Taking the full measure of life

How much of me is for me?

March 17th, 2008 · 13 Comments

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It’s a common problem among people, and it’s an especially common problem among women: in the hustle and bustle of meeting everyone’s needs, how much of me is for me? How much is there for me? How much should be for me? And what does that mean I should be doing when it is about me?

I’m not offering any answers today, just a few questions and some rumination.

Many days, and most of the time, I sincerely and truly enjoy my life very thoroughly. I have a loving, thoughtful, giving (and hot) husband; friends of mutual care and concern; a job that adds meaning to my life; hobbies I enjoy; secure finances; a blog that provides me an outlet for reaching out to others with writing; a generally stable country and city to inhabit; a plethora of good books on my shelves and in my local library; joy and fun in the kitchen; the ability and health and space to exercise; and passion and excitement about the future. Oh, and a new, fabulous 8-gb video iPod that I won in a recipe contest. On the balance, I have a life that few people in the history of the planet have had the good fortune to inhabit. And perhaps I should only focus on those elements and feel at peace.

But I also have complicated family relationships; friends whose lives I desperately wish I could magically fix (or at least be completely present for when they need me) and other friends with whom I simultaneously want to celebrate their good fortune; formerly close friends who now hang, precariously to one or the other of us, in the balance between acquaintance and friend; a job that can frustrate me entirely; a longer commute than I would like; financial concerns and unmet desires; a sense of sometimes overwhelming responsibility about the direction of things in this country and on this planet; a passive-aggressive neighbor who would drive a saint mad; interests for which I have no time; and the tangled ball of my history as a human being to work through. Among other things.

Even with no children thrown into this mix, sometimes it feels like I have little time for me to just be me and figure out me and enjoy being me.

Part of my experience is just the way of Western life right now. You know by now that the typical Western pace doesn’t make us happy, right? Having 35 (or 105) choices of salad dressing in a grocery store generally makes us more frustrated than if we had three. Trying to juggle home and love and work and social and volunteer and spiritual and and and leaves us dizzy and exhausted. Having fairly wide-open life choices—as beautiful an option as it may seem—also complicates our lives and leaves us striving for ever more. After all, if you could do it all, doesn’t that make you want to try? And if it doesn’t make you want to try, don’t you wonder what you’re missing out on? And if you don’t wonder what you’re missing out on, don’t you feel guilty for not being someone who takes more initiative?

Really, truly, actually, it’s not even that I want to do it all. I just want to do a lot of it. I want to do enough of it to know that what I’m doing is what I should be doing, that what I’m doing is a very satisfying version of what I could be doing. The problem is, in being distracted by the idea that something out there might be more satisfying, I miss the joy, connection, and peace of slowing down to take in what I am currently working on, whatever that may be. I know that. And with that knowledge, I’ve let go of some things, particularly relationships with some people who took much out of me with little return. I am thankful for those losses. But I still feel overwhelmed at times, and at those times, I wonder: Should something else go (if so, what?), or should I just be coping with all of this better?

Tags: gratitude · on the soapbox

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ricki // Mar 17, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    I think we all experiences these feelings far more often than we should. I love your line, “it’s not even that I want to do it all. I just want to do a lot of it”–how very true! Katherine Anne Porter (the acclaimed short story writer from the 1940s-1960s) once said that even if we did absolutely everything we were capable of doing in one lifetime, it would still be only about 25% of what we WANTED to do. I can so relate!

  • 2 TOSP // Mar 17, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    I am beginning to think the Western way is not the best way more and more. I can remember one summer coming home from a year in Japan … my mom asked me to run up to the store and get a box of cereal … I walked down the aisle and walked out of the store … I could not take all the choices. And just like Ricki … I can really relate to your post … somedays I wish I had a magic wand! 🙂

  • 3 Kristen // Mar 18, 2008 at 7:36 am

    sometimes i feel overwhelmed with everything — until i realize that the things i have are the things i really want and value the most (good husband, good relationship, baby on the way, good house, good career, etc.). but i hear you on not always taking enough time for myself — since i got pregnant, i’ve found i’ve made more of an effort and no one minds — my husband has taken on a couple of more things and he doesn’t mind one bit. all in moderation, i guess.

  • 4 Twix // Mar 18, 2008 at 8:11 am

    What intersesting thoughts. I enjoyed reading them! 🙂

  • 5 Healthy Amelia // Mar 18, 2008 at 8:17 am

    This is a really thought provoking post, Sally!

    I think there is a fine line between trying to find my own unique potential as a person and trying to do too much. I have tried on several different careers and finally found someplace where I feel comfortable. I am not an ambitious person and I’m sick of feeling that I should be. Why fight AGAINST being content with what I have? I no longer look to my career as a place for fulfillment – its roll is to provide me with income to live while not driving me insane in the process. Not giving 100% to my job allows me to expend it on things that bring me really happiness like spending time with my husband, cooking, exercising, reading. I embrace new experiences but I no longer feel compelled to try/do everything. I’ve found a great life and I’m all about reveling in it as it is – not trying to always make more of it.

    I’ve also found that being selfish isn’t always a bad thing as the word’s connotation usually implies. Taking time out to do things that make me feel good or laugh or just relax make me that much more of a pleasant person to be around. If I was constantly stuffing down what I really wanted to do in favor of doing things for other people, I’d be resentful and not so fun to be around. There’s nothing wrong with the word “no”. If that’s not respected, than maybe the person isn’t someone I want to invest so much into anyway.

    Thank you for inspiring me to think about this – I’m definitely not completely “there” yet but I think I’m headed in the direction I want to be going. It sounds like you are, too. You know what’s right for you – just trust yourself to make the right decisions.

  • 6 Laura N // Mar 18, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Good stuff. Your last sentence is something I’ve argued with myself for years. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to let stuff go. I cope as best I can, and when I am feeling like I am not coping well, it’s not ME anymore that I blame. And it makes me feel a lot better.

  • 7 Jenn // Mar 18, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Great post. . . I think these thoughts and feelings are ones that we can all relate to from time to time. A big problem that I seem to have is being bad about comparing myself to other people. I know so many people who seem to juggle it all, or who have (in my eyes) been much more successful than me in their careers, in having broad life experiences, etc. I have to remind myself to take a step back and just do what feels best for me, but it’s hard sometimes, especially when I am usually surrounded by such amazing, high-achieving people!

    Congrats on winning the recipe contest! What contest was it, and what recipe?

  • 8 Meg Wolff // Mar 21, 2008 at 9:48 am

    I really like this question “How Much Of Me Is For Me?”, and your thoughts and feelings on it. Excellent.

    I think that as women it is really important to explore this question. If you look at “successful” women you can surely see that they are taking care of themselves in work and play.

    I work on putting myself first (and still be kind) and foremost as I think this is the healthiest way possible. When we all do our on life “work/play” everyone benefits.

  • 9 Kara // Mar 22, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Thanks for the excellent open-ended questions, Sally. I found it hopelessly ironic (or, perhaps, not ironic at all) that as I read your post I was also checking the education job board. Admittedly, I have my 6-month-old son who I love spending my days with; I have no desire to put him into daycare full time; and I have no desire to spend my days stressed out about grading and planning. But part of me just wanted to know about the open jobs…just to to see.

    I’m definitely happier when I can close my computer at certain times and just read a book or work on a quilt or whatever instead of always trying to check everything at once. Sometimes I have to actually say to myself: “Stop. Slow down. Once thing at a time. Breathe.” Otherwise I’m constantly thinking about all the other things I should be doing. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • 10 Astra Libris // Mar 22, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Thank you for this incredible post… I struggle with these concerns frequently – thank you for letting me know I’m not the only one! Even when life is incredible – and it is, thankfully – it’s hard not to feel frayed around the edges sometimes. Here’s to the continual quest for elusive balance…

  • 11 Nona // Mar 23, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    This is a huge topic which one could comment on extensively but suffice to say that it is telling that the richest people on earth i.e. the people with the most access to resources are often the most discontented and those with the least access are often the most contented. I am in Tunisia now and am seeing this played out before my eyes once again.

    I think life is about recognising and embracing limits. I find it very hard to exert limits around my sugar consumption but I have found it realitively easy to establish boundaries around other areas of my life because a long long time ago I accepted at a deeper level that I was going to die one day and had to priortise my choices to live the most satisfactory life. That has meant saying a lot of nosto things western society wants me to believe are important so that I could say yes to the things I recognise really matter to me.

    I think growing up in the ‘developing’ world in family with a non-western world view shaped me existentially for the better and allows me to live in the West without suffering some of the pitfalls of Western culture.

  • 12 Roxie // Mar 26, 2008 at 6:48 am


    Another thought provoking post and a topic that I’ve considered many times over the years. I find that, for me, less really is more. That if I do fewer things, that I am more present for each of them and enjoy them more. I’ve also learned that I need a lot of time for myself to do not much of anything – to recharge, re-energize and refocus.

    I’m also learning to say no – to say no to excess, to things that really add chaos to my life and that really, no one cares if I do say no. The world didn’t end and I stay a lot happier in that world.

    As always, good stuff from you!

  • 13 Nikki // Mar 28, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Sally – where ya been? We miss you!

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