Living a wholehearted life is a practice. You don’t just magically “figure it out.” One of things that drew me to the work of Brené Brown is that she doesn’t pretend to know better than the rest of us. In her work she has discovered what people who seem to have figured it out all have in common. Dr. Brown is the first to say “I am new to this and I don’t have it all figured out yet” and I really respect that.
It has been a long time since I wrote about my journey with Brené and the Guideposts to Wholehearted Living. I haven’t written much of anything since heading back to family court in October. I let the fear of someone’s (my son’s father’s) disapproval get in the way of doing my meaningful work. I forgot that a big part of authenticity is setting boundaries and I took on too much at work, at church, and in my social life which led to a month or so of feeling overwhelmed and not showing up fully in any one arena. The shame gremlin was “who do you think you are? You write about authenticity and wholehearted living and can’t even put it into practice in your own life!”
Practice. It’s a practice. Some days are easier than other months. Sometimes I completely fuck up and fail. But as long as I get back to it, I show up to try to make it better it is still a practice. So let’s talk about meaningful work and letting go of self-doubt and the “supposed tos”.
In the United States we put so much of our identity on a career. What is the first thing you say to someone at a party? “What do you do?” I am guilty as charged. Our careers take up the vast majority of our lives so they are important. But are they meaningful?
I went from being a 60-hour work week gal to a stay at home mom and it was the hardest thing I ever did. The worst thing that could happen to me during that time would be to meet someone and have them ask “what do you do?” I was ashamed of being “just a mom” because I was convinced that it wasn’t enough. Plenty of other women had babies and went back to their exciting jobs. They did it all! Why didn’t I? Was I really as lazy as my then-husband told me I was?
I was in school full-time, too. But I was thirty. I was a thirty-year-old undergraduate student and I was ashamed of that, too. I was raising an infant almost entirely on my own in an abusive home and was getting As in school. But I was ashamed.
What I didn’t recognize at the time was that I was so dedicated to my child and to doing meaningful work someday that would support us both that I was working my tail off while my son slept. I did 15 hour semesters online during naps and at night. I gave up going to the theatre and the salons. I stopped buying new clothes and going out with friends so that I could stay home with my son. I was giving my son and our future 100% and I didn’t see it because I was trapped in a loveless and frightening marriage. When my ex-N told me I was worthless, that I didn’t provide anything for our family, I believed him.
Four years later I have come a long way. Today, I am really proud of the time that I chose to spend with my son. I am certain that being proud of this fact and telling potential employers that I took 4 years off to be a mom is preventing me from even getting an interview, but if these companies don’t want a parent who’s first priority is her child, then it is not where I want to be. I am no longer ashamed of being a mom because that is the most meaningful work I will ever do.
What is meaningful work? It is not necessarily paying the bills. But perhaps you have a job that pays the bills and run the homeless outreach for your church or lead your daughter’s Girl Scout troop. For me, my meaningful work is empowering/change-making/creative. I like my job in nonprofit outreach. I am truly dedicated to the cause. There are times when I just want to pack up and walk away but then I look at the moments, the significant moments, our organization was a part of over the last year and I know that this is where I want to be right now. It is part-time which doesn’t give us a lot of income, but it gives me the flexibility to spend as much time with my son as I can until he begins kindergarten next fall.
This, right here, is meaningful. When I write or speak about sexual and domestic violence I come alive. I come alive with some anxiety and fear, but mostly purpose. It is empowering for me to share my story and when I do prevention and community outreach I am empowering others to change their lives and that is important. It is so easy to feel isolated and alone when you have been the victim of abuse or assault. Though this site and my work in this area is still forming, I feel good about this path every time I see a new visitor to the site and I hope that whoever she is feels a little less alone and a little closer to finding her path out.
I am not a great writer. I’ve never taken a course. My designs are flawed. I’ve never studied graphic art. My sites aren’t perfectly mapped but I’ve never learned how to read or write code. I taught myself how to read enough code to alter templates. Being creative is a part of my DNA. Whether it is decorating a room, planning a party, or formatting an e-mail blast I get a charge from it. It is meaningful to me because I am using my talents.
You can have meaningful work. Maybe you get paid for it or maybe you are volunteering for Habit for Humanity. Maybe you are an actuary by day and by night you decorate cakes. As long as you do work that is meaningful to you. You are a priority. So what is getting in the way? If you haven’t yet, read about “Guidepost #9: Cultivating Meaningful Works: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and ‘Supposed To’” in “The Gifts of Imperfection” then download the companion worksheet and get going!
New to the Journey Back from Shame? Start at the beginning.
The following PDF of the below image is linked to all posts related to my journey with Brené. Enjoy the trip! 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living