“I’ve got a theory I’m working on called The Other 359. Meaning there are 360 degrees and one lane is straight up. That’s the vertical lane where all of the traffic is. Quantity is king. That’s the definition of more. In all of these other lanes, there’s not nearly as much traffic. But they can give you much more quality. You can scale out. Or you can dig deeper roots downward. If the quantity we're chasing doesn’t give us more quality of life, then we’re using the wrong calculator.”
I heard Matthew McConaughey share the above on a recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Armchair Expert. He was talking about how many of us live our lives chasing the unattainable idea of more. Our cup is never full enough and we are always looking to what’s next. His comments resonated so deeply in my bones.
For so long, I used the wrong calculator in life! I focused on quantity over quality for so many years.
How much money could I earn and what job title could I obtain to appear successful to others? NOT, how fulfilling is my work?
How many flattering comments could I receive from others about my physical appearance? NOT, how healthy and strong do I feel?
How many awards and public accolades could my kids earn validating my role as a “good” parent? NOT, how kind, resilient, and happy are my kids?
How many years could I make my marriage last? NOT, how supported, valued, and loved do I feel in my marriage?
For the first almost 40 years of my life, I made decisions and walked a path constantly searching for external validation. As McConaughey put it, I was traveling in the one crowded lane going up. Always seeking more.
This way of life was unsustainable. And only provided fleeting moments of joy.
It was draining. It provided quick hits of dopamine, but no long-term, lasting positive impacts. About a decade ago, I finally began to admit I was exhausted and was no longer willing to earn my worthiness. I was going to lean into believing I was deserving and worthy exactly as the person I woke up as every morning. Because I am! And I want you to soak in these next words…you are, too.
So I changed the calculator. I stopped letting the idea of quantity and external metrics and voices dictate or validate my experiences. This meant:
As a professional, I stopped following a path focused on salary increases and job titles and became intentional about the work that feeds my soul. I then created a path to do more of that work and less of the work that drains me. This meant starting my own business and working for myself. It is scary as heck not having a stable paycheck and not always knowing if or when that next client will come in, but doing more of the work that fuels me and utilizing what I believe are my true gifts is worth the risk.
As a woman, I stopped counting calories and put more emphasis on my overall health than the shape and size of my body. I changed my internal dialogue about my body–which is not easy! I stopped feeling guilty when I ate something purely for pleasure. I savored food. I began to focus on my strength and endurance at the gym. Healthy comes in all shapes and sizes–I want to be healthy more than I want to be thin.
As a 40-something, I embraced my natural hair color. After dying my hair for over 20 years, I let the dark brown fade and grew out my natural white hair. I knew this would age me and for so long believed I had to fit into the mold of appearance of a woman my age, which meant covering my gray hair. But, my hair is so much healthier now than ever before. I get far more compliments on my hair than ever before. Strangers even stop me to comment on my hair. I lived my life behind a curtain for many years and living authentically is now one of my biggest values. And my hair color is authentically me!
As a mother, I focused on raising kind and joyful humans. When my kids were younger, I easily got swept up in having polite, smart, achieving kids. Grades, accolades, and kind words from others about my kids previously gave me an ego boost providing a quick hit of joy, but the lasting effects rarely stayed. So now, together with my kids, we focus on how to live and thrive in a diverse community, how to respectfully participate in important and often hard conversations, and how to give and receive empathy and love. My focus is on helping them understand how to love, be loved, advocate for themselves, and know their worth.
As a spouse, I no longer prioritized the longevity of my relationship over everything else. I wanted one marriage and the fairy tale “happily ever after” but at what cost? I began to prioritize my happiness, stability, and mental health. I also prioritized breaking a pattern of dysfunction for my kids. I wanted them to see a healthy relationship as a model for their future (if they choose to have a life partner). So divorce was imminent despite knowing this was viewed as a failure by so much of society. But with divorce, I gained and built the truest, happiest, and most authentic life I’ve ever known.
Using this new calculator is an ongoing process.
I’m far from perfect. I work every day to drown out the external voices. Old habits don’t change without hard, consistent effort, and because I lived using the wrong calculator for more than three decades, the thought patterns are still a work in progress.
Sometimes, it also feels defeating knowing there isn’t a finish line.
There won’t be a magical day when I no longer have to fight the thoughts and redirect my path to not be in the one lane going up. This is why I will always focus on the journey and not the destination. What good is the finish line if you didn’t enjoy the scenery along the way?
Journey well, my friends.