Some writers describe getting writers block. If that is the equivalent of writers constipation, then I am about to have writers diarrhea because I have no idea what I'm going to say, but feel like a whole lot of thoughts with very little consistency or form (hows that for graphic?) are about to come out.
I'm sitting on a beach in Maui where I have spent the past several days with three other women, two that I met when I landed here and one that I have admired and respected since the day I met her, but had yet to spend any significant amount of time with. It was a bit of a crazy, "meant to be" trip--from the day she invited me, I felt compelled, against all logic, to go and then my loving, adorable (insert many other sappy adjectives here) husband enabled me to come by purchasing plane tickets, taking days off work, and adjusting his plans so that our littles would have him in my absence. I told almost no one--I almost felt guilty that I was running away because this trip came on the tail end of a couple of family trips to our cabin and only a few months after another girls trip. AND it only proceeds a trip for my 40th by a few weeks. Talk about spoiled. I was almost embarrassed to admit that I was running away....again. So I was quiet and tried to kind of hide it from people a little.
It wasn't until I arrived that I realized this is exactly what I needed. Unlike any trip I have been on before, this was definitely an "adult" trip--I am with three women that are very independent, not anxious to please or to coddle, and all here for their own varying reasons. We have spent as much time alone as we have together and each been responsible for meeting our own needs (I'm talking more emotional than anything) while here. We've had great conversations, done several activities, and then separated and fed our own souls for blocks of hours at a time. This is foreign to me. I have never done that before. I had ALONE time. Seriously....when does a Mom get that? NEVER. I admit, it felt strange. Not the least bit lonely...just foreign.
I realized that I shed a LOT of roles while here--mother, wife, daughter, ward missionary, pianist, friend, cook, maid, teacher, therapist, business owner, consultant. For this week, I was just Julie.
In my long (hours) walks on the beach by myself, as I would listen to music and think, I learned a few things about myself. I think I spend so much time hanging out with and worrying about others that I forget who I am just a little and morph into who they need me to be. This week, I thought about what I like vs. don't like, what gives me energy vs. things I do out of expectation or obligation. I thought about how I perceive myself and what shapes my identity. I had a couple of pretty stark, pretty obvious realizations that I hadn't considered for awhile.
The first is how I still tend to compare myself to others. While working for Stephen Covey, he would talk about 5 metastasizing cancers, one of which is comparison. It is called a cancer because it is a sickness that overtakes the good stuff and slowly but surely creeps into every part of who we are, if left unchecked. It is human nature to look at others and almost unconsciously "rank" ourselves accordingly to what we perceive about them--she's cuter (more fit, more attractive, more talented, more interesting, more capable, more compassionate....blah blah blah) than I am. That automatically makes us "less than" by comparison. The same is also true in reverse...thinking we are better looking (more fit, more capable, a better parent, a more patient person...blah blah blah) than someone else. This elevates us by comparison and pride, egotism, arrogance and other super ugly things creep in. Neither is constructive. Worst part is that if we start to foster a comparison-based identity, we lose who we are entirely and become a function of what we see/perceive in others and how we stack up.
I believe, intellectually, that this is literally a slap in the face to the God that created us in all of our uniqueness and beauty. He created no one perfect, but gave each of us a part of Him--we literally have the DNA of Divinity within us. Comparing ourselves to others and therefore trying to become more like so-and-so or less like so-and-so distracts us from our individual missions and purpose. If our focus is based on comparisons, we will never measure up.
I do this. I spend a lot of time looking around me, often comparing the parts of myself about which I am the most insecure to the people that I love the most. This does not help our friendships. Instead of rejoicing in how beautiful, well dressed, poised, confident, competent, intelligent, talented, etc. my friend (or another person) is, I think it somehow makes me less.
There is a difference between comparing ourselves to others and being inspired by others. The latter takes a certain confidence to start with--we have to believe ourselves capable of becoming more to actually start making progress in that direction. If we are inspired by someone, we want to be more like them, and we rejoice in the steps of our journey to get there, grateful for the example they represent in our lives. Doing this strengthens our relationships with others--allows them to me more open and genuine vs. making us anxious because we are constantly worried about how we stack up. Its kind of like that friend you watch and then get excited when they grow a zit on their perfect skin, or gain a pound on their skinny body rather than being excited for them as they work towards being their best self as well.
I am literally surrounded by some of the most incredible people a woman could ask for--women that TRULY inspire me. I could name them and tell you in a LONG LONG list what, about each, makes me want to be a better person. But I have to fight the temptation, still, at the age of almost 40 (this is not a teenage problem only, I have sadly discovered) to compare myself and feel less because they are so much better than I am in so many ways. Recently, as I have battled some pretty significant trials in our home life with Matt, I have become less and less confident about my ability to parent a child with special needs, where stability and consistency are but a pipe dream. Unfortunately, when you feel weak in one area, it can easily spread and make you insecure in others as well. Not sure why my inability to manage Matt's behavior somehow makes me less of a good pianist, or a slower runner, or a worse dresser, but it does. That, my friends, is because I start to fall into this comparison trap. I need to and plan to (I WILL) work on this.
The other thought I had is that I am scared, literally frightened, to go back to real life. My life is no walk in the park (or on the beach, as I have blissfully experienced a number of times this week), but it is GOOD. It is fully of joy. Full of challenges, full of chaos, full of sleeplessness, full of scratching, full of children fighting for my attention, full of demands, full of responsibilities, but oh so full of love. Wouldn't trade it for anything. Why, then, am I scared?
I think it is because I want to go back better than I left. Leaving is always hard on the whole family (perhaps I inflate my importance when I think they are somehow going to fall into a state of complete disarray when I depart, but I do know they at least miss my cooking), and my time away had better be gosh-darn well spent for the sacrifice they all had to make so I could be here. I know I need to come home a better Mom than I left. However, I also know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions....and no matter how well-intended I am after my period of introspection and recommitment, when I get home, it gets really real really fast. I'm scared I will continue to want to throw Matt across the room when he scratches my foot for the 17th time while I'm trying to make dinner. I'm afraid I will hear that horrible, angry voice that I use when I get irritated all too soon after returning. I worry I will start to get jealous again of the typical families I see doing typical things with typical children that only use typical bad behaviors in public. I fear that selfish me will start to resent my life rather than keeping the perspective I have right now that my life is the perfect life for me.
The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but good intentions can lead to better behavior, so I guess it is still a good place to start.
Maui has been good for my Julie soul. For 5 blissful days, the only thing chasing me has been a sea turtle. I am excited to be needed again, to step back into my 75 roles, and to try to be a better Julie in the midst of the madness that I cherish as my life. Heaven help me to do it better every day....to "use" my sources of inspiration to help me become more...to keep growing and morphing into the Mom, wife, daughter, friend, cook, maid, teacher, therapist, etc. that I am supposed to be.