Week 48: Anger, Snuggles and Resolutions

This year, I set myself 22 little goals to pursue throughout the year. I call them the 22 in 22. Once a week (or there abouts), I take a few minutes to check my progress on a few of my goals.

#1 Connect better with the scalawags, according to their Love Languages

It’s not often that you will find me in despair, so bear with me for a bit. I might need to vent a little bit. You’ll find hopeful Lily again soon, but today she just needs to worry.

Several weeks ago, I mentioned my eldest was having some trouble going to his music theory class, because he had internalized a scolding that had been directed at another child, and this triggered some kind of anxiety in him.

Well, we dealt with it then. He was able to be brave and tell the teacher to “Not yell.” But it happened again. Pure panic. If I had never seen what a panic attack looked like before, I have now.

But it is no longer limited to music class. There was a substitute teacher who yelled at the kids. My child disintegrated.

Then at his beloved track and field practice, the coach had to put a few wild kids back in line. My child disintegrated.

Then music school again. He disintegrated.

When these moments of helplessness appear, and I am faced with the reality of my own powerlessness to help this child, it makes me so angry. My anger doesn’t help the situation, obviously. My being angry doesn’t make him less sensitive. It doesn’t do a single thing to make the rowdy kids calm down. It doesn’t inform the other adults in the situation that they are responsible for a child who takes their every word for himself.

Not to mention that he has developed quite a mouth on him. He can’t stand it when I ask him questions at the end of the day, trying to sound out what possible sources of anxiety might rear their ugly heads next. He pushes me away, then verbally makes sure I want to stay away.

So I have been thinking a lot lately about how to love this child through these crises and anxiety attacks, because my anger doesn’t make it easy, and his reactions to my efforts make it nearly impossible.

I can only speak words of affirmation so much. I can only spend so much time. My fluency in his languages comes up short.

A little voice in my heart whispered, “when all else fails, speak your love language.” A weird thought, because my love language is touch, and this kid doesn’t generally like to be touched. He’s like a cat who doesn’t want to be petted, and lowers his back to avoid your touch.

It was morning, and no crisis had yet erupted. I went into his room, where he was sitting on his beanbag chair. I sat down next to him, and asked if he wanted to sit on my lap. To my astonishment, the answer was yes. He curled up on my lap and let me hold him for a good five minutes.

If nothing else, it was five minutes during which we weren’t angry or fighting. At best, we were quietly reinforcing our foundation of trust and affection.

I tried again the next day, and this time he didn’t resist either. We sat on the couch, the same couch I used to snuggle him in when he was a teeny tiny baby. Just a few moments, but it was enough.

The next day again. This time we were sitting on the floor, and he draped himself across me.

This hasn’t solved the panic attacks yet, and I’m not sure that is what the snuggles were designed to do. But they have provided us a few minutes each day to re-affirm our mutual affection before he starts getting mouthy and panicky, and before I start getting angry.

I never would have imagined in a million years that snuggles would be his love language. And maybe they aren’t…maybe he is getting fluent at mine, and these few minutes are his way of practicing.

Oh my goodness. Maybe he is snuggling me to show me he loves me.

Oh my goodness. Maybe love really does make a difference.

#14 Mise en Place and Weekly Planning

I finished gluing my pages for the first half of 2023 into my planner. I have started transferring over everything I know will be happening in 2023.

I have started thinking about what kind of resolutions I want to make for 2023. While this year it was 22 in 22, I think I might have seen too big. I want to think small in 2023.

Here are a few ideas for 2023:

  • Live out the Golden Rule in everything
  • Manage my creative ebbs and flows and plan for them
  • Find small ways to rest and recuperate
  • Love, love, love, love, love.

Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Unhooking ourselves from the expectations of others; the lowest common denominator for joy; imagining our ideal holidays; taking care of ourselves. A great big thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro of the show; to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays
  2. Episode 39: Leaving a Commitment
  3. Episode 38: Let's Do This!
  4. Episode 37: I Need to Think!
  5. Episode 36: What Isn't Working?

Transcript Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays

Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we make every attempt to think differently about things.

The podcast in which we get perhaps a little deep into the theoretical and philosophical weeds about topics which, admittedly, probably don’t deserve a dissertation…Topics like, I don’t know…Christmas trees and holiday parties.

The podcast in which we use the Golden Rule as a plumb line to help us make the holidays bright.

My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half hour or so…

I hope you had an amazing Thanksgiving, and I really hope that, if you needed to, you were able to put a little bit of what we talked about in our last episode. Or at least, you were able to start questioning the dread you might be feeling about a commitment, and have started to tease out some of the deeper sources of contempt, anger or guilt that are keeping you stuck in commitments that shouldn’t be yours in the first place.

The End-of-Year holidays are filled with these kinds of commitments. Whether they are traditions that we never actually consented to, but make us feel anxious, or last-minute invitations that we feel obligated to agree to, much of what makes our holidays less than sparkling is all the crud it dredges up from the depths of our hearts.

There is so much cognitive dissonance around the holidays, and I think I speak for a lot of the women of my generation when I say this. We want to create something beautiful, and warm, and bright and memorable, but the very fact that we desire it so much means that we will inevitably fall short of what we imagine. Our desire is to make things perfect for everyone, which means that our efforts will inevitably be perfect for no one.

I have told you this before, but my indulgent husband and I haven’t, for as long as we’ve been married, had a television. I tell you this as an admission of being completely out of the pop-culture loop. I recently was listening to an amazing podcast called Business Wars, and it took a deep dive into what has become a pop-culture phenomenon about which I had zero awareness whatsoever: the Hallmark Christmas movie. 

I felt like I was an alien, peering in on this whole genre that seemed just…so absurd. I was particularly intrigued as they talked about location scouting for these Christmas movies, and how absolutely every scene had to scream, “Christmas”. Like, overdose on lights and stockings and snow and trees and hot cocoa and Santa Hats.

So, as someone on the outside of this phenomenon peering in, what I see is that the Ideal Christmas had been commoditized. It has a Christmas look and a feel of Christmas feel and a Christmas sound and an oddly predictable storyline.

And as with anything, when we start comparing our lives to something that is intended as entertainment and to represent a homogenized “Ideal”, we will feel like we are failing.

We people pleasers walk away from nearly every single activity in which we were trying to please others by creating the “perfect” Christmas, feeling like complete and utter failures. 

So, Cinderella, the first, most important thing that I want you to hear from me today is this: You are not a failure. Whatever cultivated and curated version of Christmas you are trying to recreate, stop comparing yourself to it. 

Your heart and your intentions are honorable. But you are missing something critical: in trying to create a perfect experience for everyone else, you have forgotten to love yourself first.

The Golden Rule says, love others as you love yourself. But you must start by loving yourself. Knowing yourself. Being in love with yourself. I’ve said that a million times before and I will keep saying it until it sinks in and starts becoming a reality in your life.

As your fairy godmother, I feel that it is my duty to sit you down for a few minutes and have a very important chat about why we do what we do, especially at the holidays.

Up until now, you have been setting expectations: expectations for the perfect tree, the perfect decorations, the perfect cookies, the perfect gifts, the perfect ugly Christmas sweater, the perfect…the perfect…I don’t even know what. I know what my expectations are, and they aren’t always for a perfect “thing”. I want the perfect ambience. I want a Christmas day on which my children don’t get jealous of each other’s gifts. I want to feel like I have made someone happy. I want to sit back for a few minutes and not feel like a failure.

Is that too much to ask? 

If this sounds even remotely familiar to you, then we’ve got some things to talk about.

Part One: What we control

When we talked about articulating our Ideal Life, I talked about how critical it is that our Ideal Life statements be about who we are in our Ideal Life… If this is new to you, an Ideal Life statement describes the kind of person we are and the life we want to lead, and we construct them by answering the prompt, “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who…” over and over and over again until we have dozens of pages of filled with the description of who we are in our Ideal Life.

After we have gotten to the bottom of the well of all the ways we imagine ourselves being in our Ideal Life, we look for themes that recur in all of our statements. 

Some of these themes include Parenting, or Marriage, or Relationships but also themes like work, our bodies and health, our Mental Health, and many many more.

The trick with these statements is that they are not about the other people in our lives. They are about ourselves. For example, “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who has children who are always satisfied with their gifts,” while a dreamy ideal, is not a valid Ideal Life statement, because it is about who my children are,  and not who I am. 

The only person whose attitude we can change, whose behavior we have any control over, whose needs we can fully understand, is our own. 

This is important to remember, because when it comes to the holidays, and our dreams and fantasies of an Ideal Christmas, we can very quickly hang our expectations for a successful holiday on the peg of someone else’s experience, attitude, behavior or needs. 

Part of loving ourselves (which is the precursor to being able to live out the Golden Rule)  is taking the time to know what we want and what is under our control. Every single time we hinge our experience of a bright and merry holiday on someone else’s experience, we are letting air out of our own tires.

You are responsible for your attitude, your behavior and what comes out of your mouth. There is no way that you can hold yourself responsible for how irritating your brother-in-law is, or how overbearing your nephew is. You cannot control your mother-in-law’s criticism, or your boss’s unrealistic deadlines. You need to unhook your expectations for yourself from all those things.

But you are responsible for how you do or do not take to heart your irritating brother-in-law’s mansplaining, or your nephew’s endless monologue about the latest conspiracy theories he’s found. You are responsible for having perspective about your mother-in-law’s criticism and not taking the bait when she wants to get a rise out of you. You are responsible for doing the work you can in the time given to you. The rest is not in your hands.

Sometimes, our own expectations get in the way. We have these big, beautiful dreams, and big dreams are exciting and motivating, yes. But big dreams can disappoint us. They can leave us feeling like failures. But, again, as your fairy godmother who wants to see you live your Ideal Life, I would encourage you, for once, to dream small.

Start with your own heart, break down the building blocks of what would bring you joy this year, and then seek out those small pieces.

Do you remember why we started talking about the Ideal Life in the first place? It was because of Marie Kondo, and her book the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Before she tells you to grab a black trash bag to start decluttering your home of everything that doesn’t “spark joy”, she tells you to spend some time writing about what your perfect life would look like.

When I first did this exercise, I did it in a rather perfunctory way, because what I really needed was to start making space in my apartment. I didn’t have enough space in my head to imagine what my Ideal Life would look like. What I needed at the time was to make space for my firstborn to sleep.

Well, what I want for us to do, because this is going to be the key to everything else we talk about from know until the end of the year, I want you to really imagine what your Ideal Holiday would look like.

Back in Episode 34, called Navigating the ideal Life, we talked about the difference between expectations and expectancy. Expectations are pre-defined outcomes against which we can pass or fail. Expectations will, more likely than not, leave us disappointed. Factors beyond our control are par for the course in this life, and very little ends up how we expect it to. Too many expectations will leave us feeling like a failure. 

However, expectancy is a fervent hope for a positive outcome. We cannot fail at an expectancy. Expectancy is the ability to imagine a bevy of positive outcomes, and hope for the greatest common denominator of all of them.

This holiday season, I my hope for you is that the greatest common denominator of everything you undertake will be…joy, with a little bit of  love mixed in for good measure.

Do you have a moment to think about this right now? I’d love to walk you through some questions, to help you think about what joy and love would look like this year. The goal is going to be to find the nuggets of deep, live-bringing, innocent desire, the little building blocks of joy that will give you direction as to how you will love yourself first, so that you will be fully equipped to love others this holiday season.

Part Two: Know Thyself

I want you to take a moment and imagine your Ideal Holiday. Let the images pass through your mind like a ViewMaster. Don’t know what a ViewMaster is? Then imagine a kind of slideshow. Maybe there is just one image. Maybe there are two or three. Or ten.

In those images that just clicked through your mind, are they situations that have already occurred, and you are remembering them fondly, or are they wishes that you have for an Ideal Holiday that has yet to materialize?

In these different situations, are you alone, or are there other people? 

I’m going to confess something to you: in a lot of the images that flashed through my mind, I was alone. Out of the maybe 5 images in my mind, 3 of them were just me. It’s okay and it is healthy to want to have part of your Ideal Holiday be in which you take time alone to enjoy the ambience. Not everything you do has to be to please other people. But we will get to that.

If there are other people, who are they? It might not be the people you usually spend your holidays with, and that’s okay! Remember, we’re over here dreaming right now. Maybe they are people you lost touch with a long time ago. If that is the case, is it the person that you are thinking of, or is the shared experience that made it such a memorable experience? Is there anything of that shared experience that you could bring back into your life this year, as you seek out joy in your holiday season?

What does your Ideal Holiday look like? Does it look like garlands of lights? Is it snow-covered, or is it under palm trees? Does your Ideal Holiday include candles? Is your Ideal Holiday showy and bright, or is it subdued and discreet? Do you have all the trappings of a traditional holiday, or do you do things differently? Are there lots of gifts, like mountains of gifts, or are there just a few? Is your Holiday homemade or store bought?

Next question: what does your Ideal Holiday feel like? I mean, like physically. What are the sensations you feel in your body? Are you cold but happy? Is there a roaring fire, and so you are physically toasty? Are you cozy under a blanket, or are you wearing a slinky off the shoulder dress holding a flute of champagne, freezing your butt off but happy? Are there hugs? Are you holding someone’s hand? Are you wearing a fur coat, or a down jacket, or flipflops with sand between your toes? What does your Ideal holiday feel like?

What does your holiday taste like? Does it taste like hot cocoa with marshmallows? Or Cinnamon cookies? Does it taste like panettone, or roasted chestnuts? Does it taste like mulled wine or fruitcake? Does it taste like cheap, hollow foil-wrapped Santa Claus, or does it taste like Ferrero Rocher? What does your Ideal holiday taste like?

What does your holiday smell like? Does it smell like pine? Or like roasted turkey? Does it smell like outdoors? Like popcorn? Like a fireplace or chopped wood? Maybe like cotton candy? Does it smell like plastic toys, or does it smell like expensive perfume? Does it smell like candles and mandarine oranges? What does your Ideal holiday smell like?

What does your Ideal holiday sound like? Is it the crackling of a fireplace? Popcorn popping? Bells jingling when the front door opens? Like a cat playing with the ornaments on a tree? Like a child shaking a wrapped gift? Like the laughter of children? Like the voice of someone you love that you haven’t heard from in a long time? Is it the popping of a cork and the clinking of glasses? Is there music? Is it quiet? Is it so quiet that you can hear your heartbeat?

Next question: How much thought and time do you put into your Ideal Holiday? Is it something you scour shops for, looking for the right decorations in just the right color, or do you make do with what you already have? Do you set aside a weekend to set your ambience? Or an afternoon? Do you have a list of people you give gifts to, or do you just pick things up as you find them? Do you wrap your gifts the night before, or do you wrap them as you bring them home? Do you take several trips to the Post Office, or just one big one? 

On this same note, what about gifts? What is the gift-giving process like in your Ideal Life? In your Ideal Holiday, how would you select a gift for each person on your list? Would it be because they requested the item, or because it brings you joy to offer it? In your Ideal Holiday, do you pull out all the stops, or do you give gifts within a budget? And conversely, how do you enjoy receiving gifts? In your Ideal Holiday, do you know what your gifts are in advance, and you spend the season anticipating them, or do you prefer the suspense of not knowing and the joy of opening up a surprise?

There is so much to say on the topic of gift giving and receiving, that next week’s entire episode is going to be a treatise on Gift Giving and the Love Languages, which I hope will both an interesting listen and an exciting way of looking at what can be one of the parts of the holidays that is so hard to get right

Next question: What kind of things do you talk about during your Ideal Holidays? Is it just like any other time of the year, or is there something special about your conversations? Are you fully rested, so you are able to really engage in your conversations? Are you able to keep a good attitude in your conversations? 

What I want for you to do this week is to take a little bit of time, and to break down those ideas that you have for what your Ideal Holiday would be like. What is your experience of your Ideal Holiday like, and how can you, as you start inevitably planning your end-of-the-year activities with those building blocks in mind.

Sometimes the smallest, most insignificant things are what can bring us joy, and if we can just prioritize them, our experience of the whole thing can change.. I mean, sitting quietly watching the Christmas tree with a cup of tea after the kids have gone to bed, alone, costs me absolutely nothing. But the quiet, the lights, the coziness…those are elements that I know will bring me joy. More of those moments means more beads of joy on the necklace of …my holidays!

Part Three: When Mama is happy…

There is a little phrase that gets whispered between my children from time to time, which, sadly, is more true than I would like to admit. “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” 

They say it when they don’t think I am listening, and when I have told them to do something that they don’t want to do. It’s stunning how much self-awareness they have: my children understand that their obedience has the power to keep things running smoothly. They know that doing what I ask them to do makes me happy, and when I am happy, everybody gets along. But for some reason, once, I must have let slip, “When Mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy,” and now they taunt each other with it.

It usually will goad one child into doing something he doesn’t want to do, like putting his clothes in the washer or tidying his room. 

I hate this phrase, because I don’t like to think that I am tyrant, but, I will admit that sometimes I am. What I wish my children would say instead is, “When Mama is happy, everybody is happy.” Because that, right there, is the actual truth, and not just when it comes to putting away toys and eating vegetables.

As the Mama in charge of my little family, my state of mind, my mental health has an enormous impact on the family. When I am doing well, when I am in a good space and when I am actively taking care of myself, things generally go better than when I am experiencing a roiling volcano of cognitive dissonance within my own heart.

Maybe this is just me, but when there is something in my heart that is awry, whether I am not getting enough sleep, or I’m not feeling challenged enough in the work I’m doing, or…anything is systemically wrong, and not working when do my daily check-in with my Ideal Life exercise…when any of these are the case, my fuse is shorter, my attention span is limited, my ability to hear what my children mean rather than what they actually say…all these are impacted.

Layer on top of this the expectations we have for ourselves to make sure everyone has an A+ holiday…well, if we aren’t doing well, it’s just going to compound. During the holidays, we need to double-down on taking care of our mental health, so that we don’t become a reason that ain’t nobody happy.

Loving our families isn’t enough to give them a solid foundation. Loving them isn’t enough to give them the sparkling holiday season. We could give and give and give of ourselves until we are completely empty, and still fail them.

Because when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. On the other hand, to a great extent, when Mama  is happy, everybody is happy. We have so much power to set the tone in our families this holiday season.

No, loving our families is not, it will never be enough. We must start by loving ourselves, by being gentle with ourselves. Being curious about ourselves and what we like and what we want for our Ideal Holiday. 

Remember, Joy is contagious, even in little tiny specks.

When we start asking ourselves, “What would joy look like to me this year?” we are manufacturing our own fairy dust. We are acknowledging that our joy matters, and our joy has the power to impact the people we love. 

Part Four: The Love Languages

Oh yes, that again. No, you’re not imagining things. We have talked at length about the Love Languages before. It dates back to Episode 7, entitled My Intentional Valentine. Back then, I was encouraging you to be your own Valentine, and to love yourself according to how you would like to be loved. It was a fun episode, and if you have a half hour or so, I would recommend listening again. 

You see, only when we know how to love ourselves, and our unspoken, deepest needs for love are at least acknowledged by us, can we start loving other people the way they need to be loved. 

It’s like…we cannot see what others need until we know what we need. I have been married for more than twenty years, and in many ways, I am only just now learning how to love and be loved by my husband. Because for a very long time, I didn’t love myself. I didn’t think I was deserving of love. So I couldn’t receive the love he was giving…which he was giving in the only ways he knew how.

It wasn’t until I started loving myself, and loving myself the way I needed to be loved, that the lens changed, and I could see what my husband was doing to show me that he loved me. And even if his act of love, cleaning the toilet isn’t something that I experience as love, I see that he is doing what he knows how to show me how much he loves me.

We both had to learn how to speak each other’s love language…both speak and understand. But it started because I got to know myself. 

Before I get lost again on a tangent, here’s the deal with the Love Languages: not everyone experiences love, or expresses love the same way.

This concept of the Five Love Languages, was developed by Dr Gary Chapman. I highly recommend reading the book, and taking the time to consider how we experience love and how the people we love experience love. But just as important is how we express love,  and how they express love. 

Once we are in a place where we love ourselves and can provide the building blocks of our own joy, we are able to, with great lucidity, become a student of the people we love. 

Becoming a student of the people we love is one of the most satisfying ways to be a parent and a spouse. 

Here is an example: 

My indulgent husband and I differ very, very strongly on one solid, rather important relational point. He believes that surprises are a good thing. I, personally, hate surprises.

This difference has only recently come to light in our relationship, and, as with most of the other points of conflict that have arisen in our 23 year-long marriage, it has come to the forefront because of our scalawags.

Neither of us are wrong, of course. He is right in a very practical way: what they do not know about they cannot ask four thousand times in three hours “Are we there yet?” about. I am right in a more contentment focused way: anticipating something is a way to enjoy an experience in advance, making the pleasure of the experience last longer by displacing its starting point.

Case in point

My indulgent husband is a teacher, so theoretically neither of us is actually “working” during school vacations. Technically, however, we both have mountains of work to do. He has papers to grade, I have chapters to write. There is never not work to do.

When we are very organized, we work out a “work plan”, so that each of us gets one half of a day to work on as many days as possible during vacation. What a “working” parent does during his/her work time is his/her choice. The job of the non-working parent is to get the children out of the house.

Me, I am a planner. It is pure joy for me, for days in advance, to be able to plan out what work I want to do when. I love what I do, so to be able to plan for it is also a great pleasure. I view those hours that I have to myself to work as gifts. Because I am a creative, with inevitable ebbs and flows, the fact of knowing that I will have time to work can shift the tide towards Flow.

Well. It happened that we were not particularly organized over a long weekend earlier this year. I had assumed that we would share the duties. (And you know what assume means, right?) I had tons of work to do, I was in flow and I couldn’t wait to get started.

But I noticed that my indulgent husband hadn’t mentioned anything about a work plan for that long weekend. Because I was a people pleaser and had no idea how to advocate for what I really want, instead of actually talking about it, we ended up all getting ready to go to a park.

I’ll be honest, I was crabby about it. I wanted to stay home and work. I probably wasn’t being enthusiastic about our preparations. But I did it. I was ready. We all went downstairs, got in the car. Everybody had their seatbelts on.

And then, my indulgent husband said, “Haha, just kidding! You’re staying home to work.”

So, confession time: I am an ungrateful person. I am a terrible communicator. I am self-centered and miserable to live with.

Instead of being happy and thankful to have time to work I became so irrationally angry.

I was angry because I felt robbed of the opportunity to anticipate. I was angry because I hate surprises. I hate jokes. I do not understand them, I do not appreciate them. They always leave me feeling disrespected and confused.

This was no exception. My communication skills and self-centeredness are part of the problem: no one is a mind reader, not even after 23 years of marriage. But the other side is, in spite of the fact that I got to stay home and work, I was left feeling more unloved and more angry than I would have had I gone to the park. This was not my indulgent husband’s intention. But it was the result.

The moral of the story is this: A kind gesture can backfire if it does not align with the needs and desires of the receiver.

This is why, when I say that being a student of the people we love can make us better spouse and a better parent, we can start setting a precedent of loving people in the ways that they need to be loved.

And…as we saw earlier, as Mamas in our homes, we have the power to influence the very beating heart of our homes. Our example is a powerful, powerful tool to set a new direction for our families. Our example speaks louder than our words.

When next week we look at how the five Love Languages and Gift Giving meet up, you will see that it will begin by thinking about how we like to receive gifts.

It always has to start with self-knowledge. Self-examination. Lucidity is a virtue that will keep our fire burning throughout the holiday season.

Part Five: The Challenge

All right, Cinderella, so let’s recap a little bit. First things first, remember that you are not responsible for how other people think, behave, or speak. You are responsible for you and your attitude. By taking really good care of yourself and your mental health, you can measurably improve your family life. This is the very essence of self-love. And you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.

Secondly, you need to let yourself dream a little bit about what your Ideal Holiday would look like. Distill down those dreams into the little elements that make up each dream. The music, the lights, the conversations, the smells, the flavors. With every tiny element you are able to bring in, your are increasing your chances of having more joy in your holiday season. So…really, what I am asking you to do is to dream small. Dream down to the building blocks of your holiday, and seek those building blocks out. Don’t seek out some big, dreamy Hallmark movie scene. Seek out the basic elements of that scene and incorporate them in your holiday.

Lastly, as you get comfortable with what brings you joy, start considering the people you love. Become a student of the people you live with, the people you interact with at the holidays. Actually listen to what they say and think about what they have expressed in the past. Study the people you love and start thinking about how you can bring small bits of joy into their lives through what you discover about them.

Conclusion:

Listen, Cinderella: I know that on the surface, I have said both a thing and its opposite today…namely, that both you are and you aren’t responsible for everyone’s experience of the holidays. This apparent contradiction is what I talked about at the opening today, when I said we were going to go out deep into the weeds and get philosophical about celebrating the Holidays.

It is a fact that you are not responsible for making everyone’s perfect dream come true on a macro level. You cannot hold yourself to a standard of perfection or make someone else’s expectations your marching orders. In that, it is true that you are not responsible for everyone’s experience of the holidays.

It is also a fact that you are, as much as you probably don’t think of yourself this way, you are an influencer. Your words, attitudes, hopes, disappointments…those things influence the words, attitudes, hopes and disappointments of those people in your immediate circle. Taking care of yourself, getting to know yourself, falling in love with yourself will fill you up and make it possible to have a positive impact on those around you. 

Please, please, please: unhook yourself from other people’s expectations. Love yourself first. Find the most basic, simplest elements of joy and pursue them. When you have done these things, it really does become easier to love truly other people.

Whether you like it or not, you are the beating heart of your family. You influence the overall attitude of your family by your own. This is a big responsibility. By taking care of yourself, getting to know yourself, you will discover more joy and more love. And when you have more joy and more love, then it will spill over onto your family.

Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. I am so grateful to you and I am pulling for you as you start dreaming small for this holiday season.

I want to give a great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro to the show. Also, a huge thank you to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

This is your fairy godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to start singing with your feet!



Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Unhooking ourselves from the expectations of others; the lowest common denominator for joy; imagining our ideal holidays; taking care of ourselves. A great big thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro of the show; to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays
  2. Episode 39: Leaving a Commitment
  3. Episode 38: Let's Do This!
  4. Episode 37: I Need to Think!
  5. Episode 36: What Isn't Working?

Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays

Show Notes:

Talking Points: Unhooking ourselves from the expectations of others; the lowest common denominator for joy; imagining our ideal holidays; taking care of ourselves.

A great big thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro of the show; to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.

Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Unhooking ourselves from the expectations of others; the lowest common denominator for joy; imagining our ideal holidays; taking care of ourselves. A great big thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro of the show; to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays
  2. Episode 39: Leaving a Commitment
  3. Episode 38: Let's Do This!
  4. Episode 37: I Need to Think!
  5. Episode 36: What Isn't Working?

Week 47: Mise en Place saved my life this week

This year, I set myself 22 little goals to pursue throughout the year. I call them the 22 in 22. Once a week (or there abouts), I take a few minutes to check my progress on a few of my goals.

#15 1€ or less CPW for each individual item, less than 0.20€ per item globally

If you remember, I hit the “0.20€ global Cost Per Wear” earlier this fall. This meant that across every item in my closet, those I wear a lot and those I wear less, cheap things, hand-me-downs or full-price items, the global cost per item was twenty cents per wear.

Well, I get a little shot of excitement this week, (in that very specific kind of way this kind of geekery tends to incite) when the global CPW went down to 0.19€.

This is, I guess, mostly because I haven’t bought anything new in a while. It’s easy to whittle away that number when I’m not adding anything new to the Pantheon, now isn’t it?

I find it really hard to believe that this time last year I was heading into the final stretch of my “buy no clothes in 2021 challenge”, excitedly planning the purchase of black socks and cool black boots and a zebra dress, and here we are. Those black socks are well-loved, the black boots are at less than 1€ per wear and my zebra dress is…well, it’s still the cat’s meow.

In the New Year on the podcast, I am going to be talking about closet geekery. I hope I can transmit to my Cinderellas just how exciting it can be to take charge of our personal style, to love everything in our closets and to prove this live in a ruthlessly mathematic way.

#14 Mise en Place and Weekly Planning

I should have started a “Mise en Place saved my life” segment a looooong time ago, but it’s never too late.

This week was…I don’t know how to say this other than the craziest seven days of my life so far. Remember last week when I gave the dubious advice that one way to unhook ourselves from the peg of “tracking our results obsessively” was to have so many things going on that you can’t breathe?

Yes, well, upon reflection: Zero stars, do not recommend.

Without Mise en Place and a habit of referring back to my Poppy Fields inspired planner, I would not have survived.

Just for sec, let’s look at all the unrelated hats I wore this week: I was a mom, I sang at church (with an extra early rehearsal on Sunday morning), I was an in-a-pinch graphic designer, I was a taxi driver for two small children, I was a student in a night class. I was a social media fairy godmother, I was a teacher to sixty some-odd kids in three separate classes about the wonder that is wool, I was an English teacher to a retired judge. I was a guest on a TV show, I was a Thanksgiving reveler, I was a side-hustler looking for boutiques who might be interested in carrying locally sourced, poetically infused handmade wool items, and I was the narrator/soloist for a holiday concert.

And somehow I always knew where I was supposed to be when.

Thank you, Poppy Fields!

I will write a song one day about how Mise en Place saved my life.

#19 Create a workflow for new projects and know how long each part takes realistically

Specifically, this was about how to reproduce a Wool is Cool presentation for elementary students with very little time between sessions.

In order to capture their attention, I wrapped the different props I would be using as adorable little furoshiki packages. (I mean, I’m not Lily Fields for nuthin’. As I like to say, “why do simple when you can do complicated…”)

This added complication also prevented them from being nosy in my stuff, while keeping them guessing about what was in the package.

But when doing back-to-back sessions, I was faced after the first one with what looked like a Christmas Day explosion that needed a hefty dose of fairy dust to get the genie shoved back in the bottle. (If that metaphor was confusing, just try to actually do it in ten minutes flat.)

The secret to this particular workflow was to take a deep breath and sort. Quickly but patiently. Sort out the materials sample books from the baby clothes, gather the magnifying glasses together, roll up the wool samples, line up the knitting needles and crochet hooks and drop spindles.

Then, with samurai-like energy, furoshiki the heck outta that stuff.

I’ll be sharing a round up this adventure over the next few days, but I believe I earned a black belt in furoshiki this week.

Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Unhooking ourselves from the expectations of others; the lowest common denominator for joy; imagining our ideal holidays; taking care of ourselves. A great big thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro of the show; to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays
  2. Episode 39: Leaving a Commitment
  3. Episode 38: Let's Do This!
  4. Episode 37: I Need to Think!
  5. Episode 36: What Isn't Working?

Thankfulness Week: My Cinderellas

In January of this year, full of hope and enthusiasm, I launched the podcast Sing With Your Feet. In the time leading up to the launch, it was a labor of love, the kind of thing that becomes the only thing you want to talk to anyone about.

My friends Jonathan and Eric had patiently walked me through how to get the thing off the ground. Seven Productions handed over some of the very very very best theme music anyone has ever heard, written by Claude Ekwe and performed by Matt Kugler. My friend Robin helped me think through some marketing strategies.

I launched the podcast into the universe without having any idea what would happen with it. I mean, does the world really need another podcast? And, of course, why in the world would anyone ever listen to me?

I was so tickled when LiElla Kelly, Death Doula extraordinaire, wrote that first letter to Lily, bringing her unique perspective as someone who walks with people through the process of dying, to our conversations about living the Ideal Life. LiElla is definitely someone I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.

I am so incredibly thankful this Thanksgiving for my listeners, my Cinderellas, who spend a half hour or so each week with me, their Fairy Godmother, as we all marvel at our Venn Diagrams together, seeking joy, learning to consent to our lives as they are today, and living the lives we were destined for based on the time, talent and treasure we have been given.

It is such a privilege to be invited into your lives and to be privy to your challenges and successes. (I especially love those success stories! Keep ’em coming!) I am so incredibly honored when you share the podcast with your friends. Thank you for trusting me with the people you love!

So, to my Cinderellas across the world: I am so thankful for you.

Love, Lily

PS. For those who have been adorable and asking how their Fairy Godmother is celebrating Thanksgiving in France? Today is just a regular day, so we have to go out of our way to make it special. I’ll be doing a Wool is Cool session in the morning, and working on some homework for the class I am taking. Thrilling, I know

But this afternoon will be better. I’ll take the boys to the Conservatory after school. While they are there, I’m picking up our guest of honor: a bucket of KFC.

From there, I will make some carrots with maple syrup glaze, mashing up some lofty potatoes, and baking an apple tart. I know it’s not anything special, but it’s what we can make happen.

But you can bet that all day, I’ll be thinking about you!!!!!!!!

Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Unhooking ourselves from the expectations of others; the lowest common denominator for joy; imagining our ideal holidays; taking care of ourselves. A great big thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro of the show; to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays
  2. Episode 39: Leaving a Commitment
  3. Episode 38: Let's Do This!
  4. Episode 37: I Need to Think!
  5. Episode 36: What Isn't Working?

Thankfulness Week: The Big Kid

In the first session of the Wool is Cool project, I lead the (mostly) French kids in a discussion (in English) about clothes.

It’s an easy conversation, but it gives the kids the opportunity to stretch their wings in English with a native English speaker, on a topic they should be relatively comfortable with. It’s a fun “get to know you” kind of activity.

As I was preparing the materials for the first session, I dug into the boys’ “boxes”, that is, the little treasure chests where we put objects, cards, hospital tags, and newborn onesies and socks from the time surrounding their births. I needed some small items of clothing, and, let’s be honest, there is nothing more adorable than tiny baby clothes.

As I’ve written about rather recently, our eldest scalawag has put us through it these last few weeks. If I were being honest, he has put us through it since he was born, but it is a cyclical kind of through it.

I looked at a pair of tiny tiny baby shoes, the ones that were given to us by a woman I barely knew, who, long before I ever thought I could get pregnant, told me, “God wants you to know that you will have a baby,” a phrase at which I scoffed at the time. I was livid that anyone thought they could say something like that to me. My childlessness was not a subject of public discourse.

Those shoes, though. I refused to look at them for a long time.

It’s not like a newborn actually needs shoes. So after he was born, he never wore them. But I kept those shoes in his box as part of the journey.

I hadn’t looked at them or thought about them in years. And yet, here I was taking them out of the treasure box and using them as a prop in a lesson about clothes.

At the appropriate moment in the lesson, I unwrapped the baby clothes (I had furushiki’d them all…so it was like a grand reveal, and lots of little packages set up on the desk…it was so dramatic!) and I took out the shoes.

“Are those Joel’s?” one of the kids asked. Twenty other kids sat in rapt attention, waiting for the answer.

Now, it’s a small school. 180 kids. Neither of my kids were in the two classes I met with yesterday. I could have feared a kind of mockery. I really could have messed up my kid’s year, and I didn’t even think about it in advance. I mean, kids can be mean.

“Yes,” I replied cautiously. And I watched the kids react. They were…I don’t know how to say this…there was this general sensation of, “That’s so cool!!!!”

One kid even said, “I can’t wait to tell Joel at recess that I saw his baby shoes!” But it was not in a mocking way. It was like…”Joel is cool. Now I know more about him!”

There was an enthusiasm about both of my children from these two classes, but especially about my eldest. Granted, it’s a small school and everybody knows everybody. But the way these kids seemed to genuinely like my eldest…it put all the putting us through it into perspective.

We forget that our kids are out there being little soldiers all day long, holding it together, navigating relationships and finding their place in a world that is just so incredibly complicated. I mean, I only spent one morning with these elementary kids, and I was made dizzy by the intricate world of their relationships.

When he decomposes emotionally with us, his parents, who are his safe space, or with his brother, who is his really really safe space, it’s because he knows what to expect from us and he can put his guard down.

Wow. It was just a pair of baby shoes that got me thinking about all this.

The Double Bass: A Love Story

I’ve been meaning to tell this story for a while, and this seems to be the best occasion, since I am writing an Ode to Scalawag 1.

When he was 2 years old, my eldest Scalawag took my guitar, held it upright and turned it into a double bass. He stood with it, and pretended to play the double bass with it. He was barely 2 years old.

That year, the Conservatory moved into a new building. I have a friend who teaches there, and she encouraged us to come for a visit during the open house. So we went, and we ended up outside the classroom for the Double Bass teacher.

He was just a pipsqueak, a tiny little thing. But the teacher noticed how intrigued he was, but also was observant enough to see that he was shy and didn’t want to go into the room. So she brought a teeny tiny double bass into the hallway and left it there for him.

He got spooked and made us leave. But not more than ten minutes later, he wanted to go back. So we did, and the double bass was still there. He admired it. We chatted with the teacher.

He started taking the Intro to Music classes, did it for two years, and then was able to choose his instrument. Marie, the teacher, remembered him when he came for a trial lesson. She encouraged him, and even said that it seemed like he had already played a stringed instrument before (aside from that upright guitar and smashing keys on a piano, he had not.)

Now, my cool kid plays the double bass. My prayer is that his life will be like the double bass: stable, steady, a rhythmic, beating foundation.

I am so thankful for this kid.

Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Unhooking ourselves from the expectations of others; the lowest common denominator for joy; imagining our ideal holidays; taking care of ourselves. A great big thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro of the show; to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays
  2. Episode 39: Leaving a Commitment
  3. Episode 38: Let's Do This!
  4. Episode 37: I Need to Think!
  5. Episode 36: What Isn't Working?

Thankfulness Week: People who entertain my wooly follies

What? You thought that I was going to be thankful for my other scalawag? Hah! I got you!

Well, we’ll get there eventually, but today, I am particularly thankful for the people who, for some reason I will never understand, are willing to sacrifice time, energy and resources to entertain and make possible the crazy things that my brain comes up with, and this, particularly, when it comes to wooly endeavors.

I’m just so darn thankful for Musa at Le Parc du Petit Prince, for saving those stinky bags of wool for me when he sheared the sheep earlier this year. I love it that he is passionate about what he called, “les vieux métiers”, meaning, the “ancient arts”, (he is a pigeon trainer by profession!), and I love it that he is willing to talk to his visiting school groups about these “ancient arts”. I’m just so thankful for having a strategic-partner-in-crime.

I’m thankful to my friends who have working sheep, meaning, these sheep are living, breathing lawn mowers. They provided me with some wool again this year, too, and it was just the loftiest, cleanest stuff I have yet worked with!

I am so thankful for the principal at my kids’ school, who gave me carte blanche to take up time and space in his school, and to the teachers, all seven of them, who trust to me with their kids to do something…well…a bit zany. Like, I don’t know…teach them that clothes don’t come from stores, they come from people who make them. Or… how to spin wool and felt and recycle things to make something fabulous.

I am incredibly thankful for the parents who have generously donated their time to help me cut out 180 CD-sized circles from recycled Amazon boxes, who have donated fabrics and laces and all kinds of materials from their stashes to make this project work, and those who will come to the classes with me to help out when we get to crafting.

I am just so thankful for those people who don’t tune me out when I get a crazy idea: in particular, my indulgent husband who doesn’t mind me turning our bedroom into a storage unit while I am in full-folly mode, but also my children who aren’t opposed to having Mama come to school and hang out for a while.

Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Unhooking ourselves from the expectations of others; the lowest common denominator for joy; imagining our ideal holidays; taking care of ourselves. A great big thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro of the show; to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays
  2. Episode 39: Leaving a Commitment
  3. Episode 38: Let's Do This!
  4. Episode 37: I Need to Think!
  5. Episode 36: What Isn't Working?

Thankfulness Week: Scalawag 2

Living in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving has started to feel a little bit normal, and I never thought I would say that.

Thanksgiving becomes something of an afterthought. Something we need to fit into our schedule, since it’s not a holiday and everyone has to work or go to school.

I wonder if I could ever go back to the expectation of a full turkey and all the fixings…even though the menu of a Thanksgiving meal has always been one of my favorites. As a matter of fact, I love it so much that one year early in our marriage, I insisted to my husband that we re-do Thanksgiving on New Year’s Day and invite people over for it.

But now, we have to “sneak it in.”

As a person who will be waxing on poetically over the next few weeks about “living out our Ideal holidays”–meaning, in accordance with who we are and not the expectations put on us by others, and as someone who loves to invent new traditions –Thanksgiving has been a notably difficult one to bring into full bloom in our French life.

Last year, I spent Thanksgiving storytelling and doing a craft with my boys’ classes at school. It was, at the very least for me, a nice way to mark the occasion.

Coincidentally enough, I will be back in their classrooms on Thanksgiving Day again this year, but this year it isn’t about Thanksgiving. This year, the first sessions of our Wool is Cool project will happen on Thanksgiving Day.

So. Is being in my boys’ classrooms a new Thanksgiving tradition? Or is this just a fluke? Time will tell!

In any case, there is one tradition that I don’t want to let fall by the wayside, and that is the Lily Fields tradition of Thankfulness Week: That is, spending some time each day of Thanksgiving week celebrating the people and things that make my life better.

So, here we go

Scalawag 2: My Mini-Me

This is my youngest scalawag. He is currently five, and will be six shortly after the new year.

He is my very beating heart on the outside of my body. He’s dramatic, he’s funny, he’s popular and he’s wickedly smart.

He’s in a mixed-age kindergarten, something widespread in France where 2-3-4-5 year olds are together and the older kids are given responsibility for the younger kids in an age-appropriate way.

To say he’s popular sounds like a strange thing to say about a five year-old, but it’s worth noting to me because this child, who is tall and stocky for his age, is a gentle, benevolent buddy to kids in his class who are two, just turning three. He also is a rough and tumble wrestler with kids his own size, but he understands the power of the word “STOP”.

The word popular describes him, because he is invited to everyone’s birthday party. If only 5 kids are invited to a birthday party, this kid is one of the 5. (This is the financial aspect of being popular that no one ever talks about!)

You may remember, months ago, when I was talking on the podcast about the overlap between parenting and sexuality, and I talked about how important it was to me that my children understand consent, and that we were learning about it now as it pertained to our bodies in a non-sexual way…about how I wanted to raise boys who were thoughtful, observant, patient and self-controlled, and pray that these would one day carry over into their adult life?

Yes, well, this kid is proving to me every day that he gets this, and he is putting it to work at school in ways that prove that these lessons, which I initally understood and intended to be about sexuality, are very much broader life lessons that actually make a person undeniably attractive and popular in all kinds of ways. Whoda thunk it?

Just look at that kid. He has a global reserve of joy. He is a national treasure.

I guess my role as his parent is just not to mess him up.

So this week, I am firstly thankful for this scalawag, for his stockpile of joy, for who he is becoming, and for all the happiness he brings to those around him.

Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Unhooking ourselves from the expectations of others; the lowest common denominator for joy; imagining our ideal holidays; taking care of ourselves. A great big thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro of the show; to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays
  2. Episode 39: Leaving a Commitment
  3. Episode 38: Let's Do This!
  4. Episode 37: I Need to Think!
  5. Episode 36: What Isn't Working?

Week 46: A diamond tennis bracelet week

This year, I set myself 22 little goals to pursue throughout the year. I call them the 22 in 22. Once a week (or there abouts), I take a few minutes to check my progress on a few of my goals.

#20 Practice Mindfulness: articulate and savor the good moments

This week, in retrospect, looks like one of those diamond tennis bracelets…or…or a pendant covered in diamond dust. This week was full of moments of connection at a deep, love-language level.

There are so many of those little moments: playing “kiss fairy” with my youngest, whose love language is touch, and chasing each other around the apartment trying to plant a juicy one in the other’s cheek…or sitting through a deep, gut-wrenching crisis with my eldest until the volcano erupted and we got to the heart of the matter.

Or, my youngest saying, “did you notice how I didn’t ask you to stop singing?” (Because usually they both yell at me to stop singing when I start), and following it up with, “I know you love to sing. So I let you.”

It’s strange how deeply we can feel these little moments, even when we are feeling otherwise numb…if we are looking for them.

#8 Learn strategies to mitigate the dopamine loop re: creative endeavors

This is not a strategy I would recommend to anyone, but it is currently working for me, so take it for what it’s worth.

I have a million things going on right now, that are all heating up at the same time: I start the Wool is Cool project at the boys’ school next week. I have a Christmas concert with our orchestra in December, for which I am, yes, singing, but also narrating and preparing visuals. I got a last-minute invitation, thanks to my buddy Jonathan, to be interviewed on a yet-to-be released program, on the subject of the Ideal Life and living out the Golden Rule (in French, wildly enough.) I’ve got this insane idea that maybe I could try selling some of the felted wool corsages I’ve made out of the Little Prince’s wool, so I’m designing packaging.

So what’s the strategy, you may ask, to escape the dopamine loop?

Get so busy that you have no time to pay attention to the results. Also, whenever possible, only do things that get you into a state of Flow and make you so happy that results don’t even matter anymore.

See? It’s easy.

#1 Connect better with the scalawags, according to their Love Languages

Or, what do you do when his Love Language is cold hard cash?

Do you remember this question from last week? We were talking about my eldest who is studying double bass at the Conservatory, and must take a two hour music theory class on Thursday evenings, which he suddenly announced he hated and never wanted to go back to.

I offered cold hard cash to my Young Scrooge, who, every single day counts his piggy bank. And even the promise of cash did not pre-empt a crisis once we arrived at the Conservatory on Thursday.

I had gleaned small details about why he didn’t like it…it was late. It was too hard. He didn’t like the class. There was a new teacher (long story), who had just arrived, and from what I understood (from my sources who work at the Conservatory), this new teacher was awesome and excited to be there, and fun and enthusiastic.

So why this dread? Why so many tears? Why did my son hate this new teacher and this class so much?

His teacher (his second grade teacher, at school school) pulled me aside in the afternoon and told me he had had a panic attack, and when he was finally consolable, she understood that he was panicked about going to Conservatory that evening. Ugh.

How did it get this bad?

So here’s how it went down. We are outside the classroom on Thursday. My kid is crying. Scream crying. Inconsolable. He’s saying he’s afraid of the new teacher. The new teacher comes out to see what’s going on, and I try to say that I really don’t know.

The teacher seems as awesome as I had heard. Why is my kid afraid of him? The teacher says that he will mark him as “excused”.

Twice we try to go back to the classroom, having talked it through. Twice, my kid panics at the door.

The teacher comes back out to the hallway, about 15 minutes into the class, where he has 20 kids around a piano singing.

“What can I do to help?” He asks. “Are you afraid of me?”

My kid nods. I give a look at the teacher like, “I don’t get it either.”

“Why are you afraid of me?” He insists.

“Because you yell.” My kid says.

Then the teacher had a visible lightbulb go on over his head.

“It’s because of last week, isn’t it?”

My kid nods.

“I’m sorry about that. It won’t happen again.”

Apparently there had been an incident (which my kid didn’t tell me about) with a kid the week before, and indeed, there was some yelling, and apparently, the kid involved was suspended (from Conservatory? I guess it happens). And my kid was afraid of the teacher because of that incident. It happens that my husband knows the parent of the kid in question, and that indeed, the kid is trouble.

“Will you come to class with me tonight?” The teacher asked.

“Yes,” my kid said. “But don’t yell.” He sounded rude, awkward, impolite. But darn it, I was proud of that kid.

“I promise.”

When I picked him up later, he was all smiles, saying, “I love Music Theory, I love Mathieu. This is so fun.”

I was so happy. He was so happy. We had gotten to the heart of the problem, addressed it with the right person, and solved it. With a positive outcome.

“But I still want the cash,” added the kid who never loses focus.

It’s a small price to pay.

Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Unhooking ourselves from the expectations of others; the lowest common denominator for joy; imagining our ideal holidays; taking care of ourselves. A great big thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro of the show; to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays
  2. Episode 39: Leaving a Commitment
  3. Episode 38: Let's Do This!
  4. Episode 37: I Need to Think!
  5. Episode 36: What Isn't Working?

Transcript Episode 39: Leaving a Commitment

Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, my name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for what looks like it is shaping up to be an extremely long, extremely dense episode. 

Next week I won’t be releasing a new episode, since you know, Thanksgiving, but this episode is hopefully going to keep you busy thinking for the next two weeks. 

Introduction

Today’s topic is one we’ve been building to for quite a while: today, we are going to talk about how to detach ourselves from a Commitment that no longer has its place in our life. I want to thank quite a few listeners for stepping up with their stories: Elsy, Tiffani, Helen, Joann and Alexia. I hope you will find something in this episode to help you through your conundrum, and I hope that all of our listeners will benefit from your vulnerability.

First, before I talk about anything else, I want to remind you why we are talking about getting out of a commitment at all. The theme of Sing With Your Feet the pursuit of your Ideal Life. And this begs the question: what is an Ideal Life? It isn’t a perfect, cushy, palatial existence, with Prince Charming and an endless fountain of champagne…although that would be nice.

The Ideal Life is the life that you are equipped for—the life in which every aspect of your being is put to work, in which each part of your life energizes you, and in which you are making the world a better place because you are holding nothing back.

The Ideal Life is the life in which you know what you bring to the table, and you have the self-esteem to step away from activities that don’t fit you and aren’t the best use of your time, talent and treasure, so that you can invest in activities that do.

The Ideal Life is one in which you love yourself, which becomes a springboard for loving others and behaving in ways that are authentically good for everyone. 

I want you to keep that in mind, because our only goal here isn’t just to get out of doing something we don’t want to do. Our goal is to become the kind of person who does only the things that fall in line with who we are meant to be and the kind of person we want to be. It’s a subtle difference, but it is important.

What we are doing is by far harder than just backing out of a coffee date because we don’t feel like going. We are aiming to become the kind of person who either doesn’t make coffee dates that we would want to cancel, or, who doesn’t dread the coffee dates we make, because that coffee date is one that gets us closer to being who we want to be over multiple areas of our Ideal Life.

It was back in Episode 29 that we first started talking about Commitments. Back then, we talked about why we end up agreeing to things that we don’t even want to do, and why we sometimes end up dreading commitments that we make. 

If you don’t have the 30 minutes or so to go back and listen now, which you probably should do if you haven’t already listened to episode 29, the Cliff’s Notes version is that when we commit out of a feeling of guilt or duty, and not from the place of who we are in our Ideal Life, we only have guilt or duty to fall back on to keep us motivated. 

I argued that, going forward, it is a good idea to be articulating, to ourselves, the way this commitment gets us closer to who we are in our Ideal Life, and, ideally, in multiple areas of our Ideal Life. This helps us keep ourselves motivated as we are out there doing things that aren’t always fun or exciting, and having multiple areas of our Ideal Life overlapping can help us keep a relatively good attitude, when we inevitably start to get tired. 

We established that there are 3 questions we are wise to ask ourselves when we are making a new commitment, and you won’t be surprised to find that when we want to gracefully bow out of a commitment, we would do well to examine these three questions, too:

Here they are:

1. WHO am I committing to? 

2. WHO am I committing FOR? Another way of phrasing this question is “Who are the beneficiaries of this commitment?”

3. Why?

That second question, the who am I committing for, or, the beneficiaries question is one that we need be very clear about, because, as we will see later, those beneficiaries of our commitment are the ones that stand to lose out if we pull out of a commitment. So being very thoughtful about who we are committing for means that we are going to be lucid about who is impacted by our decision to leave a commitment.

Our concern this week is how to gracefully step away from a commitment. It’s a touchy subject, it’s uncomfortable, and I know that. I hope that you will come away feeling encouraged to face your discomfort, and find freedom.

Navigating the Ideal Life

In Episode 34; which was entitled Navigating the Ideal Life, I gave you three C-words that go hand in hand with making progress towards our Ideal Life: Those three words were Contest, Consent, Contentment. 

We said that Contesting was the act of complaining and arguing about the circumstances of our life, specifically when it was not within our power to do anything about the problem. I believe at the time I mentioned the little lines forming perpendicular to my lips that are making me resemble my grandmother more everyday. There is nothing, aside perhaps from a little face yoga or a facelift (one which I am inclined to try, the other I hope never to desire) that I can do to stop this evolution. So contesting it is futile.

Consent is the act of receiving, gratefully, the circumstances of our life and maintaining a good attitude about it. It’s the decision to accept where we are, who we live with, our job, or car, our status, and to believe that we can become who we need to be to live our Ideal Life, but that this is where we are starting from.

And then we talked about Contentment–which is appreciating and enjoying what we have. It’s choosing to love our lives, in spite of its imperfections. 

In no case am I suggesting suffering through abusive situations, or life-threatening situations. What I am suggesting is that we be lucid about who we are, what we are capable of, the decisions we have made;  to forgive ourselves for our past failings and have hope for our future.

There is a fourth C-word that I did not bring up in Episode 34, because my goal in that episode was to build enthusiasm about pursuing our Ideal Lives, about seeking out the fairy dust that is self-reflection and how there is so much joy to be found in making progress.

But today, I am going to share with you the fourth C-word, a C-word which is a joy-stealer, and I want to make sure I am clear about this with you: This C-word is the bane of my existence, and it may be until the day I die. I don’t want to disappoint you when I share with you just how much I struggle in my own everyday Cinderella life…

The word is the word “Contempt.”

Contempt is what happens if we get stuck between Contesting and Consenting. Contempt is what causes us to become caustic and sarcastic. Sarcasm is very much a way of covering up contempt. 

Contempt stems from a sense of feeling underappreciated or unacknowledged. It comes from that inner voice that tells us, like Belle belted out in Beauty and the Beast, “There must be more than this provincial life…” (And you saw what good that did her…I mean, she gets imprisoned against her will in a freaky castle by some awful beast. What could be more dream? Sorry, did I just use sarcasm?)

Now listen, and I want us to be very, very clear about this: I believe in you. I believe that you make this world a better place just by being in it. I want you to live in a constant state of Flow and find the ways what you love and who you are resonate with a need in this world, and I want you to pursue that with every ounce of energy, every bit of talent, and every second you have to give. 

We are not all destined to change the World with a capital “W”. But we can change our world, with a little “w”. Our world, as in our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces. We can bring more love, more truth, more justice, more patience, more care. When we love ourselves and believe in ourselves and the good that is in us, we are already being extraordinary.

But Belle’s proclamation, “there must be more than this provincial life” glosses over most of our reality. We have families, jobs, engagements, and maybe there isn’t more than this provincial life. And complaining about it won’t help.

If we stop complaining, because we know that complaining isn’t helpful–and I would argue that complaining is more than just not helpful, but that it is downright addictive (this is my entirely non-scientific theory, so take it for what it’s worth, but, in sum, my theory goes that it can feel pretty good to complain. And because it feels good, we can start to seek out that little burst of positive feeling as a way to make ourselves feel better when things aren’t going well. And then it becomes a vicious spiral, turning us into complainers.

If I know you, you don’t like to be around complainers and neither do I. So, if we let ourselves complain a little, we risk turning into people that we don’t like to be around, and neither will anyone else.

So, if we decide to just stop voicing our complaints, but never get to the point where we continually consent to our circumstances, we will, at some point, end up…as I have on many occasions…end up feeling contempt for the people around us. Contempt is equally addictive. 

Contempt can be subtle. It can be a feeling of dislike of a certain person, but with time can grow to include an entire family, or neighborhood or profession or group of people. It can be just a discomfort around a certain person…the origin of which you simply can’t put your finger on.  

To be entirely, completely honest with you, my interest in politics has made me incredibly contemptful of great big swaths of America who do not think the same way I do. Politics has made me cynical and sarcastic. Filling my brain with endless political podcasts and up-to-the minute breathless reports about the latest legal schadefreude hasn’t helped. 

It seems like the more I think I know, the less I think anyone else knows. This isn’t helpful, it makes me miserable.

But it’s not just politics. Each time I don’t deal with an interpersonal conflict, deciding instead to just “let something go”, because I am not courageous enough to deal with a problem head-on, with love, truth, kindness and gentleness, I am creating a foothold for contempt. 

If we don’t deal with an interpersonal conflict, but just decide to abandon the relationship to keep the peace, the peace will come with the price of discomfort. And over time, that discomfort subtly becomes contempt.

This has happened a thousand times if it has happened once, and over the last few years, I have been trying as hard as I can to trace the origins of the contempt I feel, and try to deal with it. It has led to some odd conversations, which have dredged up situations from more than a decade ago. 

Contempt is awful. Contempt can keep us from fully consenting to our circumstances. Contempt allows us to blame others, even some theoretical “other” for us being where we are, in circumstances that we don’t love and aren’t happy with.

This contempt can be found in every single area of our Ideal Life. And part of our self-reflection as we seek to make progress in our Ideal Life should be to deal with the contempt that is holding us back. 

Assuming our contempt is traceable to a specific person who is still alive, and a specific situation, it can be dealt with, even years after the fact. This can be done with humor, without blaming. It’s not particularly comfortable, but the freedom that comes from bringing the situation into the light is really remarkable. 

In a recent situation, I made an appointment to talk to someone who had once, in 2009 said something I had found incredibly personally offensive. This person and I had rarely ever needed to be in the same circle. But because of a twist of fate, I found that I was going to be in regular contact with this person for the next 18 months. 

I knew I couldn’t let the situation continue as it was: my contempt was so great that I felt almost something akin to disgust when I thought of this person. So I did it. I made an appointment.

I apologized that I was coming out of nowhere with this, but that since we were going to be working together on something now, I felt like I really just needed to clear the air about something that he had said…13 years ago! I explained that I have been doing work on myself, and have been trying to get better about being honest and frank with people, and that this was part of that work.

And then I just came out and said it. And told him why I was so offended. And you know what? He apologized, because he had never considered that what he had said might be taken the way I took it. He also defended his comments, and explained, quite clearly, how I had misunderstood, but admitted that I might not have been the only person to misunderstand his comments that way.

I forgave him, and then something weird in me caused me to ask him to forgive me for holding a grudge against him for thirteen years, even if he had no idea that a grudge was being held in his honor. He extended forgiveness. It all felt really healthy.

And in the end, I had to laugh, because 13 years is a long time to hold onto a grudge for something that I had misunderstood. 

I’m giving you this example, because later in the episode, when it comes time to talk about how you will disengage from a commitment that you want to end, you need to know that there will probably be some discomfort, and maybe even some conflict. 

But facing your fears makes you free in a way that is very healthy.

All of this works together to get us closer to the people we are in our Ideal Life, people who bring more truth, more peace, more love into our small “w” world. And that is a worthy goal.

The Seasonality of Commitments

About twenty years ago, my husband and I signed up for a fencing class. I think it was a six-lesson class. We found that of the four people in the class, one of them thought he was Dartagnan, and kept jabbing at us with his épée. Neither my husband nor I wanted to actually swordfight to the death. We just wanted to learn how to hold a sword and do the gestures, and parry, and have a healthy outlet for our conflict.

We quit after two lessons. This was an easy commitment to escape. We had little skin in the game. We weren’t broken up about not getting to continue. We lost a little money, but we considered that nothing, compared to how much we hated the prospect of getting stabbed by a muskateer.

I don’t even think we even told the teacher we weren’t going back. We just never returned. I like to think that if we had it to do over again today, with the maturity we have gained over 20 years, that we would do it differently. 

My indulgent husband and I have two little boys, as you know.

Currently, they both have two extracurricular activities: my youngest takes both introduction to dance and intro to music classes. The eldest takes both double bass lessons and is on a kiddy track and field team.

These commitments that my indulgent husband and I made on our children’s behalf were done with our children’s input. They agreed to the commitment, inasmuch as at almost 6, or 7 years old, anyone can commit to anything.

With these commitments, we signed up for the school year, in the hopes that they would enjoy these activities, and want to continue them next year. But truly, we only signed up for this one year. 

Because we are serious about the investment, both financial and time that we are all making in these activities, we are careful to make sure that both are 1. Enjoying the commitment and 2. Doing the work they need to do to progress. This isn’t easy, as anyone who has ever taken piano lessons or violin lessons knows. So, needless to say, my husband and I are as committed as the scalawags are to making sure that everyone gets the most out of the experience.

We all know that not everything comes easily, and I live by the motto “hard work always pays off.” So the enjoying the commitment, at this point in the game, is less important than the doing the work they need to do piece. But we are sensitive to their reticences, their points of fatigue and we try not to wear them out.

Okay. So. What if one of our boys decided they wanted to quit one of their commitments, like one of them announced to me no later than last night he wanted to do?

At this point in our lives, it’s pretty easy. We committed for this school year, and I think, at their age, they are mature enough to understand that. Yes, I might end up bribing him to finish out the year with promises of lollipops or maybe even cold, hard, cash. But right now, today, I am doubling down on helping him work hard on what is most troubling to him.

Maybe if he had had a visceral negative experience at the beginning of the school year, I would have had a second thought and withdrawn him. But short of something extraordinary, I’d say that we signed up for a school year, and we will keep our commitment.

When we make a new commitment, we need to always consider the period of time we are committing for. Except for marriage and parenting, I can think of no other commitment that we should enter into without a period of time that we set for ourselves to reconsider our commitment, and I do mean even professionally.

And, on the professionally sidenote, this is made pretty easy by the yearly review process. But outside of the expectation that we have a yearly review, I think that it is wise of us to set a period of time to consider how things are going in our joy at regular intervals, and re-commit ourselves every so often. But we’ll talk about how to do that when we get to talking about the New Year.

So, even if we didn’t enter into many of our current commitments with a timeline for reconsidering our commitments in mind, it would be of great benefit to make a list of our commitments, one by one, and think about how long we have been doing them and what kind of reconsideration frequency we should allow ourselves.

Now, this is where it is going to start getting sensitive, and believe me, I have easily offended in-laws and strong-willed, overbearing friends too, so I know that this can get uncomfortable.

There are commitments that we have made to people we are related to, or are friends with, about which we have grown contemptful through years of silent suffering. Or…come to think of it, maybe not so silent suffering. Like, maybe our spouse knows. But we put on a good façade, and no one else might even suspect that we dread this commitment. 

These might be commitments like, I don’t know, doing Thanksgiving at Aunt Betsy’s house every year, or Christmas at your in-laws. You probably don’t remember how that decision was reached, and it might be that with every year that passes, you start hating this arrangement even more.

Our dread of this kind of commitment does not have to be permanent. 

But getting to the point of dealing with it means a lot of soul searching, a lot of courage and a willingness to sit with discomfort for a while. 

If you are, year after year, participating in something out of guilt, or out of duty, but you are consistently feeling, thinking, or talking negatively about it, then you have yourself a contempt problem. And there is no way to escape this than by dealing with it.

And that is what we are here to do today.

So: First things first, on a blank sheet of paper, write the name of the commitment that you are wanting to escape from. 

I want you first to write what the seasonality of your commitment is…that is, how often it recurs, how long you have committed to do it for, and how you got involved in this.

Like, (and here I am taking an example from a listener, so, thank you Elsy in Tampa for letting me share this with our other Cinderellas!): I lead small group Sunday School for five year olds every week, and have been for ten years. I started because my kid wouldn’t go to Sunday School unless I was there, so I became a default helper at first, and now I am stuck. I never committed to a specific time period, and it was just always assumed that I would continue.

(Now, there is more to her example, but I want to just take piece by piece…)

Do you understand the exercise? Okay. Take a few minutes to think about this. I’ll be here when you get back.

People Priorities

Commitments are very often about others—and I just caught myself there, because I almost said other people, but that’s not even true. I mean, when we adopt a pet, we are committing to caring for an animal. So it’s about doing something for an entity that is not ourselves. (Unless we are committing to ourselves to do something, which is not the topic of this episode. But it would be a really great topic for a future episode, note to self.)

But let’s, for today, put aside our animal friends, and talk about the commitments that involve other people. 

We make commitments to our spouse, our kids, our family in a larger sense. Our friends, our colleagues, our teammates, our neighbors. We make commitments to the kid who mows our lawn, or a lawn service company, our hairstylist, our babysitters…

Some of these commitments comport relationship elements, and some don’t. Alexia wrote in an example of feeling guilty about changing hairstylists, and let me tell you, I felt that in my bones! Wherever there is relationship, there is bound to be some kind of commitment. Relationships are what make commitments complicated.

Let’s review something real quick: the Golden Rule says we should “Do for others what we would want done for us,” and we should “Love others as we love ourselves.”

So. When we have made a commitment to someone, but that commitment has become a burden to us, we need to ask ourselves, “If someone I loved felt that a commitment they made to me is a burden, would I want them to continue carrying that burden?”

It’s a genuine question, because it could depend on the burden. But I think that in general, we want people to commit to what they are capable of, in an honest way, free from guilt or coercion. We want, in our hearts, for commitments to be made and kept with joy.

We talked at length about guilt in the past, but I want to remind you that Guilt is a feeling that says “I OWE you something.”

A feeling of constantly owing something to someone that you can never “payback” is a surefire way to develop latent anger and, eventually, contempt. 

This is a real question I want to ask you, for you to consider freely: Is your commitment one that you entered into because you felt like you could “pay someone back” by doing it? Listen to me: Guilt is never a reason to do anything. I am as much talking to myself as I am talking to you right now. But please believe me: in most cases, no matter how much you want it to, no commitment will relieve your sense of guilt or of owing something. What it will do is start stoking a fire of contempt.

So, before I tell you to make an appointment to confront the person you want to escape a commitment from (which, believe me, is coming, but not yet;) I want you to do something for yourself. I need you forgive yourself. Whatever that thing is that you are feeling guilty about, whatever that debt is that you have been working to pay back? I need you to write it down on your paper.

This may not apply to all of you, but based on the responses I have received from listeners, this is a heckuva lot of you. 

Listen to me, your fairy godmother: You cannot repay everyone for everything they have ever done for you. Please stop trying. 

If you need to, I want you to perform a symbolic gesture…whatever that feeling of guilt or of owing something might be, write it down and crumple it up. Tear it into a million pieces. Forgive yourself, and then get that guilt out of your sight.

Take however long you need to. This is for you. This is clear your own conscience.

Because the next step is a big one.

You need to start thinking about the origin of the guilt and how you can confront the feeling of owing something head on, with the person in question. I am going to give you a real-life example from my life in a minute, but I want to name to give three possible reactions you might have had (among dozens, I’m sure) to what I just said:

  1. I can’t deal with the person, they are dead.
  2. I can’t deal with the person, because it is too scary to me, or too hard for me to imagine confronting them.
  3. But Lily, I have talked to them before.

If the first reaction, that is, it is impossible to deal with the origin of my guilt because the person is dead, well, then, I need you to double down on forgiving yourself. Do this. Forgive yourself HARD. 

If the second reaction was yours, then I need you to start meeting with a counselor. You need some professional mental health support to give you the tools to move ahead. There is everything to gain by starting to comb through these problems. Starting now. 

And the last reaction, but Lily, I have talked to them before and nothing has changed, I want you to consider this: One thing has changed since the last time you talked to them. You have forgiven yourself. This may seem like a small thing, but it is a small thing that can make all the difference. You have unhooked yourself from their peg. It’s worth trying again.

Remember Elsy, from Tampa? She was the one who had been teaching five year old Sunday school for ten years and wanted to quit? Well, she told me that she has tried to quit before. The person in charge of Sunday School seemed to not even comprehend that she wanted to quit, and made her feel all shades of guilt. What about the kids? 

The beneficiaries of our commitments are one of the reasons we got involved in the first place, right? Whether it’s building houses for habitat for humanity, or Sunday School, or seeing the same hairstylist year after year… stopping a commitment means that whatever good thing we were doing…

….well, it simply won’t be done by us anymore.

I am going to say something which I hope is not controversial. Here goes: By staying in a commitment for too long, we might be getting in the way of the person who can do that good thing even better than we do.

Getting ourselves out of the way, especially when we have become lukewarm about a commitment, is often the most compassionate thing we can do. Staying, simply because we feel guilty, or because there is no one else to do the work, means we could be clogging up the works. 

Our obstinate refusal to leave a commitment because we don’t see a solution, could be exactly what is keeping our replacement from stepping up.

Stay humble and get yourself out of the way.

Accepting the Consequences

What is the worst thing that could happen?

I strongly believe in letting ourselves imagine the worst…I mean, letting ourselves, for like five minutes, get bogged down in the absolute worst possible scenario of what could happen if we confronted a situation.

I believe that fear of the unknown is actually worse than the actual unknown itself. Or, as Antoine de St Exupéry says, “Only the unknown frightens men. But once a man has faced the unknown, that terror becomes the known.”

So letting ourselves imagine our worst possible situation, that thing is now known. And it becomes less scary.

When I asked Elsy, “what is the worst thing that could happen if you quit teaching Sunday School?” she said, “I suppose the worst thing that could happen would be that I would be sitting in the church service, and all of the parents of the five year olds would be judging me because they have to entertain their five year old during the service since no one else stepped up to take over.”

To which I would say, “And that parent who is judging you? What if that person is the very person who has been thinking about getting involved, but who was sitting comfortably in their pew every Sunday and had no reason to actually move to action until now?

You see, imagining the worst possible scenario also can help us see how that worst possible scenario is not as scary as it seems, and even, it might even be a good thing.

Now, I hear you, when you are taking care of orphans in Uganda, the worst possible scenario can seem pretty dire. But no change can happen unless you are willing to do the next right thing. And if that next right thing is for you to step away from your work in an orphanage in Uganda, then there will be a solution. 

When you look at the possible consequences of your decision to leave a commitment, you need to then decide, “Am I willing to face these consequences? Is my discomfort in this commitment so great that I can believe that there will be a solution to these consequences?”

Our pride can be a huge problem when it comes to leaving a commitment. If we believe that no one else can do what we do, then we are part of the problem. So, there is an element of faith and hope that have to enter into play, along with a ton of humility.

Now, when we are wanting to get out of a commitment we have already made, and one that we have been engaged in for a while, there are going to be, potentially, beneficiaries of our Commitment. I’m thinking of, for example, like one of my listeners mentioned, she was teaching Sunday School to five year-olds for the last ten years, and she just doesn’t feel like this is where she should be anymore. Those very same beneficiaries are the reason we keep doing what we are doing, and they are the ones who stand to suffer if we stop doing what we have been doing. 

We need to, in our heart of hearts, be able to accept that there will be, potentially some consequences for our beneficiaries. And we must accept that we alone are not responsible for everything. The world does not rest on our shoulders. When it is time to move on from a commitment, we must forgive ourselves for the consequences our departure will have on the beneficiaries. 

Last year, I had to pull the ripcord and escape a family commitment, and let me tell you. The fear of the consequences were so bad that between the time I decided I needed to do something about the commitment, and the time I actually confronted the situation, four years had passed.

Four years! Do NOT be like me. Get good at working through the worst possible scenarios so that fear does not paralyze you. 

An Example

My indulgent husband and I moved to France in 2007, so that is fifteen years as the crow flies. At the time, my sister-in-law had two children, both under the age of five. They lived about an hour away from my father and mother in law, who live about six hours from where we live. My brother-in-law, who was single until 2019, lived in Paris, about six hours from us or six hours from the in-laws. 

Because my sister had small children, Christmas quickly became something that we celebrated in a way to facilitate things for her and her children. At the time, they were the center of the family. This made sense.

Nothing changed for a long, long time. And every Christmas, except the ones we spent with my family in the US, was spent at my sister-in-law’s house. 

This remained true even when my husband and I had children. And this…this is where the problems began.

My eldest didn’t deal well with all the travel. That extra hour drive was a killer for him. He doesn’t deal well in places he doesn’t know. There was nowhere for him to nap. We ended up spending the entirety of Christmas day on an unheated set of stairs. 

This repeated itself the next year, only this time, I had another baby. I dreaded this commitment, the drive, the cold stairs. And I’ll be darned. Nothing had changed.

And I began to feel so much anger…contempt. I felt like we had been forgotten about. I felt so angry, because when we had entered into this agreement, 15 years ago, the circumstances had been to facilitate a family with small children, and here, we were the ones with the small children, and we were being ignored and forced to sit on an unheated set of stairs without anyplace to go.

I couldn’t think straight, I was so livid and rabid with anger. I was, however, terrified of confronting the situation, both with my mother-in-law, who I know is oversensitive about traditions, and my sister-in-law, who I didn’t want to upset by saying that this just wasn’t working for us anymore.

I felt guilty for not being thankful for the meal. I felt guilty for being too self-centered. I felt guilty for making my husband feel bad. I felt guilty for wanting something else for my own children.

It was around that time that I started thinking about my Ideal Life, and I had started to articulate the kind of person I was in my Ideal life. 

There were all kinds of statements that pertained to this: in my Ideal life, I am a person who does what is right for me. In my Ideal Life, I am a person who doesn’t dread holidays. I am a person who speaks her mind. I am a person who creates special moments for her children. I am a person who stands up for those she loves.

Then COVID came, and thankfully, we didn’t have to deal with this. In the meantime, my brother in law had a baby. So there was another kid in the fray.

And then…finally, when it came time to start talking about our Christmas plans for last year, I finally found the courage to call my sister-in-law, and just lay it out. 

I said something like this:

This isn’t  working for us, and while I appreciate how you have hosted us for all these years, something needs to change, because there isn’t enough space for the boys to exist and for everyone to have a pleasant meal. I know how much work you put into the meal, and all the organization you have to do, and since the boys have been around, we haven’t been able to enjoy it.

Can we change the tradition?

Was it uncomfortable? Yes. But the consequences were worth it to me. 

And there you have it. We changed the tradition. We all met on Christmas day at my in-law’s house, and all the little boys were happy and had space to play. It was the first time in a long time that I can say I really enjoyed Christmas.

I don’t know what this year is going to look like, but last year, I stood up for my family and my children and for my sanity, and it was a relatively good experience for everyone. One small success brings more courage. This can happen for you, too.

Facing fears

Leaving a commitment is, essentially, about facing our fears. 

We are afraid of conflict. We want to please everyone 

One of my favorite internet strangers, named Tiffani, shared with me about a commitment she had made: to feed 25 teenagers after a play for two nights. She soonafter learned that it was more like 55 teenagers.

Tiff is, like I am, a people pleaser. It seemed unthinkable to back out, but 55 teenagers, more than double the original number, over two nights, it was an impossible task. Tiffani managed to hand off one of the nights to someone else, and today, this is a victory. But facing that fear of failing to keep a commitment was no small feat.

People pleasers of the world: it is so, so, so important that we really understand the contours of our commitments before we make them, that we ask lots of questions, that we not hold ourselves to impossible standards. By knowing ourselves, and knowing what we are capable of, being lucid about what we can really do, means that we won’t be making commitments we can’t keep. 

But when we have made a commitment we can’t keep, for whatever reason, we must accept that we are not a failure. We must forgive ourselves, and as quickly as possible, confront the truth. The sooner we make it known that we can’t complete our commitment, the sooner another solution can be found. Forgive yourself, people pleaser! Then move on to being part of the solution.

Do not drive yourself to contempt, anger or exhaustion trying to complete work that was never yours to begin with.

As you work through your thoughts about what the worst thing that could happen might be, you need to identify what your fears are. And then you need to either talk yourself through those fears, or get a mental health professional who can help you. 

Golden Rule 

There is one last thing I want to address, because as long as I am going long, I might as well go whole hog, right?

You’ll surely never believe this (sarcasm) but I am about to wax on about the Golden Rule.

If you want to be able to free yourself of commitments in conflict-free, healthy ways, then you also need to be the person who doesn’t hold a grudge when someone else leaves a commitment.

As someone who has committed and uncommitted in dozens of poorly planned, uncomfortable ways in my life, and have seen how people in charge of my various commitments have reacted to my decision to leave, I have come away with a kind of extremely high standard for myself, when it comes to being a person with responsibility.

Here is my number one rule: if I am in charge of something, and someone tells me that they want to uncommit from our activity, I make sure to send them on their way with my blessing. It is my one goal as a leader to make sure that people are never held back by my insecurities and fears. 

Recognizing that someone who works for you, no matter how precious and irreplaceable that person seems, is ready to move on, your job is to make sure they know how appreciated they were, that they are thanked and that they are sent on their way in a conflict-free, joyful way.

This is equally as true when someone cancels personal plans with me at the last minute. I make it a point to say, with words, in the most sincere and absolutely guileless way I can, “The most important thing to me is that you take care of yourself.”

Seasons change, people evolve. If you are a person in any kind of leadership position, or if you just sometimes have coffee with a friend, you need to set the example for healthy relationships. 

The Golden Rule is even at the heart of this topic, just like it is at the heart of everything else we talk about here. Loving someone as you love yourself presupposes that you love yourself. And sometimes, loving yourself means you have to leave a commitment. 

So as much as it depends on you, make it easy for other people, too.

Conclusion

I have said so so much today, and I barely feel like we have scratched the surface. But I genuinely hope, with all my heart, that there has been something in this episode that can be an encouragement to you, to help you claw back your life from the commitments that are cluttering up your schedule and stealing your talent and treasure, but aren’t bringing you an iota of joy.

I care deeply about you, Cinderella. I want you to be free and healthy and courageous as you head into this holiday season.

I wish it were as easy as waving my magic wand and you would be free of the things you dread. But if I did that, then you wouldn’t get the chance to grow. I believe in you, and I know that you can do this.

Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. 

I’m looking forward to talking about living out the holidays with our Ideal Life in mind. We’ll start doing that on December 1. Until then, keep your fairy dust handy.

A special thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outt ro of the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude a Ekwe who wrote it.

This is your fairy godmother signing off. Just remember, it’s never too late to start singing with your feet.

Show Notes

Talking points: Contempt: the commitment killer; facing our fear of discomfort; accepting the consequences of leaving a commitment; forgiving ourselves.

If you have a question about the Ideal Life Exercise, drop Lily a line: lily@lilyfieldschallenge.com

A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/,  here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.



Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays Sing With Your Feet

Talking Points: Unhooking ourselves from the expectations of others; the lowest common denominator for joy; imagining our ideal holidays; taking care of ourselves. A great big thank you to Seven Productions in Mulhouse, France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro of the show; to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
  1. Episode 40: Loving Yourself at the Holidays
  2. Episode 39: Leaving a Commitment
  3. Episode 38: Let's Do This!
  4. Episode 37: I Need to Think!
  5. Episode 36: What Isn't Working?