Exclamation point because the sun is finally shining, the temperatures are finally rising, and moods everywhere are finally lifting (hopefully). I was actually looking into booking flights this summer so that we can see my parents in Canada after (what will be) 2 years by then of not seeing them in person. I know we haven't been given the all-clear just yet, but just the act of looking ahead and seeing possibilities is huge, and a change from what we've all experienced the past year. It's also a chance to do some internal spring cleaning.
My son's teacher asked his kindergarten class what is the one thing they are each most looking forward to doing when lockdown lifts? My son of course, replied he was super excited to see his friends, "his team" as he calls them. Many of us are making mental lists of what we want to be doing when the gates open and we can rush out into normality. Yet, at the top of my list is trying to keep this slower pace of life going and thriving without the need to feel I'm not doing "enough". But if I am being honest with myself (and since this is my blog, I will be), lockdown or no lockdown, I have never really not felt like I am doing enough. In fact, I often feel like I am lagging behind others in a perceived race to perfection. It makes me wonder why we feel we need to always be doing something, accomplishing something even when the world had come to a standstill?
I was thinking about that while doing a yoga class the other day (not ideal when doing yoga). It was a yin yoga class which meant it was very restorative and slower paced. I kept thinking, that maybe I should switch to a more strenuous class that would give me a more intense workout. It didn't stop there. When I'm out walking, why do I feel I need to push myself in speed to feel as though I’m actually doing something good for my body? Why do we feel we need to break the fibres of our muscles; push ourselves to the limit to feel as though we are living the way we are meant to be living? Why do I feel that it is only through pushing myself hard constantly that not only will I then achieve the best results, but I will also be making the best use of my time?
Look, I'm not advocating sitting around and waiting for our lives to change our way without putting in the work to change it. What I am exploring is why does that work have to be hard? Sally Gallagher, co-founder of the Proctor-Gallagher Institute writes, "Contrary to what most people think, trying harder isn’t necessarily the solution to achieving more." See, when I'm doing something I love and when I'm enjoying the process, the work may seem full on and may take up my time, space, and energy, but I don't feel like it's work. Homeschooling my kid? Yup, that's hard work because I don't enjoy it. Doing cardio? Definitely hard work because I will run a mile away from it than toward it--however, put me in a 2 hour pilates class (if there was one), then sign me up! It comes down to, as Gallagher writes, the question we have to ask ourselves, :Why are we working so hard?
Are we doing it because we love what we’re doing so much that it doesn’t feel like work?
Are we doing it because what we’re working on is part of a grand vision we have for our life? Or are we plodding forward on a path that we didn’t choose?"
So much of what we do can be laid out in two columns: what we think we are expected to do and what we do for ourselves. It's as the actress and producer Billie Piper wrote in Elle UK, "As I entered my thirties and the stakes of all my life decisions became so much greater, I felt restless under this new pressure. The pressure to not just do your job and live your life and keep your kids content – but instead to exist in hyper 4D. To have an established, successful career that’s making an impact. Daily meaningful, golden-hued interactions with your children. Perfectly attended-to intimate relationships." When did we buy into a life consumed by pressure and expectation? When did we buy into fulfilling this warped fantasy that our life is something that needs to be endured rather than nurtured lovingly?
It's those expectations--even perceived ones, be it from our partners, parents, co-workers, community, society defining what it takes to be "accepted", the mums at the school gate, that push us to make choices that aren't aligned with what it is we truly want to be doing. That's what makes life hard work. That's the grind no one wants. Mark Twain said, "Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life." It's not just about finding a job, it's about finding a way of life that we enjoy and it will never feel like a slog. What is a slog is fearing that we aren't living up to what we assume is expected of us--whether it is having that career, that house, that perfect family, that perfect partner, that airbrushed body, that incredible ability to do arts and crafts with your kids (that's a real one with me), and the list goes on. I guess another way of looking at it is as there are different kinds of hard. It's as the author Glennon Doyle calls "the right kind of hard and the wrong kind of hard". For her, examples of the right kind of hard would be: "Directness. Empathy. Speaking up. Being a fully human public woman." The right kind is the kind that steers you towards your best self, not grinds you until there's nothing left. The right kind of hard doesn't make you feel like you're walking through molasses just to get to the other side.
Looking out my window, the signs and smells of a new season emerging are everywhere. This is now a season of growth and to show off all that we have sown during our time in hibernation--be it lessons in how to work (and play) at our own pace, or even to understand what kind of work or play works for us. It's a time to do some internal spring cleaning to clear out those cobwebs of things that just don't serve us anymore. I just have to keep reminding myself that we flourish the most when we are who we truly are---not who who we are expected to be. And to find out who we are is the most important work we can do. It's challenging, and can be difficult at times, but it's not hard if it's what you truly want to do. And when you're spring cleaning your own internal house and no one else's, the weight of expectation and burden lifts. Leaving a space that is open to possibilities.