Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Happiness, not greatness

Welcome to the Simply Living Blog Carnival cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children, Laura at Authentic Parenting, Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, and Joella at Fine and Fair. Continue your reading read on at the bottom of this post by clicking the links to the other participants' posts.

happy baby in playsilks cape
You don't have to be a superhero to be happy.
There are a lot of things that simple living means to me, but that's not very simple. So I'll go with one aspect that's occurred to me recently: I'm happy being happy.

I used to feel a driving need to be great, to make something of my life … and I've downscaled my own expectations. And you know what? It's fine.

All my life, I've had this inkling I should be somebody. Maybe because I was really smart as a child, I felt bad that I wasn't in fact a child prodigy. I felt sheepish thinking about Mozart (the overachiever!) or even fictional protagonists like Doogie Howser (a doctor at age 14! how can I compete?). I remember watching Jennifer Capriati play tennis at 16 or so and finding out this teen phenom was my age and hearing my parents josh that I hadn't accomplished anything so epic — and taking it to heart, even though I stank at tennis.

I was awarded all sorts of minor scholarships and honors when I graduated high school, but one that stood out to me was a music scholarship. Out of all the highly talented seniors in my musical groups, why had I gotten the music scholarship? I wasn't even planning on a career in music; was I worthy of such a prize? (Clearly no.)

Then there were the teachers and professors (and my mom!) telling me over and over again that I had it in me to be a writer, that I shouldn't let that gift go to waste. So as birthday after birthday passed without a novel on Oprah's list or a multi-million-dollar movie deal, I felt disappointed in my own stagnation.

It was all a sort of megalomania without a purpose: a lot of narcissism without much sticktoitedness.

I figured out that a lot of it was religious — that I felt called to a higher purpose because I believed in that from a faith perspective. (God = meaning.) I don't even really want to go into it all here except to say that my belief in some overarching theme for my life fell away. At first it made me feel despairing … and then it was freeing.

Because if I'm not slated to be somebody … then I can just be me.

If I don't have to achieve something to have worth and value and to have fulfilled my purpose(lessness) in life, then I can just be.

I've looked around at the "great" people in life — the leaders, the superstars, the child prodigies grown up — and I don't see a lot of pure happiness. Some of them are proud of their achievements, sure, but many more of them seem broken, stressed, dissatisfied. I came to the realization that I'd far rather be happy than impressive.

I'm learning to embrace these days — each long, similar day — of being a mother of two children, of being a wife, of being a woman in her mid-thirties. I do laundry; I play Play-Doh and Monopoly Junior; I wipe down the same spills on the same counters for the seventh time in a day. I'm a writer, and a reader, and a goofer-off, and a TV-watcher, and it's not a waste of my time, because it's all what makes me grounded and connected and happy and whole.

I think there's a serenity that comes from living in the moment and not worrying too much about a five-year or ten-year or lifelong plan, about ticking off items on the bucket list, or impressing former friends at your next reunion.

I used to scorn normal people even as I was one. I used to get frustrated with people who wanted to be parents and work in a job and fool around on the weekends and that was it. But now I'm approaching a peace with being exactly that person.

I still have my ambitions, but I'm trying more and more not to define my value (or lack thereof) by what I have(n't) accomplished. Being is enough.

That is my simplicity.

Thank you for visiting the Simply Living Blog Carnival cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children, Laura at Authentic Parenting, Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, and Joella at Fine and Fair. Continue your reading by clicking the links of this month's posts on what simple living means to our participants. We hope you will join us next month, as we discuss new beginnings!

  • The Moments In Between - Amber from Heart Wanderings takes her yoga practice off the mat to focus on the ordinary moments which make mothering magical.

  • Simple living - what it looks like to me - Does simple living mean we have to be selfish? And what does selfish mean anyway? Mrs Green from Little Green Blog ponders in search of a more simple life...

  • A Simple Life is a Peaceful Life, For Me - Destany at They Are All of Me writes how simplicity is a very necessary part of her daily function and crucial for coping with Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.

  • Getting Back to the Basics - Minimalism was the first step toward living simply for Momma Jorje. Now she's got big plans on getting back to the basics of living in order to live a simple, healthy, family-focused lifestyle.

  • Simplicity - What living simply means to sustainablemum and how it is woven into the fabric of daily life.

  • Simply Living - Sophelia of Sophelia's Adventures in Japan writes about her reluctance to tighten her budget after years of living in poverty, but also her anticipation of the pleasures of simplifying her daily life as she and her husband prepare to adopt a child in Japan.

  • The Simple Life: A Work in Progress - Joella at Fine and Fair ponders her idealized vision of simple living and discusses the steps she's taking to get closer to it.

  • Simple Living is Simply Living - At Living Peacefully with Children, Bart and Mandy hope to help their children focus on what is truly important by simply living.

  • Happiness, not Greatness - Lauren at Hobo Mama discovered that ambitions got in the way of simply being.

  • Shifting to Simplicity - At Authentic Parenting, Laura shares a couple of ways in which she tries to simplify her life.


desfenton said...

Don't sell yourself short. I don't even know you but I think you're kinda great. ;)
That said, I do know exactly what you're talking about. Do you see what my mother named me? I grew up hearing that I was "destined" for greatness. It was practically prophesized. When it was discovered that I had a propensity and passion for visual art, it was decided that I would one day become a famous artist (watch me roll my eyes dramatically). I spent my whole life trying to be just that, and wondering why it didn't just magically happen for me. If it was meant to be, why they hell didn't it just happen, then?
I don't know when I decided that I was okay with being just okay. Contentment is more rewarding than greatness.

Mandy said...

May I just applaud? So much of what we seem to be wrapped up with is someone else's view of happiness, and that someone else isn't really a person - just a perceived view of an imaginary person. To me, feeling peaceful is much more rewarding than ups and downs. Thank you for sharing this, and I hope you will join us for next month's Simply Living Blog Carnival.

sustainablemum said...

Lovely to hear you have made peace with yourself.

Eva said...

Man oh man do I hear you!

Achievement for achievement's sake if vastly overrated ... happiness is far better. :)

Momma Jorje said...

Good on you! I've wanted to be something (someone) larger than life, famous, or at the very lease; creative! At times I have faced depression over my lack of skill when it comes to creativity. But generally... I'm happy in my life. Look at these beautiful children I CREATED! I guess I'm creative after all. ;-)

rae-ann said...

There is such freedom in what you have written. And as a parent you've given me a LOT to think about in terms of how I praise my daughter - am I setting her up to feel expectation or burden when I'm doing something that comes naturally to me? I don't know, but I loved reading about your journey, what a journey it's been, but such a profound and deep reaching one. It reminds me of many of the spiritual 'novels' where people set out into the world in search of something yet end up arriving back in their own hearts...

Mrs Green @littlegreenblog.com

Anonymous said...

Nice post! That's about how I feel. Do you know this song?

Amber Strocel said...

It's amazing how much you already have, when you stop worrying about all the things you 'should' be striving for.

Sophelia said...

I can really empathise with this post. I started uni at 15 amid high expectations~ thirteen years later and I still haven't taken a single step towards any sort of career.
On the other hand, I believe that "being somebody" really only means one thing: the world should be a better place for your existence. That's all that matters. Some people can effect enormous good (curing cancer would be pretty damn cool), but that doesn't take away from the small every day goods that all of us can achieve, especially parents.

Lisa C said...

It's my belief that we are all on a sort of journey in our lives and that all we can do is go at our own pace. If we try to do too much or go too fast then we not only wear ourselves out, but we damage our self-esteem by not being where we think we *should* be. Everyone is on their one unique spot in life. Good at some things, not so good at others. Perfectly normal, perfectly acceptable. The only thing is that we ought to be moving FORWARD. Moving forward doesn't have to mean anything in particular, but if you are moving toward peace and happiness, then you are, in fact, moving forward in your life. The whole point of life, if you ask me, is to learn how to be happy. :)

Aili said...

Oh wow. That part about being a kid and feeling like you should be SOMEBODY because everyone told you all day long how smart you were...and your parents kind of joking about it...I remember that. My husband and I were both that way as kids, and I believe that it made transitioning into reality incredibly hard. I still look at my life and think, "Wow, I'm not solving world hunger or whatever, what's the point of me?"

I wasn't raised in a religious family, so this never had religious overtones. More like '90s self-esteem culture.

My family thinks I'm crazy, but I literally do not tell my son he's smart. Ever. I get kind of mad when they do it. I don't want him to grow up to feel like a failure (like I do), or like the world has failed him by not recognizing and rewarding his brilliance (like my husband does).

I want him to be happy. It's so good and healthy that you recognized this experience and named it, if only so you can, perhaps, spare your sons from it.

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