The following post is my second Reader Q & A thanks to The Joy of Simple reader Karen T.
Once again, not an easy question to answer as we each have our own understanding of what courage is and what it takes to live our lives in a way that is true to ourselves. I can only use my own life as an example and hope that it is enough to provide Karen T. with a credible answer.
So…without further adieu…ladies and gents, here we go
KAREN T’s Q:
So my question is this: how do you KEEP choosing the road less traveled? I’m not saying I’m planning to conform to what others think, but it’s sometimes hard to be the weird one. I’m a singer, but don’t often get paid for it, I’m currently editing the ebook I’ve written about helping children become lifelong readers and learners, I home cook our simple vegetarian meals, knit, volunteer at our church — but I have a master’s degree in education that my parents and others think I’ve wasted. How do you maintain the courage to be yourself, decade after decade?
Hi Karen and thank you for your question and for sharing a bit of your life with us here at the Joy of Simple
“How do you maintain the courage to be yourself, decade after decade?” – You maintain that courage by following your heart and staying true to your authentic self, regardless of what everyone else around you thinks or expects. Is it easy? Heck no!! Would it be easier for you to follow the crowd while walking down the road most travelled? Undoubtedly! But there is obviously a passion inside of you that has stayed the course you are on, and that passion, that need to be who you are, whether it be mother, wife, writer, singer and educator, or a combination thereof, is what allows you to continue following the path you have chosen.
What you shared above is very similar to my story as well. I am a guitar player/teacher – who makes little income, but enough to live happily (less than $15,000.00 a year) – and I too have a Masters degree (Sociology) which I’m sure some folk think was a waste of “good money”, not to mention the loss of a bunch of “productive and profitable years” that could have been!
What they don’t realize though, is that the choices that I have made for my life have been solely mine. They have not been directed by societal norms or anyone’s expectations or desires other than my own. Did I spend a lot of money on two degrees that I never put to use professionally? Yup! Did I “waste” more than ten years of my life chasing an ideal – tenured academia – only to abandon it for a dream that made me happy and, relatively speaking, “poor”? You betcha!! Am I crazy or weird? Nope! Are you? Nope as well!!
The simple truth of the matter is you just have different priorities in life than most of those around you. In your case, your priorities revolve around the well-being and happiness of your immediate family. These are priorities that revolve around your love for something other than stumbling down the road most travelled. Such priorities allow you to be selective about what you want to do with your own life and how you want to live it, which unfortunately, may not sit well or be fully understood by others!
I realize that it can be quite heartbreaking when those close to you don’t share your life vision, while making a point of letting you know exactly how they feel. As much as this hurts though, you have to look at the bigger picture. And you know what, that’s okay! It’s okay because the difference you have made in your own life, in the lives of your children, in the lives of those around you, in the lives that you will no doubt touch with your e-book, in the lives of those souls you have touched with song, in the lives you have served as a volunteer at your church, those acts are undeniable proof – in my humble opinion – that the choices you have made were right for you and those you love. These are the acts that define you and not the high paying career that your parents expected you to run after. Had you done so, had you chased the cultural norms of success, how different would the lives of your children and those around you be? Would you truly be happy or would there be that little nagging voice right in the back of your mind as you go about your day that something just doesn’t feel right!?
I used to feel that way all the time back in the day, working jobs that meant nothing to me except as a means to a paycheck. I spent a good many years striving to be part of a world that I honestly couldn’t care a less about! And the worst thing was, I never questioned the road I was on. After all, wasn’t working forty or more hours a week away from your family, away from your friends, away from doing what you truly loved, wasn’t that what everyone did…more or less? Who was I to be different!?
Even when I was doing something I enjoyed immensely – studying Sociology – I still kept hearing that nagging voice, a little less vocal mind you, but still there. But how could that be!? I was following a path that was being directed by ME!!
Truth be told, I was blind to the fact that as a graduate student, I was following the lead of others, allowing myself to be guided by them, and not being true to myself. It wasn’t until I finished my Masters, and had time to reflect inward, that I became aware of how relatively unhappy I was.
It took me a while after that to find my bliss as it were, but find it I did in the form of my youthful love for guitar and music.
It has been almost ten years since I made the choice to become a full-time musician/teacher at the age of 43, and while there have been more than a few ups and downs in my music career, I couldn’t be happier. After all, it is simply who I am and I can’t imagine being anything else, or anybody else!
That, I believe, is how you find the courage to live your life decade after decade. By being true to yourself no matter how difficult and regardless of what others think of your life decisions. After all, this is YOUR life, not theirs!
Now obviously, when you have a husband and children, it takes work to keep your true self alive as your needs may naturally take a back-seat to being the best mother and partner you can be. And that’s okay as well. Sometimes we need to put our own lives on hold for the betterment of others, BUT, not to the point of extinction!
As mentioned though, it’s not easy, and you may very well be questioning your choices every day, but from what you wrote above, it looks like you have been able to find a balance that works not only for yourself, but your family as well. And I for one honestly believe that you are all better off having made the life choices you have made.
Thanks again Karen for your thoughtful question and I hope I have offered a credible response.
Take care and my best to you and yours.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” – Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken – 1920by