Monday, December 5, 2011

Making Friends with Guilt and Envy

I have a confession to make. Things that other people do or say can send me reeling. With guilt, envy, feelings of being inadequate, or a certain brand of lonely emptiness (which I take to be the opposite of connection). It is fair to say that I am a sensitive type. But I think that’s the easy way out. Here’s another route.

I so often let the projections of other people get inside of me. Those negative voices spilling over with fear and echoing the voices in my own head. The ones that say I can’t. And they are very loud at what they do.

Lately I’ve been focusing on the ones that say I can. This is where envy comes in. All of those I envy are those that are reaching for something bigger in their lives. Not relative to me. Just bigger on their own scales. I’ve been turning up the volume on possibilities and avoiding the faces and places that like to share their grief with me. I’ve put down the sword of destruction and picked up the art of building and being creative.

I think as ‘keepers’ it is really important to have your own wagon. What the hell is she talking about now, you ask? I mean you have two choices. To stroll along behind someone else’s wagon arranging all the excess debris that flies off of it. The stuff they can’t handle or don’t know how to do. Or you can make your own wagon and ride alongside them.

Having your very own wagon means you have to put yourself into it. Probably drive it. Decide on the shape, paint the edges. Is it a fast or slow one? Large or small? Covered or open? Where is it going? So much more simple to follow along behind someone else’s, right?

I have learned the hard way that trying to help other people with their wagons all day long without having one of my own is a sure way to die inside. Without a destination of my own, my little spirit shrunk like a dried flower.

If I were God, I would simply say: how dare you not nourish and tend to your flower. What right have you to let yourself disappear?

Like a flowering plant, we humans need to keep growing and challenging ourselves to keep reaching for light. We need to thrive on energy and give beauty and fragrance to the world around us. Well, maybe not all kinds of fragrance but you get the metaphor.

Here is the thing about having your own wagon. (Now in case you’ve gotten confused about whether you’re a wagon or a flower, stay with me, it’ll all come together). When you have your own wheels, you can take others for a ride in it. You can carry the load for another. You can fill it with flowers even, can’t you?

Anger. Jealousy. Guilt. These nasty clouds can spread grey over an otherwise lovely day. But I’ve finally learned their power. In order to survive they need an empty shell, or wagonless wagon, a flowerless flower.

For the first time since the beginning of this blog I am comfortable with the definition of what feminism truly means. It is the ability of a woman to be the central figure in her own life. It has nothing to do with how much she has to care for, or how she sets her priorities. It is the choice to be able to put one’s own basic needs first. Including the important need to grow, seek light, take in water. Create a life. Fill it with needy things. But still breathe from only one center.

And jealousy preys on those who forget they need their own standards and goals. Those that know in their heart of hearts they are not living up to their full potential. Guilt is not far behind envy, whispering in your ear that you should be headed somewhere different.

We are told as women to not be so hard on ourselves. Not take on too much. It isn’t about taking on too much. The ambitions of women today are not at fault for the overloaded families marching around.
Lately I think my greatest fault was not taking on enough. Not focusing on the things that were central to my happiness and worrying far too much about what was expected of me. Who needed what from me. What was the most urgent priority of the day. I needed more of the real stuff. Less of the business that belongs to others in the first place.

The one thing we are told to instill in our children is a sense of self. Confidence in what they have to offer the world. So where in there should a mother give up her own offering for the sake of that of another? When did I hop off my own wagon to leave it rot somewhere to make sure that others fully functioned at their greatest capacity?

Somewhere before I had kids. Slightly before marriage. Somewhere around the time I moved into my first home, which happened to be on 100 acres of farmland.

There is nobody to blame but myself. Everybody expected me to stay on course. Chase my potential with all the vim and vigour of the person I was when this journey began.

But somewhere back there I left it behind. For a good cause, of course. It seemed necessary. Nobody would argue that giving it all up for your kids, your husband, the family business, the animals and plants in need of care isn’t a noble undertaking.

But I forgot my wagon.

I let guilt drag me down. I thought if I served myself I would be a terrible wife and mother. I let envy fester. I considered myself less worthy of all the great things others had. I wasn’t smart enough. Not good enough. Did not have enough money, support, energy, vision…

Envy and guilt were only ever the canary in the mine. They showed me loud and clear that I was capable of more. That I didn’t have to solely revolve around the needs of others. That I could be my own master. That I could build more, create more, extend more. On my own terms. Not in a stand-off kind of way. But as a woman who knows what she needs to survive and doesn’t try to ignore those needs to build up another.

I am starting to see that restoring my own wagon actually gives me energy. There is much more joy and laughter around me these days. And room to move and grow. I don’t suffocate quite as easily. I don’t anger as quickly. I sleep better. I attract positive people more readily. I no longer limit myself with rules about how I couldn’t, shouldn’t, won’t, haven’t, can’t.

I don’t envy others quite as much because I feel ultimately capable of anything I set my mind to. Or better yet, I know what to do when envy sneaks up. Spend more time on my own potential, that is. I don’t feel the same guilt because I see the reward and how others gain so much more from me in the wake of these new beliefs.

What can I say? I was given the ability to flower. Why wait until spring to make it so? Why not make like a Christmas cactus and give myself and others the gift of colour right now?


  1. I am so familiar with those three emotions. I don't like to admit that, but it's true. I believe they stem from feeling like somehow I have so much less time than everyone else. I've often resented having to spend so much of my time away from where and what I really want to be doing, earning a living. I enjoy my job sometimes, and am blessed to have one when so many others don't, but resent it all the same. I'll try to keep your words in mind and see if I can't focus on spending what time I do have avavilable doing more and thinking less.

  2. I realize it is a luxury to ponder one's potential. Time is available to me right now. What is not available is a fulfilling job like I've had in the past where I feel I'm doing what I'm meant to be doing. Instead I am taking good care of everyone and everything around me. Shall we meet somewhere in the middle? I long for the day when I can contribute to earning a living around here again!


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