Two weeks ago, I was sitting poolside with my kids in my backyard. The kids splashed and giggled as I worked. It was cold outside, a first peek of sunlight coming out that winter and we had heated the pool so they could enjoy it.
I sat cold and annoyed in my lawn chair as the kids splashed me from the hot tub.
I got hit in that moment a flash of memory logged 4 years earlier. A man I met on a stage in Chicago came to my mind. He was Iranian, and worked as a mid-level programmer at tech company in the suburbs. Average height, average weight, with a strong, quiet presence – he had a lump in his throat and searing intelligence behind his eyes as he spoke.
I realized this was likely his first time ever on stage as he said,
“In my life, I very quickly learned obedience. American children say F.U. to their parents, to their president. We can never do this (giving the FU sign with crossed arms.) We would await the punishment of our father when he came home. We can never say F.U. to our government. We would await the punishment of the soldiers on the street.
Yes, we learn very quickly obedience. We learn very quickly how to get through this life following the rules. In college, I knew how to get through life. I did my assignment by following the rules, I got an A. I was very good in college. VERY GOOD. I got the highest grades. But I found out work does not work like that. Life does not work like that. I cannot do my best even when I do my job well. Following the rules does not always give me a good life.
That is because I cannot tell my manager he is incompetent, and should do us all a favor and quit because he is in over his head. I can just take him my assignment, the one he deemed was the assignment I was to be working on, even though what I should tell him is that we should all be doing a different assignment if we really wanted to make our company do better.
I do very well in my job. But I am not doing well.
Everyday, I feel as if I sit at the top of this mountain, alone, watching what is happening, drying up. I want to be in the valley that is down there, with streams, and animals and life and love. I worry that I will die silently looking down from my mountain.”
This man, a programmer from Chicago, clothed in khaki pants and obedience, left a huge imprint on me. He cracked open a door to patterns of fear and obedience so deeply engrained in me that I didn’t even see them anymore. I didn’t have the Iranian government with a gun to my head enforcing my obedience, but I lived as if I did.
I was sitting poolside with my kids as they reveled in life, but I might as well have been wearing khaki pants.
My obedience was to a different animal. Not obedience to a boss, but to an idea. I had been obedient to what I believed a successful stay-at-home mom should look like: hardworking, social, optimistic, involved, busy, active, productive. It was not that these were bad things, but the direction of them and where I was putting my greatest energy wasn’t authentic. I’d been obedient to an idea of success and “goodness” that left me feeling dried up.
To feel acceptance that I was doing a good job as a mom, now undefined by a “paying career”, I was still trying to earn an “A” from somebody.
I forgot the things that actually fulfill me are quite simple. The don’t always get the coolest awards, or business card titles or thank you’s. If I did them more often, I might have to say FU to earning an “A” for someone else.
That man from Chicago pierced me.
If acceptance is what I am after, this life is going to be a hard road. It will be a job paid in obedience to someone.
If experiencing love and feeling alive in the valleys and streams of life is what I’m after, that’s a road of infinite possibility.
Love is not dependent on someone’s reaction or approval. Love is an act of courage.
Act in love. Love what you do. Be honest and true to yourself with loving intent towards others, and stuff will happen. Your efforts will be multiplied. Courageous, committed movement forward will trump fear.
In your marriage, as a parent, as a boss, as a co-worker, the right doors will open. You will shift those around you. You will find more folks that believe life can look like freedom.
So, as my kids screamed to me, “it’s sooooo much warmer in here mom, you’ll see if you just get in!!” I knew they were so right.
I stripped down to my underwear, abandoned my laptop, and I dove in.