If I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s that humans love to give advice. Which is equal parts “Okay, enough! I’ve heard “sleep when the baby sleeps” from two hundred people now.” and “Isn’t it great that we’re all so connected in mutual experiences that we can share advice and empathy with each other?”
Yesterday morning, I was thinking about marriage and some general advice I’ve heard and suddenly, my brain felt like a tumbling Bingo cage that has been going on for years came to a stop and someone called out “B twenty-three!” and I got it. Bingo.
For years, I’ve been trying to rationalize my people-pleasing nature with a desperate need for peace of mind. I’ve had advice (of course) from friends, family, and my therapist tumbling around my metaphorical Bingo cage as I’ve tried to figure out what is valuable and how this actually all fits together in a life I feel good about. And that, right there, that’s the thing: a life I feel good about. That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to figure out all this time and it turns out, I’ve been defining a life I feel good about using other people’s advice and expectations.
Am I a good spouse? Well, let me use the advice I heard at so-and-so’s wedding luncheon as my benchmark. “Fight naked”, “Never go to bed angry”, “Go to bed angry”, and on, and on. Besides the obvious issue that a lot of the advice contradicts other advice, it’s a huge problem for me to make this advice my benchmark without first determining that the advice is, in fact, useful to me.
Am I a good mom? 270 blog posts later, I never feel like it. It’s not that there isn’t valuable information found online. It’s not that there isn’t great connection in knowing that someone, somewhere has been there before (thank goodness for the healing power of that). The issue is that no blog post, nobody else’s experience, and no baby milestone tracking app can define what being “a good mother” means to you or me or our children.
The Bingo moment is this: I define what it means to live a life I feel good about. I choose how to be a mother. My husband and I have created a partnership that allows us to define what a “good marriage” looks like to us – what we want it to be.
A couple years ago, I spent a lot of time talking to my therapist about what my “job” is. He helped me to see that I was living a lot of my life thinking that I had to meet other people’s (real or arbitrary) expectations for me. I was living a life of “shoulds” and he explained that I was going to “should myself to death” if I didn’t figure out what my real job is. We spent quite a few appointments talking about what my job is not: fixing other people’s problems, doing things simply because I know or think they’re expected of me, and making other people happy… just to name a few.
Then, he asked me what my job is. I asked some close friends what they thought and we all came up with an answer along the lines of “to be a good person”. And my therapist shot that down fast. Eventually, he helped me understand that my job is to live by my own, personal code of conduct. If I’m going to feel like I’m a good person – if that’s my desire, I have to define for myself what that means. My therapist taught me that the only true way to be happy and to feel free is to know that you are living your personal code of conduct. Because when you’ve decided what your code of conduct is, you get the freedom of living only by your own standards. And that feels so good.
So, I mean, I got that. We worked hard for me to get that. And I’ve been working on defining my personal code of conduct ever since. But the people pleaser in me has been fighting back and trying to make my personal code of conduct look like what I think other people think my personal code of conduct should look like – which, you know, completely defeats the purpose. And that’s what I’ve been wrestling until the Bingo moment yesterday where I felt like things started settling into place. My job is not to meet other’s expectations or accept all advice. To create a truly freeing personal code of conduct, I need to sort through the advice I’ve heard, the beliefs I have, and anything expected of me to decide what truly fits in a life I want to live.
For me, I value kindness. I find joy in my relationship with God. I heard once that making your spouse a priority is an important part of being a good parent – and I’ve decided that that’s advice I agree with and want to include in my life. These are all elements of my personal code of conduct, which I’m refining all the time.
Bear with me while I milk the Bingo metaphor just a little bit more. I really like it. Picture those balls rolling around in the Bingo cage as advice from other people. They all have a place, they all belong somewhere, but only some of them have a place on your card. It’s up to you to decide what has a place in your life. Even this post. If it’s not a Bingo for you, please consider this simply a fun flashback to elementary school Bingo days (or a flash forward to life in a retirement home, perhaps. 😉 ) But, if you’ve found any value in this, leave a comment and let me know! I’d love to hear your perspective.