Live your Life your way, when you still have the time!
I was asked by a lady recently if it is possible for someone like her, who comes from a conservative family, to go do what she loves doing and find happiness. “I have been raised to always believe that my husband, my in-laws, my children, my extended family comes first. I somehow feel guilty every time I think of doing something for myself,” she said. I asked her if she is happy being the way she is. “No. I am very unhappy. My husband and I have a huge distance between us. Everything I do is only a chore. My children give me solace but they are young adults now and have gone their ways. Despite all my education and talent, I feel lost, wasted and useless,” she confessed. I advised the lady to decide what she wanted to do basis only one parameter – her happiness: “A large part of your Life is over and done with. You can’t live brooding over the past. Recognize that you only have so much time left. Do whatever makes you happy.”
Actually, this perspective applies not only to this lady’s context, but is true for each of us. Sometimes, we get so caught up in serving our circle of influence that we miss attending to ourselves. Respecting the needs of your family and living by family values and culture is undoubtedly important. But if it is going to leave you drained, miserable and unhappy, what is the point? We must understand that being happy, doing what you love doing, is not being selfish or irresponsible. Only when you are happy can you live a more productive Life. Simple.
Let me clarify further. I am not saying that looking after elderly parents or serving an extended family is wrong. Of course not. But if doing so is going to ruin your inner peace, and cause you (and others) suffering, you may as well choose to do what makes you happy. Because you live only once; this is the only Life you have. And being happy is the only way you can live meaningfully.
Between Vaani and me, interestingly, we have had contrasting experiences on this front. Her father lived with us for 14 years, after my mother-in-law passed away, till he died last year. Vaani served him and cared for him till the very end. In the last five years of his Life he became entirely dependent on her and this meant that a lot of her time was invested in looking after him. This did come in the way of her aspirations. But Vaani served him happily. She was always at great peace with herself – never did she complain, never did she shirk whatever she had to do for him. Now, I, on the other hand, have made a conscious choice not to have my parents live with me. The singular reason for this is that my mother and I cannot co-exist – there is no chemistry between us. In the wake of our bankruptcy my siblings accused me of being selfish, opportunistic and irresponsible because a. I had lost all the family wealth to my failed business and b. I refused to have my parents stay with me. I talk about this choice I made in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal too. People often bring up this point in conversations with me. What would I have done if my siblings had not offered to support my parents? Am I not failing in my duty as a son, as a brother? And I always reply that I made my decision with a singular focus – I cannot be happy while engaging with my mother. Strange, but that is the way it is! So, unfortunately, we both can never stay together. I have no regrets about the decision I have made and I have the greatest respect and admiration for my siblings for doing what they are doing. If we had had the means, I would have provided for them with a separate premises and support staff. But since we ourselves have been living for the longest time on a grant and on the generosity of my sister-in-law and her husband, I am presently not volunteering any support. Now, my stance may appear to be cold-blooded to some. And a difficult or tough choice to others. But I sincerely don’t care about what others think of me. I know that unless I am at peace with myself, I can’t do what I must do – which is, claw my way out of the financial mess we have been in for years now. I clearly don’t want to be fighting internecine battles with my mother that will leave me drained and depressed every single day.
Yes, it may be the case in some instances that, when you are the only one in a family available to serve another member, you don’t have a choice. Then one has to accept the reality and stop complaining about Life. In such choice-less situations, happiness and inner peace comes from total acceptance of what is.
I share Vaani’s story and my story here only so that we all appreciate that each of our lives is unique. This so-called social norm of “family values + culture comes ahead of individual happiness and inner peace” is all humbug. Each of us has to do what we want to do, what we love doing and what we have to do. Your Life is yours. Period. As long as you are true to yourself, as long as you can face the person in the mirror, always do what you must do to be happy and at peace with yourself. Blaming others won’t cut ice when your number is called and it is time for you to depart. What will stare you in your face then is the brutal awakening that you may have perhaps lived your Life differently. What will be the point of brooding over an unlived, unhappy Life then? So, stop kidding yourself. Go live your Life happily, your way, when you still have the time!
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