There are some aspects of my life that help me feel a modicum of control over my health, and these are becoming more important to me—exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep, and managing my stress through meditation and yoga. I do a decent job on most of them, most of the time, but when I get busy with work or travel, most of it goes out the window. I know I’m not the only one who struggles with maintaining a regular fitness routine. I love how I feel when I exercise, but still have a tough time motivating myself to do it. I have been told making an appointment with yourself is the key—to literally schedule an appointment in your planner and honor it as you would a commitment to anyone else. I vow to try that and see if it works.
I tend to think since I work from home, that I am flexible and can wait until the right moment when I need a break, that then I will stop to exercise. The problem is the right moment never comes. Something pressing is always there to fill the time, and before I know it, another day is gone and it’s time to think about what to fix for dinner. I find it interesting that we have the most difficult time honoring our commitments to ourselves. Most of us would never stand-up a friend or skip a meeting with a client—we try our best not even to be late for these appointments. However, most of us find it quite easy to reneg on a promise we made to ourselves.
I marvel at the women who have families to care for, and still manage to find time for exercise and taking care of themselves. These days, most of us are juggling work, family, aging parents, volunteer work, and countless other demands on our time. Why is it that I can’t prioritize exercise when I live alone and work from home, and have the most flexible schedule in the world? When I have more to do, I magically find a way to get it all done, and I have heard the same from many a job applicant during the interview process, so perhaps that’s the key. Flexibility is not always our friend. Typically, having a lot on our plates helps us to balance everything better.
These days, it is easy to feel that our lives are out of control 90 percent of the time—not only on a day-to-day basis, but for the long haul as well. So many of us are just trying to keep our heads above water that life can feel overwhelming to the extreme. I sometimes feel as if we are just going with the flow, doing what is expected, being good citizens, and following some prescribed plan for our lives without any real thought as to what we want.
My twenty-year high school reunion is coming up this summer, and I have been reading postings on the website about my classmates and what they’ve been up to since graduation. I was surprised to read that many of them have children in high school, and my jaw just about hit the floor when I read that a few of them are grandparents! It made me wonder how many of us wake up one day with surprise at the life we find ourselves in. Would it have been what we would have mapped out for ourselves, or is it something we could never have imagined?
I certainly haven’t followed the typical route in life, or the one I thought I would follow. I was doing an interview for a magazine the other day and the reporter asked me how my cancer diagnosis impacted my life. There are so many answers to that question, but I told her about my change in perspective. When you are suddenly faced with your own mortality, you view your life in a whole different way. I recognized right away that I might not live to see old age, or to meet my grandchildren; and then, almost immediately that I probably actually wouldn’t even have children, much less grandchildren.
At first, this was an overwhelmingly sad thought, and then when I explored those feelings more, I realized that children were never high on my list to begin with, but rather, something I thought I would do because it’s just what you do. That experience of being a mother is such a quintessential female longing it seems, and being a woman doesn’t feel complete in some ways unless you are a mother. I love children, but don’t feel the need to have my own. However, motherhood is such an expected role for women in our society that is almost makes me uncomfortable to write this, and I have friends who get tired of answering questions about when they will have children. It is difficult for society to accept that some of us don’t choose that path, and want a different life for ourselves.
I have spent a great deal of time over the years, comparing my life to others’, and wishing for things I don’t have—a high paying job, a fantastic boyfriend, a new car, a big diamond engagement ring, an exotic vacation, adorable children—but when I really look at my life, I am very, very happy with what I have, and I wonder again if I wanted those things because some larger force is making me feel that I should. A good friend shared this phrase with me a long time ago, and it is so appropriate. I remind myself of it often: “Don’t should on yourself.”
When I am completely honest with myself, the most important things to me are: work that makes a difference (and supporting me at a minimal level of comfort is a bonus), good friends, time to do the things I enjoy—spend time outdoors, attend cultural events, read, and travel—and family. I may not ever have kids, but I have the best parents and sisters anyone could ever ask for, and a great brother-in-law and amazing niece and nephew to boot. The fantastic boyfriend is still on the wish list, but I have no doubt he will show up eventually, and hopefully turn into a fantastic husband someday as well.
The truth is, we do have control of how our lives turn out, and if at any moment we aren’t happy with the way things are going, we can change them. Sometimes it takes a catalyst like cancer, divorce, or getting fired, and other times, it just takes awareness. Too many of us are merely surviving, and not always paying attention to what we truly want. Take control of your life and figure it out. There is nothing more important.