I started this journey as a person desperate for air and freedom. I know that may be hard to understand, but it was hard for me to breathe, and I always felt boxed in. Since I decided to fix my life, I’ve moved through many stages and cycles. I did a ton of inner work and worked on some relationships. I figured out my dreams and priorities, but I forgot about joy.
While I no longer fret and freak out about everything, I can’t exactly say I’m living a joyful life. I still hold myself to a standard that I am not even sure I still want to achieve. I think twice, then three or four more before I do the things I want to do, especially if it is only for me. And I still put my family before everything else, including my goals. While there are legitimate reasons, I go to a job that makes my soul ache and exhausts my body and mind. I still do not feel free to “do me.” There is nothing free about me; after all this time, I am still caged. Oddly, I feel like the door to the cage is cracked open and waiting for me to push it wide.
But I have no idea how to push the door open.
The truth is, it’s not all bad. I hyper-focused on healing. I learned about my triggers and those insidious unconscious beliefs slowly eating away at me. I discovered my gifts, hobbies, and new spiritual practices. What I did not do was add more joy to my overworked, underpaid, hyper-responsible life.
I recognize that I am no longer in survival mode, but what is it called when you are at that midway point between survival and thriving? Life? Is this just normal life? Am I okay with it?
Even my hobbies are tainted. I love writing, but perfectionism creeps in, and I begin to be afraid that my work isn’t right, marketable, or even good. Even writing in my journal has started to become stressful. Painting became my newly discovered source of stress relief in 2020. Two years in, I find the better I get, the more “professional looking” I want my art to be. Why?? It’s going on my wall or in a box. My art is for me. I should never be discouraged from creating simply because it doesn’t look professional. I should create because it relaxes me and makes me happy.
So yeah. I’ve been struggling lately with where and how joy and fun fit into my life.
Confirmation comes in many forms. Today it came in the form of a conversation with my child. I picked him up at the halfway point his grandmother and I use, and we made our way toward home. During our conversation, we talked about him as a baby. To provide a little context, Monster had been fascinated by all the videos of himself as a baby and toddler. It particularly tickled him that there were multiple videos of him pretending to cry if someone saw him fall. For example, in one, he was dancing in circles, fell and laughed, then looked up and pretended to cry when he realized I’d seen the whole thing. That video cracks him up every time.
Back to the conversation in the car. Monster asked me if I had issues with the fact that he was wild and crazy as a little one. I said no. “Children come into this world wild, free, and unencumbered, and the world forces them to conform. Then after thirty, they spend their lives trying to relearn to be free.” I told him it was important that he be true to himself and hold on to the things that make him feel free. He asked if I felt free. I told him not really, but I was relearning, then asked if he had any advice. He said, “Just do things that make you smile, and do not worry about anything else.”
Crazy how the universe will give you the same lesson until you get it. Last year, I meditated after a challenging conversation with my therapist. During the meditation, I received a message like the one from Monster. “Freedom comes from honoring yourself and doing things that make you smile.”
Okay, so if that is not enough, I was hit with a one-two punch. I was scrolling through Instagram, and an interview between Iyanla Vanzant and Oprah popped up. Iyanla said to fill your cup and give from the overflow. If you pour into someone from a nearly empty cup to the point of sacrificing yourself, you inadvertently make the other person a thief. Be self-full and take care of yourself first.
So, there it is. The message is for you, me, and anyone else who needs the reminder. Take care of yourself and do things that make you smile. That’s it.
We make joy seem so complicated, but it’s not. Not when we boil it down to its simplest form. It is not more money, however helpful that may be. It’s not another person. Lord knows that comes with its own set of baggage. Joy is loving you and doing you. And if you can’t love yourself, at least be kind to yourself, and love will follow. Today that may look like going to bed at 8 p.m. because you need to focus on the take care of yourself part of that advice. Tomorrow, it may be spending hours on the phone with an old friend because it brings you joy. Joy also means being present in the big happy moments without bombarding yourself with what-ifs, just feeling the feels, and filling up on the energy of the moment.
I forgot about joy. And to be honest, the way I am, I may forget about it a few more times before the lesson becomes part of my life again. And if I do forget I’ll just remind myself to do things that make me smile without tainting the moment with worry.
Main photo by Pixabay