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Personal Essay: The Girl Who Never Knew What She Wanted to Do With Her Life

They gathered all of us into the school auditorium, the entire senior class. We were there to listen to university reps do their best to sell their respective schools. We were told, by our own high school teachers, without too much mincing of words, that the smart kids would go to university. College was meant for the trades. 

I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My friends and I spent hours agonizing over cups of coffee we were probably still too young to be drinking, afraid that a wrong decision made at seventeen could ruin our lives as adults before they even got started. I didn’t know what I wanted, I only knew that I was a smart kid – one of the “so much potential” kids – so off to university I went, propelled by a teenage desire for independence and freedom, and pure blind faith that school would teach me the answers to the questions of my life. 

I learned a lot over five years and two fancy pieces of paper. I learned how to live independently. How far to stretch a buck. The side effects of too much coffee from the free refill bar. I learned a lot of facts that I can no longer remember, how to write an essay on the fly and with no sleep, and that I had little interest in critically thinking about much of the stuff I was being asked to critically think about. I was a fish floundering in a stream of many, all going the same way, but some with more confidence than others. I was wounded by stories of high school classmates who had already made life-enforcing decisions with their lives: one going to college to become a chef and now working professionally, one who did a one year certificate program and moved immediately to full-time employment and home ownership from there, one who got in his car one evening and ended up in Mexico with an entirely new existence. And there I was, still struggling with this one essential question: What in all hell did I want to do with my life? 

By my mid-twenties I had decided that adventure would provide me the answers I needed. I craved new experiences. Sure, I would travel if an opportunity presented itself. Sure, I would move to a new city just because. Sure, I would try out many different jobs, each time telling myself, I can do that…

And how many times did I take the elevator up to a job, and then feel physically unable to move until the doors closed, bringing me back down to ground zero and the exit. 

Just keep moving, I said. Just keep adventuring, keep experiencing. The answer will come. 

But that’s not how life works, is it? The answers don’t come just because you want them too. They’re not like the family dog that responds to treats when you command them to come.  I think I was in my mid-thirties by the time I came to this understanding that the answer wouldn’t come just because. That I couldn’t chase it. That I couldn’t hunt it.

I’d like to say that this understanding came to me suddenly. It didn’t, gawd no. It came to me after years of trying gig after gig. It came to me after being buried in motherhood and the judgment of mothers. It came to me after my health flared into big red flashing lights saying Stop, Stop, Stop

It came to me that I needed to sit still. That I needed to get down and comfortable with silence. That I needed to be the honey that attracts the fly, play hard to get a little, pretend I didn’t really care. I needed to allow the answers to come, in their own time. 

So I got comfortable with waiting. I got comfortable with my journal and my self-help books and my TED talks. I got comfortable with self-analyzing, with my barriers, with my boundaries. I got comfortable with having clear definitions around what I liked and what I never would like. I got comfortable with the sound of my own thoughts. 

And I learned some interesting things. 

I learned that waiting doesn’t mean inaction. I learned that you still need to do things with your life, still need a forward motion, even when you’re not sure of the direction. I learned that I could be inspired by things that were not even in the realm of what I thought I wanted to do with my life, and I learned to just appreciate these bits of inspiration for what they were. I learned to listen to the sound of silence. 

But I didn’t learn The Answer, still. It didn’t present itself to me, still. 

So I went on working, being inspired, thinking, listening. I obsessed over personal projects that brought me personal joy and a sense of accomplishment. I found things to be proud of. And I realized that I was no longer a floundering fish in a stream of other more competent fish. Rather, I was in my own stream. And I hoped this stream would lead me to the holy grail, to the answer of all answers. 

And it did. In a way. 

Now in my forties, I have learned something that I never expected to learn. It’s not so much an a-ha! as it is a Whoa, Nelly. Because who could have guessed, really. Who could have known?

That the answer is really no answer at all. 

There is no answer to what I want to do with my life. There is only an answer to what I want to be

And what I want to be is alive. And present. And comfortable in my own skin. And myself. 

And I think I’m a slow learner – which is, perhaps, surprising for a smart girl with “so much potential.” But maybe you can be both smart and stupid. Maybe it just takes some of us longer to figure things out. 

Nevertheless, it’s very obvious to me now, the many paradoxes of life. That you have to not care to care. That you have to let go to get. That you have to work hard and do nothing, keep active and be still. That you have to do things you love but that the doing is not being. That something is not everything. 

And that there is one answer which is the only answer, which is really no answer at all.  

This girl, who never understood what she wanted to do with her life, finally learned how to let go and be.

-mtg

Wonderul, Colourful, Magnificent

About 18 years ago I wrote a children’s story. I decided that I wanted to do the illustrations myself, but it was one of those things that just intimidated me. How to do it? Could I do it? Would they turn out? Etc etc. I had the images in my mind, I just wasn’t confident that I could translate them onto paper. Now here we are, 18 years later, and it really took no time at all to actually do the work. There’s nothing more intimidating than a blank page, but sometimes all it takes is one step at a time.

Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart 😀, but I’m now one step closer to bringing this 18 year old idea to life. It will take a bit more time before the print version is complete, but the book is now digitally available on Amazon Kindle. Whew! And, yay!

Wonderful, Colourful, Magnificent

Book Summary:

Wonderful, Colourful, Magnificent is the story of a little girl named Marta, who one day makes a painting that she is very proud of. As she shows her creation to those around her, her confidence begins to deteriorate and many different feelings emerge. With the help of her mother, she learns to recognize the importance of having confidence in herself, as well as the value of her colourful imagination. Wonderful, Colourful, Magnificent uses colours to assist with the expression of emotions, in order to guide child readers in the process of recognizing and idenifying their own feelings and emotions.

Atlas of the Heart: Brené Brown

I consider myself a bit of a junkie when it comes to books that are personal develpment in nature.

I recently started reading Atlas of the Heart, the newest book by Brené Brown. 

Prior to this book, I read The Art of Surrender by David Hawkins, which taught me to go inside and look my feelings in the face, rather than submit to my internal ostrich and bury them in the sand. In doing so, I realized that I have anxiety…. Like, literally. I had no idea. There is this feeling of stress that has lived in my chest for so much of my life that I just assumed it was normal, I didn’t stop to think that this was not how I actually could or should feel on the inside. 

It’s kind of fortuitous that I read The Art of Surrender before starting Atlas of the Heart, because this new trick I’ve learned at paying attention to my feelings makes Brené Brown’s analysis of said feelings that much more poignant. (Note: If you want to get the most out of Brené’s years of research analysis, don’t ignore the truths that live inside you.) 

I am currently reading the section regarding expectations, and it is so spot on in my life. So many of my frustrations and disappointments have come because of unexamined expectations that I set up in my mind, both big and small. A lot of these made up scenarios occur because I’m an introvert, and an INFJ, and I basically live in my mind like a snail in a shell. But just because it’s something my personality is prone to, doesn’t make it useful or healthy (hence this life-long build up of anxiety that I now need to backpedal through). Now that I see this tendency (Hawkins), and now that I understand it (Brown), I can actually apply positive changes to my life to correct something that really only brings me pain. 

This is the shit, people. This is really the shit.

I am currently applying these practices to my life at home with children who are, once again, doing distance learning. Expectations of the kids, fulfilling teacher expectations, expectations around what should be possible with my time, all are out the window. There is freedom in just allowing things to unfold in the most humanly possible way, without pressure to do more than we can realistically do. Our best is our best. Knowing this from the outset keeps the frustration, disappointment and anxiety at bay. So much more healthy than, let’s say, March of 2020.

If you are interested in the understanding of feelings from a researcher’s perspective, I highly recommend this book. The insights it provides from a clinical POV are valuable, helping to make logical sense of emotions that continuously bubble to the surface, every day of our lives.  

Self-Care Mama

When I was 22 I saw a therapist. It was a required component of my school curriculum. I went to the counseling centre on campus and spoke with one of the resident therapists. I didn’t expect it, but as soon as I sat down in that chair and opened my mouth, I began to cry. And cry. And cry. 

I began talking about my mother and our relationship. I had moved away from home at 18. University was my key, my means of escaping what felt like an oppressive teenagehood. I had revelled in the freedom of living on my own, but I hadn’t stopped to process the pent-up feelings I had accumulated over the years, living with a mom that felt both absent and overbearing. When I sat in that chair, when I opened my mouth to speak, the pain of years came out. Week after week I cried, so much so that the therapist couldn’t get a handle on why I was crying. So much so that the therapist actually became annoyed by my crying. So much so that she suggested I read a book called Don’t Blame Mother, then passed me off onto one of her students. I did buy the book, I was just too incensed to read it. 

My mom did want to be a mom, but she wasn’t ready for it. An immigrant in a new world, the youngest daughter in a strict family, she was young and craved freedom, and marriage was one way to get it. Little did she realize that getting married and having kids would ground her even more. She probably wanted to leave it all behind on several occasions. Because of that, she remained emotionally aloof. She made sure we knew how to wash dishes and fold laundry, she made sure we were well fed, dressed, and groomed, but she wasn’t a nurturing mom in the storybook sense of the word. She was a presence in my life, she was my mother, but the emotional strings that attached us at birth were frayed early on. That is how I ended up on the university-hired therapist’s chair, balling my eyes out in an uncontrollable yet nonsensical way. 

Years later I became a mother myself. No one prepared me for the physical and emotional toll that comes with parenthood; how much kids take of your body and soul as a mother. No one warned me how consuming motherhood can be. I wanted to be a good mom, I strove to be a great mom, yet that my kids were so needy of me, wanting me with them to no end, that was both surprising and exhausting to me. I learned to take care of myself from a very young age, it was hard for me to learn boundaries when it came to taking care of them. And yet, over the years, I gave. Each time they asked, I gave. And gave. And gave. 

Until one day it dawned on me that I was no longer giving to myself. One day I realized that I was completely depleted. One day I understood that I had nothing left to give. 

This began an era of learning to care for myself, too. The primary lesson of self-care is that you cannot give forth to the world if your own cup is not full. I understood that my cup was empty, therefore I had nothing left to give to my family. I began to fill my cup, slowly at first, and with greater intention as I went along. I instated a mom’s night out, where once per week I would sit at Starbucks with a book or my journal and drink herbal tea. Some nights I was productive, some nights I stared out the window watching the traffic pass by. It didn’t matter, it was my night. I instilled weekend getaways, once in the spring and once in the fall, where I would drive to the hotel around the corner from our house and stay from check-in until check-out. Sometimes on these overnights, I would become deep and self-reflective and write pages in my journal, other times I would stay in bed and watch television. I always gave myself what I needed at the time. At home, I began setting my alarm to wake up one hour earlier than everyone else. What I do during this time depends on my mood and energy. Sometimes it means that I read books or go for walks, and sometimes it means that I Netflix. But just having that time at the start of each day, quiet time, without chaos, without anybody needing from me, sets me up for the rest of the day. 

As time went on, self-care continued to evolve. More exercise. More boundaries. More finding of my voice and inner strength. Less desire for drama, less patience for anything that did not ring as authentically true. More of what either my body or spirit needed. It was and is an ever evolving process as the more you give to yourself, the more your needs change. If what I needed most five years ago was a strict bedtime routine and more hydration, what I need now might be an exercise regimen or meditation practice. The path of self-care is like building a block tower: Start with the basic foundation, and add one block at a time when the moment is right. 

I realized only recently, however, that what I have actually been doing is mothering myself. I spent much of my life struggling with my need for a nurturing mother, when I realized that I can be my own mother, that I can nurture myself, my self-care took on an entirely different dimension. By realizing that I could be my own mother, that I could fulfill that need for myself, it gave me the allowance to nurture myself in the ways in which I most needed to be nurtured. I knew my needs, and therefore, I could no longer be disappointed in not having my needs met by another. Look inside yourself, and you will find the answers you are looking for, they say. 

When I need to be alone, I allow myself to be alone. When I need to be with friends, I find ways to make that happen. When I need cuddles, I communicate that, or when I don’t want to be touched at all, I communicate that, too. When I have projects to work on, projects that are necessary to my soul, I find ways to make that happen. I will schedule my kids’ time around my time, rather than the other way around. They don’t notice, and they don’t seem to mind. And I still get what I need most. 

I learned that self-care comes from within. Self-care is literally caring for yourself. It is not a chore to be added to your day. It is not saving time for meditation or taking on a yoga practice or finding time to sit in a cafe on your own once per week. It can look like these things, but these are merely tools. Self-care is about mothering yourself, in the same way that you take care of the rest of your household, your children, your pets, and perhaps even your partner. Include yourself on that list, allow yourself and your energy to matter as much as they matter to you.

My kids are getting bigger. My daughter, my eldest, has begun displaying pre-teen attitude to an extent that makes me afraid for when she actually reaches those teenage years. But there are moments when she still needs her mama, where my role as mom is still clearly carved out. We were walking home recently, and as we walked she held my hand. My son was on the other side of me, chatting and vying for my attention, and my daughter contentedly listened on. I, as Mom was walking in the centre, feeling grateful and whole. Not all moments as a parent feel as magical, but for me this was one of them. 

-mtg

(originally written September, 2020)

Uncovering the Now

So we found a tick embedded in my kid’s scalp from a hike last weekend…always a fun find. As it happens, she was in the woods again today doing a cross country meet with her school. Being the absolutely chill, uber not paranoid, completely relaxed mom that I am, I went to find her in the woods after leaving the pharmacy armed with the anti-Lyme meds. And since I happened to be in the woods, I took myself on a mini solo hike.

Being on maternity leave, I constantly have this feeling like I should be using this time to accomplish something (other than, you know, raising a tiny human). I should be looking for that next goal, completing that desired project, figuring out my life. Except, I had those as goals on my other maternity leaves, and I don’t think I ever did quite figure out my life. I had decided that this time, I would just aim to be present. I practiced this on my hike this morning, and you wouldn’t believe how much more pleasant a hike it was, how many more details I noticed, and just how much more fulfilled I was by the experience. Although living in the now is something I’ve always aspired to, it’s something I have perpetually sucked at. But succeeding today felt victorious, and it reminded me of a story that I told my daughter about when I was her age and doing a cross-country run of my own.

Each class was scheduled to run at a different time. When I got to the finishing line everyone was cheering, and I thought Wow, I must’ve done really well. Slowly, I noticed that I wasn’t running with my peers. Everyone was clapping for the leaders of the group that followed my class. I was in fact the last one from my class to have passed the line. I was never a fast runner, nor have I been a quick student in the art of being present. Some people are, and they make it to that particular finishing line without much effort. The just GET it. Me, I have been finding my way there with much faltering and struggling and with excruciating slowness. But accomplishing this goal this morning was like arriving at that finishing line. It didn’t matter that others had passed me along the way, and that there was no fanfare just for me. I had made it. At least for today.

Re: The Way of Integrity

The Way of Integrity by Martha Beck

I’m a bit of a self-help book junkie. I love to read self-help books, whether memoir in nature or this-is-how-you-do-life directives. There was a time in my life when I needed the ideas and inspiration they provided, I was looking for someone to kick me in the rear. Now, I look at these books more as guideposts. Sometimes the books I read don’t sit well with me, and so they actually steer me away from the written text and more into myself (this happens most especially with “radiate positivity” type messages… I’m more of a be your authentic self even if you’re grumpy type of person), and sometimes the books provide exactly the message I need to get me to the next level of my own personal development. I am also, you could say, a personal development junkie. Being an introvert, I look to books as my teachers.

I have this thing that started several years ago. I’ll often walk into my local library, look at the books on display of this one particular bookshelf, and a book will just pop out at me. It’s happened several times over the years, and each time it’s a book that I didn’t know I wanted or needed until I read it. This happened last week with Martha Beck’s The Way of Integrity, the book I’m currently reading and my latest “teacher.”

Self discovery is a process of removing layers, and this book matches the layer I am at in an eerily perfect way. So much so that I just feel calmer when I’m reading it, as opposed to the high alert can’t sit still much to be done setting which is my standard. This tells me, without question, that this is the book for me at this time.

My library trick has not let me down.

@themarthabeck#youaremyteacher
#book#thewayofintegrity#reading#selfhelp#integrity#truthfullness

What Happened After I Surrendered

I had this moment, at the start of March 2020. I was lying on a bed in a hotel room. My son was lying againt me, my daughter and husband in the neighbouring bed. We were watching some tv after a day of exploring – the kids were on spring break. It was one of those tired and cozy moments, no one was fighting or asking for snacks, everyone was relaxed. And in my relaxation my mind wandered as it’s wont to do. I thought about being 40, how the most important people in my life were in that very room. I thought about the goals I still hold for myself. And in that moment I made a decision — a very clear, solid-in-my-soul decision: I decided to get my tubes tied.

I’ve been very honest in the past about my miscarriages. I write about them honestly because many don’t, because so many women experience that particular pain and feel very alone in the process. I write about them as a part of my own processing, also. The last time I wrote about my miscarriages came after this date last March. It was my closing of doors, my moving on, my good-bye. After years of either trying for another baby, or, at the very least, secretly hoping for one, I was ready to move on. I surrendered.

There’s a certain liberation that comes with the act of surrendering, a freeing of the soul. It’s like I had placed this idea of another child into a hot air balloon, and then tied it down with weights. Finally freeing the balloon removed the weights within myself, too.

But I never got that operation. One week after that hotel room moment, the world was engulfed in a global pandemic. I wasn’t making any unnecessary doctor appointments, let alone trips to the hospital for elective surgeries. So life went on, much as it had been. I certainly wasn’t trying to have another child, and I certainly didn’t think it was any more possible than in any of the previous 6 years.

What I did do was continue to grow. Without that added weight holding me down I allowed myself to breathe and move forward. I completed goals, set new ones, then completed those too. And with every step forward I healed that place within myself that had been in pain; the very raw pain that only someone who has experienced pregnancy loss can understand. And as I healed I came to an understanding, one that I could only come to because of my emotional surrending. I was not a victim of pregnancy loss. It’s something shitty that happened to me, a few more times than I’d have liked, but I wasn’t a victim. This is just life. Messy life. Beyond my control life. Let go of expectations life. Good things and bad things will happen life. I am the only thing within my own control life.

And then a funny thing happened. I had a moment last November when I was sure I was pregnant — I felt it at my core. And I needed to think about it, to really assess my feelings around it. And I realized that, were I pregnant, baby would have been as welcome as always, but, if not, it was okay. My life was okay. No sadness. No attachment. No expectations.

And in fact, I wasn’t pregnant. And, aside from confusing my strong sense of intuition, I really was okay. I was in my forties, I had plans, life was moving on.

Later that month my daughter, ironically, asked for a baby sister in her letter to Santa. And I laughed, and I told her it wasn’t going to happen.

And then, a month later, I was. I was actually pregnant.

And trust me, no one was more surprised than I.

Resting on Mother’s Day

There’s a certain level of fear engrained into any pregnancy that follows miscarriage. It’s hard to relax, it’s hard to just enjoy the process. Every day you wake up wondering if everything is okay. Every trip to the bathroom you wonder if you’ll see blood. Rather than look to a future with your baby you think only day by day, refusing to allow yourself to become too emotionally attached to either process or outcome. You take nothing for granted.

Yet I had this feeling, a small voice from somewhere deep within. That I was pregnant now, just as I had turned my back on the whole idea, just as I had moved on: it was too perfect, too textbook. On the outside I didn’t want to admit it, I wanted to keep myself protected just in case. But on the inside, I felt, at my core, that this was divine timing at its finest.

Now that I’m nearing my 3rd trimester, I’m finally allowing myself to breathe. I’m listening to the little voice telling me that everything is going to be okay, rather than heed my fears. I’m living with the understanding, the knowledge earned through experience, that no matter what happens, the outcome is perfect. I have no control over the rest of this pregnancy. I have no say over whether or not or when or how I will get to meet this baby, but the outcome is perfect. As it was meant to be. I am still surrendered to the process. I am still only in control of how I choose to handle each day along the way.

The fears are still there — they don’t simply disappear. This is the natural side effect of loss. But I’ve gained wisdom, I’ve gained knowledge and, I’ve developed a strength only experience can define. And I am going to be okay. No matter what. I am okay.

-mtg

My Secret Book of Longings

“All my life, longings lived inside me, rising up like nocturnes to wail and sing through the night.”  – Sue Monk Kidd

Have you seen the new Disney+ movie Soul? To give away the ending, the main character, Joe, realizes that his lifelong dream of being a professional musician is actually not the raison d’etre of his life. He spent a lifetime with this one, singular goal, only to realize through the eyes of a new friend, that life’s happiness actually resides in the little splendours, the small joys, the tiny sparks in our day-to-day: watching a maple seed helicopter in the wind, the taste of a lollipop, the scent of freshly made pizza. The message is that life is less about what you do, and more about how you choose to live. 

I was reminded of this message while reading The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. A fictional story about the wife of Jesus, I was fascinated from the get-go by this type of character. I’m not here to discuss the merits of the story from a historical perspective–it’s fiction, after all–but as someone who is more about spirituality than religion itself, I love this notion that Jesus had a wife, and the idea of whom such a wife would have to be. Like it or don’t like it, my own personal perspective on Jesus is that he was just a man, like any man, walking the earth in search of a more meaningful life. The difference, in my mind, between Jesus and the average Judas is that he learned how to go within, he learned how to speak the language of the universe, he learned to find joy in the everyday. The book is careful to depict him as a working man, going wherever he can to find work to support his family. Whether fishing, or doing carpentry, or working construction, the work he did mattered little to his spiritual progress. His ambitions were not professional. 

Let me be clear: I believe we are all capable of achieving this level of meaning in our lives. But very few of us do. 

So if Sue Monk Kidd wondered who the wife of such a person could be, I think she hit the nail on the head. Fiery of spirit, independent of mind, courageously vocal, the character Ana is also a thinker and a feeler, naturally motivated to follow her heart from within. The spirit of Ana speaks to the spirit of me, and tells me that my own longings are ages deep. When she speaks of the longings in her heart of hearts–the longing to be a voice of women, a voice to be heard–it reminds me of the longings in my own heart of hearts, which are not that different.

For years I thought that my purpose in life was to write. Writing is really the only thing I have consistently been driven and inspired by. But like Joe in Soul, like Ana, I’ve learned that even then, writing is just something I want to do in life, but still doesn’t make me who I want to be. That, I believe, is the more important question. In your heart of hearts, your longing of longings, who are you? And are you being that person?  What else are we here for, if not that?

-mtg

In My Fortieth Year: Life, Love and Lessons

A year ago I turned 40. As my birthday approached I heard messages such as “it’s not so bad,” “it’s just a number” and “it’ll be okay.” Perhaps because I’m stubborn, but I decided that I didn’t want 40 to be just okay. I wanted 40 to be reverent, I wanted 40 to be inspiring, I wanted 40 to be a game-changer. 

Now, one year later, I can say with confidence that it was. Forty was a teacher, and 40 taught me several valuable lessons. 

Forty taught me to celebrate. I celebrated my birthday, I celebrated myself, I celebrated my life. […]

Continue on with the article on Elephant Journal:
https://www.elephantjournal.com/2020/09/in-my-fortieth-year-life-love-and-lessons/

If this resonates with you, share.

-mtg

20/20

I sat down to write a poem, and what came out were my own personal reflections on what the year 2020 has been for me. I hope you enjoy. Feel free to share if this resonates for you.

What if you were being forced into alignment
Or enlightenment
What if the Earth said, Ok, that’s enough
And what if you ignored the message
What then?

What if the Universe wanted us to open our eyes, to look, to see
What if 2020 was chosen 
Like a bonk on the head
Obvious, so even the short-sighted could understand

What if we were given a choice
Between 30 years of wallowing
Only to awaken one day with it all figured out 
But with no energy to spare
Or six months of sitting in your own waste
Thighs deep
Stuck
Through, being the only way out

What would you choose?
If the process was the same
The nervous energy, the fear
The anger
The sloth-like-mind-numbing monotonous doing
The flicker of being
The question of sunlight, of presence
Before tripping back into darkness
Wondering if you have the strength to climb out again

And what if you climbed
And you told fear to shove it

What if you could learn
In half a year instead of 30
Would you remain there, stuck up to your thighs
Or would you start to climb?

What if it was all possible – what the Earth intended – 
What if it still is?

What if the Universe is speaking to you now?
What if you look back, in 2021
Would you have seen light? Been light?
Or let it slide?

-mtg

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