Finding Life Purpose. Finding ‘It’, Finding me
As an expat mum over the last 13 ½ years I have been fortunate enough to explore the possibilities of how to use my own time. I have been a mum of two too, so it has not all been lunches out and sipping cocktails by the pool, but there has been a degree of flexibility. With my husband’s work it has not been necessary (or easy at times having 2 kids and his work travel) for me to get a job, plus I also feel quite fortunate that I ‘did’ a lot of my career prior to having kids at 35.
So in many senses I have been freer to explore how I use my time.
“Great! Lucky you!”
You might say.
And it is, in many ways I know I am. Particularly not having to find a job to work around being in a foreign country, school hours, especially not having childcare close by and the long school holidays, etc, etc. It is certainly a position that many would be more than happy to be in.
But it has presented me with some challenges on how to spend my time and create a niche, a role, for myself. How to create my own routine and my own place in the countries in which we have lived. And, as usual, for many mums, I have tended to prioritise sorting out the transitions for the children, the family, the home, before considering what I want to do and focus on.
When we moved to Australia I was 6 months pregnant and fell pregnant again within a year of my first. So understandably the early years were pretty much all about the kids. That said, this also presented some mental health challenges for me, with pre (rather than post) natal depression with my second child and wondering how I would manage with two little ones under 2. I found it hard to know when I needed a break or to even take 15 minutes out in my day for a walk or ask for help or support from my husband, let alone a friend.
I remember that I felt I had to make the most of every child-free minute during naps and bedtime to catch up on housework, planning the next activity, cooking, emails, whatever. I think in part I was chasing the feeling that I had achieved something at the end of each day. It was very important to me (and still is to a certain degree) and now I look back and wish that I just had given myself a bit of a break instead of feeling that I had to have it all together, I almost felt like I had to justify my time and attempted to be a ‘super mum’ that does it all (the irony of this is that a present mum is much more ‘super’ in my book these days!).
As the kids got older I felt I needed to do something else to stimulate my brain so I did some courses and ultimately started my own ‘experimental’ business. I started this out very much to learn the ropes and to not lose money, (which I achieved) but I also think it was partly in response to feeling I had to justify my existence. What did I do when the kids were at school? What was the point of my education? Was I happy to be supported and not contribute financially? Did I really want to start the business, or did I feel like I had to ‘do’ something? I honestly don’t know.
Looking back now, I can see that I started to take this ‘experiment’ to a whole different league, where it started to become a main focus. I am not sure exactly where and when that happened. No longer it became something done during the day when the kids were at school/kindy, but also into the small hours of the morning. Obviously not a problem on the occasional basis, but it did turn out like that. It started to become the focus of my time and energy, (as often happens when someone starts a business) rather than something that was started out as an experiment and to work around my family. An accidental full-time job.
When we moved to Costa Rica (by which time I had sold the business) the kids were a bit older, aged 7 and 5 so there was more flexibility with both kids being at school. The move was larger in the sense that we also had a new language and culture to navigate (and let’s not even talk about the paperwork!). But after several months of us all settling in, establishing a routine around Spanish lessons and having found a few friends, I found myself looking for ‘What next?’
So, I started to look at charities to volunteer with, (a job or a business felt too complicated to get into there) to make the most of my NGO background, especially in a developing country. I helped out a bit with an organisation and ended up co-founding one with a friend which grew pretty quickly and started to feel like a (-nother accidental) full time job at times. Again, not an issue as it could be worked around, but on occasion it felt exhausting and not what I intended to do when I first set out. And that is ok, not everything needs to be neatly packaged and work exactly round the kids, nor should it. They need to be adaptable, understand that life is about a variety of things and sharing childcare is both parents’ responsibility. But I also know that I started to feel a resentment towards that work which originally felt well-intentioned. It took me away from my family, my equilibrium and my needs.
Now having lived in Spain for 18 months after a particularly strange last 13+ months (for us all I hasten to add!) I am sitting with this seemingly endless question of ‘What next?’
I am trying to be conscious and intentional about decisions and not go feet first into a job, a business, a course, whatever. But the number of combinations of decisions are infinite and therefore paralysing. Plus also in my late 40’s it also makes me wonder what and how to focus my time and energy on at this stage of my ‘career’. I have done a variety of activities, courses, etc here. But I have yet to find the ‘what next’ here in Spain.
I started this blog late last year, mainly as an outlet to practice writing, something cathartic, an opportunity to write about being an expat and my personal journey. Not long after starting out I found myself being taken over by training for SEO, social media, email marketing – you name it! I got so caught up in it all that I barely had time for writing! And when I did I wasn’t enjoying it. It reminded me of my experiences with my previous business, the NGO and my previous jobs, if I am being honest. Somehow the line had been crossed again. So what to do?
Reel it in and start again.
Thankfully I realised it (of course with help from people outside telling me AND me listening – this time!)
Back to basics. Start by writing what is on my mind and what I want to do, not with google, or anything or anyone else in mind. That has to be my starting principal. More vulnerable maybe, less traffic for my blog also, but it was not meant to be about anything other than exploring writing a blog. Just for me. The lure of money, outward success and what people thought had got me to spiral to the next level and forget what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be.
And that it feels is like the story of my life. And maybe for so many of our lives? DO we really do what we want, what we need? Even when we do have the time, flexibility and the luxury to do what we want? Do we feel like we have to work or do we want to work? Do we need the new car/kitchen/whatever, to get involved with a charity, the school, organising a ‘wow’ kids party or do we want to? Do we feel like we should organise that dinner party, call the family that day, start the business or the course or is it something we want to do or really long for and desire?
Such hard questions.
Particularly hard questions for a woman, for me. Many of us women have learnt to put others’ first, to organise our lives around the smaller ones, the other half, to be ‘good’ girls, to be selfless. As long as they are happy the world is ok and things will settle into place. But actually….. no!
No, that doesn’t happen.
I lose myself, I lose sight of who I am and what I want. I don’t know who I truly am or what I want or what I need sometimes. Somewhere along the way I crossed the line – of worrying more about other people and what they, or society thinks. I left me behind. I left the small girl, the teenager or twenty, thirty or forty something somewhere else and started taking on other people’s hopes, dreams, aspirations or what I felt was expected of me.
I started to think about what I think I ‘should’ do and, at times, running around trying out a million and one things trying to work out what sticks for me. It is exhausting. It is paralysing. It is actually pretty soul destroying.
As Bronnie Ware witnessed when speaking with people in pallitative care and wrote about in her book ‘The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying’, we can look back on our life with regrets or do something about them now.
So, what now?
I am currently trying to sit in this limbic space of what next with some element of grace and curiosity.
I am trying to work on this blog, my Spanish, the plans for my new home, working in a new volunteer role whilst exploring the balance (without having to justify any of it). And who knows what will happen or come out of it?
What do I enjoy?
What do I want to focus on today and how?
If I am feeling particularly brave and self-indulgent – what do I need?
And it is hard. So hard.
Partly because I have never really asked myself that question. Partly as I am unsure of what really is inside. Partly because it feels like such an indulgence to go there.
How do I justify what I did today? What do I say I do when someone asks me what I do? How can I not prioritise the work for the charity that are far more worthy than my selfish house renovation plans are? Shouldn’t I be creating wondrously and highly nutritious meals three times a day when I don’t have a business card, a salary or a defined role right now?
What? Actually create a day based around my needs and wants? Are you kidding me? What does that achieve?
It is a whole 180 degree turn.
It is a messy situation and one that at best feels like two steps forward one step back. It has created a lot of indecision, uncertainty and vulnerability for me that I feel very uncomfortable with at times. I have felt physically, but low-grade, unwell for some weeks now and I think it is emotional rather than physical. As I grapple with who and what I am and the uncertainty of not knowing and putting my needs, my wants above everyone else’s. Some moments it works, others it doesn’t.
Some of the time I find myself beating myself up for not having achieved more that day or why am I not doing x and y or z like others seem to, (social media is the worst for comparing with others) or not really knowing what I am doing as I am fast approaching fifty.
But as I write this right now, maybe I just have to sit with this uncertainty, this journey, this unique life experience. I have never really done that. No wonder it feels uncomfortable and a bit terrifying. I have never experimented with this space, let alone languished and luxuriated in it (if that is even possible!)
If I am fortunate enough to be in this position, of not having to work. Better to embrace what that means for me, rather than what anyone else would do in my situation. And that is exactly what is so hard for me. Trying to get to the crux of what I want, what I need. Once I have, then just getting on with living and embracing it. It maybe one thing today from tomorrow. It is highly unlikely to be conventional or follow a set path. It may mean I never get a job, or that I totally come off social media.
It will probably mean I need to create some pretty firm boundaries for myself around my time, my priorities. But you know, what? I think it is about time I did it. I am partly writing about it here to hold myself to account. It is about time all the parts of me were listened to and explored. It just might take some time to be able to earn their trust for them to feel able to speak up.
Even though, I am in the thick of this process I would like to point out that I am not looking for advice or guidance on how to proceed as I listen to my own needs and wants. That said, I would so love to hear where you are on your journey of listening to your own wants and needs? Have you have found your role, your niche whether an expat mum or dad, stay at home mum or dad or anyone that has the flexibility to create the life that they truly desire? Or any other comments or feedback at all.