I’ve always fancied myself independent. I’ve sold myself a narrative about a woman who has always and will always do exactly what she wants. It’s not completely untrue.. but it’s also not completely true.
In my teen years, personal definition was about my small bubble. I at once adhered to the homogeny around me and bucked against it. But everything I did and every way in which I understood myself was in relation to the culture in which I was raised; a predominantly white, upper middle class, Conservative, Patriarchal, Mormon community. I was at once a part of it and its biggest critic. But it was all I knew.
Then came young adulthood, where I did some BIG things and made some BIG decisions. I publicly and angrily left Mormonism. I played with sex and drugs. I was sexually assaulted. I traveled. I went to college (on and off). I began to define myself not only in terms of my immediate community, but the world more broadly. Community meant much more than what my physical neighbors did or thought. Politics, belief systems, societal, socioeconomic and community hierarchies were all I saw and cared about. I married in a way that felt radical. I embraced feminism and grew a loud voice. I also built an identity around a profession that stroked my ego in a way that now makes me nauseous.
Then came adulthood. I quit the job that gave me purpose. I left the husband that gave me some parts of my identity. I found myself in a new city with a lot of questions and zero answers. I’ve spent the last year and half extricating myself from the life my young adult self built.
And now it’s time to rebuild with only one consideration: what is it that I truly care about and how will I live my life in accordance with that?
The problem is that question has a different answer all the time. Or maybe, more accurately, this question has many different answers. Here’s a short list just to get myself going:
- Relationships. I value the people in my life highly. If I do nothing else with my life but cultivate deep and fulfilling relationships, friendly, romantic and everywhere in between, that will feel like a life well spent. I value treating these people with respect, honesty, kindness and selflessness. I feel more valuable and important on the phone late one night with a friend in the midst of a panic attack than at any other time, perhaps.
- Community. I value being a contributing part of a community. Even more deeply, I value creating communities. I get so much pleasure from connecting folks, especially women to one another in a way that helps all of them.
- Creation. Creating space and writing and ideas is where it’s at. I feel most fulfilled and calm when I spend time creating. Of course I want to create things that others find interesting/useful, but I think that can’t be the only impetus for creation.
Some things I have derived value from that I would not like to continue deriving value from:
- Status. I was married to a physician. I was at the top of my career. While status feels nice, it isn’t ultimately fulfilling because it doesn’t seem to really get at who you are as a human being.
- Beauty. I’m a pretty person and it has nothing to do with my experience of myself or the world. The only thing it really does is make it a little easier for me to get what I want from the people around me. A fact that I am not proud of. The emphasis on it also contributes to a lot of self doubt, self-loathing and hours and hours of wasted mental energy.
- Fame. I have a mild obsession with being known. I’m not exactly sure what this is about but I don’t like it and I don’t think it will make me fulfilled. I’ve had tastes of it in different contexts. Enough to know that it doesn’t last long and it’s very painful to chase.
- Fortune. It’s nice to be able to pay your bills and then buy nice clothes and go on a trip. But it isn’t the key to lifelong fulfillment.
As I’m writing this I’m realizing something simple. The more I want my life to look a certain way, the more unhappy I am.
I guess what I’m getting at in this very indulgent post is that I think maybe I am more free and independent now than ever in my life and I want to be extremely intentional about what that looks like.