Recently, our women's group got together to discuss Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. Although some obvious themes were discussed such as solitude and simplicity, one interesting idea that emerged was the concept of life's seasons and how diverse each person's experiences are. Each of us experience life differently, different cycles and seasons, life events in all
different orders. Yet, we live in a society and culture that provides a script for life: elementary school, high school, college, marriage, job, kids, retirement, etc. There is even a general expectation that once you have a job, you will eventually get a better one, one that pays more. Once you have a child, perhaps you will have another one. These social norms are often not viewed as options, but as expectations. It is how one lives a life.
In our group, we discussed how life doesn't always flow like that, but those are not stories we hear about too often. While we may hear about the person who goes back to school later in life, we rarely hear the story of the person who retires at 40 to pursue a creative hobby or live in solitude for a year. Even when people retire, there is often pressure to have a plan. Will you travel? Start volunteering? Babysit the grandkids everyday? What are you going to DO? I think about this and wonder how does this limit us from living out our wild and precious life? Mary Oliver continues to be an inspiration of mine and her question burns until it hurts sometimes: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" So many of us sacrifice the wild and precious for the socially acceptable, cookie-cutter version of life.
Thinking about life's seasons in decades (as an easy point of reference), one person's twenties may be about hard work and achievement, whereas another person's twenties may be about exploring and curiosity. People expect variability out of twenty-year olds. But what about someone's forties or fifties? Would it be equally acceptable for a 43 year old to quit their job and backpack across Europe? What about change careers, cutting their pay in half, to chase a dream or fulfill a creative interest? I think at first we may say that's great, good for her! But, in reality, people who make these types of nonstandard life choices are greeted with a great deal of critique, questions, doubt and discouragement. No wonder most people follow the traditional road map.
We hand our children the predetermined life-in-a-box too. Before kids are even ten years old we start asking "what do you want to be when you grow up?" We send a message that each person has to pick ONE thing, and you better decide soon. Family and friends question one another about marriage and kids, as though there is something "wrong" or missing in life without at least one or the other. Good intentions, no doubt.
The conclusion we came to is that because we all experience the seasons of life differently, in a different order, it takes courage to honor and follow our own path. Whether you are 25, 40 or 70, right now might be your time to play, your time to work, your time to retreat, your time to love or your time to start all over. It may not make sense to anyone else, but I would argue that it doesn't have to. In a way, that's what our women's group is for. We are a group of women who want to live life to the fullest as our authentic selves; my vision is to create a safe space to explore and discover (or rediscover) who and what that is.
Thirty has been a turning point for me. In my twenties, I had some amazing adventures, yet I was still very achievement and accomplishment focused... seeking more education, higher paying jobs, more responsibility and status. In a way I was checking boxes. By my thirtieth birthday, something had shifted. While I still felt like all that was what I "should" be doing, it was no longer what felt important for my spirit. My spirit ached for wonder, wide open spaces, stillness, creative outlets, a circle of other women and a fireplace. My immediate response to my new perspective and needs was fear and confusion. What is wrong with me? Here I am at the middle of my career, really gaining traction-making a good salary, and now I am just going to go focus on something entirely different? Am I crazy? Depressed? Surely irresponsible! No one will understand! At first, it made no sense at all. I felt like I had it all backwards. This is what my twenties should have been about...exploring and experimenting and wandering around. You are 30, you have to keep it together now! You have responsibilities! Obligations! All along my spirit, my essential self as I think of her, got louder and louder. You are missing the point, she said. And there is my friend, Mary Oliver again, "tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
So one of my first steps was to dedicate this year to wandering, as you know if you've been reading my blog. Not more education, or a promotion, or weight loss, or some other number or status. My second step was to actually create a circle of women, whose mission is to support one another in living authentic lives full of joy, wonder and adventure. And here we are, talking about the shared experiences that so many of us think we have to face alone. One of the ladies in the group said something that really resonated with me: "We don't have to live life "in order" but a lot of people will try to make us believe we do". There is no "order", we have to honor the season we're in and have the courage to receive it's gifts.
What season of life do you find yourself in? Are you honoring that season or fighting it? Whatever the season, may you encounter the healers, teachers, resources and support you need to honor this time of your life. Drawing from the Christian faith, I am reminded of a passage from Ecclesiastes. "There is an appointed time for everything. A time to give birth and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. A time to search and a time to give up as lost. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart and a time to sew together. A time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace."