Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we figure out that the question why doesn’t actually mean why.
The podcast in which we learn to enjoy our own presence as much as we would someone fascinating we’ve just met.
The podcast in which we dig around looking for something that seems to be working, whether it is big or small, and find a way to celebrate it.
My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half hour or so.
Let’s start with a little housekeeping, Cinderella. Today we are starting a four episode series to examine the four questions we ask ourselves each day about just one of our Ideal Life Themes.
Pop Quiz: can you name five of the Ideal Life Themes? There are nineteen Ideal Life Themes, and we spent half the year looking at each one of them under a microscope.
So this little series about Curiosity will take us up to Thanksgiving. When we arrive at the holidays, I am going to unleash some serious fairydust to help you live your holidays according to who you are in your Ideal Life, according to your love languages and the love languages of those with whom you are celebrating. We’ll talk about how to give awesome gifts and to feel good about it–hint, it’s about the love languages, too and we are going to return to the evergreen problematic holiday topic of Commitments.
Speaking of Commitments, a few weeks ago, I promised that I was going to give some helpful hints and handy tips about withdrawing from Commitments that we dread, that we simply do out of guilt, or that have reached a logical conclusion but we can’t figure out how to end. Well, that is still coming, and we are going to be looking at it through a lens of the holidays, but the lessons will be applicable across our lives.
Now, with a little bit of perspective about where we are going with the rest of the year, let’s talk about Curiosity!
Part One: Curiosity–The Question “Why”
Curiosity is a perfectly natural part of the human experience. It also happens to be a virtue, which means that if we aren’t careful with what we say, we might wake up that strange woman, the Philosopher Princess, who literally only exists to pontificate about how the pursuit of virtue is the path to happiness.
Now, if both these ideas are true: that curiosity is an innate part of being a human, and that the pursuit of this curiosity can be one lane on the path to happiness, then I just have one question: why in the world are we not asking more questions?
Curiosity is what takes a helpless infant from lying on his back to lying on his belly, and curiosity is what takes that same child from tummy time to scooting. As child development goes, the first crawl and the first steps are often an effort to reach out for something of interest…it’s curiosity that motivates a child to become mobile. So first point on curiosity: Curiosity, from our earliest moments of life, is a mobilizing force in our lives.
Once a kid starts talking, he will almost without fail enter a “why” phase. The parent, incidentally, also starts entering their own “why” phase, like “why did I ever think being a parent would be a good idea…” but I digress.
Actually, no, no I am not digressing. Because when my child entered his “why” phase, I truly thought that there was something wrong with him. This question seemed outrageously outsized. It felt almost like it was a tic of some kind…like maybe he couldn’t say anything else. Like he was stuck. How in the world can anyone keep their sanity intact when, and I am not exaggerating here, every single thing a parent says is countered with the question, “why?”
My own Google search was proof that I was losing my own mind: “Dear Google,” I would write. “Why does my child say Why all the time?” and “Is there something wrong with a child who says Why all the time?” and “How am I supposed to not lose my mind by answering Why all the time?”
I guess I was a little bit in my own “Why” phase, only Google didn’t mind answering my questions all the time.
I learned one very very important thing about the “Why Phase” of a young child.
“Why” doesn’t mean “Why.”
Give that a little thought, would you?
The question “Why”, when it comes from a child, did not mean that I, as a parent, needed to become a walking encyclopedia of how magnetic forces work, or how a seed sprouts underground.
The question “Why”, when asked at the height of the “Why” Phase means “I want to talk about this.” The child isn’t looking for a technical answer about electromagnetics, or about biology. He just wants to talk about how cool it is that magnets stick to the refrigerator, and wants someone to think it is as fun as he does. He wants someone to marvel at how cool it is that a seed can go into the ground and transform into something else.
He’s not asking for a technical answer laden with principles of physics to explain why birds fly and he can’t. But he might just want to talk about birds, or flying. And instead of answering the question “why” with a sigh and a “Hey Google,” if I could shift the conversation to something I did know something about, or was at least a little curious about myself, like, a movie I saw once called “The Boy Who Could Fly,” or about Icarus and his wax wings, or about how funny flamingos look when they fly, or about ostriches who can’t fly…Or maybe about a flying squirrel…or jetpacks…well, his curiosity wasn’t going to make me crazy anymore. It became a wide-ranging conversation.
The question “Why” doesn’t mean “Why”. It means, “let’s talk more.”
I don’t know how it happens, but at some point, this curiosity, this incessant “Why” starts to fade. It happens, I guess, because we actually start learning about how things work. We develop a sufficient body of knowledge of the natural world to not be surprised by everything we see. There are fewer mysteries.
Another thing happens, and this goes back to something I mentioned when we were talking about Creativity: I think we stop asking “why” because our curiosity gets suffocated by certainty. Remember how we talked about how the antidote to the discomfort of uncertainty was creativity, because creativity hands us back a small amount of control and can help us build resilience when faced with circumstances beyond our control.
Certainty, comfort…as pleasant and as desirable as those are, they are NOT guaranteed. And when we start to have too much of either of these, we get lulled into a false sense of security. Our curiosity gets blotted out.
When something comes in and shakes us out of our comfort or certainty–we lose a loved one, or a job, or a child moves out of the home, or–anything, really, anything that upends the way we are used to living–what is out first question. “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME!!!”
And then we are back to square one. “Why.”
A child is curious and creative. Adults are set in their ways and rigid. (I am stereotyping, and I apologize if you were offended. But if you were offended, then maybe you need to ask…why?)
I want to help you re-engage with your curiosity. I want you to learn how to be inquisitive about your own rich inner life, and about who you are and who you want to be. There is so. Much. to. Gain. by learning how to examine your own heart, your own behavior, your own wants and…yes, your own disappointments.
I want to help you cultivate curiosity about yourself.
Part Two: The Golden Rule
When we meet someone for the first time, we can tell rather quickly whether or not that person is someone we want to get to know better. If you have ever been stuck next to someone who likes only to talk about themselves, and never asks you a single question, if you are like me, you will escape from that conversation as quickly as possible. You see, getting to know someone is about asking questions.
When we find someone, though, who is openly intrigued about us, and who we are interested in knowing more about–well, curiosity comes in and makes time fly. Conversations are easy and we are naturally curious.
I suspect you know where I am going with on this subject, don’t you… Yup. I want you to love yourself. I want you to be your own best friend. I want you to start being curious about yourself the way you would with someone fascinating that you just met.
The finality of this curiosity is, as with just about everything I like to talk about, is the Golden Rule. Love others as you love yourself. But if you don’t love yourself, then how in the world are you going to love others?
If you want healthy relationships, and to meet interesting people who are interested in you…well, darlin’, you need to start being interested in you, too. You need to start being curious about you. So that’s what we’re doing here.
Let’s pretend that you and I are at a dinner party. There are fifteen other boring, snooty people, and you and I end up alone drinking our Manhattans in the corner by the fireplace. I’m telling right now, I find you fascinating, and I will never get tired of asking you questions…hopefully not questions so prying that you want to run out the door as fast as you can, but I won’t get tired of it.
Here are the questions that I would ask you, as we are sitting watching the fire while those other bores drone on. There are three of them, so get ready.
- Who are you living for?
- Do you love yourself?
- Can you celebrate who you are?
If you can’t answer those huge, important questions, then you and I will be talking all night, long after the drones have had their nightcaps and gone home.
Your ability to answer those three questions is going to be influenced by two paradoxes that our friend the Philosopher Princess has elaborated for us.
The first is the Mama Paradox. The second is the Good Girl Paradox.
The Mama Paradox isn’t just for moms, but it’s one I have come to define since becoming a mom. It is for anyone who lives with Existential Guilt. The Mama Paradox says, “I must live for others because that’s what the Golden Rule tells me to do, even if I never actually live.” Somewhere along the line, we learned to prioritize the needs and desires of others above our own, and end up either living vicariously through or, by proxy for, other people. Neither of these is an actual life.
When we pin our hopes and sense of self on the successes of another person, AKA, living vicariously through someone else, we are not using our own time, talent and treasure. We are imputing on ourselves the rewards of someone else’s time, talent and treasure. Each of us has our own time, talent and treasure that we were assigned and that we are to use throughout our lives. Hiding from our responsibility to that assignment by living through someone else is one way we actually start to attenuate our own curiosity. We delegate responsibility for living to someone else.
The other side of this is when we are living as a proxy for someone else. We carry the weight of the hopes for someone else’s Ideal Life, not our own. That is an Ideal Life for which we were not equipped…we were specially equipped for our Ideal life. We will never succeed at living out someone else’s Ideal Life. We can only live our own. Anyone who puts on us the expectation of their dreams is blocking their own joy and ours.
Looking at this first paradox helps us determine our answer to the first question: who am I living for?
The second paradox is the Good Girl Paradox.
Being a girl is a mindbendingly complex thing. I mean, there is a cultural expectation for little girls to be cute, gentle, well-behaved… Even while nowadays there are efforts to increase girls’ representation in STEM subjects, there are actual biological differences between boys and girls which make it so that certains concepts come to boys without trying. External genitalia is a boon to learning about physics. I say this as a mom to two boys…and I have literally watched in wretched awe as my little boys learn about physics through pissing contests. ‘Nuff said.
As we grow up, we learn that a good girl doesn’t call attention to herself. We learn simultaneously that our bodies are wonderful and can do all kinds of things, but that we need to keep them under wraps because they make boys go crazy.
So we live in this inconsistent space: we are worthy, we are awesome, but we can’t say it too loud or make too big a deal out of it, because you know. Boys.
Humility and modesty are two virtues that get easily confused one for the other. Modesty is about not calling attention to ourselves, much like discretion. Humility is about not having a too high opinion of ourselves.
The virtue of lucidity is one that I think can come in and help us get out of this miry muck of paradox. Lucidity means that we know what we are good at, we also know what we aren’t good at. Not in a prideful or self-destructive state of mind. But in a, “I know my worth, and I don’t get down on myself for the things I don’t do well” kind of way.
This helps us answer the second question: Do I love me?
If you don’t have an answer to that question, then we need to keep digging.
And that last question: Can I celebrate who I am? Well…that is the one that we will develop as we get into the meat of the first of our daily Ideal Life Exercise Questions.
Part Three: What is Working
Let’s remember real quick the context in which we do our Ideal Life Exercise. I have been arguing since day one that this be something you do early in the morning, before anyone in your home wakes up. It only takes a few minutes, but being able to do it without the distraction of having to be anyone for anyone is going to help you get to the heart of the questions more quickly and efficiently.
I do mine every morning on the couch. I set up my little spot in the evening, setting up the pillows just right, with the hotplate that I will eventually set the coffee pot on the next morning when my coffee percolates. I have a blanket at the ready.
I don’t do anything until I have coffee.
Our first question of the four is “what is working.” One reason that doing this exercise early in the morning is beneficial is that it sets you up to start your day by being mindful of at least one little success, and also sets you up to have the entire day in front of you to answer the fourth question, which, spoiler alert, is “what one small thing can I do today to get me closer to my Ideal Life?”
Once you have developed a habit of doing the IDeal Life Exercise, you will quickly have data points to refer back to. My themes repeat every three weeks, so already after three weeks, I am able to start checking back on progress. Seeing what was working, what wasn’t working, and checking in on what I did to get me closer.
So, let’s get into that first question: What is working?
The Ideal Life Exercise: What is working?
Remember, each day, we are only looking at one theme in our big beautiful Venn Diagram of our Ideal Life. This is already a slightly targeted question: what is working in this area of my Ideal Life. Whether Parenting, or Body Positivity, or Gravitas or Work…
What is one thing that has been going well?
Now, I hear what you are already thinking Cinderella, what if nothing is working?
We’ll get to that, and I do have an answer and a list of questions to get you curious about this too. But for now, let’s look at when something actually is working.
These can be big things or little things. Big things are obviously easier to pinpoint, and usually, if something big is working, we don’t have to think very hard for it to pop into our minds. This is often getting something off our plate, or meeting some kind of success for ourselves. Very often, when we answer the question “What is working” and we have a big thing that is working, it is a result of having steadily made progress towards a goal. Taking a moment to recognize that work is part of the fun of this step.
We aren’t being prideful or showy. The Good Girl Paradox gets thrown out the window. When something works, it is in our best interest to ask that evergreen question, “Why?” Why did it work? Was it something we did? How can we get more of that into our lives?
It is when something is working that we can understand more about our own motivations…how did we stay motivated to get through to this result? What were the overlapping influences that brought us to this successful outcome?
Be curious. And make sure you celebrate yourself.
Write these things down, because they will become a precious part of your autobiography, from which you will be able to become your own inspiration as you seek motivation at times when things are going less well or when you are struggling to see any progress at all.
When nothing big is working, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still rack our brain looking for something to celebrate. Something that is working doesn’t have to be a major goal that was accomplished. Most of my answers to the “What is working” question are little things. Working hard to remember them, and writing them down is a daily effort at mindfulness, gratitude, contentment.
Asking myself “what is working” puts me into the state of mind, “I am living for myself, and I love me. Therefore, I am confident that, if I look hard, there is something good to be found in this area of my life.”
I’m not asking you to be toxically positive. I don’t want you to be Pollyanna. I am asking you to dig deep and look for one small silver lining, and if a lining is too much to ask for, then to look for one random silvery hanging thread. Searching for that one tiny thing that is working is an exercise in lucidity and mindfulness.
Again, I hear you. Sometimes nothing is working. Not everything is sunshine and roses and mindfulness and gratitude.
But not everything sucks all the time either. Really seeking out, with curiosity, asking myself to find just one little thing that worked over the last three weeks in this area, means that I am not simply being reactionary to a recent situation. It means that I am learning to relativize.
So. Last night I set up my couch cushions, got my blanket folded just right so that when I sat down I would just have to pull it over me and not have to mess with it. My Theme for today was Wise Decisions.
We’ve all agreed in the past that this is not a terribly exciting theme, and it is one that does not exist by itself, either. It comes from statements about how I want to make decisions that get me closer to my Ideal Life, and don’t get me further away from it. For example, in my Ideal Life, I am someone who consents fully to my commitments and doesn’t commit rashly. It’s also about moment by moment decisions: how I react when my children misbehave and choosing to do the right thing even when I’m tired or bored.
Obviously, I don’t always succeed at all of these. But this morning, I needed to give some thought to what worked over the last three weeks since the last time I covered this topic.
I’ll be honest. There was nothing big that worked. I haven’t made any big important decisions lately. If I weren’t dedicated to digging deep on this topic, I might have been tempted to say, eh, nothing is really working particularly well.
But instead of skipping this question, I went back and looked at where I was three weeks ago, and then the three weeks before that.
I was struck by just how much had happened since then. Six weeks ago, it was still the summer vacation. Three weeks ago, we were in the throes of back-to-school, and back then, absolutely nothing was working. It was all chaos. Three weeks ago, I was in a decision-making paralysis. I was getting invited to do things, and asked to head up little projects, but I was overwhelmed and unable to think straight.
So I decided to not decide. On purpose. In mid-to-late September, I decided that I was going to put off making any decisions or commitments that weren’t already in the works, until October.
My indulgent husband, who is a teacher, and I have always said, even before we had children, that we can’t freak out about back-to-school until October 1, because we need one full month of data before we are allowed to freak out about how busy or crazy things are.
So do you know what I was able to list as having worked for me? Deciding not to decide. Something magical happened once the calendar switched to October, and the overwhelm lessened all by itself. I was able to think straight again.
It’s not a big thing, by any stretch of the imagination. It is, by definition, inaction. But that inaction served me well, and gave me time to come back in off the ledge of back-to-school.
So, you see, while I couldn’t off the top of my head find anything that was working particularly well, it took comparing to what had been going on a few weeks ago and a few weeks before that to see that I was moving in the right direction.
And do you know how I am going to celebrate that? I am going to take a walk on this gorgeous October afternoon, while my two scalawags are at their music lessons. I might even take it with a mug of tea in my hand and find the sidewalks that are thickest with fallen leaves so that I can crunch them underfoot, listening to Vivaldi in my earbuds.
Ooh. That sounds amazing.
You are fascinating. You have so much life behind you that made you who you are, and you can be proud of how you got where you are today.
I really want you to think about those three questions, Cinderella:
Who are you living for? I do not want to hear that you are living vicariously or living by proxy for anyone else. I want you to pursue your Ideal Life. Not your mother’s or your neighbor’s or your spouse’s. Yours.
Do you love yourself? Are you willing to look for the good in yourself and be lucid about what you are good at? Admitting that there is good in you is not pride, Cinderella. If loving yourself feels like an interrogation today, then it just means you have more work to do on this. But there is so much about you to love, that I believe that if you just spend a few seconds a day thinking about what’s working and the progress you have made, you will start to see it, too.
And can you celebrate who you are? Can you set aside some time to celebrate in ways that feel authentic to you, in ways that demonstrate your affection for yourself meaningfully?
You can do this, Cinderella. Be curious about yourself, Cinderella, and you will never be bored.
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe on your podcatcher, and please, if you enjoy something you’ve heard here please share it with someone you think could use a fairy godmother, too!
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, thanks 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.
Talking points: The Good Girl Paradox and the Mama Paradox: how they keep us from being able to articulate what is going well in our lives. Also, how finding yourself interesting can make you more interesting.
If you have a question about the Ideal Life Exercise, drop Lily a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.