Part of living life well requires a definition of what “living well” means. What do you want from your life? What do you want to contribute to this world? What will your legacy be? What is important to you and how will you incorporate that into your daily life? These things don’t happen naturally. They require intentionality, sacrifice and decisions that reflect what you want.
In my 20s, “living well” included as many adventures as I could fit into my life and afford. The adventures were not just about enjoyment, but learning about the world and myself. Between the ages of 18 and 27, I lived in seven states. (I would add four more states to the list in the years that followed.) I lived on each coast and a few states in between. It was exciting to experience so many different parts of the country. Moving, settling, moving again were ways to learn and grow and be challenged and make decisions about who I would be as an adult. I met and married young. We were aware at the time of how atypical our lives were, but it felt right for us and we did our best to be faithful to our definition of “living well.”
In my mid 20s through my 30s, “living well” meant quality time with my kids. One of the greatest gifts my mom gave me was this bit of advice, “Jen, when you have children of your own, make sure you really take the time to enjoy them. I regret not having done that more with you and your brother.” I could see she meant her words and I was compelled to take them seriously. When I had children, I knew I would soak up everything I could in the time I would have with them. My husband and I sacrificed many things to live on one income. It was hard. But when I think back on that time, I can’t tell you how rich I feel. The time we had together is priceless. It would become the foundation of the deep and rewarding relationship I now have with both of them as adults.
In my 40s, my time as mom was beginning to wane and so I began to focus on what would come next. “Living well” shifted to include significant internal work on my well being. I had a lot of therapy, examined patterns and healed old wounds. At first I thought maybe I had failed in my 20s with the work I had done. But I don’t think I could do the work that was needed until my 40s. It took courage, time and patience. Being adventurous is not the same as being brave. It makes sense that the deeper work had to wait. It was painful. And it was freeing. It was scary. It was riddled with missteps. “Living well” broadened to include all of these descriptors, and maybe more importantly, my willingness to embrace them.
I now find myself at the start of another decade. Children are grown and my next career is well underway. As I think about what “living well” means now, I feel like I am somewhat returning to the beginning and the relationship with my spouse. I am deeply grateful for the companionship he has provided and the life we have built together. I am not an easy person to live with. (Neither is he, for the record.) As our lives simplify, we have more time for each other. Again, as we did in the beginning, but now with a rich history and the legacy of our two kids. The marriage could have broken a number of times because it can be so hard. But we did a lot of work to maintain as much health in our relationship as two dysfunctional people could muster. We are now enjoying the fruits of our labor. We still want similar things and we still make each other laugh. Wanting to come home, to lie next to him at night, to grow old together, all of this bleeds good things into every other area in my life.
My quest to define what “living well” means has been rewarding. It has helped sooth the hurts and mend the mistakes. (I could write a book on the ways I have messed up.) It has brought clarity, conviction and purpose. The point isn’t how I defined “living well.” This can vary from life stage to life stage, sometimes even day to day, and certainly from person to person. What is important is that I continued to redefine “living well.” The fluidity was forgiving and adapted more easily. The flexibility enabled each day to truly be a new day. I could incorporate my mistakes and the consequences into my new definition. Shame didn’t have a place or purpose in my framework.
I hope my reflections have sparked some thoughts of your own, and what “living well” has meant to you. Don’t get caught in the trap of comparing your definitions with mine. And if you have difficulty identifying how you have defined it in the past, that is okay. Reflection can be beneficial, but we don’t want to stay in the past. My question to you is:
How do you want to define what “living well” means today?