The entire month of January I pondered the following statement. What do you do when you don’t love what you do?
In 2015 I had been dreading the end-of-the-year, putting my head-in-the-sand in denial. The holidays came and went and I only looked to the day ahead; knowing January was coming. Christmas arrives in rich colors, aromatic smells, comforting foods and sounds that bring joy to the senses. We see people and family, our schedules stacked, and our bellies full. When the decorations are put away, the stark, dreary gray of January looms ahead; bills in-hand and our girths a little larger.
January, for me, is a time of recovery. I make resolutions for the new year that are difficult to keep. I vow to lose the pounds gained in merriment and feasts from late November and the entire month of December. But what awaits me are the tasks I dislike the most, the ones I wish I could ignore.
Numbers. Year-end reconciliations. Payroll Taxes. Audits. Finances. It is my main job description and priority in our family business. It is the focus of my two other volunteer activities that I’ve somehow inherited; the ones most people choose not to take. I listen to a friend share how she loves to do taxes and how it brings her joy to watch the numbers go to zero. It is not something I am naturally good at. It is not something I love to do. This is my weakest link.
I envy the friends who enjoy running and feel the adrenaline high. They happily log their miles on pedometers and mobile running apps; their bodies fluid. In the winter dark mornings of January I imagined the joy these runners felt as I gulped air while I jogged; my phone flashlight illuminating the dark trail where no one walked. I tried not to think of snakes in my path or people lurking in bushes; waiting to abduct me.
One of the things I discovered about myself is that my multiple intelligences modality is bodily-kinesthetic. I must move to learn and so I’ve taught myself to learn to move. While my friends run because they want to, I jog because I have to; to clear my brain of clutter and stressors that paralyze me in my every day. This past Tuesday pre-dawn morning, I pounded pavement and caught myself clumsily tripping over a sidewalk. I still have the scar from 2008 when I lost my footing and fell on a well-traveled road. Jogging is not something I am naturally good at. It is not something I love to do. It, also, is my weakest link.
I have been a screaming banshee, this past month, as my three sons and hubs refused to awaken to my gentle prods or vibrating and obnoxious alarm clocks. The eldest was tardy twice due to this inability to wake. When the dear girlfriend hopped into my vehicle to share her same angst, with her son, I was grateful she was as miserable as I. We felt our children’s stress and soon realized that our yelling tendencies were transferring to our other children. My middle son began his morning yelling at his older and younger brothers to wake up so that he could make it to school on-time. We made a pact to break this cycle; to pick our battles but more importantly, to let the things we have no control over go.
In order to be effective parents for our children, we must, as mothers, find ways to better ourselves, by ourselves. We are not doing our kids any favors by not being the best that we can be.
In my family, I am the type A personality, the early bird who wakes before the alarm clock. I am the one who stresses about schedules. I am not very tolerant of my fellow family members who are not like myself. Yelling early in the morning is not something I love to do. Remaining calm is not my greatest virtue and in this, too, I am the weakest link.
Over lunch, with girlfriends, we talked of our children and my dread at my youngest son’s elementary school debate competition. He had stayed awake until 12:30 AM the night before, doing unfinished homework due to a prolonged debate practice. He was unprepared with his speeches about genetically modified insects and my headache lingered. On a team of three, he was the least experienced. He does not like public speaking and was encouraged by his teacher, the debate advisor, to join the team and conquer his fear.
His fellow teammates had pages of typewritten speeches and points to fill five minutes. As the third speaker for their team, his role is to summarize and refute; to drive the other two speakers’ points home in three minutes time and convince the judges why his team’s point of view should win. At the last debate competition, this son shook like a leaf at the podium; paralyzed like a deer-in-the headlights. I lamented these thoughts to my girlfriend as she talked of her daughter’s team dynamics. On my son’s debate team, it is he who is the weakest link.
I mourned the loss of a family patriarch, a musician, and a favorite actor this past month. It has been my experience, as a family member and gerontologist, that funerals bring out the worst in people and sadly, this was proven to be true once again. Death and taxes are absolutes. Instead of dwelling on these things I placed one foot in front of the other; walking in a different direction and choosing not to get sucked in. On cold, drizzly morning jogs, commutes in traffic and the confines of my car I let my mind wander; poking and prodding at my weakest links.
My mood was dour; my demeanor much like “grumpy cat.” The questioned mocked me, again and again. I thought of the people I knew who were content in their lives, in their careers and who do what they love and love what they do.
What do you do when you don’t love what you do? This January I dreaded each and every single day. I am so grateful the end of this month had arrived. I survived.
In retrospect it is easy to analyze and see what’s important. The struggle is in getting through the every day. The things I value the most, the times I learn what I am made of, are when I am at my worst. I have the most respect for those who handle adversity with grace and humility. I’ve learned a lot about myself this January.
For each struggle I’ve endured yesterday, I have become better prepared for today.
Fortified with coffee I tackled my most hated and difficult tasks first. The morning is when my mind is clearest. I resolutely came to work and pushed through the accounting; establishing boundaries to not be distracted with other things and to not take on any more responsibilities. I tackled each task, giving each my best effort. I looked hard at the numbers and tried to make sense of them. Payroll, check. Taxes, filed. Budgets reconciled and created. Books, still to be audited. Much to my astonishment I rediscovered something about myself that I had buried long ago after college. I love statistics.
I made no resolutions this year; things I knew I wouldn’t keep. I did not step on the weigh scale. I did not procrastinate. In the dark I struggled out of bed, splashed cold water and resolutely donned on my running shoes; giving myself no time to think or make excuses. I gritted my teeth as I jogged in the rain, without my waterproof jacket. Each day I woke like a warrior in battle, weighed down in guilt and frustration by 8 AM each weekday morning as I screeched and struggled to get my family to work and school. My fists remained clenched as I glanced at online grades or signed homework tickets.
I wished I had happier endings or inspiring words of wisdom. But this was my reality as I struggled to do the things I disliked doing.
I let the alarm clocks shrill and echo in the confines of our home. I only prodded my family members to awaken, once, and passed the stress and frenzied chaos onto their shoulders. I forced myself to tersely sit at the kitchen table and not yell; hands clenched around my stainless steel Starbucks traveler. After two days of running late, everyone got the hint and an agreement was made. The kids and hubs requested that I prod them gently, twice, to wake them up. Silly as this statement sounds, to have a “wake-up procedure” mentally worked for all of my family. When I calmly stated that it was the second time I was waking them up; they magically rose. It’s ALL mental.
The hubs and I quietly sat in the back of the room during the two rounds of debate competition. Our youngest furiously wrote notes, holding two separate papers in his hand, and he and his teammates deliberated like trial lawyers in a courtroom. When it was his turn to speak he took a calming breath and launched into a summary of the pros and cons; refuting the opposing side. In the last round he took the entire three minutes and we breathed a collective sigh of relief. It was finally over.
Our son’s debate team won both rounds of competition. The unprepared son with messy, scribbled notes received the highest scores and the hubs and I stared back at one another; perplexed. What we had failed to realize, over the course of two weeks, was that the third speaker has to listen to his teammates’ and opponents’ points of view. We mistakenly thought the third speaker reiterated these same points. But it was the third speaker’s job to summarize, refute and weigh all of the information presented. His final statements embodied all of these inputs as he held papers in both hands; barely glancing at them. He brought everything together and drove his team’s points and arguments home.
I had been wrong thinking he was the weakest link with no preparation. His capacity to summarize all the different points of view, process them and reiterate his views, in plain language, made him effective and strong. It has always been what I’ve advocated for my sons; to speak their words. The son who shook like a leaf, only a month before, had metamorphosed before our very eyes. We had been stunned.
Our immediate family lost a beloved patriarch. But in his death, we gained an estranged niece and young great nephew in return. I was touched that the youngest son brought home the Time Magazine with David Bowie on the cover. The hubs brought home a scented candle to bring warmth and aromatic relaxation into our dark moods. I found myself mourning the loss of David Bowie with a music marathon of his songs throughout the decades. The irony of the title was not lost on my sons when I told them to add another song to my obituary playlist; the song I hummed as we drove to the family funeral. David Bowie’s “Ashes To Ashes.”
We stood in the hills that overlooked the valley below; the buildings of downtown in the distance. Many of our family members have been laid to rest here and the memories of choosing my own coffin, with my young sons, flashed in my mind. The verdant green brought peace; cemeteries are some of the most beautiful places. I want my sons to feel the same peace I do, one day, when the hubs and I are gone. I want them to remember the songs that made me happy as they play my obituary playlist at my wake; to celebrate the life we currently share. They’ll groan to one another; fondly remembering my desire to play songs on repeat, over and over. Death does not weaken the bonds of love. It can only strengthen and deepen them; an appreciation for the moments woven into stories (or in my case music). It is our history.
Without struggle I become complacent. Each day I strive to be better than the last, to invest my time in the relationships that nurture. If I let each setback defeat me, I’ll never be able to pick myself up. I only had the capacity to deal with each piece, one-at-a-time. I needed to learn what the youngest revealed to us during his debate. To listen and step back; to take stock of what I have and to speak my words in plain language. With each small victory I could then interlock the pieces together to create a chain; a history. With the ties that bind, the links of the chain becomes strong.
I may not always love what I do or do what I love. It’s the people whom I love that allow me to continue to journey this life; even when death do us part.