The empty-nester era provides ample time to reflect on one’s life. The hectic pace of round-the-clock meals and laundry coupled with daily chauffeuring responsibilities has ceased. The once noisy home is peaceful and quiet. This new stage is welcomed by some and regretted by others. Like all other periods in life, empty-nesters still grapple with uncertainty, but should find time to appreciate ordinary moments of joy.
Not knowing what will happen next leaves many individuals questioning their future while simultaneously reevaluating their childrearing years. Some respond by making radical and unpredictable changes. Others take a more deliberate approach by trying to make adjustments to their new stage in life. I have used the extra time to read, reflect, and write about my own journey.
Recently, I completed The Gifts of Imperfection:Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life by Brene Brown. Brown’s words have helped me put my behavior as well as others into a new perspective. Her writing reaffirmed my belief that our stories need to be shared with others. My blog and memoir act as a conduit.
I especially enjoyed one of Brown’s passages regarding the middle-aged years. She said, “People may call what happens at midlife ‘a crisis’ but it’s not. It’s an unraveling– a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re ‘supposed’ to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.” Conforming to the expectations of others is a negative offshoot of most societies. Middle age wisdom or non-conforming dispositions will circumvent such a limited and sheltered perspective.
The crux of Brown’s book rests on the concept of ‘wholeheartedness.” Chapter after chapter defines the elements of a life filled with wholeheartedness and also delineates behaviors that are the antithesis. As I tried to grasp the essence of her philosophy, I became intrigued by the way she describes how to reach the intended goal of a wholehearted life. “It’s like walking toward a star in the sky. We never really arrive, but we certainly know that we’re heading in the right direction.” Like many other things in life, we choose certain goals, but realize that it is not possible to reach the final destination.
Living in isolation is not the ideal under any situation. The connections we make with others are vital. Brown differentiates between the actions of “fitting in” and “belonging.” “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” Based on this definition, I would rather “belong” than “fit in.” I don’t want to become something that I’m not meant to be.
Coming to grips with one’s shortcomings is always a challenge. Brown’s discussions regarding the concept of shame made me pause and wonder what role this behavior had on my life. Until I read this book, I never equated shame with fear. She stated that “We’re afraid that people won’t like us if they know the truth about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, how much we’re struggling, or, believe it or not, how wonderful we are soaring (sometimes it’s just as hard to own our strengths as our struggles.)”
I agree that many people are guarded when sharing things about themselves. Memoir writers as well as bloggers are oftentimes hesitant to reveal facts about their private life.Where is the line drawn between privacy and public knowledge? If writers cannot take pride in telling their personal stories, are they experiencing shame or simply protecting their privacy? Are people who tend to be secretive or avoid talking about themselves always experiencing shame or are there times when privacy must prevail? These lines can be murky. Anyone willing to share their perspective?
Using the analogy of a camera lens, Brown illustrates how shame can wreck havoc with people’s lives. If someone’s life is filled with shame they will only focus on their own shortcomings. Their challenges will be limited to themselves. It is as if they are using a zoom lens. If they choose to use a wide-angle lens, their perception will be totally different. Other people will be included in the picture. Some of these people will be sharing some of the same issues. Seeing others in a similar predicament will lessen counter productive thoughts that focus on being unworthy or not belonging.
Recognizing and then coping with our irrational fears takes practices. Mastery of this skill is left up to the individual’s desire to live a wholehearted life. According to Brown, faith and reason are the best tools for dealing with an uncertain world. Embracing some form of spirituality will offset the naturally tendency to become anxious about the unknown. It will add a new perspective, concrete meaning, and purpose to one’s life.
In an era when many writers are touting the importance of gratitude, I was not surprised to read that all of her interviewees who had led a joyful life credited their joyfulness to their gratitude practices. Why does gratitude have such a profound effect?
Joy comes in many sized packages. Being able to recognize moments of joy can easy for some and more challenging for others. Throughout my 38 years of marriage and 32+ years of motherhood, I have tried to appreciate the joyful moments associated with family life. On the other hand, many of my peers couldn’t wait until their childrearing years were behind them. They dreaded most aspects of those demanding years. I shook my head in disbelief. There is so much joy associated with parenthood.
Although I realized that my family bounced from one joyous moment to the next, I never created a visual model for these delightful times. Brown provided such a template when she said, “Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments-often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we’re too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we’re so afraid of the dark that we don’t dare let ourselves enjoy the light.”
I thoroughly enjoyed raising my four sons and frequently acknowledged how blessed I was to have the opportunity to be their mom. My memories and photos are filled with these joyful family occasions. I now see twinkle lights that spread for miles. Thanks Brene Brown for providing such a wonderful metaphor for joy.
Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India and talks briefly about some of her experiences in Highland Park and Northbrook, Illinois, and Colorado.
The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards and a honorable mention award in the multicultural non-fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/zachd1_618/5541078297/”>Zach Dischner</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>