My patient shifted around on the couch, frustrated and upset. She was speaking of a conversation she had recently shared with her father. My patient had finally managed to complete and submit a job application, and had eagerly shared the good news with her parents.
“And then do you know what he told me?” Tears sprung to her eyes as I waited for her to continue. “He said, you know, don’t you, that this really shouldn’t be that big of a deal? This is what normal people do every day.”
I could sense her embarrassment. On the one hand, she understood a certain truth in what her father was saying. For many people, submitting a job application is indeed the ordinary stuff of life, no big cause for celebration. But for her, this was a huge step. She had spent years working through crises and life trauma and family difficulties to get to the point of being ready.
It was partly the actual submitting of the application that she felt proud of. But more than that, it was what the application represented: her progress, her readiness for the next step, her hard earned abilities to get and sustain meaningful work.
She continued on, “Maybe normal people do apply for jobs everyday…but for me, this is a really big step. I just wish he could have seen it that way too. And even if it is no big deal, so what? Can’t we celebrate anyway?” I nodded in understanding, sensing her dilemma. Was she somehow silly to think that applying for a job should be so important in her life? Or was her father guilty of minimizing the value of her progress?
I think we all face some variation of this exact dilemma in our own lives. What do we deem as important and worthy of celebration? How do we arrive at that decision?
I am struck by the ways in which my children make sense of life. Through the eyes of a child, everything is cause for a party. Everything is big, everything is life changing. Wearing a costume, trick or treating, a favorite piece of candy…it is all worthy of months of anticipation and excitement. A special event at school or a few extra minutes of recess is enough to make students giddy with happiness. Reading a story together at nighttime or a spontaneous trip to get ice cream can make a child’s day.
Children don’t feel the need to judge how they value their experiences or time. They don’t feel the need to protect themselves just in case things don’t turn out exactly as they planned. They don’t feel the need to compare their excitement over recess to another child’s excitement over a surprise treat in their lunch box.
It can all be good…just because. It is we, as adults, who step in and try to warn, protect, minimize, justify. We struggle to remember what we once just knew–that there is no downside, no harm, to seeing even the little things as worthy of big joy.
Even as I write this, I find that the very act of writing is an act of reminding myself. I don’t have to feel guilty or silly for celebrating a blog post that I feel particularly proud of. It’s okay to feel excited about sharing lunch with girlfriends. I don’t have to wait for a massive raise or another child or a mind blowing vacation to feel like I deserve to celebrate.
And to those of us who object to this way of thinking, to whom this feels foreign (including myself sometimes), I pose these questions. Why not view life this way? What are we losing? What are we waiting for and why? What might we gain if we allowed it all to be important?
When I myself forget, I realize that my life starts to feel dull, overly routine. I feel a desire for passion and excitement. I start to want change, want more, want something bigger to happen so I can feel something within me. And then I realize that perhaps what I need is a change in perspective. To remind myself that when I am able to see the world through a child’s eyes, most of what I want is actually within me and around me.
I just have to be able to see it.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in exploring whether we are playing it a little too cautious, a little too safe, when determining what is worthy of our attention and celebration. What would it be like to allow the “little” things to be just as important and exciting as the “bigger” moments in life? How would we feel differently about day to day life?
With gratitude, Monisha