MidLife

Our Value is Based on WHO We Are (not what we do)

Recently I wrote a guest blog post, Thriving Requires Letting Go of the Lies, for Sue’s Over Fifty and Thriving series. The idea for that post was inspired by the book, Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis (my review here). I have since decided to turn the subject into aΒ new blog series: The Lies I’ve Believed.Β 

In the original guest post, I introduced Delilah, my harsh inner critic who constantly reminds me I am not good enough, brave enough or smart enough. Her loud, commanding voice tells me I am better off alone than out in the world pursuing my dreams. She is quite convincing.

But I’m tired of living this way. I’m merely existing rather than embracing an abundant life. It is time to replace Delilah’s lies with the truth.

This week’s lie: My value is based on my accomplishments.

photo credit: Pixabay

I don’t know how she does it all.

Mom spoke these words with such deep respect when talking about her sister. My aunt was married to the church organist of a large congregation. If the church doors were open, they were there. In addition, she was the mother of two, both involved in several different after-school activities. On top of that, she was the elementary school secretary of an up-and-coming urban neighborhood. Yes, my aunt was busy.

I didn’t necessarily want my aunt’s lifestyle, but I yearned for my mother’s respect.

I don’t mean to say Mom ignored me. She gave positive comments (especially when I hosted holiday meals) and she encouraged me to succeed (the world is your oyster was a frequent refrain). But I longed to hear I don’t know how you do it all.

I held various part-time jobs when my children were young, but I decided to teach full-time in 2001. My eldest was in 10th grade and my youngest was in 3rd. I was not certified to teach and felt completely out of my element. If I wasn’t creating lesson plans, I was researching enrichment activities. If I wasn’t grading, I was helping my own children with their homework. Frazzled is a good word to describe this time in my life.

Mom listened patiently as I relayed my classroom experiences. She seemed interested in my lesson plans. But she never uttered the words I longed to hear.

artist: Marie Laurencin

A decade later I was teaching seven different class preps a week. My eldest was married and expecting her first child. My youngest was graduating from high school. Mom was in hospice care. Not only was I grading, prepping, and parenting, I was also responsible for visiting Mom several times a week. STRESSED does not begin to describe my life. And yet… I continued to strive (in vain) to earn those words of praise.

I retired in 2014. My first true act of self-care.

I struggled with the lack of demands and deadlines — not because I didn’t know what to do but because I didn’t believe what I was doing had value. I exercised, walked the dog, journaled, met friends for lunch, began a book project, and taught a journaling class. Yet every day I wondered whether my life had purpose. Wasn’t there more I should do for others? Was I being too selfish?

About nine months later I realized I lost six pounds without any special diet or exercise. I was no longer rushed. I began to observe the beauty in the ordinary. I was at peace.

Now I can look back at my life from 2001-2014 and say without hesitancy, I don’t know how I did it all. But it is not with awe and reverence. It is with great sadness. What small moments of joy did I miss along the way?

The truth: My value comes from simply being me.

30 Comments

  • Christine Field

    I no longer ask myself how I “did it all.” Now, I ask myself why I tried to do it all! Even though I set my career aside when my kiddos were little, I was often a maniacal mom, trying to be super mom. What’s the point?

    • Molly Totoro

      Great turn of the question, Christine. And while I’d like to think I’ve come a long way, when I find myself listening to old mental tapes I will ask myself, “Why am I trying to do it all?!”

  • Janet Mary Cobb

    Another great post, Molly. I am fortunate that I didn’t have parental expectations to live up to. But for a long time, I still needed to ‘prove myself’. I, fortunately, let that go before getting married and having children — all of that said, I did work myself silly for a period of time. And the idea of struggling to find purpose from what I do resonates. And, indeed, I am so happy you’ve landed on the truth that you know your value comes just from being you!

    • Molly Totoro

      Thank you for your understanding and encouragement, Janet! Now if I can only be as diligent about exercise as I am about work. Oh well…I will continue to persevere with taking those baby steps.

      • Janet Mary Cobb

        Molly – you’ve been trying to reframe your approach to exercise to help you keep at it but maybe shifting the paradigm a little could help. Your value comes from ‘being’ – and exercise will lead to you ‘being’ more comfortable and feeling better. Just a thought.

        • Molly Totoro

          That’s an interesting thought, Janet. I will probably spend some time journaling that paradigm shift this week πŸ™‚

  • Pat

    Molly, I’m not sure I could say that truth. When you did, there was this feeling of “wow” in my gut. Just… WOW!

    Observing the beauty in the ordinary. I’ve been seeing more & more messages lately about accepting being average, being happy with routine, being normal (not a celebrity or the expert), and now… the ordinary. Some message is definitely trying to come through.

    • Molly Totoro

      I find it fascinating, Pat, how the universe repeats the message we need to hear in a variety of circumstances. Keep listening and clarity will follow πŸ™‚

  • Donna

    Your final question is exceptionally poignant, Molly. It’s a question that I am afraid to ask myself openly. Instead, I’m now trying to ensure that I remain fully present to the small joys around me. Thank you for another great post. #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      Donna… fully present is something I am trying to cultivate as well. I still find myself rushing through life (not sure why I’m in such a hurry) but I’m trying to be more mindful and slow down πŸ™‚

  • Min @ Write of the Middle

    Oh I love this post Molly! I don’t know how I did it all either. In fact, by doing it all I suffered for years with chronic stress and basically had a breakdown. I was trying to be everything to everyone but forgot about me. This is why I blog now to encourage women not to do the same. To prioritise themselves and apply self care regularly. I could go on and on. Thanks for a very insightful post! (visiting via #MLSTL)

    • Molly Totoro

      YES… YES… YES! I completely agree that we need “to prioritize ourselves and apply self-care regularly” For decades I thought self-care was selfish. Slowly I am learning to replace that lie with the truth: we must take care of ourselves and love ourselves before we can care and love others.

  • Debbie

    I enjoyed reading your thought provoking post Molly. You raise lots of issues we all contend with as we age and I think you’ve done a wonderful job coming to terms with some of these issues. Shared for #mlstl

  • Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au

    You’re so right Molly – I wore several hats from 20 – 50, juggled jobs, kids, church commitments, church secretar, P&C secretary, youth group leading, sunday school teaching, kids’ sports activities, volunteering, and the list just goes on and on. Now I’ve left most of that behind and occasionally I feel a little bit guilty – but I also recognize that I’ve earned my peace and leisure time – I’m happy to let someone else step up to the plate and I’ll cheer from the sidelines! #MLSTL and I’ve shared this on my SM πŸ™‚

    • Janet Mary Cobb

      Leanne (and Molly) – I’ve often said that in our 20s we set out to save the world, in our 30-40s we raise children who we hope will want to save the world, in our 50-60s we sit back and watch the wonderful cycle play out – and try to share our wisdom with those just beginning, knowing they probably won’t listen. πŸ™‚

    • Molly Totoro

      Oh my, Leanne… I’m exhausted just reading your list. And while I still feel a bit guilty as well, you are absolutely right: we have earned our peace and leisure time. I’m so glad I found like-minded midlifers who can relate to my story πŸ™‚

  • Suzanne

    Molly, that was a lot of weight to carry. it is good that you are embracing your worth. Better late than never. I am wondering if you ever received the validation you were looking from your Mom.

    • Molly Totoro

      Mom passed in 2011. It was at that time I began all this soul-searching πŸ™‚ Over the years I’ve come to realize that Mom did validate me. While I never heard those magical words, she let me know she was proud of me in her own way. And I’m grateful for that.

  • Victoria

    Molly, I have had times when I was so busy with everything I didn’t have time to turn around. Now that I am retired I haven’t had a day when I wanted to go back to that way of life. Am I as busy as I could be no but I am happy.

  • Kay

    Molly, I want to echo what Janet said above about exercise – give yourself some grace on that issue. I think that for those of us that get a little too rigid in our methods it’s OK to look at it as ‘relaxation’ time. After all, one of the benefits is the endorphins that calm us. Walking is my movement choice and I too struggle with not making it a ‘chore’ or part of a list that ‘must’ be checked off. Last year, when I began my movement quest, I gave myself the ‘permission’ to listen to books that I knew I would love. And that helped. In any case, I’m loving this series. You strove for those words from your mother. I did the same for my father. And then, in the end, he forgot who I was with his Alzheimer’s, but actually, he became much easier for me to relate to. He wasn’t easy for anyone to deal with as he was a bit of a pill. However, he liked me just fine because I visited him and fed him ice cream a lot. It might have been our best times together – not that I was aware of that at the time – but now…I’ll ponder that.

    • Molly Totoro

      Kay … I’m glad you found peace with your father πŸ™‚ What a blessing!

      As far as exercise… I dug out the wii from the basement and asked my son to hook up to the family room television. I’ve enjoyed “playing” with it these past few days. Not sure the extent of the cardio benefits, but I am having fun moving around πŸ™‚

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