The last slice of pie
Those who cannot do, teach
In 2013, I published a total of 13 of my 32 books. I was an unstoppable writing machine. A book that was planned for that first year and has been in the back of my mind ever since is one called “When I Die, Just Bury Me At The Walmart.” It is an exploration of the low standards we set for ourselves as women, caregivers and mothers, and how we demand more from ourselves than even our families want, expect, or appreciate. It’s a hard book to write, which is why, more than three years later, it still does not exist beyond a large pile of notes.
Two years into the process, I had to admit that I was woefully unqualified to write the thing to start with. Sure, I have been a professional life coach for many years and I can talk all day about problem solving, about self-empowerment and about stepping up to claim our throne as Queens of Our Lives. What I can’t seem to do is maintain the implementation of these ideas in my own life.
The trap of unconscious sacrifice
I can’t help but notice how much most women, and perhaps men (I don’t know because I am not a man) trip themselves up with these convoluted myths that drive our actions.
Several years ago, a woman came to me for guidance regarding the difficulty she faced with Empty Nest Syndrome. Her children were grown and launched into the world into various degrees of achievement. Her husband was set to retire in 10 years or so. She spent years as a stay-at-home mom and now that it was all done, she had no idea what to do with herself.
For years, her life centered around the creating and maintaining of her family. Now that the family was largely self-sufficient, she had a huge identity crisis. As humans, we are attached to our labels and once those labels are gone, we don’t always know who we are or where our value lies.
As part of the life coaching process, I asked her what her goals had been before she was a wife and mother. After some digging, she was an ambitious law student when she conceived her first child. As a result, she and her fiance decided to speed up their marriage plans and postpone her higher education until the children were older.
They planned to have more than one child. It seemed reasonable to birth their family, get them into primary school and then resume her education and career plans. Soon, they had three little ones and she happily stayed home with the kids and immersed herself in mommying. Her plans to return to law school never manifested because, as she put it, the timing never seemed right.
But what do they really want?
Later, it came up in conversation with her adult children. Her daughter mentioned how her face lit up when she talked about law school and asked why she had dropped out.
She told them that of course, she had quit to have a family. She explained that she thought she was doing the best thing by staying home. Her kids surprised her with their shock and by saying, “We would much rather you had worked a career that made you happy and fulfilled than giving it up for us.”
Mind you, these are the words of adults who are already out there in the world. As children, they likely would have a different perspective, but this situation is classic of what we give up because we presume what is expected of us or desired by others.
The Last Piece of Pie Test
After talking more to the mother, it was now easy to tell that she was not seeking my life coach advice on what she should do now that kids were grown and gone. She was there to work through the cognitive dissonance over how she had spent two decades of her life.
Another example of this is the Last Piece of Pie Test. Several years ago, my friend, Karen, and I bemoaned to one another via email about how selfish and demanding our families were. No lack of love on either side for sure. We were just both having a few weeks where it felt like more was demanded of us than we had to give. We hatched a plan. For 30 days, without announcement or apology, we gave to ourselves first.
We took the largest piece of fried chicken without first asking if anyone wanted it. If we did not want to go somewhere or take time to drive Boopsy to the mall to meet her friends, we didn’t do it. We said, “No, now is not a good time.” If our husband asked where we wanted to eat when dining out, we picked a place. If we did not want to answer the telephone, we did not pick up. If we wanted to take a nap, we took a nap. If there was only one slice of pie left in the tin, we took it. No explanations. No apologies.
When we compared notes at the end of the 30 days, our results were identical, even though she had all girls and I had two boys and a girl, even though we lived on opposite sides of the United States, and even though our personalities and vocations are totally different.
And what were those monumental, life-changing results?
No one noticed.
Let me say that to you again.
No one noticed.
We did all these things, several a day, just for us. Not a single glitch in the Matrix. Life went on. We presumed our families appreciated the sacrifices we made and they were unaware we were making them.
I am still thinking about that lesson all these years later. How many sacrifices do you… do I… make because we think we should or because we imagine people notice?
Those who teach, still try…
Everyone now and then, I shake the etch-a-sketch and hit the reset button on my energy output, Lately, I have looked really hard at that lesson. There is no denying that when we live with intention and give without resentment, we have a richer life with cleaner relationships.
Perhaps it is time once again to tear down the paper tigers and eliminate the extraneous sacrifices. Who’s with me?