The Joy of It

New beginnings are born of change, and change contains loss within it, shedding the familiar for something that had been waiting beneath the surface for its time to shine. I have had the pleasure, and the upset, and the effort of starting again. In the waiting, the beginning, and the undoing, I have realized, profoundly though it sounds trite, that we live with the choices we make. We live our choices.

For most of my life and still to this day, I have made decisions largely out of fear of what other people will think of me. The fear of judgment or gossip or ridicule, even, has kept me in spaces, programs, and routines to please others at my own expense.

This year I have the least to show for my efforts than ever before. Although I have been quietly working on our prolonged move to California (perhaps the longest move in human history), applications to counseling programs and certificates, cover letters, and pitches, none of that has proved to be as visible or as shiny as previous decisions in other seasons of my life have been. Despite all the work and the emotion behind these last six months, I have wondered all the while, “what must people think of me?”

As women, we are taught early on that it is more important what others think of us than what we think of ourselves, that it is more important what others see when they look at us than what we are looking at, that there are a million and one ways the world judges a woman, so (for instance) cross your legs. We know the myriad double binds of womanhood. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, nearly all the time.

I studied sociology, gender studies, and psychology in college and graduate school, but just because I know women’s history and critical theory, does not mean that I’ve deconstructed the machinations of these oppressive thought structures in my own mind, in my own life. I have only recently started to see how my life has been mapped around my assumptions of other people’s expectations of me, how the voices of other people who actually do not have my best interest in mind might criticize me if I step in a new direction.

What is the antidote to withering? Flourishing. And what does flourishing require? Love, attention, water, light – food for the soul.

Joy should be the guiding force behind this work for women, I think. Joy comes from deep within us, one of the most fundamental and original parts of us. It (along with love and connection) is what makes being alive worth it, so why not follow it? Why not choose what light you up, as you learn to tune out the voices of judgment?

We live with our lives. As author Rebekah Lyons asks, “Is this the life that longs to live in me?” Only you can answer such a question. Only you can find ways to soften the edges of your days to find rest, courage, passion, truth.

Today, breathe. Tomorrow, begin again.