to be denied.
Take it from a middle aged woman about to start new things — slow down, be patient, take it all in. Breathe, lie back and stare at the sky, dip your toes in the water, taste all the flavours, listen to all the music notes, take a walk in the rain, feel the sunshine on your face, jump into a pile of leaves, make a snow angel. The planet isn’t what she used to be, there are no starter homes that young people can afford and higher education is more expensive when it should be free. Choose to follow your passion and follow it your way because it is okay to break the mould of stringent path of elementary school to high school to college and university to hopefully high paying job. It won’t work because it can’t work if you haven’t allowed yourself to experience life. If you don’t allow yourself to live, how will you ever know what you want to do in life? Life will deal you several hands, be flexible enough and love yourself enough to be able to play each hand you are dealt. If you just want to be alive, stay on the carousel. Jump onto the roller coaster if you want to truly live.