The answer to the question, “What the hell did I do before I had kids?” was actually pretty simple. But it took me a few weeks to figure it out, and then a few more to consider what the answer might mean. And in that reflection, I’ve begun to understand something else, too.
More on that to come. Plus a recipe for a very onion-y beef stew, some reading suggestions, info on a couple of classes I’m teaching, and a few other things.
Let’s do it:
Since we were together the last time, back in October…
I’ve been writing daily (ish) on LinkedIn. It’s a bit of an experiment, writing-wise, and it’s a curiosity, community-wise.
What am I writing about, on the nerdy social media platform? Career tips. Workplace relationships. Life-work balance. Things I’ve learned in my 30+ year career that might be helpful in some way to other people.
So I’ve been writing there, in the mornings, intending then to write here in the evenings. For more than a month now I’ve said to myself, every morning, “Today is the day I’m going to write on the blog, about what life is like with children in college.” And then, come night (10 ish), I‘ve said, “Tomorrow I’ll write about all that. Tonight I’m going to bed.” And that’s what I’ve done.
As the weekends have come and gone, between mid-October and now, I’ve used the time to explore other things and do other projects. My 2022 theme (for myself) was/is “learn by teaching,” and most of this year has in one way or another been connected to that idea. But the last seven weeks, in particular, have been devoted, with great intensity and focus, to the “how” of pursuing that “what.” I’ve been teaching myself a new platform (Kajabi) for delivering content and training. I spent almost all of the last two consecutive weekends digging deep into that work, which is what brought clarity not only to the answer I asked, back in October, but also to the implication.
Because the answer is that before I had children, what I did was this: I had uninterrupted thoughts.
Or, rather, I had the luxury of uninterrupted thinking. I could have an idea and then let my mind wander around with it, unimpeded, until I chose to shift gears.
And then, without realizing I was giving up that particular unrecognized privilege, I became a mother, and the landscape of my thinking life changed. Active parenting requires responding to constant, unpredictable interruptions. It requires constant mental task-switching that is inhospitable to sustained, focused thinking.
When my children both left for college in August of this year, that mental landscape started to reopen. But it’s a different territory now from the one that marked my 20s and early 30s. In my 50s, with three decades of work experience and two decades of parenting experience, I now have (among many other things) the discipline that I lacked in my younger days.
I can see, in retrospect, why I had difficulty turning a constant stream of creative ideas into tangible, sustainable action. Now that I have some of that space back, I want to match it with commensurate activity instead of fettering it away.
The related insight? I also have a different perspective on the utterly insane 2022 “let’s return to normal” push-me-pull-you.
The call to… Normal office schedules (and related forced face time). Normal performance expectations. Normal normalness, as if everything we did prior to March 2020 could be described as “normal.” As if we could (or would, or should) pretend everything we’ve seen, experienced, felt, and struggled through in the past three years just didn’t happen.
No. Even the rule-abiding voice in me (yes, there is one, I promise) rejects this idea. There is no going back.
The opportunity offered to us in the past 34 months was an invitation to do better, in every way. For our health, our community, our families, and our collective well-being. We’ve been offered a fresh start, a new look at the way we live, work, and play. Anyone who believes we should just dial things right back to fall 2019, erasing the lessons of the past three years, is both lacking imagination and flat-out nuts.
How do we choose to live now? How do we choose to work now? How do we choose to parent now? How do we choose to invest in health and relational well-being now? What do we choose to do now with the limited time we have?
Those are relevant questions, as is this one: What is the feeling from the past that we miss feeling and want to feel again, now?
I believe the push to “return to normal” is actually a push to regain emotional equilibrium. Things that once felt safe and secure no longer feel safe, and that change, in turn, led to a feeling of uncertainty. It’s a completely normal response, wanting to return to an emotional state that felt better. And it’s completely logical to assume that returning to a rhythm or routine that was connected to that earlier feeling-state might lead to a return of emotional balance.
But it won’t. Because it wasn’t merely physical presence in an office together between the hours of 8 and 5, for example, that created the feeling-state. And even if it were, we were different people then from who we are now. We know different things, have experienced different ways of living and being in the world. Even if we wanted to, we cannot return to who we were in December 2019.
It’s worth asking ourselves exactly what’s tugging at us, encouraging that false belief? What is it that we want to feel, do, or experience now that’s resurfacing after 33 months of tumult, task-switching, and constant interruption?
I’ll leave you to your own musing on that, and wish you the luxury of some interrupted time for personal reflection.
Learning by Teaching…
I’ve been teaching myself Kajabi, preparing to launch an online course called “Your First 100 Days.” It’s a fast-paced, completely online course with short video modules and a 60+ page workbook that covers a brief look through your recent past, a visioning exercise, goal setting (with relationship maps), and skill-building tools to help stay on track for 100 days of work toward a new year, new goal, new job, or just a new attitude. It’s timed for the beginning of the calendar year, but it’s applicable any time. I’m still working on it, but the link about will let you have a peek.
Related, as practice learning, I created a free course called “Finding Balance: 31 Activities to Help You Stay Sane During the Holidays.” Sounds familiar you say? Well, yes. It’s a re-boot of the December Sanity Journal I created last year and shared here, only this time with short video lessons.
Part of this exploration includes trying to figure out what I’m going to do with the blog, what I’m going to do with the dinner prompt blog, a newsletter I intended to start (was set to launch in the first quarter of 2020…). We’ll see.
I saw something on Instagram that I now can’t find, so I can’t share it. Which is too bad, because this magical, disappearing thing I saw was a recipe for what I’ll describe as French onion soup meets beef Bourguignon. I’ve made it from memory a few times now (differently each time, of course), and I’ll describe it as simply Ina Garten’s beef Bourguignon with twice the amount of sliced, caramelized yellow onions, no pearl onions, a bit more broth, and a layer of Gruyère on top when it’s served.
Enough to go on? Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking for the actual recipe. (Related (though I’ve not yet tried making it): French onion tarte tatin, which I found on the Le Creuset Instagram feed. I know, I know, I know. But trust me, it looks delicious.)
Last call for 2023 Larksome Goods calendars. Still planning a site refresh there, and yes, it’s related to the online teaching experiment.
(See Jennifer, writing a post wasn’t so hard now, was it?)