It’s amazing how we brush over what we have achieved, and focus on what we haven’t. Is it because we see it as crass to talk about our successes? Are women worse at this than men, conditioned as we are to make ourselves small and unthreatening?
Well, tits to that. It’s my 38th birthday this weekend so I’m going to tell you about things I’ve achieved in 2018. I have no idea why those two things are linked, but it feels like one gives permission to the other. Perhaps one day I’ll no longer need permission but anyway…
At the start of 2018 I set myself a few professional goals: speak more on panels; create a new website; take on more clients; write and publish a course for small business owners about how to use Instagram to grow their business; grow my own business.
I hit the ground SPRINTING. Within three months I’d notched up three event appearances with more in the calendar; I’d written 90% of the content for the course; and I’d enlisted the help of Maxine @digitalbonbons to build the techy bits of my website. I was taking on more clients, more work, and earning more money. Make Motherhood Diverse was also growing; we were planning our first event and continued to share stories that deserved to be heard. BIG TICKS ALL ROUND!
And then it stopped.
I reached the Easter holidays, just a quarter of the way into the year, exhausted.
I’d lost sight of the reason I’d finished teaching in 2016 – to balance the demands of the Mr’s job and be available as the primary carer for our family – and I was working many evenings and weekends, unable to switch off. Even when my laptop lid was down my mind ran a constant scan of the tabs open in my brain.
I was surrounded by people whose careers were taking off – getting promotions at work; securing exciting campaigns on social media; making big big strides towards their goals. I had been swept along with the tide. Sure that this was what “it” took, I worked every hour I could to make it happen for me too. These were necessary sacrifices because this is what success looks like: making money, building status, receiving recognition, keeping busy… feeling stressed, being irritable, always impatient.
Then it dawned on me – I was glorifying hardship.
People who overcome huge obstacles deserve all the praise they receive, but while I imagine some might attribute success to the motivation of their humble beginnings, I also suspect that not many would want their own children to go through the same struggles. It is irritating when people fail to acknowledge the unearned advantages they have benefitted from – I hope I’m not one of those people – but does it automatically follow that people should feel guilty or undeserving when they’re in a more fortunate position? What is it that stops us from celebrating when life is good? What is it that stops us from stopping?
With these questions demanding answers, the landscape of 2018 changed entirely and I committed to a different set of priorities for the rest of the year.
For a time I felt a little lost with this new go-slow. Contentment was alien to me and felt like an indulgence. Surprisingly perhaps, it also fostered new anxieties; once I allowed myself to really see what I had to be thankful for, I became consumed by thoughts of all the ways it could be taken away. It was disorientating to no longer be striving, hungry and driven, constantly competing with myself to do better than before. I missed that version of me.
But eventually I realised I haven’t lost a part of who I was, I am simply emerging from who I thought I should be.
With that in mind, these are the things I’m most proud of this year:
We moved house and got stairs and our own bins!
I followed through on commitments to myself to read and exercise more.
I learned to question everything. To some this might sound tiring but it’s actually incredibly liberating to never pretend to have the answers!
I learned that the more disconnected I feel from the world around me, the unhappier I get. Living with greater awareness often brings sadness, anger or overwhelm, but ignoring the world doesn’t make those feelings go away – the reasons for having them just change. Think small, and my irritations just get more petty – think big and I can see more clearly what really matters.
I learned that things happen in their own time. I see lots of “manifesting” talk at this time of year, and I’m sure it works for some people. But that’s not going to work for me. I have to be in a place where I can grab opportunity when it comes along, and I’m not there yet. This is not my time; I have another role right now and I have to be patient. That’s not to say it will never happen – I’m not drifting, I’m mindfully waiting.
I learned that I am more than the sum of the things I achieve. My productivity is not intrinsically attached to my worth. Also, I realised that achievements – the things you can point to and say “I did that” – stay where they are, fixed in a moment in time. Right now I’m finding more value in knowledge, ideas and relationships that evolve with time and effort. I am learning to appreciate the worth of actions outside the traditional, patriarchal definition of success, which asks only how big is your economic contribution?
I learned to enjoy my life. I thought I’d cracked gratitude – I’m thankful every day for the financial security we enjoy, and only need to look at my two healthy, happy children to be moved to count my blessings. But I realised that gratitude is no good if it is steeped in guilt. What use are blessings if I don’t let myself feel their joy? Piety and martyrdom help nobody. I learned that more useful than my guilt is a commitment to helping improve things for others in whatever way I can.
I learned that I’ve lost interest in competing with anyone.
I hope we all make it*.
PS the website is now finished
PPS the course about Instagram for small businesses is still in the pipeline…;-)
Title image credit to Refinery 29 UK by annarosejay and oliviasantnerdesign.
*words adapted from a Bright Vibes meme