Living a Better Life – It All Begins in Your Head - Part 1
Posted on February 10 2016
You are much more than the sum of your parts: beating heart, pulsing blood, cognizant mind, all sheathed in skin. These form the walking wonder that is you. Still, you are so much more – more than the sum of the gene pool that led to you. You are more than the hair color, IQ and talents forged in the crucible of the womb. Later, the sums of these parts were molded, expanded or limited, by an environment and nurture beyond your control. Still, you were to become more than the sum of the toll of the years life taxed you with.
After, you became a student, friend, co-worker, mother, father, sister, brother, shoemaker, baker, candlestick maker…perhaps many things to many people, including yourself. A few decades of tumbling in the rinse cycle of life and the ‘you’ today emerged.
We come up for air at certain times of our lives. For some, it happens at adolescence with a sudden terrifying epiphany that life will never be long enough to do everything we dreamed of as a child. Others wake up and take stock in mid-life, figuratively gasping for air after being submerged in the rip tide of college, marriage, children and work. Like a drowning man, they grasp for flotsam to stay afloat. Some change partners, work, leave their old life behind – forgetting that wherever they go, they remain the same. Only the ‘set’ of their lives and the supporting actors have changed.
Our society sets high barriers for happiness which become more elusive every day. The media has made our lives better; we are informed about world events, advances in medicine and every day makes our world smaller and more accessible to almost everyone.
But the media has also allowed us to enter other worlds, worlds our grandparents could only occasionally glimpse at the movies. Worlds of palatial homes, worlds of people perfected through diet, exercise or surgeries. Worlds of 15-minutes ‘famers’ every night on television, which made us realize that it is not just the golden few that can sing and dance, but almost every Tom, Dick and Harry. So…now we wonder if we are supposed to sing and dance too. We wonder if we work a little harder, can we have that home and that life? Can we have that better-looking other half? Is that Caribbean second home within reach if we just reach hard enough?
Today’s world tells us that we can. If we don’t know how, we can simply hire a life coach, and they will tell us what to do. If our health is not the best, there is a prescription for it. If our job is not good enough, we need to go back to school, even if we have a job and small children to raise. The message is that our children will admire and respect us for staying up late at night to finish our homework. But they don’t tell us what the result will be on our children, growing up in a world that already asks them to grow up too fast.
It seems we burn up the present as fuel for a future always out of reach, always just around the corner. Our fifties and sixties arrive like the whirlwind and we wonder where it all went. As a techie at IBM I was analyzed by a life-coach as a type “A” personality, always working on what was undone and adding more to my to-do list. The analyst told me to stop and smell the roses, to live the moment, to look back and take satisfaction in what I accomplished every day. It has been a life-long project. I don’t blame the media for what I became, or even the nurture of a long line of over-achieving, over-extended women that bred the hunger to conquer everything into me.
Although the analyst’s advice seemed simple, my neurons are just not wired that way. I had to wrest control from the little girl in my head who is still trying to give me marching orders. Decades ago, something as simple as a Franklin Planner became my life raft. In it, I could indulge the need to make endless to-do lists; but the planner forced me to write them down in doable increments by week, day and hour. Each night, I can sit and review what I accomplished that day, and the days preceding it. I can see that I still feel I can conquer the world. Every day my planner talks back to the voice in my head and says, “Yes, you got all this done, but see, I told you that you need to be more realistic…you need to take time for yourself…you need to take time for your family and friends.”
Not too long ago, my appendix burst. It was after months of a self-imposed period of researching and writing, going without food and sleep for weeks. It was as if my mind, in a fit of self-preservation, told my body to blow itself up. And yes, the Chinese in their ancient wisdom have believed for centuries that mental over-work can lead to physical collapse. For the first time in my life, I learned that limits do apply to me as well; that pushing beyond human endurance is not smart. Looking back, I see that I had forgotten my old friend the Planner and I had let the little general in my brain take over again.
So there you have it: you don’t need a life coach, or money, or the right ‘set’ and ‘supporting actors’ in your life. You don’t need to reach for the moon and the stars when you quite possible already hold the world in your hands. To begin to see and enjoy the good in each day all you need is to stop, feel the love, taste the food, smell the roses, and write it all down in your little planner.
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