Leaving behind my newly acquired degree in education, I landed in the nonprofit world. Cancer had changed my priorities and giving back was my numero uno. What began as a volunteer position while trying to return to the living quickly became a Program Director role, arranging free medical care for children worldwide. Full-time grant writing came next. Whatever I aimed to do I accomplished – and I aimed to accomplish helping others. Back then I agreed to do everything and anything. Join every local committee? Yes. Volunteer to help with every event? Yes. Find an Urdu translator and pick up a family at the airport at 10:00 on a Friday night? Of course! Being enlightened by cancer, plus young and relatively unattached had major benefits and the decade of “Yes!” came naturally.
Then there was motherhood.
My yes to the outside world was traded for yes to my daughter. Motherhood wasn’t easy to come by and my desire to be a mother was all that mattered. When my daughter arrived, my yes turned toward her needs. As she got older and more independent, I desperately wanted to continue saying yes by giving her my all at home, doing all that I could to help at school, and enriching her life with every opportunity we came across. It felt like I was doing my best, but my personal energy was being depleted, quickly. A lot was going on and my best was getting the best of me. So, I said, “no.” A few friends remember my years of saying, “no.” I said, “no” to everyone (and maybe too much). No, I can’t volunteer. No, I can’t attend. No, I don’t want to do anything, ever. The years of yes had drained me and saying no became my salvation.
Saying no allowed me to re-evaluate. Closing in on and then turning 40 felt like a good marker for assessment. The first four decades of my life had felt forced. Of course I had made the decisions and had taken the time to think them through, weighing my options and considering what it meant for my future. Plus, cancer had emboldened me with the power to see priorities more clearly. But still, something about that foundation had felt contrived – probably lack of maturity, possibly having an idea of what the future is supposed to look like built into my being, but maybe something else. A friend recently compared it to the way nurseries sometimes force the bloom of a plant. The plant reaches its potential, but isn’t allowed the slow unfold and usually suffers in the long run.
Enter: My Forties
My forties may not have started as a slow unfold (more like a tremendous explosion), but like cancer, gifted me a new beginning: the beginning of maybe. simple. pure. love. is the essence of my slow unfold, an unfolding of presence, knowledge, and confidence, a greater appreciation for the process, rather than the outcome. I’ve learned to say, “Maybe.” Maybe I’ll try that out. Maybe it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. Maybe I don’t need to have control of everything.
In our world of immediate gratification the process is often overlooked. When interviewing teenagers for scholarships, they list all the activities and opportunities they were part of, very rarely taking the time to express the why or what they learned from the experience, which makes it hard for us to get to know them. Introductions to new people often include work status and home locale, without much thought given to interests or personal detail. So much of what we do involves impersonal, disconnected procedures. The slow unfold is unheard of or disregarded.
Yet we are hearing more about the gap year, taking time off after high school to work or travel while deciding how to invest time at college. We hear about progressive education movements, allowing children time to play more, be more involved in experiencing, and allowing their bodies and minds the development process needed for true growth. And we hear more about handcrafters, local farms, small businesses and community at the grassroots level. Plus, let’s not forget mindfulness. These aren’t new ideas, but sometimes we need to be reminded, again and again. It’s hard to appreciate the slow unfold when bills, bosses, and modern life steal our focus. But consider taking a moment, envisioning a different way of doing things, a slower, more thoughtful approach. Maybe consider saying, “maybe.”
What I gained from the years of cancer, having had time to think, I overlooked once the reality of life took over. Yes, I had the perspective. But no, I did not have the understanding. It’s the maybe that seems to be the balancing answer. Maybe being okay with not knowing, appreciating the slow unfold, the moment, the time in between, is the achievement.
Much love and happiness,