Do you ever struggle with trusting your own wants, joys, and desires? Working parenthood can be a world in which both our career’s demands and our families’ (many) needs crowd our brains, hearts, and calendars. Their wants, joys, and desires so often take priority. And when someone stops to ask what our own preferences are, we are sometimes left without an answer. Even when that “someone” is us.
A Business Travel Story
Last week, I went out of town for a few days on a work trip. I’ll start by saying that I could have taken a late night flight home from my travels. My meetings wrapped up at the end of a work day, and I could have landed back in D.C. around midnight. Yes, this would have led me to miss one fewer breakfast and school drop off with my kiddos. And it would also have left me exhausted and cranky the next day.
Fortunately, my husband and I agreed a few years ago that we were too old to be taking red eye flights anymore. And while this wasn’t technically a red eye, it seemed close enough. With some friends, I talked through the guilt-filled stories I was telling myself about spending an extra night away. Yes, even someone who preaches self-care and the regular squashing of working parent guilt needs her own support system to combat deeply engrained societal messages!
With my head straight about the benefits of this time alone, I proposed to my hubby that I stay away an “extra” night. And yes, in full disclosure, this extra night just so happened to be on the beach, in a warm and gorgeous location. My wonderful partner in life was 100% on board.
Plane booked? Check. Childcare secured? Check. Time planned just for me and whatever I wanted to do for a night? Check. Where to stay? Not check.
I’d been to this particular beach twice, and I’d stayed at two different hotels there in the past. One was the famous, “fancy-pants” hotel that everyone talks about. The other? An extremely nice, but less modern and more “beachy” feeling place. My heart said “go beachy”! My friends, acquaintances, and the internet, said “go fancy”!
Here I was, asking myself the question: “What do I want from this trip? What is my own preference? What will bring me joy?” I knew the answer deep down. But I admit I still felt the pull of the other opinion. And perhaps that’s normal. To feel that pull.
Yes, I ultimately followed my heart and went “beachy.” And yes, this is a privileged and extremely trivial example of trusting my own desires. But it got me thinking more about all the ways we do or don’t trust ourselves and our own intuition – on things both big and small.
Why is Trusting Our Own Joy So Hard?
When I finally made it to this warm destination and was contemplating what to have for dinner, I posed a question to my server: “What would you recommend, if you were torn between X and Y on the menu?” The server said: “We’ve been in business for decades, and Item X has been the most popular item for all those years. If so many people like it, it must be good.” So what did I order? The thing the server said everyone liked. Was it good? Sure. Amazing? Nope. In retrospect, I noted that my server did not say “I love this item” – just “everyone else loves it”…and that seemed good enough for my brain at the end of a long day.
The idea that we do the things that those around us are doing has many names in English. As a teenager, we learned about “peer pressure.” Doing things because our friends wanted to do them. And we wanted our friends to like us, of course.
I’ve been using the Noom app lately to help me learn more about my own food-related patters and habits, and the lessons have been teaching me about “norm matching” when we eat. You know, that behavior we adopt where we ask others at our table what they’re ordering, so we can decide what we should have.
In their new book, Money & Love: An Intelligent Road Map for Life’s Biggest Decisions, Myra Strober and Abby Davisson talk about the concept of “mimetic desire,” or desires shaped by those around us. (Join me for a Mindful Return author talk with Abby in January!) As they write, “often, we don’t realize how influenced we are by the behavior of people we admire.” So true.
This phenomenon is also sometimes akin to “people pleasing,” when we’re trying hard to behave in a way others will respect and like. People pleasing was definitely a habit I acquired early on in my own life, as a survival mechanism in an unpredictable and violent household. It’s a habit that doesn’t serve me now, though. Especially in a situation where the conditions I set up were such that I only had myself to please!
Why we care so much, though, (and probably why we have so many names for this phenomenon) is that we are human. And humans are social creatures. We want to fit in. We want to belong. And we don’t want to be judged or cast away from those we love. In working parenthood, we also often lack the energy to swim against currents.
How Do We Tune In So We Can Trust?
As with any skill or habit formation, trusting ourselves is something we have to work on. It’s a skill we can develop little by little. Day by day. Decision by decision. Remember the movie, Runaway Bride? Julia Roberts’ character needed to sit down alone and taste all the different kinds of egg preparation that were possible in the world. Lest she always remain a chameleon to her partner’s egg preferences.
One suggestion I like, that I learned from Noom, is to be the first to order when you’re out at a restaurant. And to not ask those around you what they’re planning to get, before you place that order.
This holiday season, I encourage you to tune into small moments of reflection on your own joy. Not someone else’s, but yours. Light a candle, and sit for a few minutes of quiet. Turn on Insight Timer. Set an intention to ask yourself a question about what brings you joy. Negotiate for some white space, and use it to journal about your own longings.
It’s a practice, this trusting. But if we don’t practice, we lose ourselves. This holiday season, may we listen, and trust, and know we matter in the world. Independent of anyone else. Just us.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave