“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” ~Rosalia de Castro~
I’ve never thought much about the road of life. Of course I had heard the old adage, “life is a journey, not a destination,” but never thought much beyond the idea to remember and enjoy it from time to time. I supposed if anything, I thought of life as a highway built by those before me, a road smooth and even, constructed for speed and getting places. Graduation, college, career, marriage, and family where milestones that marked the passage of time, each a quick pitstop to check off along the route to the next bigger and better place. Bumps along this road, inclement weather, wrong turns, mistakes, bad jobs, and failed relationships, were all setbacks and unwanted detours that slowed my progress to the next milepost.
I raced through life this way, checking off milestones as fast as possible…friendships, high honor roll, graduation, career, marriage, a nice home, a bigger home, babies, and more babies. Check. check. check. check. I had finally arrived. I am here! Each mile marker passed as fast as possible. I achieved all the goals I had ever set out to accomplish. One, two, three, and four babies later my life is complete!
But it isn’t. In fact, I have never felt more confused and unsettled in my entire life as I have these last 11 years. How does one navigate when the highway has vanished? It was there all along, telling me which way to go and what to achieve and poof, by 25, with the arrival of my first beautiful baby boy, the solid, reliable road had come to an abrupt dead end. I had absolutely no clue where to turn next. There were no more milestones to achieve or ladders to climb. There were only sleepless nights and bedtime battles and pregnancy after pregnancy after pregnancy. I spent my days surviving, navigating the rough waters of motherhood and feeling utterly adrift in this new, mapless world.
I had spent 25 years following the path others had set and never, not once, questioned the road I was on or what happened after the final milestone was achieved. I had done all I was supposed to, exceed every expectation the “right way,” so why wasn’t I happy?
Why did most days leave me angry, resentful, and exhausted? Why was I becoming a martyr in my marriage and a bully to my young children?
I have been grappling with these questions for the last decade. I still don’t have an easy answer, but for the first time in my life, it is because I finally understand there isn’t one. It truly is up to us to make our own path, and as cliche and corny as it sounds, I have never found words to be more true and necessary.
Is Life a Highway or a Long and Winding Road?
I’m done racing down the highway, going nowhere fast. Today, I imagine life as a cobblestone road. It is intricate and beautiful, built with rocks and stones of varying shapes and sizes. Some of these stones are small and smooth, others large and rough, and yet when fit together they create a path. As we navigate these moments, a new stone is added to the route and the road expands, leading us through our life.
The road has no particular destination. It winds and curves through hills and valleys. Its unevenness encourages a slow and steady journey, one meant to be appreciated and experienced fully.
Sometimes the road winds over velvety green hills drenched in golden sunlight. Other times, it is ravaged by wind and rain. Blankets of white snow can make the path invisible, leaving us disoriented and lost.
The path settles into lush and quiet valleys but also scales dizzying heights. It seems the road is leading us somewhere, and yet we are laying each stone, constructing the path as we move through life.
Achievements and accomplishments are not prerequisites for a happy life. The space between the big moments, the effort behind the accomplishments and failures, is where our lives are built. Learning to understand, appreciate, and simply enjoy life along this road, before “arriving” is a challenge, especially when all of my instincts keep screaming “are we there yet!?”
I’m slowly learning that of course there is no “after,” at least, not until our time on earth is done, and yet so many of us continue charging full steam ahead, pedal to the metal on autopilot as our life flashes past. Why are we in such a hurry to get no where?
I’m working on slowing down and enjoying the view.
How To Ease Up on the Gas and Begin Slowing Down
When we are moving through life on cruise control it’s easy to forget that you are in the driver’s seat. You have the power to hit the breaks, take a detour, or just pull over already. When is the last time you really thought about where you are headed and contemplated if it’s someplace you actually want to go?
Are you moving towards a destination that is important to YOU, or are you just moving along, racking up mileage for no other reason than traffic will run your ass off the road if you don’t keep up? There’s a big difference in speeding towards something you want and feeling powerless to pull the emergency break.
It’s good to have goals, to challenge ourselves, to push past discomfort and do things that stretch us beyond the security of our predictable routes, and yet, it’s absolutely okay to be at a moment in your journey where the only goal is to just BE. Take time to think about where you are going and if it’s someplace you really want to go.
Do you even remember what you loved and enjoyed before the big bad world sunk its teeth into you?
When is the last time you laughed with abandon or did something simply because it sounded like fun?
Adulting is hard…showing up in the world on our best behavior, dressed in socially and situationally appropriate clothing, biting our tongues when we feel like screaming or singing, managing our finances, cutting the grass, making Christmas the most wonderful time of the year every damn year….we do it all.
The responsibilities and demands on our time continue to grow year after year. Babies come, the mortgage gets bigger, the economy tanks, parents age, Lisa needs braces. More responsibility and burden falls upon our shoulders and getting through each day with enough energy to watch an hour of tv is the most we can hope for.
We can’t avoid responsibility but we can take meaningful action to reintroduce simple joys into each and every day. We need to play. We need less activities geared at accomplishing results and more that create nothing more than a joyful experience. We need quite and space to just “be.” The Little eBook of Self Care has over 50 wonderful ideas on how to get started.
Kids do not worry about what is socially acceptable or productive, they just play however they damn well please. When I was little, my sister Annie and I spent hours at our kitchen table, composing stories on recycled paper brought home from Mom’s secretary job. We made art with abandon simply because we enjoyed the creative process.
Last month I bought an adult coloring book. I don’t have time to color for hours any longer, but I did spend the 10 minutes waiting for my pasta to boil pressing vibrant fine tipped Sharpies against the paper. Every few weeks I wrestle my kids into “family cleaning hour”, we put music on full blast and dance our booties off while dusting, cleaning toilets and fighting with our siblings. There’s nothing like Trolls soundtrack at an ear splitting volume to drown out the complaints of 4 kids and put a little party in an otherwise boring task.
What did you enjoy as a child when the world wasn’t watching? How can you bring some of that back into your life, even 5 or 10 minutes a day?
Imagine majestic tree, firmly rooted to the ground, standing tall and towering over the land. It grew from a tiny seed into a beautiful and useful tree with thick branches, a massive trunk and full, green leaves that provide shade and make oxygen. And yet, each year that tree takes time to rest. There is a season for growth and there is a season where the production of fruit and seeds and new growth slows to a stop. It is during this time trees just rest, hunker down and relaaaaaax.
In fact, if you force a tree to evade dormancy, say keep it inside with stable light and temperature, it’s detrimental to the tree in the long run. Going dormant for a few months, as nature intended, is better for the tree’s long term health and growth. Trees need a break once and awhile to grow into their full potential, and so do you.
What season are you in?
When is the last time you took time to just rest and lean into enjoying your life?
How is resting even possible when there is so much shit to get done?
What does resting even mean?
It is flipping off the switch in your brain that screams at you be productive all day every day.
It is silencing the pompous voice that tells you sitting down and watching Real Housewives is lazy, brain rotting, and self indulgent. I mean, yes Real Housewives is kind of brain rotting but it’s an oh so enjoyable way to disconnect from actual reality. Watching bitches flip tables and throw cash around like confetti is just plain entertainment. And damn it, there is a place in our life for some mindless entertainment and fun. It is not only okay but necessary.
Maybe even consider taking one day off from the pressure of “moving forward” and try just to enjoy your day. Yes there will be things you have to do, go to work, wrangle kids into PJs, feed the dog, but I bet there are things that you do out of sense of duty that really don’t have to be done, at least not right now. Just practice what it feels like to put the laundry off until tomorrow.
What’s that? Your laundry is so bad no one has clean clothes, your house is already a nightmare, everything is at a breaking point and you absolutely can’t ignore it any longer. Fair enough, but you don’t have to tackle it all right now, what’s the critical path, clean underwear? Do some laundry and be done. Break out the paper plates if need be. The goal is one day off to demonstrate to yourself life goes on if you don’t get it all done right now.
Here’s the truth, you may be all gung-ho to slow down, take stock, have fun and rest a little, but the reality is life has a way of continually creeping up on us and before you know it, you’ll be back on the interstate speeding through life again. Know this will happen and resolve to repeat this process as often as necessary. Put up some speed bumps to force you to slow down, create systems that help you create new habits, and stay focused. Carve out 10 minutes a day to journal, reflect, or just breathe. Lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to, but find a consistent way to give yourself some space to reflect and remember your goal of slowing down. Schedule dates with yourself to do something for no other reason than because it’s fun, see a movie, go ice skating, ride a bike with a friend, whatever it is get it on your calendar and make it happen, often.
Life is hard enough without us feeling guilty for taking time for ourselves, but it is absolutely critical we work on enjoying the simple things while traveling towards our destination. Happiness will not find you just as fitness or riches or the love of your life won’t necessary fall into your lap without a whole lot of intention and even more determination.
Make it happen.
Don’t spend the next 40 years hurling yourself through life and miss the beauty that exists everywhere, all around us in the seemingly ordinary moments. Every day we have less time on earth than the day before. Time is our most valuable asset, we can’t make more of it, but we certainly can make the most of it.
Reflect, remember, rest, repeat.
When is the last time you put yourself first? How can you begin to make small changes right now that will give you a little breathing room? Do you think it’s feasible or unrealistic to make more you time within your day?