We all come in shades of grey, but life comes in technicolor!
“Learn from the mistakes of others…You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” Truer words vindicating parenthood have never been spoken. So much so, that many people have taken credit for this quote whose source, I admit, remains a mystery to me.
Still, after almost two years of absence, I am not here to dwell on my mistakes. Nor do they all fit in a blog post. Since I last wrote, I have achieved many things. I have moved countries, built a new home, set up an educational consulting business, managed to stay married, sent another son off to university and am eagerly awaiting the graduation of another.
Looking back on these last two years, it feels as if I have covered some rough terrain. I made it to the other side. The men in my life have also made tremendous milestones. In the hope that they will one day share their learnings with me, I offer some of my own acquired knowledge that has helped me along my own journey.
Learning 1: We all need help.
Accept it. Ask for it. Give it.
I grew up in a family and a society where asking for help was a sign of weakness. Asking for help meant you were not able enough to do it yourself. You were somehow lacking, not strong enough, not worthy of validation. Asking for help was, therefore, not a means of connection but a cause for shame. But just like you cannot do open heart surgery on yourself, or reach that one specific point in the middle of your back, sometimes there are things that we simply cannot do alone. Sometimes we need that extended hand to help us get up when we fall. When offered help, take it graciously. Whether it is a cousin chauffeuring your kid to school, or your mother-in-law cooking you a meal, or a cleaner coming to vacuum your house, or a coach, we all need crutches we can lean on in times of overwhelm. People are happy to help, accepting their offer when they do, and asking them when they don’t (remember that sometimes they are also overwhelmed) is a sign that you value a relationship with them. Offer your help when you can. Everyone suffers. It is not a weakness, it is human nature. Suffering is part of the growth process. We are all stronger together.
Learning 2: Strengthen your core.
Literally and figuratively.
Life has a talent for throwing you curveballs. You will dodge some of them, but you won’t be able to dodge all of them. Sometimes you’re just going to have to take the hit. The stronger your core, the better you will be able to navigate troubled times. Get in touch with yourself, understand who you are and what you value. Figure out your principles and stand by them. Once you are anchored within yourself, you will better be able to get back on an even keel after a storm has rocked your boat. On the physical level, a strong core will keep you standing straight when the ground under your feet is shaking (best tested on a moving train) and keep your bones from bending (literally).
Lesson 3: You make your own choices.
Make them wisely. Then own them.
While it may sometimes feel counterintuitive, we always have a choice. Leaving our home, our friends and our loved ones is a choice to adopt a better life. Sometimes it is a safer life that we seek, or a life where we feel we will better thrive, or maybe just survive. By understanding our values and what matters to us, we are able to make better choices or perhaps more importantly, to stick by them. We have choices in what we think, as we have choices in what we see. In our relationships—with ourselves as with others—we may choose to see the good or the bad. Both of them are inherently present in all of us. Despite what the fairy tales tell us, there is no absolute good or evil, no black or white. We all come in varying—and perpetually evolving—shades of grey. We decide which shade we see.
Learning 4: Keep your dogs close and your creativity closer.
In the last few turbulent years (Oh! Did I mention the big M?), I have kept a few constants that have truly helped me. My dogs are a constant reminder of the very basics of a good life: love, food, sleep, warmth, outdoor walks, physical touch and play. Exercise has literally kept me moving and music has moved me, to tears and to laughter. It has kept me connected. But perhaps what I have valued the most has been my curiosity and my ensuing creativity: my constant desire to learn, to experiment, and to evolve.
Pets, exercise, music and creativity. These four things will never leave you and will never disappoint you. Appreciate them, nurture them and indulge them. I know that in my case, they have kept me living with gratitude, and most importantly, they have kept me sane.