"Tell me, what else should I have done?"
How to fill your Sunday with a new kind of joy.
The Summer Day by Mary Oliver asks us, ‘What is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”. I imagine that many of you have read that line and been inspired by it. On re-reading the full poem, another line jumped out of the page:
"Tell me, what else should I have done?"
Maybe the prospect of a wild life is daunting. But surely, if we ask ourselves, what else can I do, the possibilities are plenty, in the head at least.
In a recent series of workshops focused on nurturing women's leadership, I had the privilege of meeting some incredible mid-management professionals. These women, with 10 to 20 years of work experience, had achieved remarkable success in their careers. Yet, when I asked them a simple question - "If you could do anything this Sunday, what would it be?" - I was met with responses that left me pondering.
The majority of these talented individuals seemed to confine their dreams within the boundaries of family, children, duties, and commitments. While these are undoubtedly crucial aspects of life, I couldn't help but wonder: why do we limit ourselves so? Why do so few of us dare to dream beyond these familiar realms? I am guilty of it too, especially when I consider the more rigid routines during corporate roles.
This observation ignited a series of questions within me, and it's a topic that deserves our attention. Why do we impose these limitations on ourselves, and what are the consequences of such constraints? More importantly, what steps can we take to break free from these self-imposed boundaries and embrace a world of limitless possibilities?
What Holds Us Back?
The first question that comes to mind is, "What holds us back from dreaming beyond our daily responsibilities?" It's essential to recognize that societal norms and expectations have played a significant role in shaping our perspectives. From a young age, many women are conditioned to prioritize caregiving and familial roles above all else. It's as if we've been handed a script and told to stick to our assigned roles, like characters in a never-ending sitcom.
Additionally, the pressures of mid-management roles can be all-consuming. Balancing career demands with family life often leaves little time for personal exploration. It's like trying to juggle bowling balls while riding a unicycle - not impossible, but definitely a challenge. Over time, this constant juggling may lead us to forget our dreams or believe they are unattainable.
The Consequences of Constricted Dreams
The consequences of limiting our dreams are far-reaching. When we confine ourselves to a narrow set of possibilities, we risk stagnation and burnout. Our aspirations, which should be the guiding stars of our lives, become dimmed by the monotony of routine - like watching the same movie on repeat for years and wondering why the plot never changes.
Moreover, this self-imposed confinement can hinder our personal and professional growth. It limits our ability to step out of our comfort zones, explore new horizons, and acquire diverse skills and experiences. As leaders, this can also impact our ability to inspire and mentor the next generation of leadership. And the kids at home watching us.
Embracing a World of Limitless Potential
So, what can we do differently? How can we break free from the constraints we've placed upon ourselves? Here are some steps to consider:
1. Reconnect with Your Passions What You Love To Do: There is that scary word again - passion. It makes us uncomfortable. It makes us feel small because we struggle to think big. It reminds us that we have pushed ourselves into a uni-dimensional corner. So change the ask. Just think about and experiment with things and places and activities that put you in the zone. That thing you start doing and before you know it three hours have passed and you are still smiling inside.
Make a playlist of your favourite songs but with activities. And start making some time for them. A dear friend juggles best the life of mom, daughter, techie, manager and more by making time for her Kathak classes. And once in a while, that means stage performances or extra workshops or just a very tired body. But the joy and challenge of an art form enriches her immensely.
2. Challenge Expectations: Recognize that it's okay to dream big and prioritize your aspirations. Challenge societal norms that dictate otherwise. Surround yourself with a support system that encourages your personal and professional growth.
It’s ok to rent a costume for Nutrition Day at the preschool. We aren’t all born with the ‘create a brinjal costume from scratch’ gene. You are destined to cheer loudly when the Brinjal struts on stage and then post awesome pics on Instagram. That gene counts too.
It’s ok to step away from the routine on your precious Sunday and travel or garden or shop or trek. It’s ok.
3. Set Goals: Just as you set professional goals, set personal goals that align with your dreams. Break these goals into achievable steps and create a timeline to track your progress. And if the idea of setting goals seems to suck all the joy of out of the room, then let the goal be to just do the thing you want to do. You don’t have to do it perfectly or get better at it or walk across a stage and receive a certificate.
You can just buy tons of yarn and a crochet needle. My ‘goal’ was to keep my hands busy and away from my phone. Mission accomplished. Also, now my house is filled with random things at various stages of nice, good effort, really pretty, and what is this thing. (If you would like things that look like coasters, bookmarks, or pouches, please let me know in the comments. :-))
4. Make Time: Alright, let's talk about managing your time without turning into a drill sergeant. Think of your day as a jigsaw puzzle. Now, you've got your work pieces, family pieces, and, yes, your ‘just me’ pieces. First, find those sneaky little corners and edges - these are pockets of time you can snag for yourself.
Now, when it comes to all those middle pieces (you know, the ones that can be a bit stubborn), it's time to delegate like a pro. Let your family and loved ones in on your game plan. Maybe you swap dish duty for an hour of dream-chasing. Remember, teamwork makes the dream work, right?
And, don't be afraid to embrace technology. There are apps out there that can help you stay on track, whether it's a scheduling app or a reminder to take a break and do something you love. Your smartphone can be your sidekick in this adventure.
So, think of it as piecing together your dream puzzle, one chunk at a time. It's not about squeezing every second dry; it's about making those seconds count.
5. Seek Inspiration: Engage with communities, mentors, or role models who successfully
balance their personal and professional lives while pursuing their dreams. Learn from their experiences and strategies. Understand that stepping out of your comfort zone can be intimidating, but it's often where growth and fulfilment thrive. Embrace fear as a sign that you're challenging yourself.
We possess the potential to break free from the limitations we've placed on ourselves. By daring to dream beyond the roles society has assigned us, we not only enrich our lives but also inspire others to do the same. Our dreams are the catalysts for growth, both personally and professionally, and they deserve to be nurtured, cherished, and pursued.
There is so much to be said about how doing these things we love adds back multifold to the roles we play. But that’s for another day.
So, tell me, what else are you doing?