A sustainable life

I’m currently in the middle of an amazing trip visiting my dear friend, Nadine, in Texas.

On the cusp of this first prolonged trip away from my family, I felt apprehensive. But another part of me knew this trip was vitally important.

It was a time to find myself again after living in the reality of new motherhood for the past two years.

During these years, I tried to find a balance between my responsibilities to my son and my work, but looking back, I can see that other things suffered – myself, the relationships I hold dear, my health, my sanity(!)…

Balancing everything in a world that promises us that “we can have it all” is an impossibility. Because I believe that “having it all” is a lie.

Even if I were a millionaire, I might have more rest through the help of a nanny, but this would be at the cost of my motherhood.

And as I meditated on my way over in the airplane, I received the following wisdom;

Amy, you have 100% of your energy available to you. So how are you going to use it? Compromises will have to be made, certain things will have to fall away. But you have the ability to make a choice in all this. 

And so sat in a beautiful cafe in south Austin, I looked at what my life currently looks like with everything important to me.  

Here are my thoughts about certain parts of it:

Work

Work is deeply important to me. It fuels my creativity, allows me to feel mastery and it contributes to being an active citizen (working for local government) as well as contributing to my personal growth. It’s important…and yet, it takes up most of my energy. I know as it is it’s not sustainable for the long-haul.

Love

I miss my husband. I miss lazy lie-ins and carefree evenings spent with friends. I miss the time to love him, the energy to go on dates, lying next to him in bed, the spare money with no nursery to pay for to go on dates without thinking about the cost, the time to both enjoy TV shows together and also catch-up without any bedtime pressure.

I know this will pass, but it’s hard.

And I want to be aware of this so that we don’t come out of the early years of parenting fog to find ourselves on different tracks in life, lost to each other.

Recuperation and rest

This is another one which will change as Jenson grows and starts to sleep through the night. At present, my husband and I take turns to respond to our son’s cries and so at least half the week is made of broken sleep. This means that ideally bedtime is 9-9:30, which eats into my connection with Gregg and ability to tap into other areas of the circle – health, connection with friends, my spiritual life…

But it is what it is.

I’m realising how important it is to have an extended period of time – a night or two – away from the daily grind each month.

It’s important to have time just being me, time of sleeping in, time of not having every minute accounted for and a countdown to when bedtime should be.

It’s also a time of connection with friends and nature (where I get my spiritual connection), so I recognise that this isn’t just about rest, but about many more things.

I’ve not been as disciplined with prioritising this time away as I should be, but I will be moving forward.

Household & health

Sure, in an ideal world I’d do a yoga class weekly. I’d a tidier house. I’d stay fit by going for jogs instead of the continual late-sprint for my train or pedalling home on my bike. I’d eat less processed food. I’d do washing in my spare time instead of when I’m looking after Jenson.

But these aren’t priority areas for me at the moment.

And that’s ok.

Motherhood

I recognise that Gregg is stepping up and caring for our boy more than I am at the moment. And it’s not just when I’ve been here on holiday – he’s stepped into a 50:50 role if not slightly more of the care role at times.

I’ve needed him to do so when I’ve reached burnout and felt like I had nothing left to give.

And that’s ok.

I’m allowed for parenthood to be 50:50 at this early stage despite every cultural bone in my body proclaiming that I should be the carer. I should have the bigger role in Jenson’s early years.

This is compounded by a noticing of how I’m less capable of staying in the role of the ‘perfect’ mum – I don’t have enough energy for it.

The reality is that Jenson spends time watching Netflix if he wakes before 6am and I often find quick fixes to entertain him as I balance the minimal amount of housekeeping and food prep I do around time looking after him.

All the while, a little voice in my head tells me that I should be engaged with his play 100% and should leave the other stuff. Should leave my needs.

But I can’t.

And so I accept the reality of what is.

Interdependencies

I notice that several of these areas are linked together. Motherhood, work and love all jostle for my time and one area reducing leads to a gain in another.

Likewise, rest and recuperation is met through travel (often to see friends) and provides time for me to seek a spiritual connection outside myself.

And my spiritual opening links to better health outcomes as I live with less anxiety and live more in my truth, which positively impacts my relationships with friend and family.

And so this wheel of life turns, ever adjusting for my awareness of it. Constantly dancing as I find space for that which I hold dear in my life.


Thanks to Nadine, who treated me to a night in the incredibly cool Carpenter Hotel, whose coffee I’ve been sipping while finishing these reflections.

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Love myself

I used to put on the song ‘Love Myself’ by Hailee Steinfeld and dance around my house. Buoyed by its energy and the seemingly radical sentiment of loving myself, I couldn’t get enough of it.

I’ve just read the lyrics and the song is a little strange (about physically loving yourself) but I stand by my love of it. My attraction to the radical notion of self-love in a society which seems to push how we aren’t good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, youthful enough.

And on reflecting on where I am in life, I feel so happy that I can say more than ever before that I like and love myself.

Before, it felt like this was an egotistical thing to feel – loving myself.

I felt it meant being too big for your boots or big-headed.

But I now see that it’s the foundation for so much in life.

Liking yourself and knowing your self-worth is a fundamental necessity for being able to function as a well-adjusted adult.

Sure, I still have times where I don’t talk to myself with kindness. Where I exasperate myself and I doubt what I have to offer.

But more and more, my stance is one of positive self-regard.

Of sureness of what I have to offer to the world and to myself.

And here’s what I think when I appraise who I am:

I’m an intelligent, strong, driven, caring woman.

I’m someone who thrives off of learning new things – my capacity to develop and grow is one of my biggest strengths and something I’m proud of.

I’ve also got a large capacity to learn – I’m bright.

I’m driven and want to be the best I can be – a good mother, good friend – to myself and others, good daughter, good sister, good worker.

I’m creative, I’ve got a talent for writing.

I’m also warm and am good at including others and making people feel they matter.

I’m also funny in my own way.

A year ago, I’d have had a massive lump in my throat from the anxiety of thinking about sharing this with you – what would you think of me? how egotistical will you judge me to be?! – but now it feels like a fact.

This is who I am.

Not all that I am, mind you.

There’s also my shadow side.

The side of me that is stubborn and selfish and greedy and insecure. Not willing to see other perspectives and so busy that I don’t take time to just be.

But my shadow doesn’t define me anymore like it used to. And I love myself with my shadows.

I feel more balanced and at peace, more comfortable in my own skin than not.

And it’s a beautiful place to be.

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Balance

I’ve been feeling unbalanced recently.

Knowing that Jenson needs to come first for this period in my life, but also knowing that the current dynamic isn’t doing anyone good.

I’m (putting myself) under pressure and am getting physically sick as a result.

I’ve got too much work and not enough play in my life.

Most of my closest friends don’t live in Brighton.

I need to make a change but I didn’t know what to do, until I listened to a recent episode of the motherkind podcast (shout out to my friend Jess who repeatedly recommended it to me until I got my ass in gear and subscribed to it!).

It was with a lady who created project me, a website and business focusing on people taking small steps to improve their lives. Her focus is on coaching wheels, where you look at how you feel in a variety of areas and then take steps to improve them. I’ve given you what my ‘wheel’ looks like below, with peaks in work and family, middling in love, friends, self-growth and finance and lower levels around health and fun:

IMG_8883.JPG It was a good reminder of this tool – one which can be really powerful.

The thing which struck me more than anything about the episode (apart from the presenter and her guest both being a bit smug about how great their lives are!) was what Kelly, founder of Project Me, said about the power of meeting with other women who were keen to work on their own lives too.

They’d meet once a month to review their wheels, talk about what they wanted to do next to improve their lives. They coached each other, supported each other and provided a safe space for each other to explore and take action.

I want some of that!

But I didn’t know how I could get some of it in my life….and that’s when I decided to just put a shoutout to the universe (via Facebook!) to search for other mamas who wanted to get a bit more balance and self-care in their lives too.

And I was bowled over by the response.

There were so many other women who were keen to get together. So many others who were struggling but keen to get a better balance in their lives.

So we’re going to meet up in March to see what we can do to get this support group going.

I’ve got no clue how many people will be there – maybe 20, maybe 2.

But now I don’t feel so alone.

Now I feel like I might be able to take some steps to address the areas in my life that are slightly out of balance.

Now I feel excited about what the future will hold.

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Airtime

I have a principle that I incorporate into a lot of the group work I do. It’s called ‘managing your airtime’. It’s a request for people to become aware of how they show up in the group setting. If they are someone who talks a lot, I invite them to perhaps hold back slightly and let other people take more space in the conversation. If they’re someone who finds it difficult to speak up in a group, I invite them to perhaps push themselves to speak up a tiny bit more; to participate as fully as they can.

It’s an interesting concept for me to ponder on as I’m someone who tends to either speak up too much or not enough.

If I’m with people I feel truly comfortable with – my sister, super close friends, my husband – I can speak¬†a lot.¬†Chloe, my sister and Gregg, my husband can attest to this. With them I can talk and it’s really hard to become conscious of this in the moment in order for them to have space to show up.

It’s also true when I’ve got a role to play in a meeting or feel I have authority at work because of the role I’m in. Again, I have to be mindful to not take over and monopolise the conversation so that other people have the space to express themselves.

But I struggle to show up when it involves me becoming vulnerable with others (a topic I wrote about in my post yesterday). To feel safe, I shrink back and take more of a listening role, allowing other people to fill the space. But I’m trying to change this – keeping the principle of airtime in my mind is helpful to remember how I want to show up in conversations.

Airtime is also a concept that is serving me when I think about what needs to change in me internally. You see, I have a number of internal sub-personalities that show up a lot in my life with a critical voice (bear with me, hopefully you won’t find this concept too weird!). Here are some of the key players:

  • My inner mean girl who disparages me and is critical of my physical appearance.
  • A shy, scared part of me that is constantly trying to make me feel safe by becoming what I think other people need me to be in any given situation.
  • The discounter who tells me I’m not able to feel any negative emotion (angry, sad, discouraged) because other people have it worse than me.
  • ‘Not enough’ who, when I’m in a situation where I need to have expertise (when I’m coaching or in serious work meetings), makes me feel that I’m lacking when I don’t have all the answers or when I don’t feel like I’m the finished article.

I also have a number of internal sub-personalities that show up with a more nurturing voice.

  • The witness who I heard on my way to work the other day and reminded me to be kind to myself (you can read about it here).
  • My core which makes me feel powerful, strong and capable of anything when I tap into it.
  • The protector who shows up when I’m on my knees with overwhelm and tells me to cancel everything and do what is needed to take care of my mental health
  • My badass side which speaks up with attitude and pushes for what I want.

So what do these have to do with airtime?

Well, in my coaching session yesterday, I realised that the critical voices currently take a lot more airtime than the more nurturing ones. They tend to rule the roost when it comes to my internal dialogue. This isn’t always the case; more and more I find myself able to hear from the more nurturing voices, but this isn’t always the case I know I could do with hearing more from these gentle, kind internal voices.

I’m aware that I want these voices to have a more balanced airtime ratio.

I recognise that the critical voices serve a purpose of keeping me safe – they think ahead to see any risks that I need to prepare for, they make me aware of what I think I need to do to get people to accept me. But I don’t need to hear from them as much as I did in the past because I’m changing as a person.

I no longer feel the need to be constantly safe, I long more to be free. I don’t want people to like me because I comply to what I think their ideal ‘me’ is, I want to give people the opportunity to like me because of an authentic connection we’ve made (or to choose not to like me because we haven’t clicked – that’s ok).

I’ll still need to hear from the critical voices in order to think ahead and be prepared for what might be coming – tough questions I might get asked in a meeting, thinking about how others will best receive information I”m presenting to them. So I’m not trying to silence and repress them, I just want to find more of a balance.

And so in the coaching session, I stilled myself, gathered all these voices together and asked all them collectively to become aware of their airtime. To perhaps hold back or speak up. And I’m going try to stay mindful of their airtime in the coming weeks so that I can find greater balance in my life.

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