Here’s how to stop waiting to be happy, love your life right now, and clear room for it to get way, way better
This time of year is tricky. It feels like it should get slower. School is winding down, the days are getting longer, and summer break will be here before we know it. But there’s a bittersweet element too. Summer is sweet, but so so short, and so busy.
It will come and go in an instant, and then there will be a whirlwind in the fall, before the craziness of the holiday season, and then 2019 will be over. OVER. Another summer, another fall, another year, gone, just like that. You don’t need me to tell you that you only get 18 summers with your children, do you? How many do you have left?
It’s in that spirit of urgency that I offer a gentle but forthright reminder to make the most of your life. What do you want for your summer? What do you want for your children’s childhoods? What do you really really want?
Right now, weeks away from the mid-point of 2019, is the perfect time for a little self-reflection.
· How’s your year look so far?
· Where have you built momentum?
· Where have you progressed?
· Where did you make massive strides?
· What are your big wins?
· What are you most excited about?
Now shift your point of view.
· Where are you stuck?
· What’s frustrating you?
· Where have you allowed yourself to backslide?
· What bad habits did you fall (back) into?
· Where did you lose momentum?
· What do you feel most disappointed about?
Take a piece of paper or grab your phone and explore the questions listed above, then note three things that you want to invest an hour into every day for the next five days. Here’s my example — an hour at the gym, an hour in the garden, an hour working on my website. Did you know just one hour a day for five days is enough to make a difference?
Now imagine that you don’t get to move on until you’ve put in 5 hours on each. Think about all the things you want to do, but instead, you must pick the same three, over and over, every day, for the rest of your life, or at least until you put in the hours.
The Power of Three
You may be wondering what’s the point of the exercise, or thinking that three things isn’t enough to get you to where you want to go. It’s true, it takes so much more. But three things, practiced consistently until accomplished, leads to bigger and better things. And that makes a difference and shifts your perspective about what’s possible. And it all snowballs until you can trust yourself to do what you have to do to live the life you want. It’s incremental and exponential.
Plus, three things are manageable. Imagine I said, pick 20 things to invest 30 minutes in each day. That would eat up 10 hours of your day, which probably isn’t feasible, and you’d have to do them for 10 days to get the same results. I’m on your side here.
It’s not overwhelming, intimidating, or impossible. It’s doable, and most importantly, it teaches you to practice committing, focusing, and following through. Say it with me, “commit, focus, follow through.” Let that be your mantra.
Three things are essential. They are foundational. If you can apply commitment, focus, and follow through to anything, eventually you’ll get what you want. You’ll get to where you want to go. Over time, you can go anywhere. Anywhere! Get excited about that.
· Where do you want to go?
· What do you want to do?
· What do you want to achieve?
· What do you see for your future that is different than your past?
· What can you imagine for your life that is so good that if you had it, it would blow your mind?
Write that down too.
You may think that’s all you need to know. If that’s enough, try it. Commit to the three things exercise for five days, then come back for the rest of the instructions. But if you are feeling up to it now, here’s the tough love part that will underscore everything.
It will clear room for you to improve your life fundamentally. I’ve danced around some of this before, but so many of you are wrestling with it, it might help to be more direct. There’s no sugarcoating it — you gotta do these five things if you haven’t already for all the other helps, hacks, tips, tricks, and upgrades to work.
1. Take better care of yourself
First, look at photos from the summer of last year. Sure, you are a year older, but are you a year wiser? Think back. Did you feel confident about your weight, skin, smile, posture, energy and tone? How did you feel? Were you smiling and radiant in the photos, hiding behind others, or not in the pictures at all?
Was everyone else dressed in shorts and sundresses and bathing suits for the weather while you were covered, so your flaws couldn’t be seen? That kind of minimizing is exhausting, and avoiding being seen plays havoc with your psyche.
Now, look at photos from Christmas or family birthdays or other milestones last year. Conduct the same analysis. Hiding or happy? This isn’t about perfection, it’s about feeling good in your skin, being self-confident, loving who you are, knowing you are capable and worthy of living your best life.
Where are you now? Same boat? Better situation? What have you done, emotionally and physically to change?
Workout. Sleep better. Eat better. That’s all it takes to build a foundation for better health. Make food, drink, and lifestyle choices through the lens of whether or not you’d let your kids do it. If the answer is you wouldn’t let them now, or you don’t want them to see you do it because you don’t want them to it later, how good can it be for you?
If your doctor is recommending regular medication to treat anything, ask him/her what it would take to heal yourself through better health. Is it lose 30 pounds? Stop or cut down alcohol? Give up caffeine or stop smoking? Find a new job or a new husband? Then do that. Be the boss of your body. Be the boss of your life. Do what you must do.
Ask someone who loves you and who wants the best for you what they think is the one (or more) thing related to your health and wellbeing that is holding you back from living a better quality of life? They’ll know. No matter what you think you are successfully hiding, they’ll know.
Ask them to be gentle with their feedback, to be kind in their delivery, to be in your corner as you address it. Tell them you’re ready for change, then face the feedback head on. Commit, focus, and follow through, just like we practiced above.
2. Take better care of your home
Your home, like your body, deserves your attention. Look around you. Is everything in a state of/ disrepair? Is it broken or missing pieces, dated or worn? Or is your home inviting and clean, healthy and filled with photos and mementos that celebrate a life well lived?
Look in your closet, do you have stuff you’ll never wear again? Stuff that should have been donated years ago? Look in your garage. When you need a screwdriver, do you have to run to Lowe’s to buy one because you can never find the kind you need due to your patented throw-it-in-the-garage-and-hope-for-the-best organization system?
Are your walls “builder white” because you’ve haven’t gotten around to painting or hanging pictures for 8 1/2 years now? Do you hate your bathroom lighting but postpone replacing it? Does your carpet or furniture smell of pets? Does the energy feel good? Does it feel like a family that you’d like lives there?
Beyond what you see, it should feel alive and fresh, free from negative emotions and stagnancy; it should have meaning, evocative of love, joy, and safety.
Commit to your space, let it reflect your priorities. Let it welcome you, comfort you, nurture you, inspire you. Your home doesn’t have to be perfect or spotless, but it should make you feel proud. It’s probably your biggest financial investment. It’s not meant to just hold your stuff.
It shouldn’t be full of unfinished projects or crammed with stuff that you didn’t need or can’t afford. You don’t want that pressure when you are home.
You should be able to exhale when you are home, breathe a deep sigh of relief when you think about returning. Let home be your happy place, when you are at your best, wholly you, and entirely at ease.
3. Earn more, save more, or spend less
Speaking of stuff you can’t afford, are you putting your dreams on hold because you can’t afford them? Are you able to say yes to unexpected opportunities? Or are you living paycheck to paycheck?
Are you always playing catch-up? Do unexpected expenses majorly derail you? Are you charging big stuff, small stuff, the essentials, and the frivolous? Is the cost of living outpacing your income? Each year, does it seem like no matter what happened, you still don’t net out ahead?
Are you taking advantage of compounding interest? Are you investing in your future? Are you preparing for retirement? Are you learning more and more about your finances and risk tolerance? Do you have a plan?
Will your kids be better off financially than you were or will you end up passing on the same mistakes, lack of knowledge, debt, and smallness that defined your life?
If you want to live bigger, to experience more, to explore the world, there are three ways to change your trajectory: earn more, save more, or spend less. Start there.
Earning more is the toughest, statistically speaking, especially as a female. You’ll have to advocate for yourself, lobby even, and make connections that advance your career. If you’ve chosen a lower paying job or industry, you may also have to develop a side hustle or take on freelance work, which can be challenging if you have children. If you’ve chosen a path specifically to accommodate your family, your husband may have to make up the difference.
Saving more and spending less are two sides of the same coin, and might not be harder, but certainly require more discipline. It’s worth the conversation with your husband to get clear on your priorities. What are your beliefs about work? What are you working for? Are you earning what you are worth?
Having this conversation doesn’t always guarantee alignment, but it often leads to greater understanding and that can go a long way. Agree to help each other fill in the gaps by teaching each other your strengths, bring money blocks to each other’s attention, consider each other and the family’s goals before making purchases or income decisions, and try to keep the bigger picture in mind.
Do you really need a bigger house or a new car? Or would it feel better long term to accept a little less now, but be mortgage and debt free sooner? Will your kids remember and appreciate all the toys would they rather have experiences, like family vacations?
Or maybe you’re not to that stage yet. If you downgraded your lifestyle a bit now, would it perhaps mean setting your future in motion? Would you be able to buy a home for the first time sooner? One with a backyard for the future kids and dog?
It’s hard not to want what you want when you want it, but there is a cost to everything, even if you can afford it. That’s opportunity cost and you may be compromising future security to have it now.
4. Ask your husband to pitch in
It’s time to set a new standard in your marriage. Even if it’s solid. Even if you are crazy in love. Whether you are newlyweds or have been married for more than a decade, resolve to tell each other the truth, about each other’s appearance, health, careers, contribution, attitude, parenting, partnership and more. Trust is built on honesty. And lies, even little white ones, can erode trust.
Think of the person you married as the person who is most likely to have your back, the person who always has your best interests at heart, the person who wants all your dreams to come true, and will be there no matter what. Then be that person for your husband and expect it from him too. That may mean re-calibrating. It may mean reclaiming some bandwidth to be more than a mom, more than a caregiver, more than a wife. You may have to rediscover yourself too.
For example, if you handle the budget, the daily logistics, the planning of your family’s future, the care and feeding of the kids, the kids’ affairs, and the management of the household, it’s too much. It’s time to off-load some of that responsibility, or at least plan for your husband to take more on at home as you pursue your career dreams too.
It’s irrelevant if your husband has a more lucrative job. Lucrative just means “pays better”. It doesn’t mean his job is more important, or a big deal. In fact, it may only mean he has the anatomy to fully reap the benefits of a patriarchal society. Bygones. He still needs to take on his fair share at home too. Require it in your marriage.
Carrying the load is likely taking a toll on your health, your sanity, your relationships, and your identity. Delegate whatever you need to let go of to make time for a bigger, better, higher quality of life. Then let whatever your husband or kids won’t pick up slide until it reaches a breaking point.
It’s not easy. It takes a lot of self-restraint to ignore a mess when the family can’t be bothered to take care of it. Who wants to be the mom that sends their kid to school in dirty clothes because no one will do the laundry? Who wants to deal with late fees and missed opportunities because your husband won’t help with the budget?
Ask for help, demand help, plead for help, whatever it takes. And if they tell you that you’re being too serious, too mean, or not fun, tell them they’ll get the best of you when they share the load.
Then outline consequences. This is the hardest part. Don’t celebrate hubby’s progress or his effort when he starts pitching in. Show gratitude, but don’t overdo it. He doesn’t deserve a medal until he can do it regularly without prompting and truly understand the value of all that you do. Does he celebrate your effort? Does he show gratitude? Does he fully comprehend how much emotion goes into the pre-work before the work even starts?
It takes so much time, energy, and emotional investment to move the family forward every day, to make sure everyone’s needs are met, that all the decisions are made, that life is facilitated. Point it out, describe the details, explain how much went into it. Get into the weeds. He’s not going to want to hear about it, but he needs to understand and appreciate what happens behind the scenes to make your family’s life so enjoyable.
Don’t nag; just state your case. Ask him to express consistent gratitude or pay to outsource it, because you aren’t doing it for free anymore. Know your worth.
Moms spend all day minimizing other people’s pain, and although it makes the world go ‘round, it doesn’t make the difference it could, because people, even those you love and would doing anything for, have to feel a little pain to change.
If your effort is invisible and taken for granted, you can’t expect them to feel the magnitude of what you do or the weight of shouldering it themselves. Let them suffer the consequences a bit, so they want to pitch in. So you all are truly in it together.
5. Find a better balance for your kids
Then enroll the kids too. But first, take an objective look at them. Are they delightful, joyful, happy, and fun? Are they inquisitive, interested, growing, and learning? Are they thriving?
Are you modeling and teaching what you want them to know? Are you providing the opportunities, resources, and experiences they need to become kind contributing citizens of the world? Or are you on your phone and/or working 12 hours/day, distracted, half-assing your own life? Either way they see it. They see you and your marriage.
Are you handing them a screen every time you need them to be quiet? When you feed them, is it junk food with a side of junk conversation? What is the tone of your family conversations?
Think about the chronological basics of your day — breakfast, school prep, snacks, afternoon activities, dinner, bedtime routines — are you late, undisciplined, unconscious, or sloppy? Do you make your moments count or rush through them out of stress?
Do your kids feel loved and valued, respected and capable in any given moment, or are they unmotivated and unfocused, disrespectful and impatient? Do they have sensory, eating, emotional, learning issues and more, or just layers upon layers of complicated excuses?
Look, I know it’s hard, and there are real problems, but if you think the world is a mess, start with your own family. There’s so much indulgence, so much forgiveness for any behavior that might have a label. Try being the boss, being an example, reminding yourself that you are the adult, and holding yourself and your family to a higher standard. Even while they’re young.
When you don’t know what to do, learn it. Ask for help. Hire an expert. When you react inappropriately, apologize, and try again. Model a good life. Commit, focus, and follow through on a good life. Define it how you want, but you only get one shot, so make the most of it.
Of course, it’s your life, so parent however you want to parent, but keep in mind that it’s not only your job to provide comfort and love; you must also equip your children with essential life skills to live a good life, even the ones you may not have been taught. You don’t have to take responsibility for everything, but if you fail your children, you’ve failed in one of the most significant ways you can fail.
This, my friends, is tough love, and like all the hard stuff, it isn’t about punishment, worthiness, or doing without, it’s about making choices in concert with what life you want. Commit. Focus. Follow through. It’s up to you.