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I am a sucker for completing everything on my list and then allowing myself to have the reward.
“When I’m done with writing reports, then I can give that person a call.”
“When I finish cleaning, then I can have a glass of wine.”
“When I get to that savings goal, then I can treat myself to a brunch!” (Which will probably be pancakes…!)
I am a big fan of delayed gratification. It is well-documented in the “Marshmallow Challenge”, which pits 4-year-olds against the temptation of having one marshmallow immediately, or wait 4 minutes and get two, that those who can delay gratification work smarter, longer, harder, and are much more effective regulators of themselves and their decisions as adults.
But when that reward becomes, “…then I will allow myself to unwind, decompress, get out of go-mode, and be myself”, we hit dangerous territory. If I only allowed myself to be playful and have fun when I ticked off everything on my list, I would never catch the snippets of joy. I would never be the girl cracking jokes, or leaning into the tender moments, seeing the wistful glance, or able to grab the unexpected opportunities, and I would never experience anything from a different point of view.
Being so rigid with my expectations of myself can produce great rewards, and discipline is a wonderful task-master for effective living.
But there MUST be moments of the unexpected, particularly when it comes to humanity, joy, play, and love.
Simply, there is no perfect time to be human. You have to do it right now. You need to catch those unexpected moments of connection, take the two minutes to run over and see someone in person rather than hiding behind your laptop, grab the coffee (and eat the cake!), choose to laugh at the joke and engage, rather than worry about meeting every deadline that is crowding you.
You have to look hard and practise catching and creating those moments of humanity.
You can’t dress-rehearse love, or grief, or sickness, or death. They happen. Life unfolds, with all it’s intensity and colour, and if you don’t decide to be a part of those moments right now because they aren’t conveniently on your schedule, then you will miss out on so much.
By the way, I should mention that there is no perfect way to grieve, heal, or apologise. You take time, you pick your moment, and you go in, ALL IN. You can’t create the perfect reception for an apology if you have to give one. There is no guarantee that the other person will welcome a hard conversation, or if they will to listen to you at all. You do it because you choose to, it’s driven by your moral compass, and it’s in your integrity.
Same goes for love. There’s no containing the unexpected, playful whisper of love and connection. You can’t conveniently compartmentalise it until you’re done with your Official Day Self. You just are. Don’t be foolhardy and ignore all you responsibilities, your goals, your daily activities, but let life in to play when it invites you. It’s unexpected, delightful, stomach-flipping, and all that is real. And when the unexpected decides to tug at your heart, let it.
Don’t let go of your lists. That’s being ambitious, motivated, and working with agency.
But dare to catch those unexpected invitations to play, in life, in living, in yourself.
Without those, you will never connect, fall in love, wonder, day-dream, or create.
Schedule is KING, but daring to wander, dream and play is LIVING.
From Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. This paragraph makes me “smile out loud” every time I read it.
Her word resonate with surprising urgency for us to embrace our creativity. So powerful for me to read now as I am in a period of intense writing + composing.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” you darkest interior voices will demand.
“It’s funny you should ask,” you can reply. “I’ll tell you who I am: I am a child of God, just like anyone else. I am I constituent of this universe. I have invisible spirit benefactors who believe in me, and who labour alongside me. The fact that I am here at all is evidence that I have the right to be here. I have a right to my own voice and a right to my own vision. I have a right to collaborate with creativity, because I myself am a product and a consequence of Creation. I’m on a mission of artistic liberation, so let the girl go.”
Now you’re the one doing the talking.
An interesting moment of clarity for me these last few weeks:
That I have always struggled with doing things for the pure joy of it.
That is strange on so many levels as I’ve always been so passionately in the guts of life. I have always fought to live well, been motivated, worked hard, been dedicated a committed as a student, a teacher, a friend, a daughter, a partner, a woman.
But when I ask myself, “What shall I do because I am motivated just by the very essence of who I am, and for my own gain and worth?”, there are days I genuinely struggle to differentiate duty from desire, hustle from worth.
For example, I am dedicated to my piano practise because I have Year 12s I need to look after and play well for. I like maintaining my technique. But how often do I play for the pure joy of playing, for the creation of sound and feeling and light? And more tellingly, how often do I tell my students to do this without doing so myself? And then when I actually catch myself playing for the pure joy of playing, when my soul is alight in my fingers and the phrases roll like waves, that feeling of authenticity makes me shiver with recognition, but also simultaneously grieve my iron-clad sense of duty.
And then I wonder, how many times have I acted from that sense of duty? In the immediate sense, I am a woman of my own moral compass. I am strong, independent, joyful, and courageous. I am imaginative in my ideas, interested in the world, curious about happenings, compassionate to humankind, loving by the minute and day. But I wonder how many times I’ve had to be forcefully selfish to prove to myself that I can choose for myself. And as warped as that sounds, I am sure many of you know what I mean. That you need to go a little too hard out, a little overboard in your rest-time, spending, arguments, ideas, and so forth to make sure that you are being fully yourself, and that you are fully realising your net worth.
The fact is, you don’t. Ever.
You get to make the choice.
Quite simply, I do not have to defend anything, I can state it. Sounds great, but my goodness, in practise, that pang of lingering doubt is hard to erase.
I can walk in and just be.
Be, be, be, all of me, over and over.
With each day, I marvel that I can sit at the piano and play, and my heart rises up in what it recognises to be deep, unshakable joy and brimming self-worth, rather than just a youthful, girlish, manic sense of duty. That the words I choose do not have to be overly preppy or enthusiastic to make their point, they just have to be spoken. That I can use my time and space any way I want, and when people walk into my home, or into my presence, they share that realm with me, I don’t bend to make them comfortable. That I can sit in a conversation and be so far left of the middle, but still be gracious and calm and interested.
It’s a good place to practise being.
If I am not happy, speak out.
If there is something to be done, then I am “somebody” that “can”.
If there is something to be seen, see it and articulate it.
If I am given plenty to create with, create with wild abandon.
If I am given nothing, I still have a reservoir of creative spirit within me.
If I am pushed to the limits, I will find more stretch in the limits.
If I am given a stage, sing.
If I am silenced, sing.
If I am made small, rise up in spirit. Grow with the complete glory of all that I am.
If I am celebrated, stand with humility and joy on my own sacred ground, in my own light.
Let me know and remember that I am undoing “CAN’T”, and replacing it with love, curiosity, and wonderment.
I ask myself to stand and have a look around, and see what is possible to problem-solve.
I have no idea the greatness of my spirit if I would only try.
Is there anything more beautiful than a person just being?
All that they can be, in only the way they can. It doesn’t matter if they are loud, quick, quirky, serene, intellectual, energetic, or not…it just doesn’t matter, because when a person is in their full essence, busy filling their minutes and breaths with purely being themselves to the highest order, a fire and heat comes off them.
Suddenly quiet compassion is breathtakingly powerful, and suddenly effervescent joy is simply humility with sparkle. There are people who can walk with every arrow pointed at them, every speech mark, and every neon sign, and all we feel is disinterest, or disgust. And then there are people who walk into a room, so generously and quietly, that the force of their human-ness is absolutely unmistakeable.
Being in a room with them, I can feel my heart beat faster, and my soul expand. With what, I sometimes wonder, a trust in humanity? It’s amazing how these people provide the milestones for hope.
So please, just be. In the larger scheme of things, the world needs the very best, the most beautiful, the most unpolished and impractical, and the most absolute version of you.