Several years ago, my sister had a beautiful baby shower before the birth of her son. All the hens in the family attended, as well as some of my sister’s close friends. It was a day of great food, baby gifts and many laughs, filled with the hope of new life and motherhood.
I was responsible for executing some of the event and so I made my way from table to table throughout the afternoon to help with various things. At one point, my brother-in-law’s 90-year-old aunt Elsie, who used to be a nun, tugged on my arm and stopped me as I walked by her. She pulled me down to her eye level, looked at me in the eyes very intently and said, “You have to live your life the way you see it. It won’t work any other way.”
Some may view this as an odd thing to say to someone at a baby shower, but I cannot express how much that comment meant to me in that moment and in the rest of my life.
At that time of the baby shower, I happened to be getting a divorce, so I suspected that some of the family was finding it to be quite interesting that my sister was about to have a baby and I was willfully dissolving what happened to be a very short marriage. After all, some people seem to expect you to get married, have a child and live the life they all thought they were supposed to live.
If you are unmarried once you hit 30, you are always asked when you are getting married. Once you get married, you are asked when you will have a child. It’s like there is a path that every woman is supposed to follow. I suppose I’ve broken the traditional female mold quite often in my life, and frankly, I don’t know what that means other than I’m just living my life and learning as I go.
Now, despite all the shame I once felt about failing to be married, it seems I’m not really at all that strange in the marriage and divorce department. According to the American Psychological Association, 90 percent of people in Western cultures marry by age 50. Boom! I’m in the majority there. Also, apparently, 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. Phew! So I guess that stuff I was feeling about being such a failure at marriage is quite common. Does that make me feel better about it? Well, maybe it does a little.
My nephew is now over two years old and my family has settled into the routine of raising him. It is beautiful to see my parents, and even my grandmother, so excited to take care of their grandson, and it’s amazing to see my sister’s heart forever warmed by this young, little boy. My love for him is deep as well, and I tear up every time I leave my hometown to come back to San Francisco, though my tears are not just for him, but for my whole family.
As I write this, it feels a little too personal to spill my guts into a blog posting on what’s supposed to be my business website, but shoot, I’m going to do it anyway.
What is the right kind of life to live? I have no idea, but I'm certain that it's different for everyone and I’ve taken to heart what Aunt Elsie said to me that day. How many times do we ask people for advice? How many times do we buy books that tell us how to be more effective, influence people, be healthier or get a better job? If we were to follow such advice 100 percent, as if reading off a script, is that really living, or is that more like memorizing lines as an actor in a play? Once the play is over, we are still left with who we are when the setting and the audience for this particular character go away.
How do we develop the authenticity to be ourselves? What happens if people think we are strange? What happens if we stick out like a sore thumb? I would argue that we think less about these questions and more about what happens if we don’t live life the way we see it.
A friend and teacher once told me, "Be yourself. You can't be a better someone else."
Can it work any other way?
(Many thanks to my sister, Melanie, for helping with the title of this blog posting.)