This began as a comment I left on a dear friend’s blog. In her post she had mentioned a conversation with a friend discussing that around the age of 40 we tend to examine our life choices and think about where we are compared to where we thought we’d be in life, and how we react to that. My comment:
I know around the time I turned 40 (I’ll be 43 in a few weeks), I started to give myself permission to be more of who I really am. I started to forgive myself for not being or doing some of the things I had imagined I would do or be when I was younger. The amount of time I spent apologizing for imaginary shortcomings decreased. I made much more sincere efforts to stop comparing myself to others. I tried to live my life as it was instead of waiting to live it when certain conditions were met. Now, I have by no means succeeded in all of these endeavors, but at least now I feel they are worthy goals.
My friend emailed me:
That’s really something. What began or helped in your journey to be who you are and not feel bad about it?
I think it started by looking at a list of “books of the great canon” or something like that, and feeling bad that I hadn’t read most of them. Or, I had started them, hated them, and put them down. I was feeling like something was really lacking in me that I didn’t like them. As if I were a second-class citizen for not appreciating them.
I think it was around then that I decided I shouldn’t care about it. Who was I trying to impress? Did it really matter in my life? I had already stopped watching scary or very sad movies years before because I would relive them in my nightmares. I enter into books so deeply that it matters a great deal what I read. I will take on the entire catalog of emotions and be overwhelmed. This is not a choice, but how I’m wired. Limiting what I watched was self-protection.
I decided it didn’t matter that I tried War and Peace and didn’t like it. I rid myself of the guilt of not reading it and not enjoying it. That decision spread to other books, movies, and then turned into a slow change of myself such that I stopped feeling ashamed of my choices of books and music. I was able to be more unapologetically ME.
Because of the nature of blogs (only show the best) I easily felt discouraged when reading other people’s blogs. Of course some were just delightful, but some left me feeling dissatisfied or discouraged. Many years ago Father said, “why on earth do you even VISIT those blogs??” and he was right. I stopped, and felt better right away. It was also at that point that I examined my own blog for signs that it could discourage someone else. I have tried to keep that in mind. Of course there is a fine line to walk between being honest and real, and being indiscreet. Not everything belongs in the public sphere.
I think there must be a healthy balance between having goals and working toward them, and living in the moment contently. Goals are good things, but they need to be both based in reality and not an excuse for living in the future. They also can’t be based on what other people think. I certainly don’t always follow my own advice here, and it is helpful to have friends who remind me of it!
Like most anything, this is a life-long journey. There will never come a point when I think, “There! I am now living in complete contentment and happy to be just myself!” The evil one will always try to steal our joy and distract us. I have moments of feeling quite content with my messy happiness, and, sad to say, moments of utter jealousy and discontent. The point is to keep trying.