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What’s Holding You Back? Could It Be…Reality?

Lately, I’ve read a great deal of people writing and exhorting things like this: You can be whatever you want to be.  You can do whatever you want to do.  You decide.  If you don’t like  your life the way it is now, make the necessary changes and create the life you desire.

Okay, seriously?  This is 20-year-old thinking.

I mean, when I hear someone say that I am in complete control of my destiny and that any minute I can just unilaterally shelve everything and make a change (that works for me and me alone) then, well, I’m thinking this person is young, and so very optimistic (I do applaud this) and they do not have children.

So, let me dial it back about three decades for you.

I was one of those who believed exactly that:  I was in charge of my future.  I was in charge of my life.  If I didn’t like something, then I could make decisions and change it on a moment’s notice.  It could be the 7:30 am class I’d signed up for which I hated so I figured I’d change it, (I’m so not a morning person) or it could be the fact that I’d rather be living in the San Francisco Bay Area instead of the Pacific Northwest, or the Southwest, or the East Coast, take your pick.  It could be any number of things.  When I was younger (24+)  and had no real obligations, there really was nothing holding me back. Nothing.  I’m not kidding.  I made great money as a 25-year-old.  I was making bank and had no obligations.  The few credit cards I had, I could pay off in full each month (gross amounts of money I wish I now had). In addition, I had time.  I had time to regroup my losses.  I had time to correct my errors and regain my losses (if there were any).  I simply had time…or so I thought.  But…we don’t ever really know how much time we have…and we are never an island unto ourselves.

The reality is, you can’t always make the decisions you’d like, because you aren’t always completely in control of your life, unless you are an island.

I know.  That sounds blasphemous to many.  Sorry, but it’s true.  As much as I’d like to send it out to the universe that I am this or that…the reality is…what the reality is.

Think of it this way, if you are your own person and you have no obligations or commitments to others then, maybe, you can just up and do whatever you like whenever you want and, possibly, there really is nothing or no one holding you back. This is, at once, the best argument for remaining single forever and, at the same time, for leaving the single state as quickly as you can.   I feel for you if you are in this place.

The reality is, that as life goes on, life becomes less and less about us and more and more about those we love and what is best for them.

For the average 25-year-old, there aren’t many people you have to consult to make decisions about your life.  If you are lucky, your parents will support you in whatever adventure you take on.  You also, if you are lucky (meaning you did what you needed to do to make sure you were employable at a better-than-minimum-wage rate) have an income that provides for your basic needs and allows you the ability to make some choices with your life. In addition, you have the golden opportunity  that I call “TIME”.  At 25, you have an entire lifetime ahead of you.  If you make a bad choice, you have time to regroup and mitigate the losses.  It’s a very different story when you are say, 50 or 60.

So, let’s consider the mantra of “What’s Holding You Back”  (clearly a 20+-year-old perspective) from a more seasoned stance.

As a person well over 40, let me tell you “What’s Holding Me Back”:

  • I would love to consider another career field.  While it isn’t entirely impossible that I make the switch, the reality is that I am currently in a field where I am required to have at least a graduate degree.  The cost of this for me: $46,000. I have about 15 years to pay this off while I try to feed and clothe my children on a salary that is a fraction of what most other professional people make. I can’t possibly consider taking out more loans for a career field switch, especially when the likelihood is that I cannot have these loans paid off before I retire in my current profession.  It is wishful thinking to believe that I can completely jump ship on the professional field I’ve been in since 1985, and think I’m A.) going to be able to fund this life change, and B.) be able to pay off the debt in the time I have left to work.  This is just not going to happen.  The reality of economics and time hold me back here.
  • I would love to sell everything I own, find a job in a BIG CITY (read San Francisco Bay Area or something really decadent back on the East Coast), but the reality is this:  I have children.  My children have friends and lives that I have to consider in every decision I make.  I can’t just quit my job and move.  I have to consider how that’s going to roll with the kids that the respective ex’s.  (Yeah, I hate that part.)

The  reality is, no one is completely in charge of their destiny.  At 20, I might have had more freedom to make more choices.  At a much older age, this is not the case.  I now have children, ex’s, significant others, and employers to consider…and if you think considering the employer isn’t important consider this:  I work in a career field where, if I move, I take a significant pay cut and I lose the security of knowing I have a job in years to come. I’m sorry, but I have children to feed, clothe, and hopefully prepare and send to college.  Me, as a single mother of four,  taking a pay cut, or even risking it, is so not an option.

So…what’s holding me back?

Really?  You’re kidding me, right?

Because that’s the question a 20-something would pose.

What’s holding me back is my obligation to the other people in my life that I am responsible for and the reality is, I can’t just ditch that for something that works for me, but fails them. So, I remain in a place, that I like, but I don’t “LOVE” and I do a job that I love in a place that is, at times, troublesome and which makes me wonder if there isn’t something  better elsewhere…yet…I endure it, not because I have no desire to change, but because it is best for those who depend upon me.   All of this is holding me back from what I would personally love to be doing…if I had my druthers.

The reality is, I am responsible to others and for others, and it is no longer just about me. I cannot make these  decisions in a vacuum, excluding their input or perspectives.

So, here’s what’s holding me back:  It’s my decision to recognize that it isn’t always just about me and that sometimes, I must think of others before I think of myself, even if those choices aren’t ones I would choose in isolation.

What’s holding me back is my love for the other  important people in my life versus me choosing to make life all about me and what works for just me.

Unmotivated and Okay With It

In my younger years, I was one of those driven Type A people.  I would over-commit, over-do, over-achieve and I really somehow felt like I had to prove myself to the world.  Fast foward 30+ years and things have changed.  I no longer feel the need to work so hard to prove anything to anyone…not even to myself. I can sleep in on the weekends.  I can go home after work and not take work home, much.  (I used to spend a full eight to ten hours on a weekend working.) I love a clean house, but I’m not about to slave over cleaning the grout in the shower every three days. I can let stuff go.  I am the furthest thing from driven imaginable. What happened?  When did it happen and why the change from then to now?

The first thing that happened was my first marriage.  I am, by nature, not exactly the most efficient person in the world.  I am a creative sort, and when I work I like to have all my tools at my work space.  Crafty things can take up a lot of space.  I’m very particular about cleaning things up, however.  In the early days, I was also a bit of a hoarder.  I couldn’t have one set of brilliant markers or stamps or scrap-booking papers.  I had to have the newest, latest, bestest ones. This kind of crap can really clutter a home and fill a garage. To make matters worse, I was married to a man who was the epitome of slob.  He’d walk in the door and drop stuff right there.  He would do this all over the house.  To make matters even more difficult to manage, we started having children, one, then two then three.  Each child had their own junk.  Before I knew it, my desire for a tidy home was at war with the clutter and crap all over the place.

I learned that clutter creates stress. I didn’t need any more stress in life than I already had with three young children and a very unhappy marriage. I sought to remove the stress and the clutter from my life.

The next thing that happened occurred on the professional front.  I learned the very important lesson early on: don’t place all your eggs in the career basket.  No matter how great you are, how irreplaceable you are, how amazing your work, the day’s going to come when you are ultimately disposable and unnecessary…for whatever reason. What then?  All your time and energy has gone for what?

The final thing that happened, which took most of the last 30 years, some really good marriage counseling, and a slew of self-help books, was the realization that I really didn’t have anything to prove and I didn’t really care to spend the energy any more trying to prove whatever it was I was trying to prove in the first place.  I didn’t need to be rich, or at the top of the company ladder, or the first, best and fastest at anything.  I was not my achievement.  Sure, the achievement gave me some bragging rights…for a little while.  Who cares?

What really, really mattered, I discovered, was how I felt about myself and my life.  It really didn’t matter what others thought of me.  In the end, I’m the one that wakes up with myself every day forever. Once I learned to be okay with me, everything else in life fell in line.  I was able to figure out my own interests instead of spinning my wheels doing whatever everyone and anyone else thought was important for me to be and do.  Of course, this knowledge all came with the price of two failed marriages.  I wish I would have figured it all out much, much earlier.

These days, instead of being driven to perform and achieve, instead of worrying about what everyone thinks of me and how I look, and so on, I am able to relax and experience life.  I wasted a lot of years worrying too much about whether or not I was successful.  I spent way too much energy concerning myself with how I looked or what others thought of me.  I simply no longer care…at least…not like I used to.

These days, while the money is very tight and things are not perfect by any means, I am much happier.  I would still appreciate having a lot more money, but the problem is that I am no longer motivated to work myself to death to get more money.  I’m not willing to endure undue amounts of stress, tension, time away from my family and home to get more money. Because, when I’m gone, my money might help, but it won’t provide the comfort my presence does. So…we make do.

I’m okay with that.


Have you ever had that conversation in a relationship where it dawns on you that you shouldn’t be having this conversation? It suddenly breaks into your awareness that the fact that this particular conversation is occurring is the huge red flag signaling that something is way not right?

Guys are pretty easy to figure out, if women would only shut up and listen. When we do they not only say what they think, they do it. Or, as in my situation, they don’t do anything relationally significant except clutter the landscape.

The other day, the guy I’m living with, said…regarding us and marriage, “I’m just hesitant…”. Of course he then lists reasons why he is hesitant to move our relationship forward. To me, the reasons are irrelevant. He told me all I need to know. He is hesitant. Okay. That’s fine.

But it isn’t fine.

We’ve been together well over a year. He’s had time to see things as they really are. He’s living with me. But he’s hesitant.

Tonight I told him, he’s taking up space in my life. I told him he needs to move out. I told him that if he’s hesitant then he has no business living in my house, eating my food, taking advantage of me and cluttering the landscape. He needs to get out and quit taking up space in my life.

I just really do not have time for this and I hate clutter. That, unfortunately, is what he has become.

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