Updated: Dec 6, 2021
To be one’s own self. Doesn’t that sound easy and wonderful?
To know how to be one’s own self seems a bit more complicated. I think to start this process, you need to figure out who you are, what’s meaningful in your life, and then act in accordance—congruent—with those core values. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, I don’t think easy, but I do think it’s a fantastic way to approach life and find a sense of peace and happiness. I’ve found that over time, with the busy schedule of families, and all the pulls and pushes of mom’s time and energy, mom tends to overlook, forget, disregard, or sacrifice many of her deepest core values; the values that would otherwise help keep her feeling grounded, whole, and happy. I believe this is true because when I was interviewing moms for my book, I asked many questions related to needs, wants, preferences, dreams, goals, talents, etc. and few moms answered with any certainty. Most moms turned and twisted in their seats, looked away in deep thought (although rarely answered), or asked me to “come back to that question.”
In my own life, I have struggled to understand how to be my own self. What does that look like? What does that feel like? Is this about the clothes I wear, or the movies I watch, or the friends I have, or maybe the career path I chose? Since becoming a mom, I know for sure that I let go of my “self,” and in doing so, I stumbled into bad space only to realize that I had to redefine myself in order to be my own self again. I started the journey back with identifying what was important to me; what gave significant meaning to my life. The one word that struck me like a lightning bolt was “creativity.” That was missing, that was a big piece of my “self,” and I was near desperate to have it back in my life. The wheels were put in motion that day as I wrestled with the details of how to put into place the very thing(s) that would help me live fully into the “how” of being me.
A core value is an aspect of your life that incites a strong, visceral reaction in your gut; a reaction so strong that there’s no doubt your life is enhanced in some way by incorporating this value. A core value provides meaning in your world; it’s an esteemed element of your life and shapes you to a large degree. Many things have meaning in my life. I esteem family, education, and fitness to name a few; I value honesty, humor, and the quiet pockets of my day, and my mind, where solitude prevails and rejuvenates my spirit. Over the years I have neglected many of the things I value because of circumstances, the same circumstances that led me toward activities and roles I didn’t value. For instance, I’ve never been much of a chef. In fact, I can almost say that I hate being in the kitchen. Yet, as a mom of three young children, I spent nearly 80- 90% of my time in and around the kitchen, cooking and cleaning.
However, I eventually found myself through a variety of “tools” and the willingness to push myself over the obstacles that I knew would constantly be there to hurdle. I began by listing as many values that meant something to me. Then I narrowed the list down to my top ten core values and focused on making sure they were “nurtured” or “exercised” in some way, every day. It’s okay to take baby steps, as long as you’re constantly moving in the right direction. Your core values are a guide (your roadmap) to finding your way to the feeling of congruency—I think a wonderful destination.
(These are just examples. There are over 70 core values to choose from.)
When you’re congruent, and embracing your core values, who you are aligns with what you do and say, and how you act and feel. If you’re saying, and feeling, and doing things that are not you—you know. You know something is wrong, and you’re probably not happy (at the deepest level), even if the things that bring you the greatest joy (e.g., your children/spouse) fill your life.
Knowing what gives meaning to your life, what adds color and dimension to you, warrants time and work. You have to put aside the time and do the work, which may include talking with a therapist, a coach, or joining a group committed to this process. It also includes time to sit still, and to simply think, uninterrupted. It seems that if mothers spend time sitting still, if they center their thoughts around themselves, even if for a short time, they often think of that as “wasting time.” I know I did. I remember daydreaming about writing Missing In Action, and what topics I would cover if I ever got serious about writing it. Inevitably, I would jolt from my reverie with guilt, and my thoughts would swiftly shift to the more immediate task that I had just set aside. “What am I doing?” I would say to myself. “I’ve got to get this laundry started before the baby wakes up.” Of course I did. Don’t you know laundry is far more important than “wasting time” on your dreams, talents, goals, and ambitions?! Wow. When phrased that way, need I say more?
Unfortunately, I’ve heard the expression “wasting time” from enough mothers to believe that they don’t acknowledge the core values that add true meaning and satisfaction to their lives. They grow accustomed to thinking that (and behaving as though) meaning and satisfaction are derived from food shopping, keeping a clean house, getting all the homework done, staying on top of their children’s extracurricular commitments, and ensuring that their children achieve “success” because others can witness these activities and judge them. If we complete these tasks without stumbling, we are satisfied. And we find meaning in being the “good mommy.” However, I want to go beyond this baseline sense of satisfaction and meaning for one great reason. In finding the core values that add meaning at the deepest level of our being, we fill the proverbial well. And we, as women and mothers, must fill that well daily, consistently, if we want to be happy and healthy. Just as a diabetic must maintain an ideal level of blood sugar to feel his or her best physically, emotionally, and mentally, mothers must keep their level of self-care at an ideal level or they will “crash.” Mothers must rely on good habits if the goal is to live a good life, and feel as though they are congruent and comfortable in their own skin, living out their most esteemed values and achieving personal ambitions that will lift them up and sustain them through the tedious and challenging task of raising their children.
Simply put, when the well is full, you are more likely to feel strong, energetic, optimistic, and full of spirit. You will feel more of what you are naturally, unencumbered by the layers of obligations, responsibilities, and chores that can otherwise bury you.