August was probably my least favorite month when I was a child. I was bored with finding ways to entertain my little sisters. I missed my friends from school. I hungered for more time to read. I feared for my dad’s safety when he was away fighting forest fires. I grieved over the places I wished we’d explored. I worried over finding friends again when we or they had moved… again.
My discontent sooner or later boomeranged toward me, kicking off a flurry of ways I wanted to change myself. I thought about a funeral I’d attended and wondered, “what will people say about me after I die?” I wondered what kind of person I’d become as I grew up. I imagined what it would take to be the kind of person I could admire. Because the adults around me rewarded performance rather than transparency, however, I usually ended up trying harder and becoming more and more discontent.
These same feelings still come up for me whenever I face a new development in my world, a transition between life seasons, a shift in my friend group, family members growing more distant, or even a change in my health. I no longer believe the positive thinking mantras that saturated my world during the first half of my life. Now, I am only too well acquainted with my own limits – physical, emotional, and mental. According to my mother, I’ve always been strong-willed – but striving and driving myself usually leaves me exhausted and far short of any satisfaction I thought reaching my goal would provide. However, my past goals have consisted more of doing rather than being. Lately I’ve been pondering the being part.
What do I hope people will say about who I am after I’ve died? Well, I long to be known for how I loved my family, how I cared for the hearts of my friends, and how I stewarded the little pieces of the earth I’ve lived upon. But I also yearn to be known as an observant, loving, strong, kind, fun, forgiving, compassionate, and wise person, whether others know me as wife, mom, grandparent, neighbor, co-worker, or counselor.
Even the process of listing these characteristics has the potential to trigger self-condemnation for the ways I’m not all that. Yet, one of the biggest truths I have learned is that I have a choice. Physically, my brain continues to grow new neurons and new connections between them until the very moment I die. Therefore, I have the potential to grow wise in how I see life — even while the rest of my body slowly wears down. If I attach all my hopes to physical doing, I’m headed toward a dead-end before I die. However, turning all my attention — heart, mind, and spirit –toward shaping my goals around the kind of person I want to become is bound to enhance my progress as a person rather merely upping my productivity score.
What is the first step toward that new life? Here are a few I’m considering.
1. Reject expectations of perfection — anywhere on this planet.
2. Reboot every time I catch myself rating myself or others based on behavior.
3. Relish my access to creative grace (like picturing the distracted driver ahead of me as my friend who’s going through a tough time).
4. Reflect on what I learned about myself and other people today.
5. Rejoice on others’ behalf for the qualities I admire in them.
6. Remember that I have a unique life and identity.
7. Rest in the fact that I have my own gifts, guides, and goals to grow in and toward.