In earlier times, when we lived by the cycle of the seasons and closer to nature, we celebrated spring and autumn solstices, bringing in the harvest, midsummer – the year was marked by its seasonal changes and what that meant for peoples lives. Sadly most of these have gone from our lives and I think we celebrate in a more commercial, superficial way – without meaning. Celebration has become removed from our daily lives and is something we only do occasionally.
Ok, what’s next?
But for a while now I’ve been thinking that we don’t take time to really celebrate other things in our lives either – our achievements, milestones, endings, beginnings… Rather than celebrating we simply say “Ok, what’s next?” – the next thing on the to-do list, the next milestone. We are relentless in pushing ourselves to achieve, to do, to be good enough.
I’m as bad as the next person. So I want to take some time to ‘dig’ into my past and bring to mind all the things that I have achieved – both big and small – to get some perspective – and maybe celebrate them all somehow. That’s a big undertaking and one that I will put off for today. But I do wonder where this constant striving comes from.
I am miserly with myself
The Dorcas Lane character (played by Julia Sawalha) in the Larkrise to Candleford BBC TV series frequently says: “I have one weakness” or “this is my one weakness” – in reality, she has many weaknesses, as I do, as we all do! It always makes me laugh when she says this.
But in all seriousness, at this moment in time, I’d say that “my one weakness” is the unforgiving way I push myself in everything I do – self-improvement, academically, career-wise – always trying to be “good enough”. And in that doing and pushing, my default setting in the past has been to withhold approval from myself.
Growing up, praise, encouragement and acknowledgement were not plentiful in my family and still aren’t. We are a family that struggles to say positive, nurturing things to each other. If you look hard enough there might be a smidgeon of something hidden in the ever-present teasing, but that is not the same as hearing praise and encouragement given in a direct and honest way.
So, I have always looked to the outside world and other people (bosses, husband, friends) for the validation I need. In fact, I tend to attract generous people into my life but find it hard to accept the praise and compliments when they are forthcoming. I don’t know about you, but when it does come, I never quite believe it or accept it deep inside myself. I smile sweetly and say “thank you”. I am miserly and ungenerous with myself. How’s that for a contradiction!?
In her essay for September 14th “Giving yourself credit“, Sarah Ban Breathnach (Simple Abundance) makes a good point about this:
“We shrug off personal triumphs as if they were flukes, then wonder why we feel so unfulfilled.”
I’m guilty of doing this, all the time. An example. When people compliment me on how well I’ve brought up my son, I always say it’s down to his personality. But actually, it’s about the routines, structures, love and encouragement I gave him as a child. I provided him with those things and I did not do it accidentally or by fluke, it was intentional. And it was a massive achievement based on a long-term commitment.
What’s left to chase after?
And so I feel like a hamster on a wheel, going round and round with no respite. Looking for the thing that will be my big achievement. Always pushing on. Never feeling fulfilled, satisfied or content. The thing is, as you older, there are less big things left to do in life. I’ve done the marriage, the PhD, the parenting, the high paying jobs. As I’m not the type to bungee jump off the world’s highest bridge or anything else like that, I’m left with the question: what’s left to chase after?
Over the last few years, thank goodness I’ve slowly come to the realisation that I am the one who is making the hamster wheel go around. I can stop it from turning and step off that ever-revolving wheel anytime I want, to take a deep breath, to pause, even stop for a while. To celebrate maybe? Hence my planned sabbatical for next year.
If and when I get back on the wheel after that sabbatical, I want to be on the wheel on my own terms, controlling the speed and with the knowledge that I can step off anytime I need to.
I’m also learning, slowly but surely, to validate myself, approve of myself, acknowledge my own achievements. I haven’t gotten to be 54 without my own share of hard work, struggle, heartache and determination. Those are things to celebrate in their own right. Hence my need to look back and celebrate everything I’ve done. I’ll get back to you on those when I’ve done my digging!
But, let’s get back to the celebrations. There’s a lovely daily meditation in the book “Meditations For Women Who Do Too Much” by Anne Wilson Sheaf for August 28th. She opens with a quote from Oprah Winfrey: “the more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate“. Then she shares all the everyday things that she celebrated over the course of one week: celebrating a passed friend’s life, celebrating with various friends, having a massage, going to an art gallery, a movie and then the completion of a long work-based project. She asks: “Isn’t this how life is supposed to be? Everything can be a celebration. Celebrations are not just for special occasions.“
Her thoughts echo my own. These are the everyday type of celebrations. Dewitt Jones invites us to see the world through a celebratory lens and suggests asking: What’s right with the world? What’s here to celebrate? I try hard to remind myself to look for these everyday celebrations, and I suppose my search for everyday delights is one way of doing this. Trying to be enough in the present to notice that there are things that are right with my world and the bigger world. But we need to actively look for and notice them because they are easily obscured by constant worry or by the tidal wave of bad news that washes over us every day.
What small thing could you celebrate this week? What’s right with your world at the moment?
- Other posts about my sabbatical
- Books I’ve referred to in this post:
- Simple Abundance: A daybook of comfort and joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach
- Meditations for women who do too much by Anne Wilson Sheaf