Inside: It’s never too late to build the life you want, one that you’re delighted to show up to each day. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be yours.
Isn’t it odd that we judge ourselves for not having life all figured out while we’re yet on the journey? We don’t judge a two-year-old for not knowing how to do calculus or an 11-year-old for not knowing how to drive. But at 35 and 47 and 69 we’re still on the journey too.
Life didn’t come with a manual and we’re figuring it out as we go.
Somewhere along the line we picked up the lie that there is a mythical age at which we arrive. An age at which we magically no longer experience doubt or uncertainty, we have all the answers, all the skills and tools we need to navigate smoothly all the way to the finish line.
We’re not supposed to be happy all the time (or only happy, for happiness and sorrow live side by side in real life). We’re not supposed to be perfect or never falter or live an imaginary life void of struggle. We’re not meant to be lone-rangers and never need help. We’re not supposed to have all the answers or know what we’re doing or feel on top of the world – all of the time.
But we can build a life we want, one determined step at a time.
RELATED: Enjoy my interview with Kathy Gottberg on Right-Sizing Life
Build the life you want One step at a time
We are in progress. As long as there is breath within us – we are on the journey. As the years progress we have the privilege of getting to know ourselves more deeply and honestly, to shed what no longer serves us and own the truth of who we are and what we want and need. We are invited to cycle through seasons of joy and ease and those of sorrow and struggle and to mine for the beauty and wisdom in it all. It’s all tangled up together in a full, meaningful life.
We continue to learn and grow and become as long as we choose to live open to this.
This is exciting stuff. Stretching, messy, and exciting.
Embrace THE IMPERFECTION MIXED INTO THE BEAUTY
You can’t build the life you want without making peace with the life you have.
If we ditch the lie that we “should” be better at life, we can relax and enjoy where we are. We can write shitty first drafts (thank you Anne Lamott) and try things that excite us and scan for beauty in imperfection.
We can stop aiming for constant happiness or a fairy tale existence and just be mindful and present in our imperfect (sometimes scary and uncomfortable) reality.
It shocks and saddens me, for instance, how much of our lives – as women in particular – we waste hating our bodies or wishing they were different instead of just loving the beautiful body we’re in. Or how we compare our marriage to someone else’s instead of expending that energy on love and connection.
We spend so much time focused on what’s missing or how we’re lacking or what could go wrong instead of seeing the small gifts in and around us.
offer your small gifts
We think the goal is happiness, so we end up miserable, instead of aiming for community and contribution.
Happiness is slippery. It can be a lovely and welcome by-product of a purposeful life but if it’s our primary or sole focus, the goal line keeps moving. It’s like forsaking what is to chase after an illusion. And all that happens is we miss out on this sometimes boring, ordinary, yet sacred day.
But aim for meaning not happiness, self-acceptance not perfection, and you just might end up happier than ever. You might even find joy hiding underneath all the stuff and unkind stories and worn out baggage you’ve been carrying around for years.
I see people all the time get stuck dreaming about a shiny goal line instead of just doing the work one small, boring (anxiety-triggering) step at a time. They compare themselves to people they think “have made it” ignoring the decade or two of work that person put in behind the scenes. They watch what others are up to and compare their faltering beginning to someone else’s hard-fought middle.
This isn’t fair to anyone.
And honestly, this can be an excuse to not even try. To not write your own first mediocre blog post. To not start the podcast you’ve been dreaming about or go back to school even though your own kids are in university now. To not go for a 5-minute walk or learn to cook or say you’re sorry or pull out your flute. To not quit that corporate job you hate.
We probably shouldn’t ask for the promotion or a better wage, build new skills or learn to paint. We ought not save for the trip or make a new friend, and we definitely shouldn’t ask that person on a date –
We need to call this what it is – hiding. Fear. Giving up before you even get started. Believe me, I know all about fear so I’m not being judgy but I am being honest about my experience and how I’ve learned to show up through fear.
If we lay ego aside for a bit (along with measuring up to unrealistic expectations, trying to make others like us, or tying our worth to productivity or achievement) and we focus on simply offering our small gifts in contribution, then it doesn’t matter if we’re amazing at anything or not, if we have a perfectly clear vision, or if we are late to the starting line. That isn’t the point.
Just Keep Showing Up For the Life You Want, ONE STEP AT A TIME
We can ditch our clutter and worn out baggage and just show up and see what happens. We can choose curiosity over self-judgment and live on purpose, like we matter. We can practice vulnerability and let down our guard and ask for help when we need it.
It’s true that you might not build an empire, make CEO, or be the most popular this way. But you might be excited to get out of bed each morning. This is the slow track to acquiring external rewards and the fast-track to a life infused with meaning and joy.
So, say the wrong thing, get clear on your WHY, put imperfect work into the world. Be socially awkward and go anyway, let people like you or not, laugh at yourself. Set healthy boundaries, stop saying yes to please others, do more of what excites and scares you.
You are psychologist and engineer, nurse, teacher, and mama to many. You are ex-military and artist or solopreneur – retired, student, widower. This message applies to all of us.
We’re all messy humans. Each of us in progress – unless we give up.
Let’s decide today to focus on community and contribution over happiness itself, get honest about all the ways we’ve been hiding, start treating ourselves well, and honoring what we need to stay healthy.
Let’s handcraft a sustainable life we’re delighted to show up to each day, one step at a time.