Dreams. Ambitions. Desires. Self care. Identity.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these things lately.

This focus has been prompted by my imminent return to work, which I’ve been writing about fairly frequently the past few weeks. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about time, routines, and practical ways I can make sure I have time, even if only little pockets of time here and there, but regular time every week, to move forward on my various goals.

There are goals for my writing, both this blog but other projects not ready yet to talk about. There are goals for my coaching practice. Goals for self care habits like regular exercise, eating whole and natural foods, and daily meditation.

I’ve been working with a coach, and as often happens with coaching I had an eye opening experience during my session this week. I was talking about the things I want to do but which I feel guilty about doing, or feel I have to justify taking the time to myself to do them. As I talked, themes came up that as I heard my voice saying these words I wondered, “Is that really me saying that?”

Keeping score

One theme that I kept hearing myself tap into was this idea of keeping score. Phrases like “even the playing field”, “fair”, “equal”, particularly in terms of my husband’s and my ability to each have time for ourselves.

I realise that part of me looks forward to going back to work so I feel it’s more “even” – we’re both working outside the home so I can feel justified in asking for time to myself, whereas now I feel he deserves it more since he’s at work all day. It’s silly as the rational, conscious part of me acknowledges that I’m also working taking care of the kids and the house, and that while sure, he deserves some time to unwind when he walks in the door after a long day at work, I’m also a human and as such need some time to myself.

But it’s not the rational, conscious part of my brain that drives so much of my behaviour. As I heard myself keeping score of who gets what time to themselves, or how hard I need to work to earn the right to have time to myself to pursue things just for me, I realised that this subconscious need to justify myself had been driving me to busy myself with housework or volunteer to take the boys somewhere. I have been working hard to earn credit I can spend later.

Except I’m the only one keeping track of credits and debits. It’s all make believe.

For the Greater Good

I’m reminded of the last Harry Potter book when I think about this but the other theme that kept coming up from myself (it’s so weird to realise you think things because you’re saying them…it sounds ridiculous, like surely you would know this about yourself? But no…) was that I justified doing things for myself if it ultimately helped other people.

So I felt justified taking time away from my family if it was to do a home visit as a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor because I was helping other people. (“Helping a baby learn to nurse” as I always tell my son).

Or I felt justified leaving the boys with their Dad so I could mow the garden or do work around the house.

I could even justify going for a run as exercise ultimately made me healthier and gave me the energy to be calmer and more resilient when dealing with the children, from tantrums to playing together and everything in between.

But I didn’t/don’t feel justified taking time to write. I don’t even feel fully justified taking time away from my family in order to work on the coaching practice, as that is something I do for myself and is not the main source of income by any stretch.

I didn’t/don’t feel justified taking a couple hours on a Sunday to attend a Quaker meeting, which is why I’ve attended three meetings in nearly three years. It takes me months to convince myself I can do it.

The moral of the story

I share this with you as I think there are a few lessons I am taking away from this experience.

For starters, it underscores the value of reflective thinking, and particularly if you have a coach or someone who can ask you questions that get you talking. It was as I was talking, and someone bearing witness to what I was saying, that I could hear for the first time that I was justifying my desires, and feeling guilty if I couldn’t.

If you don’t have a coach or feel you can’t work with one at the moment, this is where journal writing can help. I’ve had similar experiences writing and then looking back over what I had written and seeing phrases or themes jump out at me.

The second takeaway is that once we are aware of what rules might be operating subconsciously that stop us from doing something, we can hold them up to the light and see if a) they are helpful and b) if they are true.

For me, now I am aware that I have felt this need to justify myself and the time I want to spend on things for me, I can question it when the same feelings come up. Next time I mentally keep score between my husband and me to see if I’ve earned enough points to take time for myself, or the next time I try to link what I desire with the greater good of the family, I can stop and question it. I can remind myself that I’m a person with desires, goals and dreams.

Sure, there are still practical hurdles. There is still a finite amount of time in my day. There are still the many needs of young children to attend to. There is still the house to keep, the food to prepare, the washing up to do. But it’s amazing how those practical things only stop me so much. They might slow down my progress. But they weren’t what was stopping me, not nearly so much as the guilt I was putting on myself.

Journal prompts

Think of something you want. Something you really desire, but that you don’t feel you can do it.

What is stopping me from doing ____________?

What would need to happen for me to do ____________________?

When have I been able to do something I want?

What was different about that desire to what I want now?

If I knew that it was safe to desire, what would I do differently?

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