One of the hardest parts of being on the road, for work, for almost two weeks is (not surprisingly) missing my family. But one of the most delightful parts is getting the opportunity to reconnect with old (ahem, long-term) friends from school and work. In Chicago last week, a former colleague of mine and I had a charming dinner over wine (her) and pasta (me) and sky-high flour-less, chocolate cake (us). After discussing how much we love our work, how blessed we feel to have healthy children and how lucky we feel to have supportive and loving husbands, I sat back in my chair and blurted out:
"I don't deserve to be this happy."
I wish I could say it was the chocolate cake talking, or that I was feeling overly emotional because I had been away from home for so long. But, as soon as I said it, I knew instantly in my mind and in my bones that it was completely true for me. My statement hung in the air, for no more than three seconds, before my friend leaned in and confided in me, "I know exactly how you feel."
Her acknowledgement and acceptance of my perspective was an incredible gift. It made me feel less alone and a little less ashamed. But, what it didn't do was take away the knowledge that I am locked in a vicious cycle of seeking and creating joy in my life and then beating myself up for getting it. "I don't deserve to be this happy" doesn't mean that I don't want to feel happy. It does mean that I don't believe I have earned it, I don't believe that I should have more than others and I don't believe that I am doing as much good with it in the world as I should be.
And thinking about that makes me feel bad, which (as you can imagine) makes me feel a little bit better.
And then, there's this added wrinkle: Professionally, I coach people every single day to find new jobs that give them greater satisfaction, to have more meaningful conversations to make their relationships stronger and to actively and aggressively pursue whatever will make them happy. We explore what "satisfied" or "enough" would look like and feel like, partner together to create a positive, appealing and compelling vision of the future and then design action-steps to get there.
Personally, I don't do that for myself, and clearly, it's not because I don't know how to -- and it's not because I don't think it's important. I don't actively seek out the more or the better or the greater than what I already have, because I can't bear to see my cup runneth over when other people's cups are empty or even shattered. The proverbial cobbler's child isn't going shoeless because there aren't enough shoes to go around or because the cobbler is too busy to make them. The cobbler's child is going shoeless because she feels like the least she can do to try to even out life's playing field is to walk around with cold feet.
Earlier this week, my friend and colleague Robyn Faintich posted a brave and beautiful confession about her battle with moderate depression. I read it feeling proud of her for coming out and coming clean, and I read it feeling guilty because, once again, I had gotten the long end of the stick. I read it understanding that much of her difficulty is chemical, and I read it understanding that much of mine is self-imposed. And as I read about her commitment to repair some of her personal and professional relationships that have suffered as a result of her illness, I felt relieved that the only relationship I need to repair is the one with myself -- the one where I keep telling myself that I have too much, or that I'm greedy, undeserving, a fraud or setting myself up for inevitable disaster.
As Passover approaches, I have come to realize that this way of thinking is self-imposed slavery, and I want to break free. I don't want the plague of spending the rest of my life helping people find happiness, while suffering silently for having that happiness myself. I don't want to stop striving, because I don't believe I deserve more. I don't want to hide the fact that my lot in life is, right now, a blessed lot. And most importantly, I don't want my children to ever feel like they should want less, deserve less or be less.
I'm not exactly clear on my pathway out of this, and I don't expect divine intervention to part these roiling seas for me; but, I do know that the very first step is deciding, as I have, that I really, truly deserve to be free of this. And I'm happy about that.