Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we make virtue sexy again. The podcast in which we allow ourselves to imagine a life without regrets. The podcast in which we learn to forgive ourselves and give ourselves a clean slate.
My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your Fairy Godmother for the next half hour or so. It is my job to bring the fairy dust, to help you dig out your own magic wand from the treasures you’ve forgotten you possess, and encourage you as you start pursuing your Ideal Life and uncovering all the ways you make this world a better place.
But I am not alone this week. I am joined, as I will be for the next few weeks, by a very special guest. Her name is LiElla Kelly. In her role as your Wicked Stepsister, it is her job to get you thinking about what has been holding you back from living your Ideal Life.
Together, LiElla and I are going to be coming at the same topic from two different angles: the topic of values and virtues, and this, while attempting to not wake up the Philosopher Princess from her slumber. Because once she is awake, your eyes will glaze over and you will surely never want to listen to us again.
Now, now, now, Lily (That’s you. And, in case you forgot, that is a poorly executed regional accent Matt warned you about at the beginning of the episode.) Don’t you dare put the words virtue and sexy in the same sentence. That is preposterous.
Maybe in Wonderland you can live a life without regrets. But here on Earth? It’s not so simple. I just don’t see how a clean slate is even possible.
I hear your objections, Country Bumpkin. I hear them, I receive them and I want to tell you, until a few years ago, I would have been 100% in agreement with you.
First off: Virtue and sexy? Aren’t they mutually exclusive? Virtue, were I to refer to a most basic definition, means, behavior that reflects high moral standards. And sexy, on its surface, means something quite different, Does. It. Not?
Well, let’s look at a second definition, a more informal definition of sexy: it means exciting, or appealing. Like…how the Got Milk campaign made dairy products sexy again.
That’s what I want us to do with virtue. I want us to look at virtue with new eyes, so that it is not some kind of intimidating conversation left only for the philosophers and thinkers, (So that it makes our eyes glaze over and feels impossible to attain) nor is it the kind of thing written in fancy fonts on pretty backgrounds about wives of noble character. (Which, may I just whisper in your ear, really, really really irritates me.)
I want us to talk about virtue in terms of how it can help us define our Ideal Life, and then, putting our nose to the grindstone, actually help us live our Ideal Life.
I am going to read you a definition of happiness, and I want you to guess who said it, okay?:
Happiness, as it turns out, is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue
(Hey now. If your eyes didn’t just glaze over, even though I literally quoted Aristotle, then I think we are going to get through this alive and, perhaps, even, awake.)
Doesn’t something with such potential to impact our happiness deserve a makeover? Virtue is not a stodgy old librarian telling you to keep your voice down. Virtue is not your mother pointing her finger at your outfit and telling you to go change your clothes, young lady. Virtue is not the impenetrable home of wisdom accessible only to those who are perfectly mindful. Nor is virtue a starving martyr.
Stop thinking these things. We’ll come back to this in a few minutes.
2. You objected a moment ago to my assertion that we might be able to imagine a life without regrets. I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I have regrets, too. I have plenty of them. I am not asserting that any of us can live a perfect, regret-free life. But when our special guest LiElla steps in, she is going to cite some research about the regrets people express as they nearing death.
When we know what the most common regrets of the dying are, it can help us avoid them. And…if I may go back to what caused you to stamp your little foot, my dear, it was that we might be able to imagine a life without regrets. This, dear country bumpkin, is called logic. I like logic a lot.
3. You also objected to the idea that we might have a clean slate to start over from.
I’ll admit, this is a leap of faith on my part. But it is one I took in my own life. It goes back to the idea that we must give our consent to the life we currently have. We need to learn to question why we made the choices that got us to the places where we feel stuck, forgive ourselves for our bad choices, the “un-undoable” commitments we may have made, and to intentionally move forward with a plan to avoid making future choices for the same lousy reasons as we made our past choices.
A clean slate, in this regard, is something we work on. We take a razor blade to the painted-over windows of our heart, as many times as we need to, until we start seeing light through all those layers.
It is in this area where we often help. Therefore, I am giving you your weekly reminder that you might just need professional mental health support as you pursue a clean slate. A counselor or a therapist can help you dig into why you do what you do, and can help shed light on some of your self-defeating behaviors.
No, it’s not fun, but it can save your life. So please. Find competent one on one mental health support. You’re nodding? Good.
Several years ago, I came across a book by an author named Gretchen Rubin called “The Happiness Project.” In this book, she determined twelve areas of her life in which she wanted to improve her happiness, and she took one month for each year to pursue, actively, happiness in those areas.
I decided I liked this idea, that we could intentionally impact our own happiness. We could take that big old bull by the horns, and we could wrestle it into submission.
It was also in that book that I discovered Aristotle’s take on happiness…that the pursuit of virtue was the secret to living a happy life.
Now, remember, I am married to a philosophy teacher and have been for almost 23 years. Not once in those nearly 23 years have my eyes not glassed over when he starts saying things like, “According to Saint Augustine,” or “Pascal once said…” I am not anti-intellectualism. I love ideas.
What really gets me excited, though, is how I can apply high-minded thought in a practical way to make my life and my family’s life better.
Selfish? Yup. Never said I wasn’t.
Virtue, while not exactly what I expected to be a solution to my happiness deficit, was a subject that I could get excited about. As I said, my indulgent husband is an ideas person. Before our first child was born, we had started a list of virtues, in an effort completely unrelated to the Aristotelian notion of virtue, and yes, I just said Aristotelian. Twice. Sorry.
This list of virtues came from a kind of vague reading of the book of Proverbs in the Bible that says, “teach a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not stray from it.” There is something in there about virtue, and we thought, “well, let’s do this parenting thing right. Let’s define how we will know that we have been successful as parents now, and then tailor our parenting to that goal. This, like I said, was a separate exercise from the Aristotle thing. This was an exercise which predated my quest for happiness by several years.
We came up with a list of more than sixty virtues. Because at the time we had literally nothing better to do with our time, we rated ourselves and each other on a scale of one to ten for each of the virtues.
When I got the itch, then to start doing my own version of a Happiness Project like Gretchen Rubin’s, I took the twelve lowest scorers on my list and turned them into themes for my Happiness Project. The idea became, “If I can improve on these low-scoring virtues, even a little bit, maybe I will be happier.”
Before I put myself on blast for how unvirtuous I was and still am, please let me say this: Lack of virtue does not disqualify me from being a spouse or a parent, or even a fairy godmother, for that matter. When I say that I need to improve in the virtue of love, it does not mean I don’t love my husband or children. It means that I am painfully aware of how unloving I can be sometimes and I want to change that. It also means that I want to love them better and in more meaningful ways.
Are you curious to know what my twelve lowest scoring virtues are?
I’m going to share them with you, because I want us to be very clear: lucidity, remember that word? We talked about it when my 94 year old grandmother thought a waiter was hitting on her?
Lucidity about our faults and our shortcomings, as well as authenticity and honesty about them, those three virtues, lucidity, authenticity and honesty, are virtues that, while they are humbling, do actually increase our sense of satisfaction and contentment with our lives.
Not living with a façade of having it all together is liberating. So I will gladly share with you the virtues I lack the most severely.
Here they are:
Let’s put a pin in this conversation for a moment, shall we? I know that I’m throwing a lot at you all at once, but I think my guest will help put it into perspective.
Welcome Wicked Stepsister:
Wicked Step Sister:
Enter the wicked stepsister. That’s me. I’m the wicked stepsister. Fun fact. Did you know that in fairy tales the stepsisters aren’t wicked? They’re not, they are the ugly stepsisters. Let’s be very clear, I’ll accept wicked stepsister, but I am not about to call myself an ugly stepsister…so wicked it is. And why I am wicked? Simple, I make people a bit uncomfortable. I ask questions that make people squirm. I talk about death. I talk about mortality, your mortality. My name is LiElla Kelly. I am a death doula.
This is what I’m pretty sure I know about you. You did not plug into this podcast because you wanted to discuss your mortality or anyone’s mortality for that matter. I’m pretty sure I even heard an objection. I think you said, In my ideal life…I do not need a death doula. Fair point, in my ideal life, I don’t need a death doula either. But before you scrunch your little nose and hike your shoulders up to your ears, readying yourself for some sort of unpleasantness, relax. I’m not here to make you uncomfortable, but as any wicked step-sister worth her salt, I do have chores for you. So grab your feather duster and let’s get started.
I admit I do want to talk about death…kind of. What I actually want is to ask you to think about something as seemingly inescapable as death, regrets. Last time we were together I asked you to consider your life from a bit of a different angle, in reverse as it were. Remember the question that I asked you when we last chatted? Don’t worry, I’ll remind you. Here it is: In my ideal death, I am a person who…? A person who what? There are so many possible answers, I am a person who traveled. I am a person who made time for my family and friends. I am a person who danced…I gotta tell ya, when you have endless royal balls to attend, they’re so much more fun when you dance. Here’s another example and it’s a big one, In my ideal death…I am a person without regrets. Wow! That is ideal isn’t it? No regrets. Well I’m going to tell you a secret, you are not perfect, I am not perfect, no regrets isn’t really an option for you and me. But if we start doing our chores now, maybe we can avoid the 5 most common regrets of the dying.
Bronnie Ware was a palliative care nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. These are the 5 most common regrets she encountered.
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
It turns out that the most enduring regrets, the regrets we tend to be haunted by are regrets that have to do with our values, a failure to live up to our ideal selves. Our values shape the person we want to be. They create the outline for our lives. Our values are the things that we believe are important in the way we live and work. They determine our priorities, and if we’re listening, they can tell us if our life is turning out the way we want it to. We reflect the things that are important to us, in other words, the things we value.
Now wait a second. Did you think I forgot about your chores? Trust me. I didn’t. Here they are, Ask yourself, What do you value? What are your ideals? Your edge pieces? In your ideal death, you are a person who…a person who what?
Now grab your feather duster and get to work. You’ve got some values to define.
Play Along at Home:
You see, both your Fairy Godmother and your Wicked Stepsister are telling you the same thing, whether you call it values or virtues or ideals. These things are not hammers we should be using to knock people over the head with as we judge their life choices: Values, virtues, ideals, these are the edge pieces of our lives.
These are the words we want to be remembered by. These are the way we want to live our lives, and by living in accordance, by holding ourselves to those standards, we might actually be able to prevent regrets when we arrive at the end of our lives.
It is not too late for us to start living our Ideal Lives. But we need to do the work.
At the risk of waking up the Philosopher Princess, who would be allllll too glad to wax poetic about the multitude of virtues, I am going to put a link in the show notes to the non-exhaustive list of virtues that my philosopher husband and I created.
I invite you to play along at home. Make it fun. Score yourself, from 1-10. Invite your partner or a friend to do it too. Score each other. (That’s always good for an interesting conversation…our perception of ourselves can often be twisted. It’s enlightening to get a second opinion!)
You don’t need the definitions of these virtues, you know what they mean…or at least, what they mean to you. Don’t look too deeply.
There are some that might sound similar–even sound like exactly the same thing– to you. That’s okay. They meant something different, or had some high-minded nuance to us at the time we made the list. It doesn’t mean we are right. It just means that we get a little lost in our thoughts sometimes and happened to have recorded this little blip of nuance.
Once you have thought this through, and given yourself a 1-10 score of where you are now on these virtues, take a look at your highest scoring virtues.
Consider this for a moment: this is where you are doing great. These edge pieces of your life are in place, and you don’t have to work hard for them. These come naturally to you, to some extent. Or maybe, you have done the work. Or they have come after a long, uncomfortable battle. However you attained these virtues, be proud of yourself.
Now, take a look at those where you scored the lowest–either as your brute score, the one you assigned for yourself, or as an aggregate of how you and your partner scored you.
How do you feel about those ideals, or virtues, or values? Are they things you literally could not care less about? If that is true, then ignore them. I mean, if you are someone who doesn’t believe in God, then “godliness” might seem like a pretty moot point, n’est-ce pas? The fact that it is a list of things called “virtues” doesn’t make them all necessarily desirable.
But I would venture to guess that a few of those words really rub you the wrong way. Maybe because you keep making bad decisions in this one area, and wish you could stop.
Like me and Self-Control. I binge on everything. It’s a darn good thing my husband and I have not owned a television in the 23 years we have been married. When I am in the same room with a television, I have zero self-control. I am like a crow with a shiny object. I can’t look away.
But it’s the same with chocolate, or a crusty baguette, or with interesting people or with work or pretty clothes or crafts. I have no ability to moderate my behavior, and this is constantly getting me in trouble. It’s exhausting. Sure, I sugar-coat it by calling it “enthusiasm,” but at its heart, my problem is a big ugly lack of self-control.
By naming those areas where we struggle, we are allowing ourselves to consider that there might be mitigation techniques to help us improve in the areas where we struggle. No, it’s not easy. No, it’s not always fun.
But just like we said last episode, when we were talking about learning to love ourselves, and how we hold all the cards…this is like that. There is only progress to be made, because progress only depends on our willingness to make it.
It is examining where we struggle in terms of virtue, or values, or ideals, that we start getting some skin in the game. Remember, the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference?
Well, this is me, your Fairy Godmother, your momentary voice of wisdom speaking: That list of low-scoring virtues you have in front of you? Those are things. you. can. change.
Don’t worry about how for right now. That’ll come. I just want you to imagine a future in which someone will say about you: She was a woman of great self-control. She was a woman of great wisdom. She was a woman of great peace.
A clean slate
It was May 2019. I was at the thrift store, my very favorite one called “Ding Fring” which is a play on the French words “Dingue” (crazy) and “Fringue” (clothes). In my grubby little paw I held a tangerine orange blazer, an oatmeal colored knit skirt and a black tulip skirt . (Hey now, don’t judge! At Ding Fring you get three items for 10€ and I am not giving away my shot at that deal. At least not back then when I was still shopping!)
I was waiting near the cash desk, when my eyes flitted over to the scarf bin. Oh, you know the one. The one into which you casually plunge your hand, and then think “Ugh, what have I just done?” Now listen. I have two little boys. I am not a germaphobe. But sometimes those scarves have left me with the willies.
I digress. Something in that roiling pile of handknit massacres, gossamer old lady hair protectors and never-worn infinity scarves caught my eye. It was royal blue (Princess Kate Goes to the Olympics Blue, to be exact) and from a distance reminded me of a high-end silk scarf from Chanel or Gucci, only in colors I would actually wear.
I gave up my place in line to go take a look.
What I saw was strange looking cartoon roosters, soccer balls and the words “France 98” printed all over. My heart pinched a little. I have a very specific memory of France 98
I am from Cleveland, Ohio. I have precious little experience with being able to cheer on a winning football team. However, in my youth, the (no longer called) Cleveland Indians and in recent memory, the Cavaliers, had a bit of success.
As a young person, I would never, let me repeat, NEVER have gotten caught dead wearing a piece of sports team swag. I am a Fairy Godmother with princess blood in my veins and there is simply not enough lace on Browns t-shirt to make it acceptable to me.
This, my friends, is the fundamental difference between French people and American people. Americans buy championship t-shirts and baseball caps. French people buy championship silk scarves.
France World Cup 1998
I don’t follow any sports. I only know that events are happening because people will honk their horns in the streets. Nonetheless, it was inevitable, when France won the World Cup in 2018 that my scalawags and I, festooned with French flags, go into the streets to watch the celebration.
What it looked like in 2018 was the barricade scene from Les Miserables. People climbing all the public art, the fountains, the streets so crowded that no one could breathe.
I remember the French winning the World Cup in 1998, too. I was living alone in a nice little studio apartment in Lakewood, Ohio, when in the middle of the night my phone rang and a very very very joyous (perhaps drunk?) French man was on the phone shouting “On a gagné!” (We won!)
I had met that French man in 1997 at a bus stop in Montpellier, France. I would marry him one year later, although in July of 1998, neither he nor marriage were on my radar. More about that another time.
The scarf saves my marriage
So in 2018, I obviously bought the scarf. The scarves were 0.50€. I didn’t know if I ever intended to wear it, but I loved it. It was funny as championship swag went. It was in colors I do love. It went smashingly with the tangerine blazer I had in my hand. The line pattern reminded me of a vintage Calvin Klein scarf I had long ago stolen from my mother’s stash.
I wore it once, then folded it and used it as the bottom of my underwear drawer, so I would see it every time I opened it.
Every time I would see that scarf, every time I would open my underwear drawer, that scarf would dislodge feelings in my heart.
I loved the scarf, I didn’t want to get rid of the scarf. So I had to come face to face with the feelings it was dislodging. I had to analyze what was making me so uncomfortable. I came to realize that I had some serious unforgiveness in my heart regarding the early (pre-marriage) years of my friendship with the man who eventually became my indulgent husband.
Things (not at all related to a middle of that night phone call!) that were hovering over our marriage, seeping into our everyday conflicts. Decisions I made twenty some-odd years before that had brought me to where I was at that very moment in 2018, at the very start of my mid-life crisis, in the thick of post-partum depression and experiencing the first unpleasant pangs of peri-menopause.
If I wanted to keep that scarf (and my marriage, too) I needed to deal with the unforgiven slights, all the ways I ignored my own needs for years, and learn to scrape away, layer after layer of crud that had formed on the windows of my heart as a result.
It was an ugly, painful year that followed. Followed by 2020, the ugliest and painful-est of them all. But I went into 2020 without the burden of all that unforgiveness, which made 2020 bearable for my family.
I honestly don’t know if my marriage would have survived all the togetherness that 2020 afforded us if I hadn’t found that silk France ‘98 swag in the scarf bin at the thrift store.
There are objects in our homes, and specifically, in our closets, which dislodge feelings in our hearts. I am very very serious about this: start paying attention to what is going on behind the painted over window of our heart. Listen to your feelings and the memories that emerge. Get professional help to do this.
When I say that we need to be attentive to our dislikes just as much as our likes, I truly mean it. Being attentive to what needles us can help us mend our relationships and make them stronger, and it often starts with forgiving ourselves.
On a Park Bench in Wonderland
I met someone on a park bench in Wonderland again. This is Myrtille. Myrtille wanted to share her Ideal Life exercise with us.
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who feels her own emotions and listens to them.
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who knows how to say “no”, gently but firmly.
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who doesn’t do things according to other people’s expectations, but for herself.
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who takes time to do the things she loves.
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who says “I love you” to her husband more often.
Thank you, Myrtille for sharing this with us.
If you want to share your progress defining what your Ideal LIfe looks like, record yourself reading your Ideal Life statements and email them to me at email@example.com
In the show notes, I am linking to that article in the blog with the list of virtues so you can Play Along At Home. In addition, I am going to start posting the episode transcript to the blog on the day after it drops. Sometimes things hit differently when we read them. I want to give you that possibility, too.
Join our group on Facebook, “You Are Not Done Sparkling Yet.” We are small but mighty.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform, and by rating and reviewing the podcast, you help other people find it, too! Thank you so much for sharing it with people you think could use a Fairy Godmother.
A great big thank you to Seven Production here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song “La Joie” as the intro and outro to the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it. You guys know how to bring La Joie!
This is your Fairy Godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to start singing with your feet.
Talking Points: Virtue and sexy show up in the same sentence. What are the top five regrets of the dying, and how can we avoid them? (Hint: Virtue.) Lily gets lucid about her own virtue and lack thereof; the essential difference between the French and Americans (it all boils down to silk scarves and baseball caps.)
The Virtue Quiz can be found here: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/01/20/the-virtue-game-play-along-at-home
Check out LiElla Kelly, Death Doula on her website, https://leavingwellmt.com or on Instagram: @leaving.well.death.doula.
Our private Facebook group, You Are Not Done Sparkling Yet (https://www.facebook.com/groups/309886354511956) is available to give you a place to get some encouragement and support as you navigate the pursuit of your Ideal Life.
Special thanks to Seven Production in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outro to the show. Check them out here: https://7prod.fr