I was talking to my oldest son, who has two very young children. We were discussing books that tell us how to live our lives. He said that he was tired of books that advocated grabbing life by the horns and living your passion. It’s not surprising that those types of books would overwhelm a man covered over with diapers who exists in a state of constant sleep deprivation.
The book that did give him peace was called Abandonment to Divine Providence, written by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade in the 18th century. It’s a Christian book that advocates accepting that all experiences are a part of God’s plan. My son said that the book encourages one to live in the moment and accept life’s challenges as growth experiences. He said, “I’ve accepted that I am not going to make any great intellectual pursuits right now.”
His observations made total sense to me. In my youth, I also had the urge to live life all at once. I felt that I had to achieve everything – family, career, financial success, personal growth – when I was in my 20s and 30s. It’s an exhausting way of life and very difficult to be excellent at everything.
Now, I have the advantage of hindsight. When I look back over the almost 60 years of my life, I can clearly see the phases I experienced. I was a child and then an adolescent. I experienced high school and then went on to college. Shortly after graduating, I got married. Six years after that, I had my oldest son, and then my youngest son almost two years after that. Then I was a mom of children, adolescents, young adults, and finally, mature men. Now I am also single and a grandmother. I’ve lived lots of phases and enjoyed each one.
My first lesson about living in the present phase of life was in high school. Many of my peers wanted to be older. Some of them smoked and drank and looked very cool. Being and looking cooler than everyone else seemed to be their goal. They didn’t want to be silly, and their heartiest laughs were at someone else’s expense.
Frankly, I didn’t understand their behavior. I could see that this was a wonderful time in our lives that would never come again. We were young and foolish because of our lack of experience. Trying not to look foolish must have been exhausting.
My high school peers who tried to be older missed much of what is great about high school because they weren’t all-in. I’ve talked before about the importance of being all-in, but I haven’t discussed the broad perspective that helps us live fully engaged.
When my children were small, I longed to get out the door and begin a career. I felt like I had to do it right that second. For many reasons, I became a stay-at-home mom. However, I remembered the lesson I learned during high school and decided that living one way and yearning for another would not be healthy for any of us. I decided intentionally to go all-in during the Mom of Young Children phase.
And we had a blast! We did library story times, mom-and-me swim classes, and music workshops. I changed a million diapers and slept very little. I read about Peter Rabbit, Mr. Gumpy, and dinosaurs. Every now and then I longed to get out and live some of life on my own, but I didn’t. I went all-in on being the mom of young children,
Now, before you think I am bashing working moms, I am not. I know from experience that completely leaving the job market for 15 years is not the greatest idea. It was way harder to re-enter than I thought it would be. One should always be ready to jump into self-sufficiency. Life throws curveballs at you, and sometimes the ball hits you.
What I am suggesting is that it’s okay not to go full-throttle on everything. In truth, we only have so much time in a day. We don’t have enough time to be stellar at many things. Something has to be a priority. Deciding what’s first makes all of life’s decisions easier. Dropping things that can wait a bit or giving them less emphasis can feel like a weight lifted off our shoulders.
In the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, the author, Greg McKeown, advocates distilling the tasks in our lives down to the ones that bring meaning and joy. The inside jacket cover says:
“Essentialism is more than a time management strategy or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter.”
I want to add that it’s best if we determine what is essential for each phase of life. What’s essential when I’m 26 is not what’s essential when I’m 59. We need to apply the principles of essentialism in each new phase of life.
It’s easier if we realize that we have a lifetime to achieve our goals. We don’t have to get it all done right this second. When my grandchildren start school and become more self-sufficient, my son will have a bit of time for intellectual pursuits. When they start driving, he will have long stretches of time to read while he waits for them to come home safely. When they are grown, he will have more time on his hands than he knows what to do with.
Now, I am embracing the freedom that comes from living alone. I can get up when I want, eat what I want, and watch what I want. It’s fabulous! I spend money on plants and pots to my heart’s content. I listen to my 70s music with nary an eye roll or heavy sigh. I call my condo Xanadu because it’s a bit glitzier than what I had in my previous life, and I change the temperature to match my menopausal comfort at the moment. It is glorious.
Once again, I am not bashing marriage or having a partner. It’s all about appreciating what is in your life and deciding in this moment what is most important. There are glorious, fabulous things about being married, as well. We want to identify the life phase we are in, revel in its glory, and focus on the essentials.
Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a marathon that takes us through some wonderfully diverse places. If we constantly get ready for the next phase, we are missing the beautiful view and the wondrous people around us right now. Pace yourself! Enjoy the fleeting things in your life. They will leave and be replaced by new fabulous things. Don’t miss any of it by skipping ahead to the end. Live each phase of life fully!
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