As I move further into my 40s, I realize that I have unwittingly bought into a fairly popular idea—the idea that by now, as a woman in my 40s, I should be satisfied with myself—at peace. And while it’s true that I care less about some of the things that worried me when I was in my 20s, I cannot claim to be totally at peace or wholly satisfied with myself. Doubt and discontent still come knocking regularly.
There is a persistent undercurrent in my life of not feeling like I’ve achieved what I should. It doesn’t matter if it’s making a snack for my kids or writing a piece for work—I will always try to add one more veggie or wiggle in one more adjective or phrase, when really all I need to do is say, “Here’s an apple. I washed it.”
It’s a snack, it’s a healthy choice, and the washing demonstrates thoughtfulness, right?
And even though I know this, my mind still offers up a stream of “Yeah, but…” protests:
Yeah, but it isn’t organic.
Yeah, but they asked for a snack an hour ago.
Yeah, but I still haven’t bought cheese.
Yeah, but I wanted to set it up outside because fresh air is good for you.
Yeah, but I don‘t even know what we’re doing for dinner.
I tell my kids to be satisfied with what they have, that their best is enough, and yet I’m not able to do the same thing. I’m constantly moving the needle as if what I am doing is only worthwhile if I am not yet there.
There is never here just like one day and someday are never this day.
I insist on extending myself to the point of throwing out my back or letting myself down. “You didn’t reach far enough—again.”
It’s the same way with fitness, clothes, my body. Hitting my Fitbit step goal isn’t a triumph. There’s always a voice saying, “Yeah, but you didn’t try as hard as you could have.” The next day I work harder, log 2,000 more steps, and hear the same voice say, “Couldn’t you have pushed a little more?” I buy clothes that I think are flattering, only to look in the mirror at home and pick apart all the ways I could look better—thinner, firmer, trendier. I seem to be incapable of assessing myself in any way other than believing I’ve fallen short somehow, despite being the friend who is quick to say to others, “Look at all that you do. You are more than enough!”
Could it be that I’m just afraid of being enough? I mean, what am I looking for here? My kids sure aren’t preoccupied with whether or not the apples are organic. Do bells go off when I check all the boxes? It’s as if I’m waiting for a scenario in which I’ll smile like a TV mom, turn to the camera, and say, “Now, that’s a snack that made me feel like I am a great mom!”
What if, instead of sprinting and clawing my way to some unreachable level of neatness in my house, I embraced the lines on the ceiling from the too-tall Christmas tree? What if I ignored the stain on the picnic blanket from where we spilled fruit punch on it? What if I believed my husband when he ran his hand down the small of my back and whispered, “I love this spot”?
I want to wake up and not hate everything in my closet and not feel like it’s already a bad day before I’ve even taken a shower. I won’t kid myself into believing that I’ll ever completely stop overthinking or complicating things, but there has to be a way that’s better than what I’ve been subjecting myself and my family to. I can spend more time at peace with what I have rather than restless for what I haven’t yet achieved. Because, for all I think I am not getting done, there really is so very much that I am doing.
I know there is no way to miraculously erase doubt and annoyance from my life, but the very least I can do is lower the bar. And I think, to begin with, I’ll let go of the notion that by now, in my 40s, I should be perfectly at peace with myself.
It’s as good a place to start as any.