We’re all a little too tolerant of our unhappiness.
We accept the idea that our job will be a grind, our marriages will be hard work, motherhood is exhausting, and life isn’t the grand adventure we thought it would be when we were children.
And because of that, we’re willing to spend our days feeling a twinge of unhappiness. Those days turn into months and into years, that twinge expands to a full-blown ache, and still, we plod ahead and believe that plodding is the stuff of life.
It is not.
The twinge is your inner wisdom nudging you. The ache is your inner knowledge screaming at you.
In the past I’ve written off my own happiness in many ways.
Wake up with a pit in my stomach. Spend all day on edge. Go home to a glass of wine. Swallow it with a lump of dread for the next day. But it had once been my dream, and I loved my coworkers, so I accepted unhappiness as the price to pay for the bits of happiness I had.
The one who never had to tell me he wasn’t to be counted on, because he showed me in dozens of ways. I ignored the signs and choose to hold up my heart like a punching bag, because somehow being unhappy with someone was better than being unhappy alone.
Abandoned stories shoved in desk drawers represented my deepest longing, written off. I had myself convinced that unhappiness caused by never going for the dream was far better than unhappiness caused by trying and failing.
In all these scenarios I never reached for happiness as the outcome. I chose between two evils; now I can’t say why. Each of these choices faded me, made me an imposter of myself, led me further from my dreams.
It’s easy to stick with what’s in front of you. It’s easy to believe that it won’t happen for you. It’s easy to believe that you should settle. But it’s only easy in the moment. It’s not easy as a life trajectory. There will come a day where you will wake up dripping in sweat, unable to avoid the voice inside you anymore.
No one will deliver happiness to your doorstep. No one will give you the time or space or energy to go for your dreams. No one, not even the people who love you most, can know what you need.
But you do.
I didn’t experience this reckoning until I was a couple of years into motherhood and entrepreneurship.
I had made many deliberate choices on the road to happy, but I had also wrapped my arms around my unwieldy unhappiness and lumped it all into a pile that I would have labeled “Things That Are Not My Fault.”
There was so much to be happy about, in so many ways I was happy, and my closest friends and family would have described me that way. Still, there was a deep dissatisfaction that seemed to be coming from a place inside me I couldn’t find, didn’t know how to reach.
I was unhappy, but it was my husband’s fault because he didn’t do the dishes and I’d have to wake up to a sink-full every morning. I was unhappy, but that was because I was still figuring out this working for myself thing, and finances had me on edge. I was unhappy, but that was because the baby wasn’t sleeping well and motherhood was exhausting. I was unhappy, but…but…but…I could have given you a million reasons and they all would have pointed pin-straight fingers at other people and other circumstances.
I was unhappy, but it had nothing to do with the dishes, or finances, or the baby not sleeping (okay, maybe a bit of it had to do with the baby not sleeping– we all know what lack of sleep can do to even the most resilient mama).
I was unhappy because I was lost, and I was lost because I had been ignoring myself, my own brilliant inner wisdom, for far too long.
I was ignoring it because I was scared of it. What it would tell me? I was scared of the realization that, although I had many things I had always dreamed of, something major was missing. I was scared of what it would be, and anyway, how would I fill that gigantic hole without disrupting the delicate equilibrium of my beautiful young family?
The thing about that kind of unhappiness is, it haunts you like a ghost. It wakes you in the night. It spends its days moving in and out of your peripheral vision; it whispers in your ear, “Something’s not quite right.”
It is not easy to look in the mirror, right in your own eyes, and admit you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere and that you need to fix it. It is far easier to avoid eye contact with yourself and keep the course.
Will you pay attention to the twinge, and hold up happiness as reason enough for anything? Will you stop looking at happiness as a childish dream and instead as a guide to the fullest expression of yourself?
This is how we get what we really want.
This is how we give our children an infallible path to their brightest life.
This, I’m convinced, is the way we change the world.
MotherHustle panelist Stacy Firth is a writer and content strategist who helps moms who are small business owners and solopreneurs create online content that keeps it real. She also leads workshops that help mamas lead a lit-up life, and is mama to two. You can find her on her website or on Instagram at @stacyrfirth.
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