March 29, 2015

You Better Work!

I've been in an introspective mood this month.  My most current audiobook has been nicely provoking me further in that direction.

I expected tales of heart-opening Empathy.  Love.  Compassion.  And Sugar is full of these.  I even hoped for (and received) a refresher on kindly setting boundaries, because I am usually great at boundaries, but not so good at Kind. 

I'm not even done with the book and it has given me so much to think about that I can't help but be supremely grateful. 

What's surprised me most is how Sugar is so refreshingly honest about how much WORK living your own true life can be.

She's gently brutal to the mother who had a miscarriage and on other topics of true losses like death and relationships with rejection --  Yes, you deserve compassion and unconditional support.  But, it's *not* going to go away.  It's *not* going to get better.  You, and only you, have to do the work of taking each breath, taking each step, and slowly getting back to the business of living your life the way you want it lived.  You have to carry your own water.

She's lovingly frank with the transgendered adult who'd rightly cut off contact with his parents, but now they have apologized and want to have a relationship with him -- You *have* to at least meet with them and try to forgive them. Not for them, but for yourself.  Being a good person is hard, sweetpea, but you owe it to yourself to let the Universe try to have good things in store for you.

In each encounter, she speaks the hard honest truth (which is one of my strengths), but she does it so sensitively and lovingly that I can't help but be awed.  She must be some sort of emotional intelligence genius.

The theme I wasn't expecting and that I am thrilled to find, is that she's open and forthright about how being an emotionally mature, ethical, true-to-yourself person is very hard.  It's not just hard, but if you want to do it, you have to WORK at it.  Every day.  We have to WORK to have confidence in what we believe we should be doing in the face of strangers, bullies, and worst of all, our own insecurities.  We have to WORK to try to keep our bodies healthy.  We have to WORK to have good relationships with people, and this requires compromise while NEVER compromising our core true self, which is a needle that is almost impossibly difficult to thread, and yet, we have to try.  All of this WORK often means choosing short term unpleasantness over the pleasant -- it's not easy.  It's hard.

She is also very clear that surviving is the first step to living your own best true life.  I once knew this inherently. But as I've aged and the risks I face have gotten more and more abstract, I've lost contact with this very universal truth.  The how of survival can be ugly, but the reality of it is a beautiful wonderful thing.  And, of course, survival takes work, too.  As does getting over and forgiving yourself for the ugly things you may have had to do to survive.

I've often been frustrated with my own work ethic.  It's very high.  My father's family were farmers.  Farmers work every day, and if they don't, animals or plants die.  Also they have a culture of not complaining -- work is just what you do.  My mother's family were poor, but *very* hard working.  Compensated work was a privilege to them. 

Essentially, I was taught that work was required as part of life. Compensated work (plus higher education) was its own reward, but also the only true way out of poverty.  While I never really experienced anything bordering on true poverty as far as the world is concerned, I did experience relative poverty in my childhood.  That, plus stories of my parents' poverty was enough to ensure that I internalized the "work = survival" message very well.

Today, I have worked and saved and invested my way into a socio-economic situation that means I don't need to worry about working for money every day in order to survive. And yet, I still regularly work for money or just to do things that are good for my "career" at the expense of leading a more "balanced" life.  Typically, I see this as a weakness.

Sugar reminded me that focusing first on survival is actually a fundamental reality of staying alive.  This was so freeing -- I can work on being more balanced while also being very grateful that I was raised in a family that taught me not just how to survive, but that I was entitled to do so, and that I should work, fight, struggle, and hustle my way to survival, if necessary.  In hindsight, there are few messages you can internalize as a child that are more important than this one -- I am worth surviving whatever it is I encounter. 

At times like this I really miss my Dad.  I wish I could call him up and, in very few words, wholeheartedly thank him in our family's non-emotional-speech speech for yet another lesson I just realized that he helped teach me.  He would be quiet, but would use his soft voice to thank me for thanking him, perhaps crack a joke about me being slow (given that I'm almost in middle age and I just now had this realization) and then he would move to his normally big voice to ask about E, and talk about the weather, the garden, my car, whether I had enough emergency cash in my wallet, his dogs, the latest hunting gossip, and all the other Dad things.  That would be so awesome.

But it is not going to happen.  So, I cried while writing this bit.  And I haven't cried over Dad's death in a while, so this serious tears business where I actually experience and acknowledge the true sorrow and loss of my Dad, as it is important to do now and again, is yet another gift from Sugar.

On the other hand, my Mom is still available for a call.  So I did that.  I called and we caught up and then I called her husband's phone so I could send her the audiobook and walk her through signing up for Audible and getting the audiobook working on her phone.  I heard the first few words to confirm it worked.  I sent her this audiobook because I know it will resonate with her.  Also, she's recovering from surgery.  She can walk, but not do much else right now, so she's going stir-crazy.  I suspect that audiobooks will be a huge improvement to her quality of life, as they have been for me.  I imagine tomorrow AM, when she will leave the house for her walk, and turn on this audiobook, which will affirm so much of the impressive work she's done in her own life on many very hard fronts.  She is a poster-girl for Sugar's message.  She just keeps surviving, and working, and doing her best to be her own best self.  And she keeps getting better, as a person.  I aspire to do the same.

*You Better Work Video -- Enjoy!


Unknown said...

What a refreshingly beautiful ...your mom the poster-girl for Sugar's message and that you aspire to do the same.

With that I am off for my first Audio walk with Sugar.... thanks for the thoughtful gift. I am so grateful for our friendship today!
I love

Arvay said...

Wow I literally put that in my amazon shopping cart while you were typing this post. I had only just discovered Strayed's other writing and am stunned.

Unknown said...

Started and finished my aidio walk and can't put Sugar down! Sugar parallels my perspective from living life. I have often said the high risk teenagers that I was honored to work with during the 80's and the child development program I taught during the last 15 years of my career (which started as a dumping ground for the troubled teens) taught me what I really needed to know to be an effective high school teacher.
I am obsessively listening to this compelling audio book..'Sugar' with agreement and pleasure knowing that my daughter was duly impressed with the author's message.

Cathryn said...

I didn't know that you had lost your dad - I am so sorry. I can only imagine that pain. I inherited a work ethic from my never-sitting-down mother but sometimes wonder if I've lost it - modern life is so much easier than it was in their generation, at least for me. I'm adding this book to my growing list of things to read. Thanks, love. xx

bt said...

@Arvay -- I know, she's just completely awesome. Right?

@Cathry -- thank you for your condolences, I appreciate them. I agree that in many ways our generation can't hold a candle to the work ethic that was required in prior generations.