The Most Painful Lesson - Three Tips To Enjoy Life as a Working Mum
This week would have been my lovely mum’s birthday. It’s been 14 years since I got to celebrate her birthday with her and I’d like to honour her by sharing the painful lesson I learnt when she died.
Fourteen years ago I was in a high flying corporate job with all the trappings of success but I was burning out. I’d become so stressed in my corporate career that I wasn’t a nice person to be around anymore. But I found myself on the treadmill of life and didn’t know how to get off. I knew something needed to change in my life to be truly happy but I kept delaying doing anything about it.
“Next year” became my mantra. Next year I’ll do something to sort my life out. Next year I’ll know what step to take. And next year turned into several years.
So when my mum died suddenly it was a huge wake-up call. The most painful reminder that life isn’t guaranteed. Next year might be too late. And it was for me. Luckily this painful lesson kicked my butt and I made some huge changes in my life (like leaving my job and retraining as a coach!) that I’m so grateful for.
The trouble is that I still find myself being dragged back into that ‘I’ll enjoy life when….’ mentality and I don’t know if you do too.
I’ll enjoy life when:
- I’ve got more [……………..] – fill in the gap… time, money, energy
- my house is tidy
- I’ve got through my to-do-list
- my kids are older
- I’m [……………] – fill in the gap…..more confident, slimmer, less stressed
So I’m reminded this week that this is my life. The messy middle is where it’s at. Finding a way to live my life with contentment now is important, as next year isn’t guaranteed. So I intend to be present to today. To not wish my life away for some point in the future.
“First I was dying to finish high school and college.
And then I was dying to finish college and start working.
And then I was dying to marry and have children.
And then I was dying for my children to grow old enough for school so I could return to work.
And then I was dying to retire.
And now, I am dying. . . and suddenly I realize I forgot to live.”
Because if I’m really honest I struggle to do that and I know others do too. So I thought I’d share with you my three tips to start to live more in the moment and enjoy life as it is……right here in the messy middle.
Tip 1: Remember what it’s all about – It’s ridiculously easy for me to get caught up in the fast pace of modern life. To get consumed by my to-do-list and what I have to do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next week. So it’s important for me to have a constant reminder to unhook from this. For me it’s photos of my mum in strategic places around my house. Just looking at her jolts me into remembering how precious life is. Find your version of this – maybe it’s photos of your children, maybe it’s a powerful quote, maybe it’s mantra.
Tip 2: Step away from the happiness trap – Despite all my psychological training it’s still too easy for me to get caught up in the trap that to be happy means never having a negative thought, feeling down or struggling. But the truth is that our human brains are wired to look for the negative no matter how much positive thinking we practice. As Dr Russ Harris author of The Happiness Trap says, ” We’re hardwired to suffer psychologically; to compare, evaluate and criticize ourselves, to focus on what we’re lacking and to imagine all sorts of frightening scenarios, most of which will never happen.” So continually striving for happiness is a one-way road to prevent us from achieving it but most of us are constantly fighting the evolution of our brains.
I try to remind myself to step away from the unhelpful myth that happiness is about always being happy. Instead I want to have a rich and meaningful life which, at times, will have pleasurable feelings but will also have uncomfortable ones too. A full life includes feeling the full range of emotions.
If you judge yourself and your life if you feel unhappy and negative, remember it’s not your fault – your brain is wired for this. I would encourage you to let go of the unhelpful myth that to be happy we need to be constantly happy. Instead take steps to align yourself to what’s most important to you in life without the expectation that it’s always going to feel good. That way you can start to find contentment even in the messy middle.
Tip 3: Create rituals that bring you back to the magic of this moment – We’ve all heard it a hundred times, being mindful and more present can drastically improve our quality of life. But the challenge is that modern life isn’t set up for us to live in the moment. The constant demands on our attention (smart phones, social media – let alone our work and children) make it really hard to be in the moment.
So I have to create rituals that help me to step off the treadmill of my mind that either wants to be in the past or in the future. For me it’s breathing. When I feel my mind racing or getting overwhelmed I try to take some deep breaths. I then try and focus on things around me – what can I see. And I mean truly see – this means paying exquisite attention. Is it the creases in my daughter’s nose when she laughs? Is it the steam coming off my morning coffee as my mind tries to launch into the day ahead? This helps me to slow down and get out of my head.
Being mindful is a constant practice as we’re mostly living with our full minds. What rituals can you create that open up a space in the busyness just to be in the moment?
I hope these tips are useful. This week I’m leaning in to the beautiful imperfections of my life and remembering to live. And ultimately that’s what Wisdom For Working Mums is about, helping us to thrive in the middle of being a working mum.
P.S. Happy birthday to my lovely mum
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