GUEST POST BY LAUREN ELIZABETH
Ask me about my kids, I’ll give you an honest answer. Ask me about my marriage, my plans for the week, or my health, I’ll provide you a clear picture of just how I’m doing – the good, bad, and even the embarrassing. I’m an open book about any area of my life, with the exception of my career.
“So, what do you do for a living?”
The question creeps up at barbecues, brunches, even the daycare drop-off line. It pounces at me, poking at my self-esteem, requiring me to essentially defend my entire existence. My hackles raise, I break out in a cold sweat, and mindlessly I begin spouting off piles of exaggerated truths about how I earn my money.
Because the truth is, I don’t make very much of it.
And in a culture that measures my intelligence, social value, and intrinsic worth by my level of “success” at making money, it’s difficult to feel good about myself.
Sure, I tell myself I’m on my own unique journey, and that I’m building a fulfilling life brimming with lots of wonderful things besides money. Still, my animal brain craves stability, comfort, and the ability to turn others slightly green with envy, and it clings to the idea of a big, “successful” career.
And I’ve tried just about everything. I tried my hand at couples’ coaching, thanks to all of the fabulous relationship coaches that I know who make it look so damn easy. I’ve got communication skills that I spent a ton of money to obtain, and that I’d like to actually utilize one day to earn an income, so why not coaching, or counseling?
But after a few months of trying, I abandoned ship; it didn’t feel like the right fit, and every step forward felt like nails on a chalkboard.
Following that implosion, I stripped away all the shiny, high-fallutin’ bells and whistles from my website, turned it into a blog, and returned to what I know best: pure, honest writing.
It felt amazing!
But months later, that tiny voice popped up in my head again… this isn’t going anywhere… what a colossal waste of precious time… you’d better grow up and figure out what you’re doing with your life. I
n a fearful panic, I again tried on the coaching hat. The website looked different, the product packages were brighter and shinier, but I was traveling the same worn road. And right on cue, I hit the same wall on which I face-planted just one year prior.
I felt no passion, no motivation, and no real drive to break through it. I felt stuck, worn out, lost, and none of it clued me into the real problem: this road wasn’t mine to travel. I was trying on someone else’s shoes, living someone else’s life, and it was a poor fit.
But we all try to live up to standards we didn’t set, to fill a mold we don’t quite fit, because we worry about what others will think, or fear that we might let someone down by simply being ourselves… right?
I know I’ve learned this particular lesson time and again. I learned it when I spent a ton of money on grad school so that other people would take me more seriously, and so that my Life Plan would instantly become clear upon graduation. I was left with a staggeringly high student loan bill, no real cause to even mention my graduate degree (I’m considering just tattooing it on my forehead), and no more clarity on my future than when I started.
I learned it again when I tried to be the Mom I thought I should be, using cloth diapers, making homemade, organic snacks, and trying so hard to convince myself that Motherhood alone fulfilled my life’s purpose. One year later, I woke up incredibly bitter and angry, finally admitting that while being a Mom is awesome, it isn’t my entire world.
This lesson plays on repeat throughout my life, like an existential, much less funny version of Groundhog Day.
And yet, it seems, I needed another reminder.
Several weeks ago, again feeling fearful of my grossly uncertain future, and incredibly uncomfortable to just sit here and write, I chose action over inaction. I forged my own way, full steam ahead, piecing together an artificial concoction of my natural gifts and abilities, learned skills, and what I’m convinced the world needs from me.
Only there was no magic in it. Fearful that I might never find my One True Purpose in the world, I just made something up – any old thing will do! – leaving behind the singular most important thing in my life: authenticity. The process wasn’t natural. It was all me, striving for something that didn’t feel organic.
The pizzazz and authenticity exist, for me, in writing. But sometimes it’s so hard to remain content with what we have, you know?
It gets predictable. It loses some of its shine. And when the thing that brings us joy doesn’t bring us “success” (money, glory, insta-fame), we fear that maybe we’re just being stupid, and wasting time.
Having just re-learned this lesson, I’m here to remind you that feeding your soul is never a waste of time. Did you catch that?
FEEDING YOUR SOUL IS NEVER A WASTE OF TIME.
Maybe, like me, you feel this insane pressure to “be something big,” or “make something of your life.” Maybe in the world’s eyes, the thing that brings you extreme joy isn’t super valuable, lucrative, or viewed as “successful.”
Well, SCREW. THAT. I know a lot of people who are “successful” at the expense of enjoying and experiencing life. And if it’s safety and security you’re looking for, I’m not convinced that loads of money will solve the problem.
Money can always be lost or squandered, and there will always be circumstances outside of your control.
You can’t buy a predictable future, however much I wish you could.
So let’s you and me take the road less travelled. Maybe it won’t lead anywhere flashy. Maybe nobody will ever know our names, or pay us just to be ourselves and do what comes naturally. Maybe we’ll just sit right here in purpose-filled mediocrity for the next 20 to 50 years.
It’s still worth it. Because when I die doing what fulfills my soul – trekking the Himalayas, or getting trampled by bulls in Pamplona – my last thought won’t be, “Man, I’m so rich and famous.” It’ll be, “Wow, I’m so grateful for this life, and the extraordinary things I experienced,” or some (much shorter) version of that.
Life’s too short to try and live someone else’s purpose, when yours is already pretty great.
Lauren Elizabeth is a mom, wife, copywriter/ web developer prone to talking about herself in the third person (because doesn't it sound like she has her shit together?) Her goal in life is to live as purposefully and passionately as is possible with two kids under the age of 5, though it cost absolutely everything, and bear no eventual financial reward (although she hopes to God that's not where this is all heading). Lauren publishes humorous stories to help maintain her courageous hope that life is always changing for the better, Inspiration is always within reach, and new beginnings are always possible.