I wrote the following piece for a blog that no longer exists. A year and many eye-opening experiences later, I find myself needing to revisit this idea of self-limitations – to pull a few recently-rooted weeds, repair a broken boundary fence or two and give the boot to a couple uninvited guests who crept in slyly through the backdoor of my subconscious. I’ve added a few perspectives that this year has offered me (in darker text)…
I am convinced that the greatest obstacles standing between us and the attainment of happiness or the fulfillment of our dreams are nothing more than unexplored, self-imposed limitations. For a wide variety of reasons, the mind tends to divert attention from its part in creating misery and has a heck of a time admitting its responsibility for undesirable emotions. It seeks outside factors upon which to place blame and is constantly storing up excuses with which to justify its less-than-ideal state of existence.
Both to better process these ideas for myself, and to offer my thoughts to you, I will sort through a few of my own limitations and evaluate them for truth. Some I have made peace with and grown from already. Others still require work and consistent reminders to keep me from revisiting them out of sheer and stubborn habit.
Throughout my adult life we have nearly always struggled to make ends meet. We have fretted and scrambled and worried and stressed, convinced and convicted that what we had wasn’t enough. Then a few years ago, through a series of humbling experiences, I came to realize that it’s not so much the money as my thoughts about money. A scarcity mentality – in which I tell myself there is not enough in this moment – feeds fear, causing me to worry needlessly and create stories about a hypothetical time in the future where my happiness is waiting for me. An abundance mentality, on the other hand, recognizes that I always have just enough as is evident in any given moment by the food in my pantry, shoes on my feet and unlikelihood of starvation as my fate (not to mention the thousands of other incalculable daily blessings I take for granted). I started to notice how many wealthy people still struggle with discontentment, and how the happiest people I know invest not in making money but living according to their purpose (somehow not a one has yet to starve). Money is just another exchange of energy — one that has been misused and abused and blown out of proportion (as are so many things rooted in fear). This year, I have met many happy people whose financial security amounts to a pile of dried feed corn and a three sheep tied together by their mud-caked ankles. People without shoes who have no pantry (much less extra food to fill one) and for whom the likelihood of starvation is just a crop failure or a landslide away. Happiness has nothing to do with money, my friends. No matter how many convincing, convoluted lies you’re fed every single day.
This is an unfortunate, common misconception of many a parent choosing full-time child-rearing over career development. The way I see it, there are actually few greater gifts you could give the world than healthy, loved and valued children. Furthermore, success is relative, and you have no idea what the future holds of the happiness you seek. Contribute your gifts now, from wherever you find yourself. This season of your life will pass before you know it. Wow, how about that. This year has taught me that it’s possible to be less content once you find your dream job and realize that you must fragment yourself even further in order to juggle your passion for work and your family. Careful what you ask for. And careful about society’s twisted messages that imply that you must have it all at once in order to be content. Your contribution to your family is worthy beyond measure, and life is too good to be lived in a hurry.
The greater truth here might be… “I am afraid to be myself because I judge and reject myself.” Yep.
Moving to Mexico blew a crater-sized hole in that lie! However – this year has shown me a new layer to this dream-following bit. I’ve decided that the idea of “following” your dreams is of limited use. It implies that what I seek is always a few steps ahead of me, requiring want and striving and a constant expenditure of energy focused on the future for fulfillment. I suppose you could say we “followed our dreams” to Mexico, but if so, now what? I’m supposed to keep following something – as if the gift of this dream isn’t enough? I much prefer the idea of living my dreams. This slight shift in perspective curbs that empty and insatiable sense of longing and frees me up to fully appreciate the here and now. (Besides, what could be more dreamy that a life without want!?) Logan Smith sums it up nicely, “There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want, and after that to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second.”
Can it be? Right this very moment, can your life be different? Not until you do something to make it different. There is no good that comes from dwelling on how it “should be.” The truth is, it shouldn’t be any different, because IT ISN’T! Instead, an embrace of what is allows for an opportunity to be fully present and more attentive to the beauty of now. This is one of those limitations that I’m still very much in the throws of. These days it manifests itself as, “I should be doing more – I should be writing more, cooking more, studying more Spanish, investing more time in my kids, the Maya, my parents, my friends, my grandparents.” It’s a pretty awful feeling and one that I intend to conquer, as long as it takes me. When I catch myself, I can see the fallacy in my thinking, but its roots are deep and stubborn and consistent weeding takes some real discipline.
In college, 12 years ago already, I vividly remember feeling the exact same emotion…that I was always somehow lacking — never doing quite enough. One day a man I barely knew told me something simple that’s stuck all these years. He said, “You do enough. You have enough. You are enough.” Thank you, Man Whose Name I’ve Long Since Forgotten. Your words have helped recenter me time and time again.
I have to read to my kids every night. I have to bake cakes with them and teach them to garden. I have to serve only organic food, make every birthday present, and shelter them from all injustice. The truth is, there are billions of ways to raise kids, and thankfully, kids are quite resilient. There is more value in them seeing you happy and whole than in all the perfect experiences you attempt to provide for them at the expense of your sanity. As for this year’s realization…these illiterate Maya mamas who strap their babies to their backs, sing to them while tending their fires, feed them mostly corn and Coca Cola, don’t own a book and have no way to shelter them from the harshest injustices known to humanity, are some of the best mothers I have ever seen. Take that, doting, guilt-laden, idealized U.S. parenting paradigms.
Again, a great way to dump your personal responsibility on someone else instead of looking at your part in finding happiness for yourself. What if person X did stop? Then you will be happy? Really? I daresay tomorrow will bring a new set of circumstances to prove you otherwise. If there really is a person creating experiences in your life that are not consistent with the life you want, you can either chose to do nothing and continue in the same manner (though expecting different results is the perfect recipe for insanity), eliminate (or change) their influence in your life, or change your perspective of them. The only thing I would add to this one year later is that the more I work on myself and take responsibility for my actions and reactions, the more other people in my life seem to do the same. (It’s really rather amazing.) Also, perspective shifts can be pretty powerful.
If this is how we view ourselves, it is likely others see us this way, too. How many opportunities do we close ourselves off from by labeling ourselves (and/or other people)? Maybe you’ve defined yourself in a certain way your whole life based on a past judgement you received. You can chose to reject the labels of other people and redefine yourself however you want. On the same note, I am not a slave to my potential. The fact that I’ve been given capabilities does not mean I must find ways to utilize them all, all the time. Everything in its season. All things in due time.
It is because others depend on you that you should be who you want to be. Otherwise, you’re selling them short, too.
This is perhaps the greatest lie of them all. What can you change of the past? Absolutely nothing. That means the past was supposed to be exactly as it was…because it was! What a waste of energy to regret or wish we’d made different choices. The whole point of our memories is that we might learn from them, enjoy them, and have a frame of reference from which to create our future. Exacto.
And here are a couple of sneaky ones who’ve found their way into my thinking this year…
Whoa. Heavy load. Too heavy for my petite frame, I’m discovering. I’m going to save my thoughts on this subject for a separate post. It might be titled, “Fellow Humanitarians, Please Tell Me You’re Out There,” or “How to Stay Hopeful on the Front Lines of Social Injustice.” What I feel is a combination of passion, isolation, enthusiasm, hope, skepticism, cynicism, inspiration and overwhelm. I look forward to opening up a dialogue. I think I need not go this alone.
Until about a month ago (and for the better part of a year) I had slipped out of my daily yoga and/or exercise routine. Though I’m not proud of the reason I let it go, I am sure of it. No one cares what I look like here. It’s likely no one in Austin cares either, but it always seemed so important to stay fit and presentable in a swim suit. But here? It’s almost always cold (meaning your parts are always covered) and there’s virtually no emphasis on how people look. It’s been so refreshing not to care that I let go of my workouts willingly almost as an “f-you” to my old ways. Well, uh, that didn’t really work out so well. Essentially, one year with no exercise and I started to feel like a different person. Like a different and much older person — with backaches and shoulder stress and a grumpy disposition. Not cool. Not cool at all.
So, I’m back at it, and only 5 weeks in, I am amazed at how much better I feel. Early-morning yoga? You better believe it. Nightly salsa lessons? Four times a week. The cool thing is that this time around, my motivation has shifted. I’m doing it for me. I’m doing it because it makes me feel alive and strong and positive. I’m doing it because I refuse to feel old until I’m like 90, not 34. Life’s too short, life’s too sweet and I’ve got about 10,000 too many things I plan to do to be limited by my body. My mental limitations are quite enough on their own.
Tu sabes bailar salsa? Vamos entonces!!!!
thank you lovely 🙂
just what i needed to kickstart my day(week, year).
Thank you beth and actually I printed it out to refer back to….I too strugle with most if not all of this, and its so refreshing to read this piece!!!
Oh wow this is so me!!
Such good stuff! Thank you for this. Too often I get obsessed with improving myself, and forget to stop and celebrate how far I’ve already come, and how proud I am of who I am right now. This was a really good reminder.
I blogged about that, and included a quote from this post, with full credit of course. Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂
Thank YOU, Anna! I really enjoyed your blog post and writing style. I’ll be keeping my eye on you!
This is a fantastic post. Thank you for writing it.
There is more value in them seeing you happy and whole than in all the perfect experiences you attempt to provide for them at the expense of your sanity.
This is what I needed to read tonight, I’ll stop now and save more posts for later! THANK YOU SO MUCH! I will read this quote over and over. As much as I love the thought of simply enjoying and embracing life, I still fall prey to the love love love that I feel for my dear precious children, that I want the best best best for them which is often defined by the invisible “they”, and then I feel guilt guilt guilt because I can’t succeed in everything, then I keep striving harder and it’s a vicious circle on and on. Your quote gives a reason to stop that cycle. Thanks.
I’m right there with you on this one. It took nearly going crazy to start relaxing my standards. The very phrase still incites a sense of failure in me, as if MY standards are the only ones worthy of my children! I’m working on a piece about “Mom Guilt” right now. You can check it out on Mothering.com in the next couple of days. Thanks, J’Ana!
“I’m doing it for me. I’m doing it because it makes me feel alive and strong and positive. I’m doing it because I refuse to feel old until I’m like 90, not 34. Life’s too short, life’s too sweet and I’ve got about 10,000 too many things I plan to do to be limited by my body. My mental limitations are quite enough on their own. ”
I have started a pile of sticky notes with your quotes. They are on my desk in various places. This one rings true for me today. Again, thank you!
I stumbled upon this gem of a blog by accident, but I agree with and love what you have to say! As a junior in college, it’s sometimes a struggle to maintain balance in my life; either the social scene takes over and I neglect my schoolwork, or, as I did during finals week, the tests and papers seem insurmountable and I spend days alone in my room typing and studying away. I am most definitely going to put some of these quotes up on my wall when I get back to school on Friday!
I just wanted to say that I, as a rather new political activist, would love to know more about how to stay hopeful on the frontlines of social injustice. Heck, I’m not even on the frontlines, and the news is still sometimes too depressing to bear! What suggestions do you have to do what, as it is turning out to be, is one’s life passion and still maintain a healthy, optimistic outlook on life?
Thank you so much. I needed to read this tonight.
I’m discovering your blog through a precious and inspirational friend and how I appreciate you sharing those thoughts and limitations among which certain are mine too 😉 Thanks for these reminders, helps and deep sentences!
The wisdom here is infinite. I could sticky note the entire post. And as tends to happen with your blog, I’ve read this post precisely when I needed it the most, in fact, after just writing my own journal entry entitled “the facts of my failures” … Although I thought mine was a factual, as opposed to a negative account, I can see that I need to add the truth (as opposed to the facts), inspired by the truth in your list of limitations. Without that there’s no perspective, and no lesson. Just a bunch of words whose purpose is only to make me feel worse about myself, even though I needed to get them out.
Thank you for lighting the way again, for being so beautifully and relateably human and unafraid to share it. (Although, I’m pretty sure you are superhuman.)