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OWNING THE POWER TO DO WHAT YOU WANT

In the end, only three things matter:  how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.  –Buddha

I have been waking from years of a very deep sleep. Prior to that time I was doing all of the things I was “supposed” to do. I went to college and got married. I started graduate school, had a child, got a job, had another child and finished graduate school. I became a clinical psychologist. I was a good therapist—my colleagues and clients said so. I loved being a mother—supporting my daughter’s obsession with horses and watching my son play baseball every Spring, Summer and Fall.

I spent those years doing what was expected of me. I worked much harder than I wanted to. When my daughter was young and I was in graduate school, I formed a habit of working more than one job. In part out of financial necessity; in part because I was the one willing to do this, and I just never stopped. While it served my family, it also served my need to avoid thinking about my life.

I spent time with people who didn’t treat me well, even bestowing gifts upon them because I was supposed to. I accepted less love, compassion and patience than I deserved. When I did say “no” to someone I was called selfish, rude and a bad wife/mother/daughter. Putting myself first, at that point in my life, sometimes involved going for a run. This was considered a selfish act. I was chronically exhausted and resentful. Even when I truly wanted to help, I was stretched too thin to be of service, whole—halfheartedly.

The distance between what was expected of me and what I wanted grew larger and larger.

I have come to realize however that I was sleepwalking through my life. Even though I had trained as a psychologist, I had unexplored issues just like everyone else, and I was clueless about what those issues were. It took a major leap of faith—and a great deal of pain and heartache—to find out that I only knew the part of my childhood history that I had allowed myself to know. There was a whole story under the surface that I am still discovering. My own therapy—both couples and individual—opened a Pandora’s Box of unexplored childhood drama. Drama that, for 43 years, had been pushed into the recesses of my mind.

As a result of those discoveries I have become much more familiar, and committed, to my own needs and wants. Last year was full of doing things that I wanted to do. I got married (technically in late 2013, but close enough), honeymooned in Mexico, went to music festivals, attended a conference in Florida, and visited family in Kansas, Texas, Seattle and California. I regularly practiced abundant self-care, which included therapy, massage and Pilates. By far one of my favorite things in 2014 was driving a 24′ RV (free through a great program called Apollo RV’s www.apollorv.com/relocations). There is nothing quite like riding out a late May Mother’s Day snowstorm in Wyoming in an RV, stuck in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

2015 is going to be the year of not doing things that I don’t want to do. It started with the holidays. I didn’t want to spend them in the way that I was expected to—so I didn’t. I chose to spend them with people I was excited to see and spend time with, rather than people I was “supposed” to see.

I had been contemplating quitting my adjunct teaching job for a while now since I no longer felt excited about teaching and the enthusiasm about my students was waning. So I quit. Six months later, I have no regrets.

This doesn’t mean that I bow out of responsibilities. I pay attention to my gut—I listen to my heart—and I try not to make impulsive decision, especially about saying “yes” to something I am asked to do. The bottom line is that if it makes my stomach hurt to think about doing something, I don’t—regardless of what others may think or say about me.

Guess what? Since I’ve stopped doing things that I don’t want to do, I have a great deal more energy for the things that I want to do.

I get to help when it is requested and I want to do it. More importantly, the people who get to be in my life support my decisions. Although they may be disappointed if my decision doesn’t line up with their expectations, they don’t criticize me for my choices. Since they understand that I know what is in my own best interest, they deal with their disappointment and wish me well.

In turn, these people are probably the ones I will be spending my next holiday with.

 

Dr. Chris Lawrence
Dr. Chris Lawrence
Dr. Chris Lawrence is a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and Stephens College. She is co-owner of Lawrence, Oliver and Associates, a private practice clinic in Columbia, Missouri. To learn more go to www.loacounselingandcoaching.com
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