I overheard a conversation about a 40-something friend of mind in which she was called a “career woman.” It’s funny to me because she’s clearly not, but by virtue of her not having children they made the assumption that she must then be a career woman. Because, if a woman doesn’t have kids she must be obsessed with her career, right?
In reality, she runs a 5 day wellness retreat twice a month and spends the other time answering questions from potential retreat members and refining the retreat’s structure. There’s another person who does the business side, she has very little to worry about there.
Essentially, she has a dream life where her work is fun and pays well, but doesn’t take up her whole life. She does yoga at the Lake Harriet band stand every morning at 6:30am and does whatever work she needs to do for the day and then she’s reading or hiking or cooking or whatever else she wants to do. It’s a life full of all the things that she’s selected and none of the things she doesn’t want.
Who wouldn’t want that life?
I think people are afraid to not fill their life up with something. When you’re busy it’s easy to feel accomplished and like you’ve done a lot with your life. There’s no quiet time for thoughts of existential anxiety to creep in. Kids fill up your life very nicely, you can go 20 years without a moment to think. Of course, you can do this with career too, or anything else if you try hard enough.
I always think of “the point” of my life as some kind of mental journey. It’s what Thoreau and Rilke and pretty much everyone else I’ve ever admired did. They lived life to answer questions (or to live with the questions until the answers revealed themselves). I want to learn and grow every day and of course you can do this when you’re wrapped up with a family or a high-powered job, but you do it at a slower pace because you’re dividing your time and energy between so many people and things.
I’ve gotten into the routine of spending afternoons at a pool nearby. I swim lazy laps for awhile and then I lay by the pool for another hour or so and write down whatever I can remember from the thoughts I worked out while swimming. It’s the best routine I’ve ever been in, and I’ve never felt happier or more myself.
When people ask me what I did and I tell them, the response is always along the lines of, “oh I wish I had that luxury.” And, that’s fine, if you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs self-actualization is at the very top, to be done when you’ve gotten everything else. It is a luxury. But if that’s what is important to you, you can make choices to support having it.
Our options aren’t just to either have kids or have a career or to run around doing both and “having it all.” We can choose to have a life that is full of all the things we want, and absent of stress, drama, and distraction. Life is whatever you decide to focus on, it’s how you choose to spend your time and energy. And, whatever the picture looks like, we should all feel like it’s very full.