Discovering and pursuing one’s deepest passion and purpose is a topic very near and dear to my heart. It is my belief that mothers, in particular, are super susceptible to living passionless lives, and settling for less than our deepest souls desire. We learn to live with constant feelings of burnout, stress, and general emptiness; it becomes our new normal.
We make lots of tiny choices that slowly surrender pieces of our identity, and leave little room for the things that define us outside of motherhood. Our dedication to the task is admirable, but what do we lose in the process?
You’re meant to live passionately, to be fully alive, especially during motherhood. How else will your kids learn what it looks like to live such a full, wondrous life? But so many of us kill our passions, talk ourselves out of big dreams, and give up searching for purpose when we become mothers. Our purpose is to be a mother. That’s enough, right? So naturally, over a length of time, we give up this hobby, or that. We spend less time thinking about our dreams, and more time nurturing others. It’s what we think the job demands.
At first, it feels uncomfortable and stressful, but soon, it becomes second nature for us to live with this empty, dissatisfied feeling. We make friends with it, believing it won’t ever go away. After all, motherhood keeps you busy, that’s just how it is. There simply isn’t time to deal with big questions of purpose or to figure out what we really need in order to feel whole. That stuff is complicated, and messy. Better just to keep your eyes down, and keep moving forward. We’ve got jobs, partners, and friendships. Doctor’s appointments and day care, playdates and meal prep. How selfish to pursue anything for ourselves when it might make us less present for our kids or less dedicated to our work.
But, inevitably, we miss the things we once valued, like alone time, exercise, an uninterrupted cup of coffee. We feel resentful of the things we’ve given up, and so we try to squeeze them back in. We look for “work-life balance” to bring order to the chaos. We find ourselves feeling empty, overworked, rundown. We feel like failures because we can’t accomplish everything we want to, and we believe this feeling will go away if we can just find the perfect medium, some secret key to unlock our full potential and magically bring order to everything in our lives, so that we can truly do everything and come through for everyone, including ourselves.
Trust me, trying to squeeze everything into your schedule and give your absolute best to all of it is an exercise in futility. The more you strive to do it all, the more your efforts will fail, your results will be meager, and you will beat yourself up for every single mistake. It’s what we do. We punish ourselves because we can’t get everything completed up to our impossibly high standards, and instead of taking a good long look at our approach, we assume we’re the problem. And so, we keep searching for ever-elusive balance.
I’m not knocking work-life balance products — I believe that learning new strategies and thought patterns can be incredibly helpful. I just think that our obsession with creating balance is more about our need to shed these feelings of failure, inadequacy, and disappointment that plague us, and sometimes we go about it the wrong way.
Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, gives a powerful TED Talk entreating us to teach girls bravery rather than perfection. In her presentation, she points to the fact that girls learn early on in our culture not to try anything unless they can do it flawlessly, not to make mistakes or take risks.
At a young age, we start to receive messages that our behavior, appearance, and performance need to be perfect, or we open ourselves up to ridicule, judgment, and worse, rejection. We strive for perfection in our jobs and personal lives. We learn to judge ourselves and other women according to impossibly high standards to which we can never measure up, and then we blame ourselves. We assume everyone else is making all of it work. I mean, they look so happy on Facebook, so what the hell is wrong with me?
I seem to be the only one who can’t achieve a work-life balance that actually works, because I’m not really looking for balance . I’m looking for superhuman powers that increase my day from 24 hours to 48, that enable me to never sleep or eat, so I can get everything done and finally just feel good about myself. The main problem is, I took myself out of the equation.
With so much on my plate, there simply isn’t time for my ridiculous needs. But that, my friends, is how we lose sight of balance in the first place . We remove the foundation of our life pyramid, our connection to our own inner world, to the joy and purpose that fuel us — and then we stand stupefied when the whole pyramid comes toppling down.
That is why you will never truly achieve “balance” or shed those painful feelings of disappointment, until you get back to pursuing your passions — the things in which you find delight, that bring your soul to life — and allowing yourself to find purpose outside of your role as mom. It’s the grand paradox of motherhood: You become better, not worse, by feeding your soul. It isn’t selfishness. It’s an incredibly brave act of love. Let’s face it: While the motherhood role is yours until you die, its responsibilities change over time. Your kids will need you less often, or in different ways, and if your entire purpose is wrapped up in them, everyone will suffer. You must identify interests outside of raising your children, for their sake and your own.
This is no simple task for moms. We’re so in tune with the needs of our families, so accustomed to silencing our inner voice when it cries out for passion and delight, and it’s incredibly difficult to turn the volume up again. It takes practice, and time, and a certain focused dedication to listening for that voice, once again learning how it feels to surrender to it and trust it.
I’m still working on hearing mine again. It began with a weekly yoga class, which felt incredibly frivolous. I almost backed out of it a hundred times. But I went, and to my shock and amazement, the world kept turning. My family survived without me for an hour, and I felt more energized and alive than I had in months.
As it turns out, I came a lot closer to finding my passion and discovering my purpose by “selfishly” taking a yoga class, than by going back to school or obsessing over my lack of direction. I needed to prove to myself that joy and delight were worth my time and energy before God or the universe could even begin to reach me about what my passion and purpose might be. I needed to prove to my inner voice that I’m still here, that I’m still listening.
And I urge you, dear friend, to do the same. Learn to recognize the part of you that fiercely desires delight, and listen to it when it says, “Aha, you’re onto something here.” Give into it even when it feels weird or like a waste of time. Trust it, because it will lead you somewhere amazing.