I am regularly asked two questions: what is my secret to being so happy and how I get everything done. I'm about to tell you. I'm not certain it's what you want to hear and I'm okay with that. It's not what I wanted to hear either. I think of the balancing act I pull off as an octagonal scale similar to the octopus ride at the fair. Seriously. One side slightly up, the other side slightly down, and although it looks damn close sometimes, nothing ever hits the ground. I give fully or not at all, it's my nature, and as long as I keep in tune with each part, listen, observe results, and check in, I'm able keep it so nothing is ever compromised.
I'm starting way back, but I'll get there if you go along with me. About four years ago after having my second little boy, I was waffling a bit. I knew how to be a mother, and how much I loved staying home (I'd already been at it for three years with my first born). It takes a great deal of mettle to last as an at-home mom, and I had to work hard to find the right balance. I had what I always wanted, but after a couple of years I realized I was lacking in what I needed and didn't know how to ask for it or get it. I couldn't help to think of the future, and how much I didn't want to be that woman. You know the one. The one who has a nervous breakdown when her children leave the nest because her life is all about them. The one in the stained turtleneck and too-short sweats because she spent too much on hockey gear for the little one. The one who everyone calls when they need something because she never says no. I became dead set against becoming HER. I needed to act quickly.
This was about the same time I joined Facebook. I bring this up because being an at-home mom is terribly isolating and Facebook lessened the feeling of isolation for me, tenfold. I had three moms groups, my family nearby, made the best friends of my life in this time, and it's still haunting how alone you feel. Suddenly, I was able to communicate in real time with all sorts of friends & family: single, married, outside the US, across the street. There was also another significant thing that happened: I clearly remember filling out my profile and getting to Interests, Quotes, About Me. All of these empty boxes—a project!—what fun to fill out. But. <screeeech> Oh no. I had no idea what to put in them. I was stunned and saddened by this and instantly dedicated myself to filling out those godforsaken boxes.
From that point on, every time I thought or saw something that I loved or inspired me, I added it to the box when I logged in. Over the next year or so, I curated some killer lists that I was later told became a source of inspiration for others. I remember reading once that one shouldn't go out and buy a set of furniture if you want a home that feels like yours. You should add things that you love piece by piece, as you stumble upon them, for that effect. I applied the same principle here. And that page became me.
As I scribbled these lists, I became increasingly aware of what I valued, kept writing things down when moved, sought out a couple of articles to read on defining values. I recalled when I was at my best and what factors were present then. I thought about which people made me feel good. I explored what kind of social situations I preferred. I observed my gut reactions to things. It was a sloppy, mismatched process that took about a month or two to feel like I had enough to work with. When I felt like I did, I then made a final list and edited it down to these six things:
Calm — good sleep, regular yoga, drama-free relationships, being organized, managing "noise"
Tradition — making things from scratch from my Grandmother's recipes, carrying on special family practices, recalling my parents' values and deciding which ones I would carry on
Honesty — honoring commitments, being on time, being kind & clear in difficult situations, clearly stating my needs
Happiness — simple, brilliant, child-like happiness: music, finding beauty, dancing (I love to dance), laughing, being curious, helping people succeed
Stability — well-managed finances, routines, stocked cupboards, feeling prepared, the basics
Community — solid and supportive friendships, working family relationships, donating time and funds selflessly to those who are struggling, spending money locally
There's my list, in print. It feels good. These things all feed in to one another; are interconnected. Like fingers woven together. Once established, I thought it would be a good idea to fill my life with only things that fed these values until I felt like I had mastered them. I waver now and then and they've certainly been tested, but I've stuck to them. They're sticky. And now I'm able to add things to see if they stick, too.
The best part: the results are clearly seen in my parenting, my work, my relationships, my posts, my connectedness every day. I get constant positive, constructive, helpful, honest feedback from people close to me and virtual strangers about what I put out there. I have the most exceptional, fluid relationships. I find that every one of these values can be put into a mirrored sentence and fully describe my life: I give honesty and I get honesty in return. I give calm attentiveness and I get calm attentiveness in return. I am happy and I make people happy... What could be better than that? It drives everything I do, and is wholly who I am.
So, maybe my answer isn't the short and sweet pixie dust answer you wanted—I'm okay with that—because it is the long, honest, dedicated answer you needed.
You can use these as a starting point if you wish, but what I really hope is that you will fill in your own blanks. I sincerely can't wait to hear what you find.
Photo credit: Elli Rader www.paperlily.net